JACKSON, TN - A slow start on offense proved to be too much to overcome as Florida Southern College women's basketball fell to Valdosta State, 63-60, in the first round of the 2018 NCAA South Regional on Friday at Fred DeLay Gymnasium. The Moccasins (25-5) made just one field goal in the first quarter as the Lady Blazers (22-8) used a stifling defensive effort to advance to the semifinals of the South Regional.
Florida Southern, which entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed, trailed by as many as 16 points in the second quarter but battled all the way back to get within a point in the closing seconds. However, the Blazers hit two key free-throws in the waning moments and Anja Fuchs-Robetin's potential game-tying three-pointer came up short at the buzzer. Despite the early exit in the tournament, the Mocs did win the Sunshine State Conference regular-season and tournament titles, had the SSC's Player (Fuchs-Robetin) and Coach of the Year (Betsy Harris), and boasted two other all-SSC selections (Jensen Blassage & Camille Giardina).
HOW IT HAPPENED
• Neither team was able to find is rhythm on offense in the early stages of the game as the Moccasins did not score from the floor until Blassage connected on a layup with 6:30 to go in the opening period. It would be Florida Southern's final made basket until Giardina scored with 8:53 to go in the second quarter, which allowed Valdosta State to build an 18-11 lead after one quarter. The Mocs did perform well from the charity stripe in the first frame, hitting 9-of-11 free throws.
• Florida Southern's offensive woes carried over into the second quarter as the Moccasins hit just 5-of-13 shots, while the Blazers connected on six of their 10 attempts. The offensive struggles allowed Valdosta State to jump out to a lead as big as 16 points (31-15) with just under six minutes to go in the first half and take a 35-24 advantage into the locker room.
• The Mocs finally began to find their footing on offense in the third quarter as they began to claw their way back into contention. Mercedez Claybrone opened the second-half scoring with a layup on FSC's first possession to slice the deficit back to single digits (35-26) as the Moccasins opened the half on a 5-0 run to pull within six (35-29) with 7:31 on the clock. The Moccasins were able to stay within striking distance and ended the third down by just seven (49-42).
• After the Blazers opened a 12-point lead to start the fourth quarter (54-42) and all hope seemed lost, the Mocs battled back to pull with three (58-55) with 1:08 to play. Trailing by five (60-55) with less than 30 seconds to go, Giardina nailed a three-pointer to make it 60-58. The Blazers hit one of two free throws to make it 61-58 with 18 ticks left, but Fuchs-Robetin hit a layup just three seconds later to make it 61-60. Valdosta State connected on a pair of crucial free throws to snag a three-point lead with 4.3 seconds to go, and the Moccasins' last-gasp three fell just short, ending their tournament run.
• Giardina led Florida Southern with 21 points, while Fuchs-Robetin had 17 and Blassage poured in 13. The Blazers were led by Madi Mitchell's game-high 22 points, while the Valdosta State bench outscored the Mocs' reserves 16-0. Mitchell also finished with a game-high 10 rebounds. Florida Southern shot just 32.8 percent (19-of-58), while the Blazers shot 47.1 percent (24-of-51) including a 5-of-12 mark from three-point range. The Mocs hit just 4-of-14 from long range, but connected on 81.8 percent (18-of-22) from the free-throw line.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
• Florida Southern fell to 3-13 all-time against Valdosta State, including a 1-2 record when facing the Blazers in the NCAA Tournament. The Moccasins dropped to 10-13 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including 7-6 in opening-round games.
• The Blazers finished with a 33-26 edge in rebounds and outscored the Mocs 34-24 in the paint. Florida Southern held a 19-8 advantage in points off turnovers and scored eight fastbreak points to VSU's two.
• The Mocs have won at least 20 games in each of the past three years, and have advanced to the NCAA Tournament in three of their first four years under head coach Betsy Harris.