by Kristin Whitman
Sophomore Josh Lemons’ go-ahead jumper with 16.2 seconds remaining lifted the Blazers (9-9, 4-8 GSC) over Alabama-Huntsville (13-5, 8-4 GSC) 67-66 Thursday night.
The Chargers had two more cracks to win as senior guard Ronnie Mack’s drive to the basket was blocked by Colin Cook with eight seconds remaining.
On the final possession, Blazers forward James Spencer deflected a pass, but UAH forward Seab Webster’s half-court heave missed to seal the win.
“The play was first drawn up for Blake (Justice),” Lemons said of the final play. “Once the defender went to Blake, time was running down and a play had to be made. I went to the middle and knocked it down.”
Blazers head coach Mike Helfer praised his team’s defense for stops in the closing seconds.
“I was more proud of our guys in the last play,” Helfer said. “That ball gets hit and then it goes into the backcourt and a lot of kids would dive on that ball to try to make a play.
“James and Blake trapped (Webster) in the backcourt which made him take an extra second, second and a half to dribble around it. Instead of taking a shot at the volleyball line, he’s taking a half-court shot. That was one of the best basketball plays I’ve seen in a long time—smart.
According to Spencer, the Blazers pulled out the win by not folding in crunch time.
“We’ve been here multiple times before,” Spencer said of the close game. “We’ve lost a lot of close game by four or less and tonight, we told ourselves we can’t break down. We just stuck with it today and got it done.”
UAH shot 57.4 percent from the floor in the game but were forced into 17 turnovers; 13 of which came in the first half.
Mack, who scorched the Blazers with 21 points and seven three-pointers in the first matchup, was guarded primarily by Lemons throughout and was held to just eight points in 35 minutes.
“My main goal was to not let Ronnie Mack catch the ball,” Lemons said. “Once he caught it, I had to get into him and make sure he didn’t get a three-ball up. He knocked down two in the first half because he’s a great shooter, but we just had to play help-side defense.”
Following a cold shooting first half, the Blazers made 14 of their 23 field goals in the second half including five of 11 from beyond the arc.
“Obviously, the three-point shot changes the game,” Helfer said. “In front of a crowd like this, people get excited. Our shot selection has been a lot better. All of our threes tonight, I thought, were good looks. Earlier in the season, we forced some quick in possessions and we didn’t do that tonight.”
UAH got strong contributions from Webster and forward Preston Herring. Webster scored 16 points on 7-of-17 shooting. Herring led the Chargers with 17 points, many of which coming above the rim on alley-oops from point guard Troy Saxton, who finished with a game-high seven assists.
The Blazers got another consistent performance from Spencer, who recorded 19 points and 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season despite being hobbled with an ankle injury.
“Tonight felt good,” Spencer said. “I messed up my foot yesterday so I really didn’t think I was going to be as effective as I was but my guys told me they needed me so we made it happen.”
Junior forward Jeff Nibo had 15 points, four rebounds and three steals while shooting 5-of-8 overall.
Colin Cook committed a career-high nine turnovers but added nine points, seven rebounds, and four blocks in the win.
The Blazers look to continue building their momentum as North Alabama visits The Complex on Saturday.
“Honestly, I feel like we should’ve beaten them the first time,” Spencer said of the 70-68 loss to the Lions earlier this season. “Saturday, we know what we have to do and we’re taking every game personal from here on out.”