Gardner-Webb 77, VMI 61

Keydet freshman Brian Brown had a career-high 15 points, but the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs broke open a close game with a 30-2 run and went on to defeat VMI, 77-61, in Big South basketball action Saturday night in Boiling Springs, N.C.

With the Keydets (12-13, 7-8 Big South) leading 22-14 with seven minutes to play in the first half, Gardner-Webb (11-16, 6-9) went on an 11-0 run to take a three-point lead, 25-22, with just over two minutes left in the half. Keith Gabriel answered with a basket, but VMI would not score again until the 16:09 mark of the second half, a span of 6:09 of game action. The Runnin’ Bulldogs, meanwhile, outscored VMI 19-0 during that stretch, en route to a 20-point cushion that they would not reliquish.

Brown paced VMI with 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting, but overall, the Keydets managed to hit just 21 of 63 shots (33.3%) from the field, while GWU shot the ball at a 47.5% clip (29 of 61). Keith Gabriel (14 points) and Ron Burks (12) were also in double figures for a VMI team that was missing junior Stan Okoye, who was unable to play after suffering a concussion in Thursday’s loss to Presbyterian College.

The win was GWU’s first over VMI since Jan. 16, 2010, as the Keydets had run off four straight victories over the Runnin’ Bulldogs, including a 76-72 win earlier this season. The home team was led by Donta Harper’s 14 points.

GWU jumped out to the early 6-0 lead, as the Keydets failed to make a basket for the first 4:15 of action, but VMI came back with an 8-2 run and tied the game, 8-8, on a Brown basket at 13:55. Burks then converted two free throws 39 seconds later, and the Keydets had their first lead, 10-8.

That lead slowly grew, and hit seven on a Michael Sparks three-pointer with 8:36 left in the half, a shot that put VMI up 20-13. Stefon Johnson split a pair of free throws for the home team, cutting the margin to six, but Brown converted a basket with seven minutes left in the half, giving the Keydets a 22-14 lead.

Unfortunately for VMI, Laron Buggs quickly answered with a basket, and that opened the game-breaking run. The visitors would score just one basket the remainder of the half, as GWU closed the period on a 17-2 run and led, 31-24, at the break.

The first half saw Brown lead VMI with nine points, but the Keydets shot just 2 of 15 from three-point range, helping GWU hold the visitors to 24 first half points. That equaled VMI’s lowest point total for a half this season, as the Keydets also had 24 points in the second half against Presbyterian College on Dec. 31.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs kept up their momentum early in the second half, outscoring VMI 13-0 over the first three-plus minutes. The Keydets had three turnovers and shot 0 for 5 during that time, as Gardner-Webb opened up a 20-point margin, 44-24.

VMI responded with an 8-2 run, closing the gap to 14 points on a Ron Burks layup with 14:48 to play, but the home team stretched its lead back to 20 with 11:52 to go, 54-34. The Runnin’ Bulldogs had a game-high 22-point lead, 72-50, with 3:42 to play, but the Keydets outscored them 11-5 over the remainder of the contest, accounting for the final margin.

In winning, Gardner-Webb scored nearly two-thirds of their points in the paint, as the Runnin’ Bulldogs held a 50-24 edge in that category, and GWU scored 22 fast-break points to four for VMI. Johnson and Tashan Newsome each scored 13 points for the home team, while Jarid Watson posted a career-high seven rebounds for the Keydets, doing so in just 13 minutes of action.

VMI basketball will return to action Tuesday, as the Keydets travel across the Blue Ridge Mountains to take on the Liberty Flames in a Big South contest. Game time in Lynchburg is set for 7 p.m., and the game will carried on ESPN3.

VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom

“After we built the lead in the first half, we started throwing it to the wrong team.  – different color jerseys, just crazy plays. We’d go stale, don’t make a shot, turn it over into breakout layups with soft fouls and “and ones” and go down seven at the break. And they punched us in the mouth the first four minutes of the second half and we didn’t respond. ”

” I thought we fought hard early, but once we started missing shots, we didn’t play as hard.”

“Brian Brown played great. I’m really proud of him. He’s been hurt and hasn’t been able to play. He persevered and just kept playing and he got his opportunity and made the most of it tonight. He was the lone bright spot for us. ”

“It was tough being without our leading scorer and leading rebounder (Stan Okoye). All we can do is play with the ones we got. But you can’t win many games being good for nine minutes.”

“We’ll have to play a whole lot better Tuesday night than we did tonight when we face Liberty.”


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