LIVINGSTON, Ala. – Christian Hunter was a perfect 7-of-7 from beyond the three-point arc and scored a game-high 24 points to lead Valdosta State to a 75-73 victory over West Alabama in Gulf South Conference men's basketball action Saturday evening at Pruitt Hall.
The win secured the Blazers a spot in next weekend's Gulf South Conference Tournament, which will be held in Southaven, Miss. VSU improved to 20-8 on the season, marking just the second time in school history (1966, 1967 and 1968) that Valdosta State has recorded three straight seasons with 20 victories, and 7-5 in GSC action.
Despite Hunter's hot shooting performance, which saw the senior connect on 8-of-10 field goals overall, the game came down to the final nine seconds of the contest, during which VSU scored three points and got a costly turnover from UWA to seal the victory. With the Blazers trailing 73-72, Sidney Harris hit a jumper in the lane to put Valdosta State in front. After a Tiger timeout, Trevell Coleman lost the ball out of bounds while driving for the winning basket to return the ball to the Blazers. Will Alston was fouled and hit one of two free throws, but Billy McShepard rebounded the miss to allow the clock to run out.
The two teams played even through the first eight minutes of the ball game before West Alabama used an 11-2 run to grab its largest lead of the contest at 23-14. Alquan Mendenhall fueled the run as he hit a pair of three-pointers while Coleman added a three and Ryan Fitch a jumper from the wing.
VSU fought back with 12 straight points, including three baskets from McShepard and two threes from Hunter, to regain the lead en route to a 38-30 Blazer advantage at the half.
Valdosta State scored the first seven points of the second half to raise its advantage to 15 points before West Alabama began to whittle away at its deficit. The Tigers scored six straight points to close to within nine and, after VSU briefly pushed its advantage back to double digits, scored 10 straight to move to within 55-53.
The Blazers scored the next five points of the game to regain a seven-point lead, only to have UWA respond with a 19-6 run to take a 72-66 advantage with 1:07 remaining in the contest. Hunter responded with his final three-pointer of the night with 60 seconds remaining in the game and, after Fitch hit one of two free throws for West Alabama, Sidney Harris converted a three-point play to move the Blazers to within one, setting up the dramatic final nine seconds of the game.
Hunter's seven three-pointers increased his career total to 195, moving him into second place in the VSU career record book, while Valdosta State's nine threes in the game gave the Blazers 266 for the season, establishing a new VSU single season team record.
McShepard tallied his 11th double-double of the season, and his fourth in as many games, as he finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Harris added 13 points and six assists for the Blazers, who shot 55.8 percent from the field in the game while connecting on 29-of-52 field goal attempts.
Korrielle Beavers and Coleman led UWA with 15 points each while Mendenhall finished with 14. The Tigers shot 43.4 percent in the contest, but committed just nine turnovers while recording 11 steals on 15 VSU turnovers.
Valdosta State awaits the outcome of Saturday evening's North Alabama versus Alabama-Huntsville game to determine what seed the Blazers will be in the upcoming GSC Tournament. If UAH wins, VSU will be the No. 2 seed out of the East and will play West No. 3 Delta State while if UNA wins, VSU will be the No. 3 seed and will play West No. 2 Harding.