Written by: Shane Thomas
Following a 9-1 start, the Blazers have lost six of their last nine games as they welcome Gulf South Conference rival North Alabama (14-8) to the P.E. Complex Thursday night.
The Lions come into Thursday night on a four-game winning streak, while Blazers have lost two in a row following a 73-62 loss to Alabama-Huntsville on Saturday.
Against the Chargers, VSU shot a season-low 30.9 percent from the floor and dropped to 1-5 this season when they shoot less than 41 percent.
“We had a lot of good looks at Huntsville and just didn’t make them,” Mike Helfer, Blazers head coach said. “We’re just going to continue to get better and try to prepare for this last stretch of games and then the tournament.”
“Our offense is important in terms of momentum,” Helfer added. “Hopefully we can just get a good balance (offensively and defensively) as we go into this stretch.”
The Lions feasted on the Blazers in Florence, Ala. on Jan. 9, winning decisively 97-69; the Blazers’ worst loss of the season.
Junior forward Calvin Dade was particularly devastating against VSU, scoring 24 points and ripping down 14 rebounds in only 21 minutes of play.
UNA also got strong games from seniors Rashaun Claiborne and Wes Long as the duo combined for 32 points and 14 rebounds.
“[UNA] is playing very well at this time of year,” Helfer said. “They are very multi-dimensional. They have kids that can play different positions. Claiborne can play the three, the four—they actually had him at center for a few possessions.”
“That’s hard to guard and every kid on their team can score the basketball. They do a good job of finding the kid that’s hot on that particular night. They’re a good team and we’re going to have to play well to win.”
Playing well defensively against a high-powered offensive team like the Lions will be key. The Blazers realize they need to bring energy on that end of the floor to win.
“We have to be more defensive-minded,” senior guard Jeremy McKay said. “[The starters] have to bring energy starting off so we can get good role play from guys off the bench.”
With seven games remaining until the GSC tournament, no. 21 Delta State has all but sewn up the top seed.
The Blazers currently sit seventh in the conference with a 6-7 mark but could find a way to move up with strong play down the stretch; the Blazers were the fourth seed in last year’s tournament.
“Most coaches are just trying to get their team playing well this time of the year,” Helfer said. “We just need to focus on us and if we move up, great—that means we’re playing well.”
The Blazers begin their last home stand of the season against North Alabama Thursday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.
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