St. Petersburg, Fla. – Tampa never trailed as it defeated Valdosta
State 92-81 in the first day of play at the Eckerd College Thanksgiving
Classic Friday evening.
The Spartans (2-1) opened the game on an 11-2 run over the first four
minutes of play. A Jeremy Black lay-up opened the scoring before VSU’s
Bahaadar Russell evened the game with a bucket. Chris King proceeded to
hit a pair of free throws while Johnathan Ball added a lay-in and a
three before Chris Evans closed out the run with jumper.
The lead grew to as much as 16-4 over the next two minutes before
Valdosta State (3-1) cut into its deficit. Devario Hudson opened the
Blazer run with a dunk before Korey Spates and Russell registered
back-to-back lay-ups off steals. UT responded by wrapping an Evans
trifecta and a King free throw around a Hudson jumper before DeAndre
Washington moved VSU to within 20-15 with a three with 10 minutes
remaining in the first half.
The Spartans pushed their advantage back to as much as 36-24 over the
remaining minutes of the half, while VSU closed to within six on three
occasions as the score settled at 41-31 in favor of Tampa at the half.
UT scored 10 of the first 14 points of the second half to build a
16-point lead before Valdosta State staged its final run of the game.
Trailing 53-37 with 15:18 to go, the Blazers scored nine of the next 10
points, including a pair of baskets by Spates, to close to within 54-46.
Tampa pushed its advantage back to 70-58 with 7:40 to go, but Valdosta
State scored the next seven points, on a lay-ins by Russell and Tristan
Crawford and a three by Russell to force a Spartan timeout with 5:57
remaining in the game.
Tampa came out of the time out and scored five consecutive points en
route to a 90-75 lead with 1:27 remaining.
Russell led the Blazers with a career-high 26 points while Hudson
finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, his third double-double of the
season. Crawford tallied 12 points and Spates 11 as VSU hit 33-of-76
field goal attempts (43.4 percent). The Blazers were hampered by 28
fouls, as Hudson and Russell both fouled out, and tallied 13 steals on
21 Spartan turnovers.
Black registered a career-high 30 points while also registering 16
rebounds for the Spartans. Ball finished with 19 points, Evans 13 and
King 11, along with 10 boards. Tampa shot 58.5 percent (31-of-53) from
the floor, including 57.1 percent (8-of-14) from beyond the three point
line, and out-rebounded Valdosta State 46-31.
Valdosta State returns to action Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. when it
plays host Eckerd in the final game of the Classic.