VMI catches fire, knocks off High Point, 88-77

Overcoming a slow start, the VMI basketball team caught fire late in the first half and never looked back as the Keydets upended Big South Conference opponent High Point University 88-77 Thursday night at Cameron Hall.

Behind Keith Gabriel’s 29 points, the Keydets improved to 10-9 overall and 5-4 in the league. The win helped the Keydets get through a three-game homestand unscathed and improved to 9-0 within the friendly confines of Cameron Hall.

Since the end of the 2010-11 season, the Keydets have run off 13 straight victories at home, tying the program’s second-best mark. On two previous occasions, VMI has won 13-straight home games.

Gabriel hit the 20-point mark for a second straight game and it was the fourth time he surpassed the mark in the last five games. He was joined in double-digit points by Stan Okoye, who nearly had a double-double with 25 points and nine rebounds. D.J. Covington posted 13 points along with four rebounds.

The Panthers, who have dropped their last seven games to VMI, were paced by Shay Shine’s 23 points, bolstered by a 12-of-13 effort at the line. Shine hit five of his eight field goal attempts. Nick Barbour finished with 15 points while Corey Law dropped in 11.

Coming off of an 85-66 loss to Radford on Tuesday, High Point jumped out to a big seven point lead just two and a half minutes into the contest. The Panthers connected on three of their first five three pointers, building up to an 11-4 lead. But the Keydets got an answer to the run from Michael Sparks who canned a three pointer to snap the High Point run. Sparks finished the night with eight points.

Midway through the first stanza, VMI found its grove and strung together a 9-2 run, all but erasing the Panthers’ lead. Down 19-14 with 11:39 to go, the Keydets clawed back into the game, down just 24-21 with 7:22 on the clock.

After scoring the initial basket, VMI did not regain the lead until the 6:13 mark when it went up 27-26. The remainder of the first half was a back-and-forth affair, feature three ties and three lead changes before the Keydets posted a narrow 42-40 margin at the break.

Gabriel was the first half leading scorer with 15 points, hitting three of his five attempts from deep while going four-for-four at the line. Okoye was the Keydets’ second leading scorer with 10 points and led on the glass with five rebounds.

The Panthers opted for versatility, with all nine players that saw time scoring at least two points in the first 20 minutes, with the Shay Shine leading the way with 11 points. High Point took 18 three-pointers in the first half, converting seven of them.

VMI was balanced in the second half, putting up a nine-point edge in the final 20 minutes, outscoring the Panthers 46-37. After sharp shooting from deep in the first half, where the two squads combined for 13 three pointers, neither team could find its stroke from beyond the arc. Barbour managed the only trey of the second half and did not hit it until just over two minutes left in regulation.

Gabriel was nearly automatic from the free throw line in the second half, knocking down four of his five attempts. He was integral to the Keydets building a 15 point lead with two minutes left to go in game. VMI never trailed in the second half, controlling the scoreboard after breaking the 40-40 tie at the end of the first half.

A contributing factor to VMI’s strong second half was its free throw shooting, going 12-of-15, hitting 80 percent in period. The Keydets finished the night 20-for-24 at the line, while the Panthers struggled to a 21-of-30 mark for the contest, hitting just 12 of their 19 attempts in the second half. High Point put the Keydets in the bonus with nearly 10 minutes to go in the game.

The Keydets played well in close, putting up 44 points in the paint, while High Point managed just 26. Coming up with five steals from five different players, VMI tallied 19 points off of 15 Panther turnovers. The Keydets turned the ball over just 11 times on the night, nearly two points lower than their season average (12.8).

VMI will head to Buies Creek, N.C. for its first road game since Jan. 7 as it takes on Campbell University, who currently sits in second place in the Big South. Action is set to tip off at 3:30 on Saturday inside the Camels’ John W. Pope Jr. Convocation Center.

VMI head coach Duggar Baucom:

“High Point is very, very scary because they are so athletic. I was really please with our defense and we did a good job assignment wise. We held another opponent under 80 at home and that’s a good thing.”

“Tonight we were able to get some stops in a row in the second half that’s what spread the game out. I thought our offensive execution was pretty dang good, especially in the second half. We didn’t shoot many threes, but we got the ball where it needed to be- in Stan (Okoye) and Keith’s (Gabriel) hands. Ron Burks hit a huge layup in a big spot and it was nice to have D.J. Covington as an offensive threat.”


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