VMI holds off late Radford rally, wins 80-76
Keith Gabriel had 28 points and matched his career-high with eight rebounds, and the VMI Keydets survived a furious rally by the Radford Highlanders to pull out an 80-76 victory in Big South basketball action Saturday night at Cameron Hall.
The win maintains VMI’s perfect home record, now 8-0, and marks the Keydets’ 12th consecutive victory at Cameron Hall.
Of Gabriel’s 28, 20 came in the second half as he hit on 4 of 5 three-point attempts of the final 20 minutes. That included three treys in a key four-possession sequence early in the second half, a run that gave VMI (9-9, 4-4 Big South) its first double-digit lead of the night. The Keydets maintained their advantage for the remainder of the contest, but Radford (3-16, 0-7) would not quit.
After a Rodney Glasgow three-pointer gave the Keydets a nine-point cushion with 1:57 left, the teams combined for 18 free throws over the rest of the game. VMI missed three of its first four attempts during that stretch, helping start Radford’s comeback. The Highlanders got within four on two R.J. Price free throws with 31 seconds to go, and then Price hit a high, arching trey 11 seconds later to get the visitors within three, 76-73.
Glasgow answered with two conversions at the charity stripe, but Price made a spectacular, coast-to-coast drive for a basket and drew the foul. The free throw was good, and with 10 seconds left, the lead was down to two. Ron Burks, however, drilled two free throws with nine seconds remaining, part of VMI’s run of six straight successful attempts to close the game, and two missed RU three-pointers finally sealed the victory.
Gabriel’s 28 points marked the second-most by a Keydet this season, trailing only his own 34-point effort from December 22’s Old Dominion game. The eight rebounds equaled a career-high, which the senior had accomplished five times previously. Glasgow, Michael Sparks and Stan Okoye all had 12 points for the Keydets.
Radford was led by Price’s 17, eight of which came in the final minute, as the Highlanders dropped their 15th consecutive game overall.
The visitors jumped ahead early, as the Keydets struggled from the field in the opening moments. Using its seventh different starting lineup over the past seven games, VMI managed to lead momentarily, taking an 11-7 edge after two free throws by Sparks at the 15-minute mark. Radford, however, answered with an 8-0 run, capped by a Blake Smith layup at 13:31. That gave RU a 15-11 advantage, which they would maintain for the remainder of the half.
After the Highlanders took their third eight-point lead of the half, 30-22, with 6:21 on the clock, Gabriel scored at the other end to start a 7-0 run, a spurt that cut the RU lead to one, 30-29. Jareal Smith hit a trey to give the visitors breathing room, and they would go into the locker room with a 35-33 halftime lead.
Over the first 20 minutes, RU shot 15 of 30 (50%) to VMI’s 11 for 30 (36.7%), enabling the Highlanders to lead despite 11 turnovers. Those miscues led to 17 VMI points, and the Keydets blocked six shots in the first half as well.
The home team came out well in the second half, starting the period on a 10-2 run. Four different players scored during the spurt, a push that gave the Keydets a 43-37 edge with 16:52 to go. Price scored for Radford, but an Okoye three-point play made it a seven-point game, 46-39.
RU responded with five straight points, making it 46-44, but Gabriel then took over, scoring in the lane to push the margin to four, before he hit three-pointers on three of VMI’s next four possessions. The Keydet effort amounted to a 13-3 run, capped by Gabriel’s final triple at 11:35, a shot that gave VMI a 59-47 advantage.
The Highlanders, much to the chagrin of the season-high crowd at Cameron Hall (3,428), stayed close. RU got back within three, 64-61, after two Jareal Smith free throws with 5:32 left, but Sparks hit a three-pointer to push the margin back to six. Javonte Green and Okoye exchanged two-point efforts, making the score 69-63, and after RU came up empty on its ensuing possession, Okoye drove down the left baseline and found Glasgow open in the far corner. The sophomore drilled the three-pointer to put VMI up nine, and set the stage for the dramatic final two minutes.
Radford held a 40-24 edge in points in the paint, but the Keydets scored 30 points off 20 Radford turnovers. That marked the third time this year VMI had forced at least 20 miscues, and the team is now 9-4 when forcing more turnovers than they commit.
Finally, Ron Burks made his 100th career start.