Cleveland, MS -- In a matchup that Gulf South Conference fans are sure to see in the postseason, Valdosta State fell to Delta State, 56-52, to split the regular season with the Lady Statesmen. After going scoreless in the first half, Brittany Ferguson came to life with 16 second half points before fouling out with 51 seconds left in a two-point game.
Delta State and VSU are the two best defensive teams in the GSC and it showed Thursday night. The Lady Statesmen were able to open an eight-point lead in the second half, and, against these defenses, a lead that small could prove to be insurmountable.
Both teams combined for 14 steals and 32 turnovers split down the middle. Delta State held a slight advantage on the glass, 32-31. In fact, both teams played pretty evenly save a 10-1 run for Delta State in the middle of the second half.
Within the first five minutes of the game, Valdosta State was in a 5-0 hole, then saw a 7-2 deficit. At that point, freshman point guard Kourtnee Williams entered the game. She sparked a 10-5 VSU run in which she buried two three-pointers and stole the ball to finish on the other end with two free throws to tie the game at 12 with just over 10 minutes to play. Williams finished with eight points, three rebounds and three steals.
Over the next five minutes, Delta State scored two baskets before Sczeny Hartry answered with a three-pointer to pull within one, 16-15. The Lady Statesmen went on a 6-0 run, but Hartry cut the run in half with another three-pointer.
Next, Delta State’s Veronica Walker scored with 1:56 left in the half for a six-point Lady Statesmen lead. The Lady Blazers, however, would not settle for a halftime deficit. Courtney Mitchell scored next followed by a fast break lay-up from Jordan Waugh set up by Williams to make it a two-point game with 50 seconds left.
With just 2.9 seconds left, Waugh fouled Seneca Walton. Walton could only convert one of her free throws for a three-point lead, but then Waugh made the most impressive shot of the season. Valdosta State pushed the ball to Waugh along the sideline at half court where she made a spin move on the DSU defender before nailing a half court buzzer beater to tie the game at 25 before the break.
Waugh put an exclamation on a half that saw Valdosta State make more three-pointers (five) than two-pointers (three). The Lady Blazers also outrebounded Delta State, 23-19, in the half to start where they left off in the teams’ last meeting in which VSU held an eight-rebound advantage.
Mitchell scored the first points of the second half just 16 seconds into the frame for Valdosta State’s first lead of the game, 27-25. Maylisa Johnson, the conference leader in assists, made the pass to set up Mitchell after driving across the lane.
After Delta State tied the game at 27, Brittney Nelson jumped in on the three-point shooting clinic with her first points of the game. The Lady Statesmen answered with four more points before Ferguson scored her first points of the game for a 32-31 lead.
Brooke Rhodes, Delta State’s second leading scorer, answered with DSU’s first three-pointer of the game to spark a 10-1 DSU run that led to the largest lead of the game, eight points, 41-33. Valdosta State methodically closed the gap, largely based off the work of Ferguson who scored 13 of VSU’s 15 points over a nine-minute stretch late in the game before fouling out with 51.3 seconds left to play and VSU trailing, 54-52.
With 21.3 seconds left and just one second left on Delta State’s shot clock, Hartry was called for a foul. Denesha Henderson missed the front end of two free throws but converted the second for a three-point DSU lead, 55-52.
Out of a Delta State timeout, Williams drew a foul on Henderson with 11.5 seconds left but could not convert a free throw so the Lady Blazers were forced to foul Rhodes, the most accurate free throw shooter in the Gulf South Conference. Rhodes missed the first free throw before a Kiley Hill timeout. Rhodes converted the second free throw to clinch the game with a four-point lead late, 56-52.
Delta State saw Walker lead the team in scoring and rebounding with 18 points and six rebounds. Rhodes finished with 13 points while Henderson scored 11. Brittany Roberts gave out five assists and Aubree Ray tallied five blocks.
Valdosta State will look to rebound against Christian Brothers at 3 p.m. Saturday.