Blazers overcome 3OTs to defeat North Alabama

| December 4, 2015

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VALDOSTA – The Valdosta State men’s basketball team saw five different players eclipse the 20-point mark in a thrilling 127-115 triple overtime win over the rival Lions of North Alabama on Thursday night at The Complex.

The contest, which represented the first conference game of the season for both squads, lasted just under three hours and represented the most combined points scored by two teams in a single game since Jacksonville State defeated the Blazers 133-109 during the 1990-91 season. In addition, VSU’s 127 points marked the most points scored by the Blazers since a 130-62 win over Carver in 2006.

“Sometimes we’re slow to celebrate victories at this time of year, but I think our guys should enjoy the fact that they were in a tight game and made some big plays to win tonight,” stated Head Coach Mike Helfer after the victory. “We’ll have to turn the page, and we’ll have to turn it quick, but if you don’t at least look back at what you did successfully in a game like that, you’re not really learning. I think you can learn when you lose, and you can learn when you win.”

Several of those big plays mentioned by Helfer came from Shaun Jones, a sophomore guard for the Blazers that delivered a breakout performance with 30 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double. Jones shot 13-of-21 from the field with 10 points in the first half, 11 points in the second half, and nine points in the three overtime periods. His impact on offense went beyond his point total, as he kept a host of key possessions alive with seven offensive rebounds.

The red and black trailed by as many as 11 points in the game midway through the second half and never led in the period, but a resilient Blazer squad scratched and clawed their way back into the game to set up Chris Bilbo for a layup that tied the contest up at 73-73 with 3:37 remaining in regulation. UNA’s John Fletcher followed with a three point play, but Valdosta State forward Saadiq Muhammad answered with a three-point play of his own to knot the contest back up at 76-76 with just over two-and-a-half minutes to play. The Lions reclaimed their lead on a tip-in by Austin Timms, but Bilbo connected again inside the one minute mark for two of his 22 points on the night to force a 78-78 tie and send the contest to overtime.

In the first overtime period, Jones took advantage of an early free throw shooting opportunity to give the Blazers an 80-78 lead, their first since the 9:06 mark in the first half. The Lions responded with a 7-0 run to claim an 85-80 advantage, but the Blazers outscored the Lions 12-7 in the final three minutes, a stretch that was capped off by a clutch three point shot by Blake Justice over two defenders from the right wing to tie the contest up again and send it to double-overtime.

Valdosta State (5-1, 1-0 GSC) appeared to be in dire straits yet again in the second overtime period, as North Alabama (3-4, 0-1 GSC) used a 12-7 stretch in the opening minutes to open up a 104-99 lead. Jones connected on back-to-back buckets inside the one minute mark, however, to pull VSU to within one point at 104-103. Valdosta State elected to foul Tavaras Tolliver, who stepped to the line having shot 8-of-8 from the free throw line up to that point and missed the second of two shots to set Bilbo up for another game-tying layup with eight seconds remaining.

Valdosta State’s effort in the third and final overtime period proved to be the difference, as the Blazers scored 22 points in the frame while holding the Lions to just ten. Working with a slim 112-111 lead, VSU used a big basket by Justin Simon, who matched Bilbo with 22 points on the night, to open up an advantage that was secured by strong free throw shooting in the closing minutes.

Bilbo, Simon, Muhammad, Justice, and Jones teamed up for 122 of VSU’s 127 points, a combined effort that Helfer doesn’t remember witnessing at any point in his collegiate coaching career.

“I don’t think that’s ever happened in 19 years as a head coach, this being my 19th year,” said Helfer with a smile about five different players scoring over 20 points. “I don’t think that’s ever happened in a game I’ve coached.”

The Blazers now must quickly turn their attention to Saturday for another big conference matchup, as the No. 19 Alabama-Huntsville Chargers come to town. Tip time is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. at The Complex, with complete live coverage available at www.vstateblazers.com.

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