VMI gets big win over Charleston Southern
Keith Gabriel had 31 points, Stan Okoye had a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and the VMI Keydets used a 22-3 second half run to break open a close game and went to defeat the Charleston Southern Buccaneers, 90-81, in Big South basketball action Thursday night at Lexington’s Cameron Hall.
CSU (17-11, 10-7 Big South) got a career-high 31 points and 11 rebounds from Kelvin Martin, and he tied the game with a baseline slam early in the second half. From there, the Keydets (14-14, 8-9) launched a 22-3 run, one that included nine points by Gabriel and three-pointers on three straight possessions early in the spurt. When it concluded on an Okoye three-point play at 13:59, the Keydets had a 59-40 edge, and VMI made eight of 10 free throws down the stretch en route to its 12th win at home this season.
With that 12th win at home, the Keydets move to within one of the school record for home victories, set in 2008-09. They also keep pace with Winthrop and Liberty, and remain tied for fifth in the conference with one game remaining for all three clubs.
Both teams started Thursday’s contest slowly, as CSU held a 4-2 edge at the first media timeout. The teams had combined to start just 2 for their first 14 from the field, but VMI quickly launched an 11-0 run to take a 13-4 edge with 11:23 remaining in the half. Five different players combined for the 11 points, as Charleston Southern had begun the game just 1 for its first 13.
CSU quickly found its legs, however, and set off on an 8-0 run of its own. The first basket, a Martin layup at 11:06, was CSU’s first field goal since the 18:46 mark. Three straight Keydet turnovers enabled the Bucs to accumulate the remainder of the spurt in just one minute, and with 10:06 left in the period, the Keydet lead was 13-12.
A D.J. Covington dunk, his first points since returning to the Keydet rotation, pushed the lead back to three, and it expanded gradually from there. A Michael Sparks three-pointer made it 21-15 at the 8:08 mark, and the margin was nine after a Quinton Upshur three 1:24 later. Yet another triple, this one by Gabriel, gave the Keydets their first double-digit lead with 4:16 left in the half, as VMI had a 31-19 edge.
The margin was still in double-figures with 2:23 remaining, but CSU closed the half on an 8-0 run, and VMI did not score during that time, accounting for the halftime score of VMI 37, CSU 35. Martin led all scorers in the opening half with 16 points, and also had four steals and six rebounds. Eight different players scored for VMI in the first 20 minutes, paced by Gabriel’s nine.
CSU came out of the locker room with Martin’s thunderous dunk, but after some two minutes of scoreless action, the Keydets answered by scoring 11 points in 90 seconds, capped by a Gabriel three-pointer from well beyond the arc. That basket gave the Keydets a 48-37 lead with 16:17 to play.
The run grew to 14-0 after a CSU timeout, as Gore drilled a triple, but the visitors made their first three-pointer of the night moments later, a Saah Nimley shot from deep that cut the margin back to 11, 51-40. It was the first field goal of the game from the vaunted freshmen Buccaneer duo of Nimley and Arlon Harper.
From there, the home team pushed its lead even further, expanding it to 19, 59-40, on an Okoye three-point play at 13:59. The Bucs chipped away, however, outscoring VMI 30-13 at one stretch, and after a 14-3 run ended with 4:10 remaining, it was a four-point game, 74-70.
One of the game’s critical plays came just moments later, as with VMI up by only those four points, Michael Sparks missed a three-pointer. Martin grabbed the rebound for CSU, but slipped near the free throw line while trying to clear the ball. The Keydets picked it up and Okoye would tally a three-point play on that possession, making the swing on that play as much as six points. CSU would get no closer than five the rest of the way, as VMI put the contest away with free throws late en route to the victory.
Gabriel’s 31 markers paced VMI and marked his fourth 30-plus point output of the year, while Okoye’s double-double was also his fourth-such output, and third in just over a month. Upshur had eight rebounds, a career-high, helping VMI win the battle on the glass 38-35. The Keydets shot 31 of 63 (49.2%) from the field, including 11 of 29 from three-point range.
Martin’s double-double of 31 points and 11 boards led CSU, but the freshmen pairing of Harper and Nimley combined to shoot just 5 of 25 and 1 of 10 from distance. Overall, the Bucs hit 29 of 69 from the floor (42.0%) and just 3 of 18 from distance (16.7%).
VMI basketball will return to action Saturday, playing host to the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers on Senior Day. Game time is set for 1 p.m., and VMI’s four seniors will be recognized prior to the contest.
Quotes – VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom
“We made enough plays at the end to win. We put together a run and got up 19 and they got it back to four and we just made enough plays to win.”
“It was a tough call at the end. If you slow it down, you lose momentum. If you go the other way, you can have too quick shots. We had a little bit of both. It was a tough call. But I though Keith (Gabriel) bailed us out with some timely threes.”
“Quinton Upshur was stellar tonight defensively, offensively, and from the 3-point range.”
“We didn’t have an answer for Kelvin Martin. We couldn’t stop him. ”
“I just told our guys to learn from this. We outrebounded them and did some good things. It was a much better performance against a team that beat us by 33 down there. We knew we were not that team when we played down there.”