Okoye’s 34 not enough as VMI falls to UNC Asheville

vmi_logoStan Okoye had 34 points and 16 rebounds, but the UNC Asheville Bulldogs held the rest of the VMI Keydets to just 45 points and used a 22-4 second half run to pull away for a 90-79 win in Big South basketball action Friday night at Cameron Hall in Lexington, Va. The game was played in front of the seventh-largest crowd in Cameron Hall history, 4,117 spectators, and was also shown on ESPNU national television, the first ESPN televised game at Cameron Hall since 1997.

After Asheville point guard Trent Meyer drew a technical foul with 11:26 left and Rodney Glasgow hit two free throws, the Bulldogs responded with a 22-4 run to go up by 15, 81-66, and would not trail again. The victory marked UNC Asheville’s (15-10, 9-2 Big South) seventh straight win, while the Keydets (11-11, 6-4 Big South) were led by Okoye’s efforts on a night that saw him pass Keith Gabriel ’12 and move into fifth place on VMI’s all-time scoring list.

The story of the game was the second half, as after VMI shot just under 50 percent in the opening period, the Keydets were held to 12 of 36 (33.3%) in the final 20 minutes. That included just a 3 of 16 effort from three-point range in the second half, after the Keydets had made 6 of 16 in the opening period. Meanwhile, Asheville shot 13 of 29 (44.8%) in the second half and made 16 of 23 (69.6%) from the foul line to open up the eventual winning margin.

In addition to Okoye, the Keydets also saw D.J. Covington post a double-double with 15 points and 15 rebounds, while Brian Brown chipped in 12 points on four three-pointers. UNC Asheville was led by Jeremy Atkinson’s double-double of 24 points and 10 boards, while Keith Hornsby poured in 24 as well and grabbed nine caroms. Atkinson and Hornsby combined to shoot a perfect 16 of 16 at the foul line on the evening.

VMI got off to a hot start, as the Keydets made five of their first six field goals, including a trio of three-pointers by Brown, to race out to a 13-9 lead just over three minutes into the game. That advantage grew to six at the 14:53 mark, as Okoye hit a jumper, but Asheville scored seven of the game’s next nine points to cut it to one, 19-18.

That set the stage for the rest of the half, where neither team would have more than a six-point lead. All told, there were four ties and seven lead changes as the teams battled back and forth. The last of those swaps came with 3:23 left in the half, as Atkinson scored to put the visitors up, 37-36. Asheville pushed that lead out to six, 42-36, with 1:47 on the clock, but the Keydets finished the half on a 7-2 run and went into halftime down one, 44-43.

The first half was marked by two stats, second chance points and points off turnovers. The Keydets’ hot shooting (17 of 35, 48.6%) helped them overcome 11 first half miscues, while a 24-12 rebounding edge helped VMI post 17 second chance points. Asheville took advantage of the VMI turnovers, however, to score 17 points off turnovers and lead by one despite Okoye’s 18 points and eight rebounds.

The Keydets came out well in the second half, scoring seven of the first 11 points to go up by four, 51-47. That lead grew to five at the 16:47 mark, but it would go no higher. The Bulldogs chipped the margin to one at the 11:26 mark, and perhaps the turning point of the game came moments later.

Asheville point guard Meyer was whistled for two fouls, one personal and one technical, setting up Glasgow for four free throws. The VMI point guard, an 85.5% free throw shooter coming in, hit just two of the attempts to put VMI up by three, and the visitors responded with the decisive 22-4 run that would give them the lead for good. VMI could get no closer than seven the rest of the way.

Okoye finished the contest 13 of 27 from the floor, and passed Gabriel for fifth all-time in VMI scoring and ninth in Big South history with a basket at the 6:24 mark of the opening half. The Keydets now have four of the top-10 scorers in conference history – Reggie Williams, Chavis Holmes, Okoye and Gabriel – all of which have played during the Duggar Baucom era, while no other school has more than two players on that listing.

Meanwhile, the Keydets did finish with a 47-37 edge on the glass, the third straight game that VMI had a double-digit rebounding advantage. Okoye’s 16 boards moved him into third on VMI’s all-time rebounding list, and tied a season-high for the senior.

VMI basketball will return to action Feb. 13, as the Keydets play host to the Radford Highlanders. Game time is set for 7 p.m.


QUOTES – VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom

“It wasn’t very good from about the 12-minute mark on. They had a technical and instead of firing us up, it fires them up. We were fighting uphill the rest of the way.”

“We had a couple of two-on-one and three-on-one opportunities, we turn it over, and they shoot layups on the other end. Those are four-point turnarounds. It doesn’t take many of those to get to 11.”

“They came in averaged 4.5 three’s a game and they double that tonight. Credit them.”

“I thought Stan Okoye was spectacular and this was one of his best games.”

“Asheville is the defending conference champion. You are not going to win unless you’re hitting on all cylinders. Tonight we hit on about three.”

“We had certainly come back from deficits before, but our energy level was not the same. They are a good team and they did a good job defensively on us.”

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