VMI falls short at The Citadel, 79-74

vmiGuard Frankie Johnson’s steal and two free throws with :06 remaining in regulation helped The Citadel seal a 79-74 victory over VMI Saturday afternoon in SoCon basketball action at McAlister Field House.

In a game that saw 14 ties, 13 lead changes and no lead greater than six points, the Bulldogs moved to 9-9, 2-3 in the SoCon while VMI ended its four-game road swing with a 3-11, 0-3 SoCon mark.

Keydet guard Q.J. Peterson produced his second double-double of the season with 22 points and 12 rebounds and VMI got double-figures scoring from forward Armani Branch with a season-high tying 11 points and forward Trey Chapman with 10 points.

The Citadel focused on getting the ball inside throughout most of the contest and sophomore center Zane Najdawi responded with 25 points on 9 of 14 shooting from the floor. Freshman guard Leandro Allende added 21 points including three 3-point goals.

Chapman nailed a 3-pointer to pull VMI within 76-74 with 1:51 remaining, but the Keydets missed their last three shots from the floor and couldn’t get off a shot in the last possession of regulation down by a three-point margin.

Allende hit one of two free throws with :15 left to put the Bulldogs up 77-74, but VMI came up empty on its final possession as Johnson poked the ball free from Peterson just as the senior had moved across the time line. Peterson fouled Johnson at mid-court which led to two Bulldog free throws for the final count.

VMI outrebounded The Citadel 43-40 and held a 16-8 edge in second chance points, but The Citadel sank six 3-point shots in the second half including a pair during a decisive 17-7 spurt that helped erase a six-point VMI lead.

The teams were even at halftime, 37-37, as Peterson generated seven assists to key a balanced Keydet attack that shot 48.4% from the floor.

With the game tied, 47-47, Peterson pumped a two-point jumper and followed with a trey on an 8-2 run that was capped by a Julian Eleby 3-pointer to give VMI its largest lead, 55-49 with 13:34 remaining in the second half.

The Bulldogs rallied with their key spurt later in the half including eight straight points that featured a 3-pointer by Warren Sledge at the 8:50 mark that put the Bulldogs up for good, 61-60. VMI would not go away, however, pulling within two points four times before the final buzzer.

Eleby, VMI’s second leading scorer on the season, labored through a tough shooting day for the second straight game going 2 of 11 from the floor. Branch provided scoring punch off the bench and hit 5 of 10 attempts from the field while Chapman rebounded from a scoreless first half to deliver 10 points before fouling out.

The Citadel, energized by perimeter shooting, shot 50% from the floor in the second half after going 41.7% in the first half.

VMI generated 14 assists in the game, their most since the Frostburg State win on Dec. 20.

VMI returns home Thursday to open a two-game homestand against Western Carolina at Cameron Hall. Tipoff is 7 pm.

Postgame: VMI head coach Dan Earl

“We missed timely shots, unfortunately, and we had a turnover late at the end of the game so it was a tough loss, but I thought both teams competed and I was proud of our guys for competing and playing hard and they did some good things.  We outrebounded them, we only turned the ball over 11 times, so if we take the positives and learn from that, we’ll work to get over the hump. I though we really defended well and held them to 37 points in the first half. They threw the ball inside a lot and we decided to stay at home for the most part, so the pace was at our pace. We just didn’t make timely shots or execute timely plays down the stretch.”

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