D.J. Covington had 19 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks for the VMI Keydets, but Winthrop Eagle point guard Keon Johnson made a driving, double-clutch layup with less than two seconds to go to give Winthrop a 58-57 victory over VMI, in Big South basketball action Saturday in Rock Hill, S.C.
After QJ Peterson made four free throws in an eight-second span, putting the Keydets (10-9, 3-3 Big South) up 57-56 with 10 seconds to go, Winthrop (10-8, 4-2 BSC) got the ball across midcourt and called timeout. After the break, they got the ball to Johnson, who drove down the right side of the key, just outside the painted area and hit an arching basket off the backboard to provide WU with the winning margin. Covington inbounded the ball the length of the court to Brian Brown, but the resulting 15-foot shot was no good and the Keydets came up short.
Saturday’s contest was a tale of two halves, as after hitting just 8 of 30 field goals in the first half, the Eagles improved to 11 of 30 (36.7%) in the final period. The Keydets, meanwhile, shot the ball very well in the first 20 minutes, going 15 of 32 from the floor, but turned ice cold late in hitting just 5 of their final 26 shots (19.2%) from the field.
In defeat, the Keydets were led by Covington’s double-double, his eighth of the season, but Peterson was held to a 4 of 17 contest (16 points) and Rodney Glasgow was scoreless in the second half. Winthrop got 18 points from Keon Moore and 17 points from Johnson in its victory.
There was no indication this game would be close early, as the Keydets sprinted out to a quick 15-3 lead just five minutes in. That included a game-starting 11-0 run in which all 11 points were scored by Glasgow or Peterson.
WU chipped away, pulling within five on a pair of occasions, including at the 7:03 mark on a layup by James Bourne that made it 24-19.
The home team was still within seven, 29-22 when VMI sprinted away once again, using an 8-0 run to take a game-high 15-point lead, 37-22, with just over two minutes left in the half. Winthrop scored the period’s final hoop, so the Keydets went into the locker room ahead by a 37-24 count.
The Eagles got back into the game quickly, starting the second half on a 13-1 run that drew them within 38-37 with 15:29 left. VMI maintained its lead, however, and when Peterson drained his lone three-pointer of the night with 9:16 to play, it was back to a six-point margin at 47-41.
Winthrop answered with the turning point in the game, three straight possessions that ended in three-pointers, a 9-0 run and its first lead of the day, 50-47 with 7:56 on the clock. Despite the Keydets’ shooting struggles, the VMI defense held Winthrop to just one field goal over the next 6:03, allowing the visitors to reclaim the lead, 53-52, on a Covington free throw with 1:26 left. WU would score the next four points, setting the stage for Peterson’s free throws and the game-ending dramatics.
Saturday’s loss was VMI’s third straight game decided by five points or less, the first time the Keydets had played three straight games decided by that margin since Dec. 31, 2008 – Jan. 10, 2009, when they had four such contests in a row.
QUOTES – VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom
“That’s as tough a loss as I’ve had. We lost that game in the first four minutes of the second half. We just didn’t play well with the lead. The guys grinded it out in the second half and sometimes you have to grind it. We just didn’t make enough plays.”
“Today was one of those days. We had a bunch go in and out and we couldn’t throw it in the ocean. We couldn’t have been more off with some of our three-point shots.”
“They took the fight to us in the first minutes of the second half. They had nothing to lose. They made some plays. We let (Keon) Moore get loose and he’s a really good player. We have to step up and make free throws more. Basically, what could have gone wrong, did go wrong.”
“D.J. Covington played well and through a lot of adversity. He hung in there and was awesome.”