Courtesy of VSU athletics:
SOUTHAVEN, Miss. - Valdosta State used a balanced effort to put away Delta State, who never led, in the most lopsided game in the Gulf South Conference semifinals Saturday. With six players scoring eight points or more, VSU beat the Statesmen, 78-61, to face Arkansas Tech in the GSC finals at 2:45 p.m. Sunday.
Delta State never led in a game that the Blazers shot 50 percent. David Clark led the Statesmen in scoring with 16 points while Arian Maliqi brought down 12 boards. But Valdosta State was led by Tyrone Curnell with 18 points and seven rebounds. The VSU floor general, Ricardo Lewis, put in 15 and Christian Hunter finished with 10 points.
The biggest advantage for VSU was the ability to get up and down the floor. Valdosta State's defense forced 12 DSU turnovers and scored 16 points off the turnovers, but the fast break points were in VSU's favor, 10-2.
In the first half Valdosta State used a series of mini runs to build up the lead. With 12:43 left Delta State pulled within three points, 12-9. Then VSU went on an 8-2 run to extend the lead to 20-11. After the Statesmen scored again, the Blazers went on an 11-3 run to make it 31-16 with just less than six minutes left in the half.
The last basket of the half came on a well-executed play from Valdosta State that set up Hunter with a three-pointer from the corner. He buried it to take a 39-24 lead into the break.
In the first half, David Clark was the toughest Statesmen for the Blazers to guard. He scored 10 in the first half to lead all scorers. Meanwhile, VSU's scoring was more balanced. Curnell led all Blazers with eight, but three had six points and two scored five in the half. The Blazers looked like a more cohesive unit with two times the assists than Delta State, 10-5. Those assists led to a strong shooting half. VSU shot 51.9 percent from the field with 18 points in the paint in the first half.
Nearly halfway through the second half, the teams had merely traded baskets. With 11:08 left the half was 14-14 for a score of 53-38 in favor of VSU. However, Delta State started an 8-0 run before a made free throw from Lewis stopped the run at 54-44 with VSU leading.
SOUTHAVEN, Miss. - Valdosta State played strong defense to force 23 turnovers from Delta State, but it would not be enough as DSU won, 55-52, in overtime to advance to the Gulf South Conference finals.
The Lady Blazers scored 18 points off the Delta State turnovers, but were out rebounded by the Lady Statesmen, 47-24. Delta was able to use those rebounds for 19 second chance points.
Regardless, it was a defensive slugfest between perennial powers in the Gulf South Conference. Michelle Thompson showed her defensive prowess by holding DSU's best three-point shooter, Moe Bell, to just one shot and no points. Meanwhile, Thompson buried two treys and finished with 10 points.
Erin Keller started the scoring for Valdosta State with a jumper and a three-pointer. She finished to lead the team with 11 points. The rest of the team jumped in to make it a 9-3 lead early and force a timeout from Delta State.
After two made free throws from Tamika Booker, Brittany Hudson stole the ball from DSU and Shakeda Richie converted the fast break lay-up on the other end. The Lady Statesmen finally broke the 11-0 run with a lay up from LaMaesha McAdory out of a second early DSU timeout.
After the initial scoring burst from VSU, the pace slowed down. In fact, the Lady Blazers went nearly 10 minutes between field goals, but Delta State went stretches of four and five minutes without a field goal. Due to the pace, the halftime score was just 23-17 in favor of the Lady Blazers.
Neither team shot great in the first frame. Valdosta State finished shooting 28.6 percent overall but 50 percent from long range. Delta State was just 31.3 percent shooting. Valdosta State's defense led to nine steals and forced 15 turnovers compared to just five from VSU. The Lady Blazers were able to score 13 points off those turnovers to help claim the halftime lead.
For much of the early second half, both teams went back and forth. With 7:55 left VSU held a 42-37 lead. But DSU hit four field goals to gain momentum before Sczeny Hartry scored to stop the run. Bug Cooper continued to spark Delta State though. She made a shot and a free throw to pull within two and an assist to Kirsten McBride to tie the game at 46 with 4:02 left to play.
With the game tied at 50 and just 40 seconds to play, Delta State had the opportunity to take the team's first lead of the second half, but Cooper carried the ball for a turnover.
On the ensuing possession, VSU found Hartry open with an opportunity for a three-pointer but the ball went long. The Lady Statesmen rebounded the ball, dribbled past half court and called a timeout with just 9.6 seconds left in the game.
Delta State could not set up the shot they wanted because Cooper threw the ball off the leg of a teammate. Valdosta State had possession with 3.2 seconds to play. In a tough play to call, DSU tied up the inbounds pass from Valdosta State and gained possession. With 0.7 seconds left, the Lady Statesmen had an opportunity for the win but missed the shot.
DSU claimed the team's first lead since three minutes into the first half with a free throw to start overtime. After Keller reclaimed the lead for Valdosta State with a strong lay up, the Lady Blazer defense forced a shot clock violation from Delta State.
Those three points would be the only points of overtime until DSU's Courtney Wilson made the front end of a one and one opportunity to tie the game at 52 with 7.9 seconds to play. Her second shot gained the lead, 53-52. On the inbounds play for Valdosta State, Jenia Babina passed the ball out of bounds for a turnover.
Valdosta State would line up a shot from Thompson at the end, but the final shot fell left..
There is a possibility that the Lady Blazers have not missed the final shot of the season. They are still alive for the NCAA Regional Tournament, but will not know until Sunday night.
Sparked by a ferocious block from Curnell on the defensive end, the Blazers went on an 8-0 run themselves to make it 65-48 with four minutes left to play. It would prove to be too much for Delta State as Valdosta State milked the clock the rest of the game with a spread out offense.
The Blazers will face Arkansas Tech in the finals at 3:45 p.m. Sunday.