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VMI outlasts Elon, 90-81

Stan Okoye notched 30 points and 16 rebounds, moving him into a tie for 10th on VMI’s all-time scoring list and propelling the Keydets to a 90-81 win over the Elon Phoenix in non-conference basketball action Saturday at Cameron Hall in Lexington.

After a first half that saw the two teams notch 11 lead changes and four ties, the teams continued to go back and forth early in the second half. There were three ties and one lead change in the first 4:34 of the half, with the final tie being on a Lucas Troutman jumper for Elon at the 15:26 mark that tied the game at 54. Brian Brown scored the next time down the floor to start a 6-0 run that put VMI ahead for good, and although the Keydets led by no more than 10 throughout, the Phoenix could not pull even the rest of the way.

Okoye’s 30 points and 16 boards were both game highs, as 11 of the rebounds came in the second half to propel the Keydets (3-3) ahead of a scrappy, tough Elon (4-2) team. The 16 rebounds were the second-most of the senior’s career, while the 30 points pulled him into a tie with Will Bynum ’77 for 10th on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,606 points.

Okoye, in fact, tied Bynum with two free throws that came with just 22 seconds remaining, helping quell any Elon hopes of a rally. Meanwhile, 11 of the senior’s rebounds came in the second half, including one with 7:25 remaining that pushed him past Charlie Schmaus ’66 for seventh on the all-time Keydet listing.

Despite none coming over the final 16:22, the 12 lead changes were the most in a VMI game this year and the seven ties equaled the most the Keydets had seen all season. Neither team led by more than 10 throughout, and for the second straight game, a VMI opponent outshot the Keydets from three-point range, with Elon hitting 10 of 29 (34.5%) and VMI making seven of 19 (36.8%). The Phoenix, however, was limited to just 2 of 17 (11.8%) in three-point attempts in the second half as VMI won its 27th straight home non-conference game.

The Keydets raced out to an early lead, hitting on two early three-point point attempts and leading 8-2 97 seconds into the contest. Elon came back, however, with a 10-0 run that gave the Phoenix its first lead of the contest, 12-10, on a Troutman layup at the 14:50 mark. That started three-plus minutes of intense back and forth play, with nine lead changes coming over the next three-plus minutes. That time period was ended when D.J. Covington drilled a jumper to put VMI in front, 23-22, with 11:30 left in the half.

The Keydets would go on to hold the lead for the majority of the rest of the half, including using a 7-2 run to go up by seven, 41-34, with 2:45 showing on the clock. The Phoenix, however, closed the period on a 12-2 run that included three triples by Jack Isenbarger and would take a 46-43 advantage into the locker room at halftime.

Okoye paced all scorers in the first half, notching 18 points, while Isenbarger had 17 markers to lead Elon. Covington was the only other player in double figures in the opening 20 minutes, scoring 10 points to mark his fourth straight double figure game. The Phoenix scorched the nets from distance in the opening half, hitting 8 of 12 from downtown en route to the three-point halftime edge.

After Brown’s basket with 15:10 to go put VMI ahead for good, the Keydets scored the next four points and had a six-point cushion, 60-54. The visitors stayed close, as they had all day, and got back to within three on two occasions before the home team distanced itself again. A lightning-quick pass from Dorian Albritton to his high school teammate, Phillip Anglade, set up a three-point play that gave VMI a 72-63 advantage with 8:05 to go.

That lead was still nine with 7:09 remaining, but the Phoenix had one run left. Five straight points made it a 74-70 contest, but a Brown three-pointer pushed it back to seven. The triple also started an 8-2 run that gave the Keydets the game’s first double-digit lead, 82-72, with 2:41 left. Elon could get no closer than five the rest of the way, as VMI hit its final eight foul shots to seal the team’s first win over the Phoenix since Nov. 18, 1997.

In addition to Okoye’s effort, three other Keydets finished in double figures, as Covington had 20 points, Brown notched 16 and Rodney Glasgow ended up with 10. For Covington, his 20 points marked the third time this season he had hit that plateau after achieving just once prior during his collegiate career. Isenbarger had 25 points to lead the visitors, who also had four players in double figures including Troutman, who finished with 16 points and eight boards.

VMI finished 29 of 60 from the field (48.3%), hitting nearly identical rates of 15 for 31 and 14 for 29 over the two halves. Elon, meanwhile, was held to 14 for 43 (32.6%) in the second half after a 50% (16 for 32) effort in the opening 20 minutes.

VMI basketball will return to action Wednesday, as the Keydets travel to Morgantown, W. Va. to face the West Virginia Mountaineers. Game time is set for 7 p.m., and the contest can be seen on ESPN3 and Root Sports/Pittsburgh.

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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