VMI knocks off W&M in BracketBusters

VMI basketball head coach Duggar Baucom logged his 100th win at Virginia Military Institute on Saturday afternoon as the Keydets defeated state rival William & Mary 73-65 as part of the 2012 Sears Bracketbusters.

In the 116th meeting of the Keydets and Tribe, VMI prevailed thanks in part to key play from the bench, which put up over a third of VMI’s points with 25. The bench effort was led by Michael Sparks, who finished tied for the game’s second-most points with 15.

VMI (13-14) improved to 11-1 at home this season.

The contest was paced by Stan Okoye, who put in 22 points for VMI, going six of 14 from the field, including a pair of treys. Okoye and Sparks were recognized for scoring their 1,000th career points earlier this season. Okoye netted his 11th 20-point game of the season.

Joining Sparks and Okoye in double figures for VMI was Keith Gabriel, who finished with 15 points, going a perfect three-for-three from beyond the arc and four-for-four from the free throw line.

William & Mary (5-24) was led by four players in double figures, with Quinn McDowell out in front with 15. Brandon Britt and Tim Rusthoven each turned in 14 points while Matt Rum had 13. The Tribe bench accounted for just five points in the game.

In William & Mary’s first visit to Cameron Hall since 1995, the Tribe wasted no time jumping out to an early 9-2 lead, but that run was halted as Sparks dropped in a three-pointer. VMI’s defense started the game strong, coming up with four blocks in the first eight minutes of the game, including a trio from Jarid Watson, The Keydets finished the opening stanza with seven total blocks including a career-high four from Watson.

The Tribe used an eight point run to take their largest lead of the first half, 20-8, after a three-pointer by McDowell,  but the Keydets fought back, closing out the final 9:45 of the first period with a 27-7 run, eventually gaining their first lead with 5:53 left on a Gabriel three-pointer. The Keydets assumed a 39-30 halftime lead.

VMI allowed just four three pointers in the entire game, all of which were in the first half, holding William & Mary without a trey over a 30-minute span as the Tribe looked for points inside off the drive. William & Mary’s last three-pointer of the game came at the 9:45 mark, just before VMI began its run to end the first half.

The Keydets’ bench was a key factor in the opening half, picking up 13 including 10 from Sparks. Jordan Weethee contributed the other three bench points. After the slow start, VMI recovered from the floor in the first half, hitting 13 of its 29 attempts (44.8 percent) while the Tribe managed just 35.5 percent from the field.

VMI started the second half in a similar fashion to the opening stanza, hitting just one of its first nine shots. But the Keydets bounced back to knock down nine of their next 15 attempts.

VMI managed to control the lead for a majority of the second half, which only had two lead changes. The Tribe wrested momentum and the lead from VMI with 11:22 remaining in the game when McDowell converted a Kendrix Brown steal into a layup to give the visitors their only lead of the second half, 50-49, at the 11:20 mark. Almost two minutes later, Watson put the Keydets back on top for good with a putback with 9:33 left.

The game was still tight with less than four minutes remaining, but VMI got a quick five-point burst, getting one of Gabriel’s three-pointers and a steal combined with a fast break dunk from Okoye, extending VMI’s lead to seven, 63-56 at 3:37.

VMI’s closing efforts were aided by connecting on nine of its final 10 free throws, including seven of eight in the final minute of the game. The Keydets finished 21-of-24 from the charity stripe during the contest, their best effort since going 22-of-26 versus Winthrop in previous home game.

The Keydet defense was solid throughout the game, holding the Tribe (5-24) to a 37.9 percent field goal performance and second leading scorer Marcus Thornton (11.6 PPG ) to a scoreless afternoon. VMI reached double figures in blocks as a team with 10, with Watson leading the game with his four first half rejections. Gabriel and Upshur each contributed two while Burks and Okoye had one apiece.

It was the first time this season VMI notched double figure blocks and was the first since blocking 13 Southern Virginia shots on Nov. 23, 2010.

Burks chipped in four of VMI’s seven steals, a season high for the senior. Okoye was the only other Keydet to log multiple steals with two while Gabriel added one.

The Keydets will play their second home game in a three-game stand Thursday as Charleston Southern comes to Lexington in Big South Conference action. VMI will look to revenge a 114-81 loss to Charleston Southern at N. Charleston on December 1. Game time is slated for 7 p.m. in Cameron Hall.

VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom –

“It wasn’t real pretty at the end but we made enough plays. We missed shots early, then started to drive and get to the rim. And we made our free throws.”

“Jarid Watson continues to get better and better. Can’t say enough about him and he’s helping us on the offensive side of the floor with putbacks.”

“I thought Michael Sparks was spectacular. Not just the 15 points, but the seven rebounds -sticking his nose in.”

“That spurt at the four-minute mark of the second half gave us a working margin. In the second half, they (William and Mary) were going to drive it to the rim and they got to the line.”

“Coach (Daniel) Willis had us pretty ready for them despite the short time to prepare and the guys did a good job of guarding. And the game was won at the line.”

On 100 wins at VMI:

“I’m thrilled, but it’s about the kids you are coaching and the relationships you build with them. These guys have a lot to with that as have those before them.”


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