Advertisement

Owens, Hamilton lead Blazers in rout of Bucs

Dec. 15—VALDOSTA — Mired in a three-game losing streak, the Valdosta State men's basketball team understood something needed to change.

The Blazers (7-5, 4-3 Gulf South Conference) made some tweaks to their starting lineup and played with more energy defensively as they rolled struggling Christian Brothers (1-8, 1-5 GSC) 86-66 Tuesday night.

"I really thought, defensively, we had to try to make them uncomfortable," Blazers head coach Mike Helfer said. "We had not been doing that. Our focus was to make the ball handler uncomfortable and we were able to do that against them and turn them over, I think, 15 times in the first half.

"We really talked about bringing the practice energy to the game floor. That's how we've been practicing but we just hadn't done it on game night. Tonight, guys just seemed to take off the reins and we went wild — not in a bad way; we were running around, covering for each other, helping, pressuring the ball. It was really a team defensive effort."

Senior guards Jacolbey Owens and Cam Hamilton led the way for the Blazers.

Owens poured in a game-high 23 points — his second straight game with 23 — while dishing seven assists along with four steals and four rebounds.

Hamilton, who got the start for the Blazers for the first time since Nov. 6, did damage at both ends for the Blazers with 15 points, five assists and three steals in 32 minutes.

Graduate Ryan Black got in on the act as well with 14 points of his own. Black, who also rejoined the starting lineup for the first time since Nov. 6, made 5 of 9 field goals — knocking down 4 of 7 from beyond the arc in 29 minutes.

The trio combined to go 12 of 24 from 3-point land in the win. Not known primarily for his 3-point shooting, Owens drilled a career-high 5 of 9 from deep.

Owens' improved shooting, Helfer said, comes from focused work in the offseason. The senior from Warner Robins is also shooting a career-best 78% from the throw line — up from a career-worst 57.6% a season ago.

"He's really worked hard on his shooting, especially this past summer," Helfer said of Owens. "He's as good a 3-point shooter as we have, but he just doesn't think shot first. He's thinking drive, pass the ball. Tonight, I was proud of him taking threes and making them. He's a fantastic 3-point shooter when he shoots them with confidence and looks for the three, but he's a great player. He had 23, 7, 4 and 4 which is an unbelievable line."

VSU shot 51.6% from the floor, 13 of 34 from beyond the arc and finished with 22 assists on 32 field goals.

The Blazers took their largest lead of 26 points with back-to-back 3s from sophomore Caden Boser and Owens in the first 52 seconds of the second half, forcing a timeout from CBU coach John T. Reilly.

By moving Hamilton and Black into the starting lineup and moving forwards Maurice Gordon and Mohamed Fofana to the bench, the Blazers got a much-needed attitude adjustment defensively as well as more of a scoring punch from the perimeter.

Hamilton, in particular, benefited most from the change. Helfer identified the 5-11 senior from Charlotte as the tone-setter in Tuesday's win.

"I was really proud of Cam Hamilton because he got to start. Obviously he's been coming off the bench, but he affected the game from the get-go defensively, not offensively and that's different for him," Helfer said. "I'm not saying that he can't do it, he just set the tone right away in this game defensively and I thought that was big for our team. I was proud of him.

"I feel like we have eight or nine guys that can start and it's just gonna have to be a feel and a rhythm thing. We really wanted to get off to a good start. We had trailed in nine of our first ten games. We had trailed at the 16-minute media mark, so our goal was to try to get a better start. Tonight, we were up 10-2 to start the game and I just think that sets the tone differently than the opponent being up 10-2. I really do and I think that's really important."

The Blazers led 50-30 at halftime behind 12 points from Owens and 56% shooting. The Blazers led by as many as 22 in the first half.

Sophomore Daniel Loos paced the Bucs with 20 points on 10 of 13 shooting in the game. Point guard Aiden Ruthsatz and reserve Charlie Champagne each scored 12 while shooting guard Madison Monroe nearly notched a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds in the loss.

The Bucs shot well Tuesday night (49%) but were undone by 23 turnovers that the Blazers turned into 29 points. The miscues for the half-court oriented Bucs fueled the Blazers' transition game as the Blazers produced 20 fast break points.

Led by Owens and Hamilton, the Blazers finished with 14 steals on the night.

"Defensively, (turnovers) can start your transition," Helfer said. "It's hard to transition when they're scoring the basketball. If you can turn them over, rebound it and get going, then you've got opportunities and space opens up on the floor. That's kind of what we wanted to do and that's kind of been my philosophy since I got here and we got away from it a little bit, so we're back to trying to create havoc defensively and turn that into transition."

RECORD WATCH

With three steals Tuesday, Cam Hamilton (171) now sits just five steals away from tying Marlon Jones on the all-time career steals list. Jones set the record from 1982-87 with 176 steals for the Blazers.

UP NEXT

Valdosta State hosted Palm Beach Atlantic in their final home game of 2022. The Blazers defeated the Sailfish 72-71 in West Palm Beach last season.

Following Thursday's game, the Blazers hit the road for GSC matchups at West Florida Dec. 18 and Auburn Montgomery on New Year's Eve to close out 2022.

"I don't know a lot about (Palm Beach Atlantic), they'll be good," Helfer said. "Cole (Rose) does a really good job. He was at Lee University so they'll be very similar to Lee, which was a great game in here, so it's gonna be a close game. It's gonna be a war. Any time you play a Sunshine team, you have to be ready to play because that's gonna be a regional game that's looked at for regional consideration [in the NCAA Tournament]. For us, we've just got to make sure we're ready to go and come out with fresh legs and get after it."

Shane Thomas is the sports editor at the Valdosta Daily Times.