JACKSON, Tenn. - Valdosta State withstood a Lambuth run in the final minutes of the game to defeat the Eagles 82-81 in Gulf South Conference men's basketball action Saturday evening.
Trailing by 10 with just over nine minutes remaining in the contest, Lambuth (7-9) slowly whittled away at its deficit while its defense limited Valdosta State (15-4, 2-1) to just 3-of-13 shooting over the closing moments of the contest. Meanwhile, LU's Shaun Merriweather, took over as he scored 13 of the Eagles' final 22 points of the game. However, he missed a pair of free throws in the closing minute, including one with four seconds to go in the contest that would have evened the score and Will Alston grabbed the rebound for VSU to seal the victory.
The game was back and forth throughout the first half as the lead changed six times over the course of the first 20 minutes of play. Christian Hunter posted the Blazers to an early lead as he scored eight of VSU's first 14 points of the contest, the last three coming on a trifecta with 13:35 remaining in the half that posted Valdosta State to a 14-10 advantage.
Lambuth responded with a 7-2 run to take the advantage on a Nakeem Floyd three-pointer just over a minute later, only to have the Blazers rebound for a 27-22 advantage with just over nine minutes remaining in the half.
The two teams battled nearly even over the next seven minutes, as the Eagles cut their deficit to as low as a single point on two occasions, only to have Valdosta State respond with key buckets on each occasion to once again grab a two-possession lead.
Trailing 40-34 with 2:45 remaining, Lambuth put together its final run of the half that resulted in a 42-41 Eagle lead at the intermission. Floyd opened the run with a jumper before Aleksander Eric cut the deficit to two with a lay-up. After a Blazer turnover, Antwan Long evened the game with a jumper and Floyd hit one of two free throws to briefly put Lambuth up by a point. Billy McShepard tied the game with a free throw for the Blazers, but on the ensuing possession, fouled Shoquan Stevens, who connected on one-of-two charity shots for the one-point LU lead at the halftime break.
Lambuth scored 13 of the first 22 points of the second half to grab its largest lead of the game, at 55-50, with 16:37 remaining before the Blazers used a 19-4 run to grab a double-digit advantage. Hunter began the run with a pair of free throws, only to have Long respond with a bucket for the Eagles. A Martrez Scott three-point play closed Valdosta State to within two points while Long pushed the lead back to four with a jumper, setting up a 14-0 spurt by VSU that gave the Blazers the lead for good.
Tristan Steele once again closed the Valdosta State deficit to two points with a lay-up and a minute later took a pass from Harris and hit a jumper to tie the game while Harris came up with a steal on the ensuing Lambuth possession, was fouled and promptly hit one of two free throws to put the Blazers in front. Steele fed Harris for a basket on the next Blazer possession and Hunter added a trifecta while Josh Sparks, Scott and Steele combined to hit four of six free throws to push the VSU lead to 69-59 with 9:32 remaining.
Scott led Valdosta State with a career-high 16 points while also dishing out six assists in the game. The senior connected on three of his six field goal attempts in the game while also being successful on all nine of his free throws. Alston and Hunter added 15 points each while Harris contributed 12 while Sparks blocked six shots, all in the second half.
The Blazers shot 49.0 percent from the floor in the game as they connected on 25-of-51 field goal attempts. After shooting less than 50 percent from the free throw line in each of its last two games, Valdosta State connected on 26-of-40 against the Eagles to shoot 65.0 percent and recorded 10 steals while forcing Lambuth into 17 turnovers.
Merriweather scored 24 points, including 15 in the second half, to lead Lambuth while Floyd tallied 23. The Eagles shot just 40.3 percent from the field, but held a 49-29 advantage in rebounding in the contest as Long pulled down 10 and Merriweather 9.
Valdosta State returns to action Thursday, January 27 when it returns to The Complex for a GSC contest against West Florida. Tip-off is slated for 8:00 p.m.