VMI outguns Runnin' Bulldogs

On a night that saw him become VMI’s all-time leading three-point shooter, Austin Kenon paced the Keydets with 21 points, Michael Sparks added 21 of his own and VMI defeated the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs, 85-66, in Big South basketball action played Thursday night at Cameron Hall in Lexington, Va.

After VMI appeared to seize control late in the first half, Gardner-Webb responded early in the second period, cutting the margin to single digits, 48-39, with 16:29 to play. The Keydets misfired on a shot, and GWU had a chance to chip away even further, but was whistled for a charging foul on the offensive end. Stan Okoye answered with two free throws, and the Runnin’ Bulldogs could not get closer than eight the rest of the way.

Kenon came into the contest with 306 career three-pointers, tied with Chavis Holmes ’09 for the most in school history. He quickly grabbed sole possession of the record, hitting a trey at the 16:19 mark of the opening half for his 307th career trey.

Kenon would go 5 of 10 from distance on Thursday night, marking his fourth straight game with at least four three-pointers, as well as the fourth straight in which he had shot at least fifty percent from distance. The senior is now shooting 62.5% from the field over the last four games, a span in which he has made 19 total three-pointers.

Meanwhile, Sparks’ 21 was a season-best, and his highest point output since Dec. 5, 2009 against Charleston Southern. The junior hit 6 of 9 from the floor and 5 of 8 from three-point range. Rodney Glasgow added 15 points, four assists and no turnovers to help the Keydets to the victory.

For the first time this season, VMI (12-8, 5-5) never trailed in a contest, as the Keydets won their first home Big South Conference game of the season. With their fifth Big South victory of the year, the Keydets matched their conference win total from last season. Gardner-Webb dropped to 7-15 with the loss, and 2-8 in conference action.

The Keydets got off to a strong start, opening the game on a 11-2 run as Gardner-Webb took 3:13 to score their first basket. VMI had six points off turnovers in the opening five minutes, but the visitors stayed close on the strength of strong three-point shooting. The Runnin’ Bulldogs, who came in averaging just six three-pointers made per game, had five in the opening half, and the last of those, a Luke Davis triple, cut the VMI lead to 34-27 with 2:59 left in the half.

Kenon responded, hitting a three of his own on VMI’s next time down the floor. That was the senior’s third straight triple, and it launched the Keydets on a 10-2 run that would give them a 44-29 lead as the half wound down. GWU had a tip-in as the clock expired, making the halftime score 44-31, VMI.

VMI shot the ball very well in the opening period, hitting 16 of 29 from the floor (55.2%) while going 9 of 19 from distance (47.4%). Kenon had 14 points, and point guard Glasgow chipped in 10 markers.

After the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ spurt to start the second half, the Keydets gradually pushed the lead back out. VMI equaled its game-high lead of 15 points on two different occasions, before finally surpassing that with 3:15 to play, when Sparks hit a three-pointer to make the score 79-61. The home team would go on to push the lead to 21 with seven seconds to play, before a last second layup accounted for the final score, 85-66.

After hitting five three-pointers in the opening half, GWU managed just one in the second half (1 for 12) as VMI pulled away for the win. The Keydets held the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ leading scorer, Jon Moore, to just two points on 1 for 11 shooting, and held GWU to just eight free throws attempts in VMI’s third straight win over the team from Boiling Springs, N.C.

Brian McNair led Gardner-Webb with 13 points, while Luke Engelken had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds and the visitors held the Big South’s leading scorer, Stan Okoye, to just seven points.

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