Campbell 80, VMI 73

Despite 33 points from Keith Gabriel and a career-best 18 rebounds from Stan Okoye, the Campbell Camels defeated the VMI Keydets, 80-73, in Big South basketball action Saturday at Gore Arena in Buies Creek, N.C.

After Campbell (14-8, 8-2 Big South) had pulled out to a nine-point lead early in the second half, the Keydets (10-10, 5-5) shot their way back into the contest, closing to within 45-42 after a pair of Michael Sparks free throws with 14:58 to go. Unfortunately for VMI, Eric Griffin had a dunk on the ensuing possession, pushing the lead back to five, and the Keydets could get no closer than four the rest of the way.

Gabriel’s 33 points were one shy of his career high, which he last accomplished in December at Old Dominion, while Okoye’s 18 rebounds were three more than he had at Marshall last season. Gabriel also matched his career-high with eight boards.

VMI also saw double-digit scoring from Ron Burks, who had 13 points, while Campbell was led by Griffin’s 25 markers and Darren White’s 22 points.

The loss dropped VMI to 0-10 in away games this season, a figure that keeps them as one of two teams in Division I to be perfect at home (9-0) and winless on the road. The other squad, Southeastern Louisiana, plays Saturday evening at home.

On this night, however, Campbell and VMI went back and forth in the early going. The Camels jumped out to a 6-0 lead, but VMI fired back with seven straight points and took its first lead, 7-6, on an Okoye dunk just over four minutes into the game. That would be the first of six lead changes over the next 5:59 of game action, the only six lead changes of the night. When White hit the first of two free throws at the 8:35 mark, Campbell had the lead for good, 17-16.

The Camels could not stretch their lead, however, and it was a single point on four different occasions until the home team scored the final four points of the half, giving them a 32-27 lead at the break. White had nine points and 10 boards for CU early, while Gabriel had just six of his eventual 33 at halftime.

Gabriel hit a trey early in the second half, cutting the lead to two, but from there, CU stretched its lead to nine. The effort was capped with a three-pointer by Lorne Merthie at the 16:50 mark, making it a 43-34 game, but VMI battled back. Sparks hit a three on the Keydets’ next possession, and after CU scored at the other end, Gabriel hit a three of his own. Sparks then hit two free throws to make it a three-point game, setting the stage for Griffin’s dunk that would allow VMI no closer.

After the Camels stretched their lead to 12 with 6:25 to go, Gabriel helped bring the Keydets within six, hitting a three with 5:21 on the clock, but Griffin scored four straight points to push the lead back to 10. Gabriel then hit two free throws to make it an eight-point game, 73-65, with 2:59 to play, and kept it at that margin with 2:25 left, but White and Griffin pushed Campbell to the win, as the two combined for 10 of Campbell’s 11 points in the final 4:59.

The Keydets, despite being held to 10 of 36 shooting in the first half (27.8%) finished at 36.1% for the evening (26 of 72). Campbell hit 30 of 64 shots overall (46.9%) in its fourth straight win. The Keydets had 27 second chance points, and Gabriel had 27 of his own in the second half, but Campbell blocked eight shots and, despite Okoye’s 18 rebounds, won the war on the glass by a 45-44 count.

VMI basketball will return to action Thursday, traveling to Radford to take on the Radford Highlanders. Game time is set for 7 p.m.

Quotes – VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom

“We weren’t very efficient offensively. If we had made a few more free throws and a couple more threes, that may have done it. But we had two turnovers on shot clock violations in the first half-that was unacceptable. You have to finish around the rim. That was our thing that got us today. And you have to be tougher than they are. But they just manhandled us and stripped us of the ball and they were tough.”

“If you’re going to win on the road, you have to get 50-50 balls and play harder than the opponent.”

“I thought Darren White was the difference maker for them in the first half.”

“It just seemed like we were always coming from behind, even when we were up.”

“We played much harder than we did on the road before, but you have to execute.”


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