No napkins needed.
The Blazers began Gulf South Conference play on Thursday night as they defeated the Union Bulldogs 91-80. The paint was the center of attention, yet it was messy.
Darrell Jones came up big for VSU, posting season-highs with 19 points, eight rebounds, and five assists. At 250-pounds, Jones showcased his versatility by stepping outside to drain two three-pointers and serving as a mismatch around the rim.
“I felt that my paint presence tonight was at its best,” Jones said enthusiastically. “When Union came to attack the basket, I made sure to place myself in the best possible position to get a rebound or defend the shot.”
Jones had 11 of his 19 points in the second half.
Along with Jones, Justice was at target practice. No. 12 was in full effect, scoring a game-high 26 points on an efficient 50 percent clip. The start of his night set the tone for what the ending could be.
Justice catches an outlet pass from Clay Guillozet at the 19-minute mark in the first half. Union’s Tylandrius Parks picked up Justice as soon as he passed half court with outstanding defense. Justice then exposed Parks by crossing him and stepping back for a smooth jumper.
The sneakers of Parks screeched the court of the Complex, leaving the fans shocked by what just happened. Justice saw the entire play through before it happened.
“I knew I needed to see the ball go in once for me to really get a feel for this game early,” Justice said. “I saw him (Parks) coming to stop me at half court, so I pushed the pace and got towards the free throw line, stepped back and made the bucket.”
In the second half, Justice and the Blazers amped up the pressure, getting to the basket, showing off the long range three-pointers and running the floor. Their fast style of play ultimately was a key factor in the victory.
“When we play fast, I play better, and the team plays better,” Justice said. “Once we started doing that, defensively we put our nose in their chest and gave them everything. Once we got the defensive rebounds, we were off and running.”
The Blazers scored nine points on the fast break in the second half, capitalizing on 10 second-half turnovers by Union. Also, they hit 4-of-8 triples after starting the game 3-of-11 from beyond the arc.
Starting center Greg Zuppas went down with an apparent knee injury in the second half, so Jones was played a lot more down low to close the game. Following the move, VSU outscored the Bulldogs by 13 in the second half.
Jones praised the Blazer’s depth after Zuppas came out the game.
“It makes the game a lot easier when we can play like that,” Jones said. “I hope Greg is all right, but it just makes it easier when we have four guards out there and we can match up.”
With so much guard play on the court in the second half, Jones believed the hardest thing to do without Zuppas was rebound on the defensive end. Union barely etch VSU in the second half rebounding battle at 18-17.
Payton Stovall served as the biggest offensive threat to the Blazers. He played all 40 minutes for the Bulldogs, notching 23 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.
The Blazers now have their sights set to Christian Brothers Buccaneers on Saturday at the Complex, completing a five-game home stand.
The Buccaneers defeated West Florida 71-60 in Pensacola on Thursday. The Blazers will experience more of the same with Christian Brothers, as their style of play mimics the methodical, deliberate, and score-late pace of Union.
Christian Brothers will be led by 6-foot-8 versatile senior forward Adam Dieball, who is No. 4 in the GSC in scoring with 19 points per game.
The game is slated to begin at 8 p.m. ET
Written by Prince Robinson Jr, Sports Editor. Photo Courtesy of VSU Athletics.
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