LEXINGTON, Va. - Stan Okoye had 20 points and 10 rebounds to notch his fourth double-double of the year, and the VMI Keydets broke the game open with a 9-0 run early in the second half as they went on to defeat the Liberty Flames, 82-69, in Big South basketball action Wednesday night in Lexington, Va.
After the Keydets (7-7, 2-0 Big South) had taken a 10-point lead at halftime, Liberty (4-12, 0-2 BSC) chipped the lead to five with 17:12 to play. Okoye scored three straight points, however, and then Brian Brown hit a pair of three-pointers to cap the run and give VMI a 50-36 lead with 13:49 to go. Brown also drew a crucial charge against Liberty guard John Caleb Sanders during that game-deciding run, and the Flames could get no closer than 10 the rest of the way.
With the victory, VMI moves to 2-0 in Big South play for the first time since the 2008-09 season, when the Keydets began conference action 6-0. VMI also moves to 5-1 at home this season. Wednesday's game saw the Keydets commit a season-low seven turnovers, helped by Rodney Glasgow's 13-point, seven-rebound and seven-assist night that included just two turnovers.
Both teams put all five starters in double figures, with Okoye's 20 points leading all scorers and moving him by Austin Kenon '11 for sixth on VMI's all-time scoring list. D.J. Covington added 18 on 8 of 12 shooting and also had four blocks on the night, giving him sole possession of third in VMI history, while Liberty was led by Davon Marshall, who scored 15 points, and by Sanders, who added 14 and four assists.
The teams went back and forth in the early going, with Liberty pulling out to an 8-4 lead after a Tomasz Gielo dunk at the 16:46 mark. The Flames still led by four, 10-6, moments later, but the Keydets drilled three-pointers on three of their next four possessions. The second of those triples, Tim Marshall's lone field goal of the night, gave VMI the lead for good, 12-10.
The hot shooting from distance continued, as Okoye and Brown made triples to help push the advantage to eight, 25-17, with 7:28 left in the half, but Liberty closed to within five on a Davon Marshall three-pointer, 25-20. The Keydets, however, got seven points from Glasgow over the final 3:40 and took a 10-point lead into the locker room, 38-28.
The first half saw the Keydets shoot 15 of 34 from the floor (44.1%), including 6 of 17 from three-point range against a Liberty team that had surrendered just 5.1 three-pointers per game coming into the contest. Okoye and Covington had 10 points apiece, and VMI took advantage of a 20-16 edge on the glass to post a 12-4 edge in second chance points.
Liberty came out well in the second half, scoring eight of the first 11 points including four markers for JR Coronado. A lay-up by Sanders cut the lead to five with 17:12 to play, setting the stage for the game-turning 9-0 run.
The Keydets continued to stretch the lead, with Joe Carr's first three-pointer since 2010 making it a 53-38 contest with 12:26 to go. VMI kept its foot on the gas pedal even further, achieving a game-high 19-point lead with 9:05 to go after Okoye converted a three-point play, 61-42. Liberty pulled back within 13 after a 6-0 run, including four points by Sanders, but the Keydets immediately scored five straight to make it a 66-48 contest with 6:48 to go.
The Flames had one more run left, cutting that 18-point margin to 10 with a 10-2 run and drawing within 68-58 with 4:17 to play. The Keydets, however, extinguished Liberty's last hope as Nick Gore notched an 8-3 spurt on his own, scoring eight consecutive VMI points to give the Keydets a 76-61 lead with 2:03 remaining. The visitors hit two three-pointers in the waning moments, but a pair of thunderous Covington dunks helped account for the final margin, 82-69.
VMI putting all five starters in double figures marked the second time that had occurred this season, following the Nov. 13 game against Central Penn, while Glasgow scored in double figures for the fourth straight game, tying a career-high set earlier this season. The Keydets finished 30 of 65 from the floor (46.2%) and 12 of 31 (38.7%) from three-point range, while Liberty went 28 of 62 (45.2%) and 6 of 16 (37.5%) respectively.
VMI basketball will return to action Saturday, taking on the Winthrop Eagles in Big South play at Cameron Hall. Game time is set for 1 p.m.
QUOTES - VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom
"For the second game in a row, our guys came out and really executed the game plan. We really played well. We had a lot of guys step up tonight. Nick Gore came off the bench and hit a couple of three's and two big free throws in the second half. That was huge and Joe Carr gave us great energy and made a three when we needed it."
"Stan (Okoye) had a double-double which was awesome and D.J. Covington got us going after a sluggish start."
"I thought Rodney Glasgow was the key. Seven rebounds, seven assists, only two turnovers against a lot of pressure at the end and he also made two huge free throws and was certainly captain of the ship tonight."
"I thought our mind set has been pretty good, not only in the games but also in preparation for the games."
"I thought we did a decent job on the offensive boards getting extra shots and we took care of the ball if those things happen, you have a chance to shoot a little bit."