BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Valdosta State used a 23-4 advantage in points from the free throw line to defeat Delta State 54-49 in the quarterfinals of the Gulf South Conference Tournament at the Pete Hanna Center on the campus of Samford University Friday evening.
With the victory, Valdosta State improves to 18-9 on the season and advances to Saturday's semifinal game against Alabama-Huntsville, which is scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. tip-off.
Valdosta State shot 31 free throws on the night, as compared to just five charity shots for the Statesmen. VSU was particularly successful from the free throw line in the second half as it made 17-of-21 free throws to offset making only five field goal attempts.
The Blazers led for much of the first five minutes of the game before DSU, which ended its season at 11-16, used a 10-2 run to grab the lead for the remainder of the half. As it would for most of the night, Valdosta State struggled shooting during the Statesmen run as VSU missed all three of its field goal attempts, with the only Blazer points during the run coming on a pair of Josh Sparks free throws. Meanwhile, Delta State opened the run with a pair of charity shots of its own before connecting on four straight field goals to build a 10-7 advantage with 13:51 remaining in the first half.
The Delta State lead continued to grow over the next five minutes, as it built a 20-11 lead 12 minutes into the game, before the Blazers began a comeback bid. Sparks scored on back-to-back possessions to open the Blazer spurt before Patrick Diop pulled VSU to within four points. After a pair of baskets by DSU, David Murray and Shaquille Harris hit back-to-back three-pointers to close the Blazers to within a basket and Sparks closed the first half scoring with a pair of free throws that cut the VSU deficit to 26-25 at the intermission.
Valdosta State scored three of the first five points of the second half to even the contest, only to have the Statesmen respond with 12 of the next 17 points to build a 40-33 lead with 11:25 to go in the game.
Neither team scored for the next four mintues before James Anacreon and Diop hit two free throws each to close VSU to within three points. Mike Weems connected on a basket for DSU to once again stretch the Statesmen lead to five, but Diop answered with a three-pointer and Sparks added two more free throws to even the contest at 42-42 with 4:19 remaining in the game.
Delta State responded with the next two baskets to once again take the lead, but those would be the final Statesmen points until Cornell Knight hit a three-pointer with four seconds remaining in the game. Valdosta State reeled off 12 straight points during the DSU scoreless drought, including seven points from the free throw line on eight attempts.
Sparks led all scorers with 21 points in the game and tied for a game-high 11 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the season, and also blocked four shots. The senior connected on 5-of-10 field goals and 11-of-14 free throws and dished out a team-high three assists. Diop tallied his first career double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
VSU made just 13 of its 47 shots in the game to shoot just 27.7 percent from the floor, but owned a 40-37 advantage in rebounding and blocked seven shots, as Anacreon added three to go with the four by Sparks.
Delta State connected on 34.5 percent of its shots in the game as it was 20-fo-58 from the floor. Knight led DSU with 13 points and 11 rebounds while Jack Madgen added 12 points.