RADFORD, Va. - Stan Okoye scored VMI's final 16 points, including 13 in the final 1:11, and converted the go-ahead put-back with 3.4 seconds remaining to lead the Keydets to a 70-69 come-from-behind win over the Radford Highlanders, in Big South basketball action Wednesday night at the Dedmon Center in Radford, Va. With the comeback win, the Keydets regain a share of first place in the Big South's North division.
The Keydets (10-10, 5-3 Big South) trailed by eight with 1:18 remaining and six with 51 seconds left, but Radford (10-12, 4-4 BSC) would go on to miss five of its final six free throws, including its final four. R.J. Price, who had burned the Keydets for 18 second half points, missed the last two of those attempts. D.J. Covington secured the rebound and tossed the outlet to Okoye, who missed a driving layup, but grabbed his own rebound and put it home for the eventual game-winner. He was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw intentionally, allowing RU only a desperation heave as the clock ran out.
In contrast to RU's struggles late, Okoye went 6 for 7 from the field in the last 1:11, with his only miss leading to the game-winning put-back. He would finish the contest with 23 points and 15 rebounds, with 21 of those points coming in the second half when he shot 9 of 16 from the field. The 15 rebounds tied for the third-most in his career, equaling a game against Marshall in 2010, and also moved him into sixth place in Big South history in that category.
As a team, meanwhile, the Keydets appeared to break out of their recent shooting doldrums in the second half Wednesday, hitting 16 of 33 from the field (48.5%) over the last 20 minutes. VMI also held a 53-42 edge on the glass and thus, moved to 4-0 this year when outrebounding an opponent. VMI, however, saw Radford take the lead just 50 seconds into the second half and the Highlanders would not trail again until Okoye's game-winner.
VMI opened the game with a new starting lineup, the first change in that lineup this season. The Keydets had been the only Big South team to use just one set of starters this year, but Phillip Anglade got his first career start in place of Nick Gore to break that string. Anglade would play a large role early, scoring six points in the first 7:02 as VMI jumped out to an 11-7 lead. Radford climbed back within one at 13-12, but the Keydets responded with an 11-2 run that included nine straight points by Rodney Glasgow, and with 6:19 left in the half, VMI had a 24-14 lead.
After Glasgow capped that run with a three-pointer, however, the Keydets went cold. VMI hit just one field goal over the remainder of the half, and RU closed on a 12-2 run to go into halftime tied, 26-26. The first half was marked by cold shooting for both teams, with VMI hitting just 9 of 29 (31%) and RU managing just 10 of 31 (32.3%). The Keydets also had 12 turnovers, but in a harbinger of what was to come, VMI hit 5 of 6 from the foul line (83.3%) while the Highlanders mustered just 3 of 8 (37.5%).
Price came out strong for RU in the second half, scoring his team's first 10 points, but it was a Blake Smith triple with 15:34 on the clock that pushed the home team's lead to seven, 39-32. The Keydets stayed within striking distance, and were able to cut the margin to one at 41-40, doing so on a Tim Marshall three-pointer at the 14:18 mark. Some three minutes later, with 11:18 to go, the game was delayed briefly due to the activation of a fire alarm inside Dedmon Center.
The contest resumed 12 minutes later, and a Glasgow triple cut the Keydet deficit to one once again, 44-43 with 10:44 left. Once again, RU pulled away, stretching the margin to eight at 60-52, but the Highlanders could not put the game away. A dunk by D.J. Covington cut the lead to six, 60-54, and Okoye drilled a three on VMI's next trip down the floor to cut the lead to three.
Just over a minute later, Radford's Lucas Dyer split a pair of free throws, making it a four-point game, and RU got a quick turnover. A missed three-pointer and a missed VMI foul shot set up a key sequence, as the Highlanders missed three lay-ups on their next possession, as they tried to stretch the lead to six but came away with nothing. Covington ended the sequence with a block on Brandon Holcomb. The home team went on to make its next four foul shots, pushing the lead to eight at 65-57 with 1:18 on the clock, and setting up Okoye's heroics.
He cut the lead to six with a basket at 1:11, and scored off a Brian Brown steal and assist moments later to chop it to four. The teams traded free throws and Jalen Carethers of RU hit two additional from the charity stripe, making it a six-point game with just 51 seconds left, but Okoye scored again to put the lead back to four and set up the final moments.
In addition to Okoye, Glasgow (15) and Marshall (10) finished in double figures, with Glasgow going 4 of 5 from three-point range in the process. Covington added six points, four blocks and 13 rebounds, the last of which equaled a career-high, and Anglade had six points, four rebounds and two blocks in his first career start. VMI finished the game with seven rejections, its most since a Nov. 21 win at Old Dominion.
The Keydets concluded the game 25 of 62 (40.3%) from the field, including 7 of 19 from three-point range (36.8%), while Radford was 21 of 64 (32.8%) and 9 of 23 from long distance (39.1%). VMI goes to 10-0 when outshooting its opponent on the season, and, in an unusual statistic, moves to 2-0 when committing 20 turnovers, the precise number the Keydets had Wednesday night.
The victory was VMI's sixth straight over RU, and tied the all-time series at 19 wins apiece. Price led Radford with 26 points, including six three-pointers, while Blake Smith added 14.
VMI basketball will return to action next Wednesday, as the Keydets travel to Farmville, Va. to take on the newest member of the Big South, the Longwood Lancers. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
QUOTES - VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom
"It was nice for all the guys to step up and make plays. I had been hard on them all week. I think all our hard work this week paid off, and in the end, we made a few plays. We were fortunate that they missed some free throws, but we hung in there and made plays at the end."
"It didn't look pretty when we were down eight, but Stan (Okoye) made some plays going to the rim. We never panicked and never had to shoot a bunch of three's."
"I thought this was easily the best effort we've had all year."
"We always talk about you never know what play gets you beat, and what play wins it for you. It might have been Joe Carr getting offensive rebounds, or Brian Brown with that steal late in the second half."
"I was proud of the effort whether we won or lost, but to get paid back with the effort by winning the game is huge."