CLINTON, S.C. - Stan Okoye had a career-high 39 points, including 26 in the second half, to lead the Keydets to an 86-77 win over the Presbyterian College Blue Hose Saturday night in Clinton, S.C. The contest was the Big South opener for both programs.
The best night of Okoye's storied career tied for the 10th-best scoring output in Keydet history, equaling the last time a Keydet scored 39 when Austin Kenon '11 did so against Liberty on Feb. 15, 2011. Okoye's 39 markers also moved him into seventh place on VMI's all-time scoring list, pushing him past Travis Holmes '09 and placing him 15 points behind Kenon for sixth on that listing. All told, Okoye shot 12 for 22 from the floor and a sterling 12 of 14 at the line. He also made a trio of three-pointers and added three steals as well.
VMI (6-7, 1-0 Big South) showed its versatility in the win, as after putting up 52 bench points Wednesday evening, the Keydets won Saturday's tilt powered by the starting trio of Okoye, D.J. Covington and Rodney Glasgow. Covington notched 18 points and eight rebounds in just 28 minutes, while Glasgow equaled a season-high by scoring 17 points of his own, giving the triumvirate 74 of VMI's 86 points on the evening. The final 8:07 told the story of the game, as over that time, Glasgow and Okoye combined for VMI's last 20 points to ensure the first Keydet conference-opening win since the 2008-09 season.
Presbyterian dropped its Big South opener and fell to 3-12 overall with the loss.
The home team took early leads of 2-0 and 4-2, but Covington gave the Keydets the lead for good 2:29 into the game, scoring to launch a 13-2 run that would give VMI a 16-6 lead with 14:13 left in the first half. The teams then settled into back and forth action, trading baskets until Presbyterian was able to pull to within six on multiple occasions, doing so at 24-18 and 26-20.
A 6-2 run by the Blue Hose, a spurt that saw three straight players score, pulled them to within 32-27, but VMI pushed its lead back out by scoring six of the half's final eight points and PC would get no closer than seven the rest of the way.
The Keydets took a 38-29 advantage into the locker room, helped by 13 from Okoye and 11 from Covington. VMI also took full advantage of solid foul shooting, going 9 of 12 (75%) at the charity stripe over the first 20 minutes.
The visitors came out of halftime strong, going back up by double digits on two occasions in the first 2:12, and then pushing that margin to 13, 46-33, on an Okoye triple at the 16:51 mark. Eric Washington answered with a three for PC, but the Keydets then launched a 7-2 run and after Brian Brown's three-pointer with 14:43 left, led 53-38.
Once again, the teams volleyed baskets with the lead consistently remaining between 11 and 15 until Covington converted a basket with 11:06 left, making it a 63-47 Keydet edge, and Okoye scored the next time down the floor to push it to an 18-point bulge, which would prove to be the largest lead of the evening.
After a PC basket and a Phillip Anglade free throw, the Blue Hose scored three straight times down the floor, but thanks to Okoye, could not cut into the margin. The senior scored eight straight VMI points during a span of just over two minutes, ending with a triple at the 4:08 mark that, once again, made it a 16-point contest at 74-58.
Presbyterian made three three-pointers over the final 1:56 to cut into the final margin, but the Keydets made their final eight free throws to ice the victory.
The Keydets shot a blistering 66.7% (14 of 21) from the floor in the second half, and were at 28 of 53 overall (52.8%). VMI also hit 24 of 30 (80%) from the line, equaling the team's second best effort from the charity stripe this season.
Presbyterian was led by Khalid Mutakabbir, who had 19 points but did not score for the first 27:43 of the contest. PC finished 30 of 63 (47.6%) from the floor, but did shoot 6 of 14 (42.9%) from three-point range in the second half, after missing five of six tries in the first period.
VMI basketball will return to action Jan. 9, playing host to the Liberty Flames in a Big South contest that can be seen on both the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and ESPN3. Tip time is set for 7 p.m.
Quotes - VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom
"This was one that I had been worrying about for a long time when I saw we were opening up on the road. I knew Coach (Gregg) Nibert would have them ready, so to come in here and play as well as we did is a credit to our guys."
"Stan Okoye made things happen and credit his teammates for getting him the ball."
"We came out in the second half with the mind set that we had to win 4-minute wars and we were able to do that. We persevered pretty well. I was proud of our post guys for battling inside."
"Our defense was really good and I credit a lot of that to Brian Brown who was able to hold Mutakabbir to a scoreless first half."
"I thought our guys did an excellent job of being mentally tough to get to the line and then to knock them down."