JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – East Tennessee State converted 20 VMI turnovers into 30 points and shot 55.7% from the floor and posted a 102-75 win over VMI in the SoCon opener for both teams Saturday afternoon before 3,051 at Freedom Hall.
The Bucs (11-3, 1-0 SoCon), off to their best season start since 1990-91, outscored the Keydets 48-18 in points in the paint and won for the ninth time in the last 11 outings. VMI (3-9, 0-1) dropped its second straight game.
Senior guard T.J. Cromer led ETSU in scoring with 21 points and junior forward David Burrell added 12 points for the Bucs.
Senior guard Julian Eleby led four Keydets in double figures scoring with 21 points and senior guard QJ. Peterson added 16 points and seven rebounds. Junior forward Armani Branch scored a season-high 11 points with seven rebounds in 16 minutes of action. Freshman guard Keith Smith added 11 points for the visitors.
ETSU held a 47-35 lead at the break and expanded the margin with a 27-5 run early in the second half to break the game open. The Bucs capped the decisive spurt by nailing nine consecutive shots from the floor to lead 76-44 at the 9:17 mark following a Burrell dunk.
The Bucs lead grew to as much as 34 points (87-53) with 5:51 remaining.
For the second straight game, the Keydets were forced to play short-handed in the first half as starters Fred Iruafemi and Trey Chapman both collected two fouls less than four minutes into the contest. The Bucs converted 13 of 18 from the stripe in the first half and held a 12-point lead as late as the 5:28 mark before the Keydets rallied with an 8-2 spurt keyed by a pair of 3-pointers by Branch – the later which pulled VMI within 41-35 with 2:02 left in the first half.
ETSU responded with a 6-0 run to close out the half and VMI never threatened the rest of the afternoon.
VMI converted a season best 21 of 22 from the stripe for the contest (95.5%) and produced 27 points off the bench.
The Keydets played the third of their four game road swing next Thursday at Mercer with tipoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
VMI head coach Dan Earl – “I thought we competed well the first half, but the turnovers really got us in the second half. To have 10 assists and 20 turnovers hurts over the course of time and they made some shots. We got into early foul trouble early. It’s something we work on with our guys, but you just have to figure it out. They have some big strong guys and you have to figure out how to compete. You can’t just play behind guys, but unfortunately we had to go with a smaller lineup. We hit a dry spell in the second half and that was the story of the game. We have to figure how to play with some different lineups as well, but some of our guys have to figure how to stay out of foul trouble.”
“Armani Branch gave us valuable minutes when he came in and Keith Smith made some shots late but the assist-turnover ratio is something we need to do better.”