The VMI Keydets used a 6-0 run to pull away, and then distanced themselves by outscoring the Samford Bulldogs 15-1 at the free throw line in the second half en route to an 88-66 win Thursday night at the Pete Hanna Center in Birmingham, Ala. The game was the SoCon opener for both teams.
The two teams were locked in a tight contest until VMI (4-4, 1-0 SoCon) saw Julian Eleby and QJ Peterson hit three-pointers on back to back possessions with just over 17 minutes to play. That gave the Keydets a 10-point cushion, and Samford (3-6, 0-1) got no closer than eight the rest of the way.
VMI was able to maintain distance by going 15 of 16 from the foul line in the second half, led by Peterson’s efforts, as the sophomore went 15 of 17 at the charity stripe on the evening. He was four free throws shy of the school record for makes en route to a game-high 28 points. Eleby finished with 19 and Jordan Weethee added a double-double, 14 points and 11 boards.
Samford assumed an early 8-2 lead firing up a transition game that led to multiple layups over the opening minutes. The Keydets quickly turned the momentum around by forcing turnovers including back-to-back steals and layups by Eleby that helped jumpstart the visitors to a 10-0 run and into their first lead of the night.
The first half was a battle between Samford’s inside game and VMI’s staunch full-court pressure for much of the first half. The Keydets only hit one of their first 10 attempts from 3-point range over the first eight minutes of regulation, but hung in the game by forcing the Bulldogs into 10 turnovers that had been converted into 12 VMI points by the under-8 media timeout.
The first half saw four more lead changes and seven ties before the game took a dramatic turn late in the half. Bulldog forward Michael Bradley canned a jumper to tie the game at 32-32 at the 4:38 mark, but the Keydets outscored Samford 18-8 the rest of the way before halftime. Peterson started the run with a deep 3-ball at 4:17 to put VMI ahead for good. Another Peterson trey at 1:42 pushed the margin to 44-38 that capped a 10-4 spurt and Brian Brown’s lane floater at the buzzer put VMI ahead 50-40 at the break.
Samford charged out of the locker room by scoring the first six points of the second half and cut the VMI lead to 50-46 on a layup by Christen Cunningham, but the Keydets countered by the quick back-to-back 3’s by Eleby and Peterson to push the Keydet lead back to 10 at the 15:39 mark. Samford would trim the game to single digits only once more on a 3-point play by Jamal Shabazz that made it 62-53 with 14:18 left.
The Bulldogs trailed 73-63 with 6:27 remaining in regulation before VMI embarked on an 11-0 run over the next four minutes to break the game open. Jarid Watson and Eleby started the decisive outburst with jumpers and the Bulldogs were often limited to single shots each trip down the floor as the game wound down.
The Keydets forced 20 turnovers and held a 25-9 count in points off turnovers. The Keydets, led by Peterson’s 15 of 17 performance, shot 25 of 35 from the charity stripe.
Darius Jones-Gibson and Tyler Hood each scored 13 points to pace Samford .
VMI continues its conference road swing Saturday at Mercer. Tipoff in Macon is 4:00 p.m.
Head Coach Duggar Baucom
“We let them hit us in the mouth a little bit in the second half at the start as they cut it down to 4, but we made a few plays and never really looked back. We didn’t shoot it great by any means, but I thought we were warriors; we battled and really competed with 18 offensive rebounds. That’s something we can live with as undersized as we are.”
“I thought we did a good job taking care of the ball with only 10 turnovers with them pressing basically the entire game. I certainly will take that.”
“Phillip Anglade (5 blocks) did a great job in the back of our press. He really guarded the basket. I can’t say enough about Julian Eleby. He made some plays at the rim that created separation in the first half and was steady in the second half. Jordan Weethee was fantastic. For a night where we didn’t shoot the three, we made plays when we had too. Q.J Peterson did a great job getting to the rim and creating not only for himself but for others. For him to go 15-of-17 from the line in his first Southern Conference game is huge.”