This story was written by Shane Thomas.
The Valdosta State Blazers (3-0) took Southeastern University’s best shot and rallied to win 95-89 in overtime Friday night.
Trailing by as many as 12 points in the game, the Blazers needed to scratch and claw to recover against an aggressive Southeastern attack.
SEU kept the Blazers at bay throughout, withstanding numerous Blazer runs and making big baskets to answer.
With 2:42 remaining in the second half, the Blazers mounted one final push.
Senior James Spencer scored while being fouled. His three-point play ignited a 12-3 VSU run.
Sophomore Jeremiah Hill’s three-pointer with 1:31 to play brought the Blazers within one. Following an SEU turnover, Hill was fouled and made a free throw to tie the game with 32 seconds left in regulation.
SEU’s Andre Winston stepped to the line and calmly sank two free throws to give his team an 80-78 lead with 15.9 seconds to go in the second half.
Following an SEU timeout, Blazers’ head coach Mike Helfer drew up a play for Blake Justice, who supplied the biggest shot of the night.
“We just wanted to set a little pin-down screen for Blake,” Helfer said. “We had options off of it if he didn’t have a look but, once he came off clean, I knew he was going to get it off.”
“I had shot that same shot twice earlier in the night and missed it,” Justice said. “When Coach called it, I knew that the curl was going to be there. Josh led me right into it and when I released it, it felt good.”
The Blazers never looked back in overtime, outscoring SEU 15-9 in the extra session to seal the win.
“Our guys did a good job of staying in the moment and not getting too carried away,” Helfer said. “We made some clutch plays at both ends of the floor that ended up winning the game.”
Though Justice brought heroics, the Blazer with the biggest impact was senior big man Colin Cook. The Atlanta native tallied career-highs with 25 points and 13 rebounds. Cook added five blocks.
“It just feels good to have a team that likes me,” Cook said. “I came to play hard. They appreciate what I bring to the table and in turn, I tell them if I get doubled, you’ll get it right back. It was my night tonight—tomorrow it could be anybody. We’ve got a great team.”
Helfer was pleased with what he saw on the floor from Cook.
“Best I’ve ever seen him play,” Helfer said. “He’s so long and now he’s using it at the offensive end. He’s always used it at the defensive end. It’s fun to watch.”
The Blazers trailed 44-35 at halftime, the first time they trailed at intermission this season. SEU used strong penetration and exceptional ball movement to create open shots, which had the Blazers on their heels.
SEU shot 48.6 percent in the first half and made 8-of-16 from three-point range, spearheaded by junior guard Caleb Konieczny who made all four of his three-pointers in the first half and finished 5-of-5 overall.
“The first half, they couldn’t miss a shot it seemed like,” Justice said. “We didn’t really think our defense was bad. We just felt like we were scrambling and they were hitting shots and making big plays.
“We came together—once we got it to overtime, we knew it was ours.”
Helfer spoke highly of Southeastern following Friday’s game.
“That’s a very good basketball team,” Helfer said. “Their starting five is very good. They came in here and gave us a good shot. We took the shot and were able to come out with a win so I’m proud of my guys for that.”
The Blazers got 20 points apiece from Justice and Spencer. Hill finished with 16 points, six assists, and four steals. Sophomore point guard Josh Lemons chipped in with a season-high nine assists.
In addition to Winston’s 25-point effort, SEU got 20 points from Konieczny. Center Brandon Moore added 16 points and 11 rebounds.
The Blazers have a short turnaround as they host Carver Bible to finish the VSU Classic on Saturday at 4 p.m.
“This early in the year, it should be about dying to play,” Helfer said smiling. “We do have a lot of depth so I want to use that, obviously, but guys should be itching to play and I would expect they’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”