By Adam MacDonald
The Valdosta Daily Times
VALDOSTA — Tyrone Curnell said he’s never been part of a basketball game where the student body rushed the court. He can now cross that off of his list of things to experience.
The P.E. Complex turned into a madhouse Saturday afternoon, as the Valdosta State Blazers took down the nation’s No. 1 team for the first time in school history. The Blazers knocked off the previously-unbeaten Augusta State Jaguars 81-75 in front of the third-largest crowd in school history (2,636), prompting students to rush the floor in celebration of one VSU’s biggest wins.
“That was crazy,” Curnell said. “I told Tristan (Crawford) earlier that when we beat them, everyone’s going to rush the court and I’m going to be in the middle. That was great.”
Curnell scored 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds, newly-signed guard Kevin Harris sparked the Blazers with 18 points off the bench and Ricardo Lewis took over late in the game to help VSU pull off the upset in one of the most anticipated games ever played in the P.E. Complex.
“I’m just happy for our kids that we came out and played so well in front of a great crowd,” Blazers head coach Mike Helfer said. “We were fortunate to win the game, and our kids got that experience. That’s what I’m most happy about.”
The Blazers (16-2) and the Jaguars (14-1) played exactly how people thought the No. 11 team and No. 1 team should play. With the Blazers up 68-67 with 4:45 remaining, it was Lewis who provided the game’s decisive run. The senior point guard, who had been quiet all game, went on a 7-0 run by himself to lift the Blazers. He made a layup, then he drove through the lane, made another layup and drew a foul. The next time down the court, he drained a long jumper with 2:35 left and the Blazers led 75-67.
“I was thinking about being aggressive,” Lewis said. “Coach Helfer told me I had to be aggressive. Kevin and Tyrone carried us the whole way, and being a senior, it was time to step up.”
Augusta State cut VSU’s lead to 76-73 with 1:10 left, but Curnell made a nifty move to the basket and made a layup to put VSU back up by five with 43 seconds left. Lewis made 3 of 4 free throws in the last 23 seconds to put the Blazers up by six. The Jaguars heaved up a desperation 3 in the waning seconds that was no good. The Blazers tossed the rebound out to Lewis, time expired and the celebration was on, as the Blazers and their fans met in jubilation at midcourt.
“I think the crowd tonight was amazing,” Helfer said. “Thank you to everyone who came and supported us. The crowd was our sixth man tonight.”
While it was Lewis and Curnell who came through in the clutch, the Blazers got a huge lift in the early and middle parts of the game from Harris. The junior transferred into VSU from Northwest Mississippi Junior College over the winter break, and didn’t take long to make an impact. He hit a couple of step-back jumpers in the first half and scored 10 straight points for the Blazers early in the second half. His quickness with the ball had fans on their feet, as he put some ankle-breaking moves on the Jaguars. It was only his fourth game in a VSU uniform, and second home game.
“I was waiting on my opportunity and (Helfer) called me early,” Harris said. “I went in and made things work for us.”
At one point in the second half, Harris hit a long 3 to make him 6 of 7 from the floor for the game. As he ran back down the court, he pointed to his mom and family, who were cheering from the front row. He’s a native of Douglas, and played his high school ball at Coffee.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Harris said. “Through it all, my mom has been there behind me. That’s basically what I wanted to show her when I gave her that point. I wanted to show her how much I appreciate everything she did. I give a big up to my fans.”
With help from Charles Belton, the Blazers were able to hold Ben Madgen, the Jaguars’ All-American, to 18 points, his season average. Madgen had a chance from 3-point range late in the second half to get his team within a point, but he missed, and swung his fist in frustration.
Fred Brathwaite had 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Jaguars.
Lewis finished with 13 points, and Crawford added nine points for the Blazers. VSU shot 55.4 percent and got 28 points from its bench, compared to just seven points from the Jaguars’ bench.
Curnell led the Blazers early, scoring VSU’s first six points and settling the game down. He scored at least 20 points for the third game in a row. The magnitude of the game was not lost on VSU’s All-American. He anxiously paced around the P.E. Complex during the second half of the women’s game, and led an emotional huddle in pre-game introductions.
“I didn’t get no sleep last night, like I told y’all I would, and I was so anxious all day. I was like, ‘I got to have a good game,’” Curnell said. “I focused, and came out and did what I do best.”
Curnell said the Blazers will enjoy this win, but they’ll put it behind them in time for their next game, which is at home on Thursday against West Alabama.
Curnell, Harris, Lewis lead VSU past Augusta State, 81-75
By Adam MacDonald
- Local Sports
Win or go home
The Valdosta State softball team faces Armstrong Atlantic University in an elimination game for the 2013 Division II Softball Championship Tournament today at noon.
HOOPER: An early look at the 2013 football season
I haven’t written a column in quite some time, largely because there has been so much going on and we haven’t always had the space, nor have I felt up to it after writing so many other stories.
But today, I am writing this column and taking up the inches in the daily sports section and giving a little love to the upcoming football season.
Blazers fall to Molloy in eight innings
With only one out remaining and trailing by three, the Molloy Lions strung together four hits to plate three runs in the seventh followed by another run in the eighth inning to defeat Valdosta State’s softball team 5-4 in the first round of the 2013 Division II Softball National Championship Tournament on Thursday in Salem, Va.
Albritton, Johnson earn All-America honors
Valdosta State softball players Courtney Albritton and Morgan Johnson gathered multiple All-America honors late Wednesday night.
Golfers take course for Wounded Warriors
Local patrons participated in the Wounded Warrior Project Golf Tournament at Stone Creek Golf Club in Valdosta on Thursday.
Valwood football hosting 4-man scramble golf tourney
Head coach Ashley Henderson and the Valwood football team will be hosting a 4-man scramble golf tournament at Valdosta Country Club Friday, June 14.
VHS football cheerleaders to host Junior Cheer Camp
The Valdosta High School football cheerleaders will be hosting a Junior Cheer Camp June 5 through June 7 at the W.G. Nunn Elementary School gymnasium.
Gillespie, McPherson pleased with spring practices
Valdosta’s Rance Gillespie and Lowndes’ Randy McPherson both think their football teams got better during the recent 10 days of spring practice.
Then again, both coaches know their teams have a ways to go before the start of the football season.
Signing day at VHS
It was signing day galore at Valdosta High School Wednesday.
Six student-athletes signed national letter of intents to compete at the next level, while two VHS athletes both signed academic scholarships to Division I universities.
Powell signs with Shorter
Robert Powell, a member of the basketball team on South Georgia State College’s Waycross Campus, has signed a letter of intent to continue his basketball career at Shorter University in Rome.
- More Local Sports Headlines
- Win or go home