The Valdosta Daily Times
Needing a victory to help strengthen a resume for a NCAA postseason berth, the Valdosta State men’s basketball team couldn’t afford a loss Saturday night against West Florida.
The Blazers came about as close to a loss as they could before using a massive run to close out the second half to force overtime, where they did everything they could to earn the win.
Using a combined 56 points from seniors Josh Sparks and James Anacreon and junior Patrick Diop, the Blazers closed out the home portion of their schedule with an 86-81 overtime-victory over the Argonauts.
“It was a big win for multiple reasons,” Valdosta State head coach Mike Helfer said. “Not only for the ramifications it could have down the line, but for senior night and to get our seniors out on a winning note. It was awfully nice. It was a great game.”
While it meant something to the seniors, Saturday’s impact win will be better known for how it might affect the region rankings, which will be released for the second time this season on Tuesday.
Even if the Blazers aren’t ranked inside the top eight this week, victories over Christian Brothers and Delta State on the road next weekend and possible victories in the Gulf South Conference tournament in two weeks could help strengthen their resume.
“The region rankings came out the other day and we weren’t even in the top 10 and these are all region games,” Sparks said. “So hopefully if we win out we will get an at-large bid. We needed this. It was big….We can only get better. We have to keep going up.”
Led by Sparks’ seven overtime points, the Blazers outscored West Florida 13-8 in the overtime period, using a quick 6-0 run to erase the Argonauts’ only lead of the extra period.
Sparks finished with a team-high 20 points, coming in his final home game at The Complex, while Diop finished with 18 and Anacreon 16.
“I just thought we were looking for some success offensively and we weren’t sure where we were going to find it,” Helfer said. “We struggled in the first half and then we found success in those three guys, so we continued to go to them.”
Valdosta State erased a 14-point second-half deficit to force overtime by using a 26-13 run inside the final nine minutes of regulation. They trailed 61-47 with 9:28 remaining, the Argonauts’ largest lead of the day, before the making the commanding run that brought the crowd to life.
“They hit a three and had all the momentum and then Shaquille Harris hit a three that I thought saved the crowd, kept the crowd in it,” Helfer said. “Then we got a couple of steals and some run-up layups and that were big.”
Harris’ three kept the crowd in the game, but the Argonauts were able to push their lead to 14. Then, Anacreon saved the crowd again. He scored six straight points, capped off by a thunderous dunk, that kick-started the Blazers’ 26-13 run — including a 19-5 run to give the Blazers’ their only lead of the second half, which came off another Harris 3-pointer — to closeout the half and force the overtime period.
“Our energy was high, the crowd was behind us and we just started playing really hard,” Anacreon said.
Although Valdosta State was able to take the lead once, West Florida stayed poised and regained the lead. With less than 30 seconds remaining, the Argonauts led 73-70, when Anacreon went to work. Coming off a Sparks miss, Anacreon snatched the rebound, threw the ball off the glass, got a foul call and watched the ball roll in for the possibility of a 3-point play.
“I was basically telling myself, ‘I am going to make it,’” Anacreon said. “I wasn’t worried about it.”
Anacreon made the free throw to tie the game at 73-73 with 14.3 seconds remaining.
After a timeout by West Florida, the Blazers blocked a potential game winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to force the game into overtime.
West Florida dominated the opening part of the second half to build its big lead. The Argonauts’ lead was in double digits for much of the half. Even when the Blazers got within nine, the Argonauts would hit a big shot to push their lead back to 10 or more.
One shot the Argonauts relied on during the second half was the 3-point ball. Despite making only 61 three’s on the season entering the game, West Florida made five three’s in the second half, including four during their dominating run.
The first half was much closer than the start of the second. Neither team led by more than four points in a half that consisted of nine ties and five lead changes.
The Blazers’ final lead of the half came on a David Murray layup with 8:16 remaining. West Florida took the lead back with a layup from Griffin Lendward with 6:35 remaining in the half.
From there, the Blazers could only tie the game twice, before West Florida blew the game open in the second half, until VSU’s commanding run with less than 10 minutes remaining.