VMI clamps down on Liberty, 71-57
Stan Okoye had 18 points, 16 in the second half, and the VMI Keydets held the Liberty Flames to the lowest point total for an opponent in over three years as VMI defeated Liberty, 71-57, in Big South basketball action Tuesday night at Cameron Hall.
Okoye did not start Tuesday’s contest, but his VMI (8-9, 3-4 Big South) teammates picked him up with a strong defensive effort, holding Liberty (5-13, 0-6) to just 24 points in the first half.
The junior’s 16 second half points fueled his team’s 55.2% shooting (16 for 29) in that period, and the strong defensive effort continued as well, as the Keydets held the Flames’ Jesse Sanders, last year’s Big South Player of the Year, to a season-low three points and season-low equaling three assists en route to pulling away for the win.
Liberty’s 57 points marked the lowest output by a Keydet opponent since Dec. 21, 2008, a 62-55 VMI win at Army, as VMI held the Flames to 23 of 61 from the floor (37.7%), and just one Liberty player, Antwan Burrus, scored in double figures.
Offensively in addition to Okoye, the Keydets saw Jordan Weethee score 12 points, breaking a three-game scoreless streak for the freshman. Finally, the win kept VMI a perfect 7-0 at home on the year.
The game began very slowly, with the Keydets going scoreless over the first 2:59. Liberty, however, scored just two points during that time, so when Keith Gabriel scored at the 17:02 mark, the game was tied, 2-2.
From there, VMI was able to gradually pull ahead. Liberty tied the game at 12 at the 12:05 mark, but thanks to eight points in a 3:30 span by Michael Sparks, the Keydets pulled out to a 20-14 lead. The Flames’ Andrew Smith cut that margin to four with a dunk, but with 9:50 left in the half, Ron Burks hit a three to stretch the margin to seven, 23-16.
Liberty then scored five of the next six points to reduce its deficit to four, but VMI answered with five in a row, pulling out to its largest lead of the half, 29-20 with 4:40 left in the period. The teams combined for just six points over that final 4:40, capped by an Okoye basket with 1:36 remaining, to account for the halftime score of 31-24.
The Keydets were outshot in the first half, as Liberty hit 11 of 27 (40.7%) from the floor, while VMI managed a 37.5% clip (12 for 32). The difference was the six Keydet three-pointers, including two each from Burks and Sparks, while Liberty failed to attempt a trey in the opening half.
Liberty scored first in the second half, but the Keydets answered with a game-breaking 13-4 run. The Keydets took a double-digit lead for the first time on a Burks triple at 17:40, and the run was capped by a Weethee hoop with 15:51 to go, giving VMI a 44-30 lead.
From there, the Keydets gradually pulled away. VMI took its first 20-point edge, 57-37, on two D.J. Covington free throws at the 9:20 mark, and assumed a game-high, 21-point advantage on the second of those two at the charity stripe. Liberty scored on its next possession, but Jarid Watson buried a short jumper to give the Keydets a 21-point edge once again, 60-39.
The Flames tried to rally, as John Caleb Sanders scored the game’s next five points, but VMI answered with an 8-3 run and retook its 21-point cushion, 69-48. The teams traded pairs of free throws before Liberty closed the game on a 7-0 run, accounting for the final margin.
VMI outrebounded Liberty 38-36 in Tuesday’s win, paced by seven boards from D.J. Covington, while the Keydets also continued their torrid bench scoring, seeing 43 of their 71 points come from their reserves. The rebounding margin marked just the fourth time this year VMI had grabbed more caroms than its opponent, while the 40-plus bench points marked the seventh time in the last nine games the Keydets had hit that plateau.
Finally, VMI’s nine turnovers matched a season-low, a mark the team had hit on four other occasions. The triumph marked just the second time since joining the Big South that VMI had won back to back regular season meetings with the Flames, a feat also matched over the 2004-05 and 2005-06 campaigns.
VMI will return to action Saturday, taking on the Radford Highlanders at Cameron Hall. Game time is set for 8 p.m., and the contest will be broadcast on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN).
Quotes – VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom
“We shot the ball a lot better in the second half. The first half was miserable. I thought we defended well in the second half, but we didn’t shoot it well – But when you can keep people in front of you, you can get away with shooting it poorly.”
“Spacing was something we’ve been working on. If we space and use our driving lanes, we have a chance to be pretty good. Sometimes we creep in and get bunched, but tonight our spacing was great.”
“Stan Okoye was spectacular after he came off the bench, 18 points in 26 minutes. I was proud that we were able to get our turnovers under 10, and I thought Jordan Weethee was outstanding also, and not just shooting the ball. He rebounded and had three assists. I was quite impressed with the way our bench stepped up.”