VMI gets key conference win

An 18-5 second half run broke open a back and forth game, freshman D.J. Covington had a career-high 20 points and the VMI Keydets earned their sixth straight win over the High Point Panthers, 87-74, in Big South basketball action Thursday night at Cameron Hall in Lexington, Va.

With the game knotted at 41 in the opening moments of the second half, Covington converted two free throws to put VMI (13-11, 6-8 Big South) ahead, 43-41, and spark the game-deciding run. The spurt was capped by a Stan Okoye layup with 12:15 remaining, giving the Keydets a 59-45 lead, and High Point (10-14, 6-8 BSC) could get no closer than nine the rest of the way.

In addition to Covington’s 20 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, Ron Burks had 17 points and eight boards, leading five Keydets in double figure scoring. Okoye led the Keydets with nine boards as VMI outrebounded High Point 47-30, moving the Keydets to 8-0 this season when they hold the edge on the glass.

Nick Barbour led High Point with 25 points, but had just seven in the second half, thanks in part to a strong defensive effort by VMI’s Burks. With the win, the Keydets move into a tie with High Point for sixth place in the Big South Tournament, but VMI holds the tiebreaker due to two regular season victories.

The triumph was VMI’s sixth straight over High Point, a streak that dates back to March 1, 2008.

The Keydets jumped out to an early 7-2 lead, but in what would prove to be the story of the first half, High Point’s Nick Barbour hit back-to-back three-pointers to give the Panthers their first lead, 8-7, at the 15:34 mark.

From there, the teams volleyed the lead back and forth, with seven ties and 11 lead changes in the opening 20 minutes. The middle portions of the half were played very quickly, as only six total fouls were called in the first 14 minutes of play.

Neither team could match the Keydets’ early five point lead until just 1:30 remained in the half, when Michael Sparks hit a three-pointer to put VMI ahead, 39-34. After an HPU basket, D.J. Covington dunked home his own miss to account for the halftime margin, 41-36.

VMI shot 51.5% from the floor in the first half, led by Ron Burks’ 13 points, and also held a 23-18 rebounding edge. Barbour, however, kept High Point in the game early, hitting 6 of 8 from three-point range and outshooting the Keydets from distance by himself (six to five). The junior tallied half of the Panthers’ first half points, and five of his six three’s either tied the game or gave the visiting squad the lead.

The Panthers opened the second half by scoring the first five points, knotting the contest at 41-41. During that mini-run, Austin Kenon missed two free throws, marking his first failed attempts at the charity stripe since Jan. 15. On the next possession, however, Covington converted the free throws that started the decisive run.

The Keydet lead grew to 20 with 5:38 remaining, but HPU rallied, launching a 10-0 run over the next four minutes and cutting the margin to 10 with 1:50 to go. Barbour scored with one minute remaining, pulling the Panthers within nine, but VMI closed the game out by hitting 7 of 8 from the foul line over the final 60 seconds.

In addition to Barbour, High Point saw Shay Shine score 22 points on 8 of 15 shooting. No other HPU player notched more than seven markers on the evening, while Okoye had 14 and Kenon chipped in 11 for VMI, as did Keith Gabriel.

Keydet point guard Rodney Glasgow had five assists and no turnovers, marking the 10th game this season he has posted one turnover or fewer. Over the last five games, the freshman’s assist to turnover ratio is a sterling 6 to 1.


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