BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Josh Sparks scored 27 points and had 11 rebounds to lead Valdosta State to a 76-68 victory over No. 6 Alabama-Huntsville in the semifinals of the Gulf South Conference Tournament at the Pete Hanna Center on the campus of Samford University Saturday evening.
With the win, VSU improved to 19-9 on the season and advances to the GSC championship game for the fourth time in school history.
Sparks made six of his eight field goal attempts and 15-of-17 free throws to lead all scorers. He added three offensive rebounds and eight on the defensive end for his second double-double in as many days. He also dished out two assists and had a steal, although he finished the game without a blocked shot, marking the first time this season he did not record a block in a game.
Alabama-Huntsville raced out to an early lead as it built a 16-8 advantage five minutes into the contest. The Chargers made seven of their first 10 field goal attempts while building their lead, which culminated with a Jaime Smith three-point play with 15:33 to play in the first half.
Valdosta State fought back over the ensuing five minutes as it scored 12 of the game's next 14 points. David Murray sparked the run as he wrapped two three-pointers around a Xavier Baldwin score for UAH and a Sparks basket for eight quick VSU points. Shaquille Harris evened the game at 18-18 with a lay-up off a steal while Murray put VSU in front with a jumper and Alan Love closed out the run with a lay-up.
The remainder of the first half featured four ties and two lead changes as neither team led by more than six points in the final 10 minutes of the frame. Sparks broke the final tie of the half with two free throws and Patrick Diop added a pair of baskets to give VSU a 39-33 halftime lead.
Baskets by James Anacreon and Sparks pushed the Blazer advantage to 10 points early in the second half, but Smith hit two three-pointers to pull Alabama-Huntsville to four points.
Alabama-Huntsville got its deficit to two points on two different occasions over the next seven minutes and eventually evened the contest at 52-52 on a Wayne Dedrick three-pointer with 8:57 to play, but Murray answered with a three-pointer of his own to put Valdosta State back in front.
VSU quickly rebuilt its lead as Sparks and Murray made three-point plays on each of the next two Valdosta State trips down the floor and Alabama-Huntsville got no closer than three the rest of the way as the Blazers seven of nine free throws in the final two minutes.
Murray added 19 points while Harris added 11. The Blazers shot 50.0 percent from the floor as they made 25-of-50 shots and owned a 21-8 advantage in scoring from the free throw line. VSU also owned a 39-23 advantage in rebounding in the game.
Smith and Dedrick each scored 19 points to lead Alabama-Huntsville while Campbell added 15. The Chargers made 25-of-56 shots to shoot 44.6 percent from the floor.
Valdosta State will play the winner of the Saturday evening's semifinal game between Christian Brothers and West Florida in Sunday's championship game. The game is scheduled for a 5:30 p.m. tip-off and will be aired on all of the GSC TV outlets, including Mediacom, CSS and ESPN3.