Courtesy of VSU athletics:
RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – Valdosta State jumped out to a first half lead and withstood repeated comeback bids by Clark Atlanta as the fourth-seeded Blazers defeated the fifth-seeded Panthers 74-67 in the first round of the NCAA South Region Tournament at Tucker Coliseum Saturday evening.
Both teams started the game hot as Valdosta State (26-4) connected on four of its first five shots while Clark Atlanta (24-7) scored on four of its first six shots while racing out to an 11-9 lead.
The Blazers responded with a 14-8 run over the next seven minutes of play to grab the lead. Tyrone Curnell began the run with a basket before Kevin Harris answered a CAU basket with a three. Christian Hunter wrapped a pair of lay-ups around a basket by the Panthers and Marquis Robinson banked in a three as the shot clock ran out before Curnell added his second basket of the run. David Brown for Clark Atlanta, but Marvin Dibble responded with a basket of his own to post VSU to a 25-17 lead.
The Valdosta State lead grew to as much as 12 on two occasions over the remainder of the half, but Clark Atlanta closed the half on a 7-2 run to trail 39-32 at the intermission.
The hot shooting start continued throughout the half as VSU connected on 17-of-25 of its first half shots for 68.0 percent while Clark Atlanta shot 50.0 percent as it connected on 15-of-30 field goal attempts. The Blazers turned the ball over 11 times in the half, but held an 18-7 advantage in rebounding at the halftime break.
Clark Atlanta scored the first five points of the second half to pull within two points, only to have VSU respond with nine of the 12 points to open its lead back to eight points at the first media timeout of the second half.
The Blazers pushed their lead to 11 twice over the next eight minutes, only to have the Panthers fight back both times, closing to as close as five, at 57-52, with 8:33 remaining in the contest. Hunter moved the VSU lead back to nine points with a pair of free throws with just over five minutes to play before Clark Atlanta again used a mini-run to close to within 65-61 with 3:44 to go in the contest.
After Lewis missed a free throw for Valdosta State, Lawrence Williams hit a lay-up for Clark Atlanta to pull the Panthers within two, but Lewis promptly responded with a basket for the Blazers. Valdosta State forced a wild CAU shot as the shot clock expired and Lewis added his second basket in as many trips, but Williams hit two free throws to once again close the VSU lead to just four, at 69-65.
Curnell tallied his 12th double-double of the season as he finished with 18 points and a season-high 16 rebounds. He also connected on two of his three free throw attempts in the game, giving him 156 made free throws on the season, tying Eddie Brown's record set during the 1980 season. Hunter and Robinson added 11 points each for the Blazers, who shot 59.6 percent from the floor in the game. VSU also owned a 33-22 advantage in rebounding in the contest, but committed 20 turnovers.
Williams scored 20 points to lead Clark Atlanta and Najee Lane added 18 while David Brown finished with 11.
Valdosta State advances to Sunday's regional semifinals where it will meet No. 1 seed and host Arkansas Tech at 9:30 p.m. Eastern in Tucker Coliseum.