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VMI drops Big South opener at Coastal

The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers had a 50-29 rebounding advantage and saw Sam McLaurin post 19 points and 15 rebounds, en route to an 87-78 win over the VMI Keydets in Big South men’s basketball action Thursday night in Conway, S.C. The game was the Big South opener for both schools.

VMI (3-3, 0-1 Big South) junior Stan Okoye had a game-high 25 points, but Coastal (6-1, 1-0 BSC), led by McLaurin’s efforts, held a 16-4 edge in second chance points and a 54-28 advantage in points in the paint.

The Keydets were stymied offensively in the first half, as the home team held VMI to just 26 points in the opening 20 minutes. That effort marked a season-low for any Keydet half, and the lowest such total since a 25-point first half of a loss to Winthrop on Jan. 7, 2010. Despite the early struggles, the visitors fought back, and after falling behind by as many as 16, cut the lead to seven with a spirited late rally, before running out of time and falling to 0-1 in conference play.

With his 25 points, Okoye is now averaging just under 16 points per game in his career against the Chants (15.7), including 23.5 PPG over the last two contests between the schools. Keith Gabriel and Ron Burks were also in double figures Thursday, scoring 16 and 12 points apiece. Anthony Raffa led Coastal with 23 points, while Chris Gradnigo added 22.

VMI came out with cold shooting, as the Keydets made just one field goal in the first 12:55 of action. The visitors managed to keep the game close with a strong effort at the foul line, making their first eight at the charity stripe, an effort capped by two Burks free throws at the 10-minute mark that made it Coastal 16, VMI 10. The home team stretched its lead to 10 some 90 seconds later, scoring on a Brandon Crawford lay-in, and the advantage hovered around 10 for the remainder of the half.

VMI was able to cut its deficit to 24-16 on an Okoye three-pointer at 6:31, its only triple of the first half, but the Chants pushed their advantage to 13 on three occasions late in the period. The last of those came with 45 seconds remaining in the half, as they took a 38-25 advantage, but Wayne Whiting hit a free throw in the closing moments to account for the 38-26 halftime score.

In the opening half, VMI shot 26.1% from the floor, including 1 of 11 from three-point range. Gradnigo had 12 points, five rebounds and four assists for Coastal to pace a 43.6% shooting effort for the home squad.

Okoye scored six of VMI’s first eight points coming out of the locker room, cutting the deficit to nine, 43-34, with a triple at the 18:05 mark. Once again, Coastal pushed it back to 13, but Ron Burks hit a three of his own to spark a mini-run, 6-2, and draw VMI back within nine yet again, 49-40, with 16:19 to go.

As was the case in the first half, the lead held at the 10-point level for the next several minutes, with VMI cutting it to nine on two occasions, and Coastal going up by as many as 11 at one point. The advantage was 10, 58-48, with 11:22 remaining as the Chanticleers began an 8-2 run to pull ahead by a game-high 16. The Keydets shot just 1 of 6 during the spurt, which lasted just 2:34, but put last year’s regular season BSC champions ahead, 66-50, with just 8:48 to go.

Coastal maintained the 16-point edge, 70-54, with 6:27 to play, but VMI began to whittle away at its deficit. Five straight points cut the margin to 11, and after the Chants briefly retook a 74-61 edge, the Keydets scored five of the next seven points to close within 10. Jordan Weethee hit a three-pointer at the 4:10 mark, capping the push and cutting the Coastal cushion to 76-66.

After an exchange of baskets, Coastal’s Jon Pack made it 80-68 with a dunk, but Gabriel drilled a three-pointer for the Keydets, getting them within nine for the first time in over 10 minutes. With 2:23 left, the home team’s margin was 80-71, but Raffa converted a three-point play to push the lead back to 12, 83-71. Despite getting within seven in the final minute, courtesy of a Quinton Upshur three-point play, VMI could draw no closer and dropped the 87-78 decision.

The contest was a tale of two halves for VMI, as after struggling early, the Keydets hit 7 of 13 three-point attempts in the second half. They shot 47.4% for the period overall, sparked by Okoye’s 21 second-half markers. For the game, VMI hit 24 of 61 from the floor (39.3%) and forced 17 Coastal Carolina turnovers. Coastal shot 53.1% from the field, and in addition to their scoring leaders, saw Gradnigo grab eight rebounds and dish out seven assists.

VMI basketball will return to action Saturday, taking on the Charleston Southern Buccaneers in N. Charleston, S.C. Game time is set for 5:30 p.m.

Quotes – VMI Coach Duggar Baucom

“It was a tale of two halves. I don’t know how this same identical team can score twice as many points in the second half than they did in the first against the same team. It’s frustrating because we played so poorly the first half. We only got off 23 shots in the first half, made six with 1 assist.

“We got the tempo up in the second half, but we wanted to do that from the beginning. We had too many turnovers and did some nonsense things.”

“In the second half when we pushed tempo, we had fewer turnovers than in the first half. We will address that. We also gave up twice as many offensive rebounds the second half as we did the first half.”

“McLaurin is a monster. He’s a good player. We knew that coming in.”

“Stan Okoye got in trouble in the first half and missed some layups, but in the second half, he had 21.”

“It’s frustrating, but we’ll fix it.

We had better have foam coming out of our mouth when we take the floor Saturday.”

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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