VMI rally falls short at Winthrop, 91-84

Keith Gabriel had 26 points, but Andre Jones notched 27 of his own and Reggie Middleton posted a double-double, helping the Winthrop Eagles survive a late VMI rally and prevail, 91-84, over the Keydets in Big South basketball action Saturday in Rock Hill, S.C.

After VMI (7-9, 2-4 Big South) took a 32-23 lead with 5:56 left in the first half, the Eagles (6-10, 3-2) closed the period on a 13-5 run, climbing within one at the break. The home team then took the advantage early in the second half and held it for the final 18:11, leading by as many as 10 before VMI closed the game well, cutting its deficit to five points twice in the final minute.

The Keydets could not get any closer, however, and Winthrop broke VMI’s two-game win streak in the series between the schools. In addition to Jones’ exploits, Middleton had 18 points and 12 assists, while Matt Morgan added 20 points of his own. The Keydets got 16 points and eight rebounds out of D.J. Covington, who played a season-high 33 minutes, but Stan Okoye suffered through foul trouble and played just 17 minutes, scoring 13 points.

Winthrop scored the first two baskets of the game on layups by James Bourne and Middleton, but the Keydets were able to muster a better start than its previous game on Thursday night and took its first lead of the road trip on a Stan Okoye jumper with 14:41 left.

The Eagles squared the game at 10-10 on a jumper by Jones at the 14:49 mark, but Gabriel canned a 3-pointer and Covington converted a lay-in with 12:08 left to put the Keydets ahead, 15-10. Covington added  four straight points minutes later to extend VMI’s lead to 21-14 just past the midway point of the half and took its biggest lead of the night, 32-23 with 5:56 remaining before intermission when Ron Burks nailed two free throws.

The Eagles countered with a 7-0 run with Jones producing five quick points with a lay-in and three-pointer which preceded a Valentine layup with 4:05 left to pull the Eagles within 32-30 with four minutes left in the half.

The Keydets took a 37-36 lead at the break helped by six three-pointers including four by Gabriel who stroked four treys from long range and finished the opening half with 14 points. VMI held a 20-17 advantage on the boards but committed nine turnovers that led to 11 Winthrop points. Jones paced the Eagles at the break with 11 points and WU shot 51.5% from the floor to VMI’s 38.7% in the first half.

With the game tight in opening minutes of the second half, the Keydets encountered a tough turn when Okoye was tagged with his fourth foul on a charging call with 17:57 remaining in regulation when the Eagles were in the middle of a 6-0 run started by a Valentine jumper. The hoop would ultimately put Winthrop ahead for the rest of the night and the spurt was capped by a Jones dunk at the 17:26 mark following a Keydet turnover.

Okoye would be a spectator for an eight minute stretch while the Keydets tried to hold Winthrop at bay in the second half. Shortly after Okoye returned at the 9:44 mark, the Eagles assumed a ten-point bulge six times over the next seven minutes but could not put VMI away. A Jones jumper made it 79-69 at the 2:41 mark of regulation, but a five point burst by Okoye on a layup and 3-point play pulled VMI within 79-74 with 1:59 remaining. Okoye followed up with a jumper at the :50 mark to again make it a six point game (85-79), but the Eagles would can eight straight free throws over the final 40 seconds of regulation to finally slam the door shut.

VMI returns home to open a three-game homestand Tuesday night against the Liberty Flames with tip-off scheduled for 7:00 at Cameron Hall. It will be Faculty and Staff appreciation night with ticket discounts available. Call 540-464-7266 or log on to www. vmikeydets.com for more information. The contest will also be televised on the Flames Television Network which is available on selected cable systems throughout the state and region. Consult your local listings.

VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom –

“Winthrop is a tough team – physically tough and mentally tough. That’s what they do. They certainly showed it the second half. We always say the first four minutes of the second half are the most important, and we got an offensive foul on the first possession and turned over on the next play. We weren’t very smart in the second half and then Stan Okoye got into foul trouble. Stan was pretty good when he was in there, but he’s no good when he is sitting over there with me. It was frustrating he could only play 17 minutes.”

“Having 17 turnovers against a team that doesn’t press is not acceptable.”

“We got up nine in the first half and relaxed a little bit. Middleton got loose two times in transition and we didn’t get back – mental lapses.”

“D.J. Covington played great. He’s getting a little bit better every day. For him to produce against those guys is good for his confidence and good for our team.”

“Michael Sparks keeps getting better and better and Keith Gabriel sometimes tries to do too much when we come back to Charlotte, but tonight he was stellar. I also thought he did a good job trying to guard and limit his turnovers and took good shots and finished with 26 points.”


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