LEXINGTON, Va. - In a battle of the conference's top two scorers, both teams put four players in double figures, but the ETSU Bucs used a 14-5 second half run to pull ahead for good en route to an 81-71 win over the VMI Keydets in SoCon basketball action Thursday night in Lexington, Va.
VMI (5-16, 2-8 SoCon) led for the entire first half, but there were five ties and five lead changes from the 16:57 mark until the clock hit 9:23. That was when A.J. Merriweather hit a three-pointer that gave the Bucs (18-5, 8-2) a one-point lead and start the game-turning run.
VMI was led by QJ Peterson's 22 points in defeat, while the SoCon's second-leading scorer behind Peterson, T.J. Cromer, scored 24 to lead all players. Desonta Bradford added 16 points for ETSU, while Will Miller sparked VMI early in the second half with a career-high eight points.
In the process of overcoming a seven-point halftime deficit, ETSU shot 18 of 26 (69.2%) from the floor in the second half, including 8 of 11 (72.7%) from beyond the arc. The visitors finished at 30 of 53 (56.6%) and 9 of 20 (45%) overall, while the Keydets were 21 of 60 (35%) and 8 of 25 (32%), respectively.
It was a promising start for the Keydets, as ETSU was held scoreless for the first 2:09 and VMI began the game on an 8-0 run. That margin stretched to 10 at the 12:14 mark, but ETSU reduced that deficit to single digits quickly and was back within two, 29-27, late in the first half. VMI scored the final five points of the period and took a seven-point lead to the locker room, 34-27.
ETSU promptly started the second half on a 19-6 run and seemed to be on the verge of taking control of the game, but VMI scored 10 of the game's next 14 points to tie the contest at 50 with 10:52 to go. That set up multiple lead changes that led to the game-turning run.
VMI basketball will return to action next Thursday when the Keydets play host to the Mercer Bears at Cameron Hall. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
QUOTES - VMI Head Coach Dan Earl
"It was a tale of two halves. The first half was one of our better halves that we have played. We were flying around defensively and we held them down pretty well and didn't give them many offensive rebounds - that type of thing. I thought we had a good vibe about us (in first half) but, unfortunately, came out in the second half and missed a couple of bunnies under the basket and layups and that seemed to take some of our energy. You just can't let them shoot almost 70 percent in the second half and expect to win. You just have to move on and learn from it."
"They were really getting into (QJ) Peterson and (Julian) Eleby all game long trying to deny them and I though we moved the ball around better in the first half and we missed those open shots to start the second half and then it got hard and then we didn't share the ball as well the last 10 minutes of the second half."
"I give credit ETSU. They played hard and turned up the heat a little bit more in the second half, but they played hard throughout."
"I was proud of Will Miller tonight. We've been trying to get our younger guys more aggressive especially on the offensive end."