LEXINGTON, Va. - In a game that featured seven ties and 18 lead changes, Keith Smith blocked a potential go-ahead three-pointer as time expired and the VMI Keydets defeated the Western Carolina Catamounts, 79-78, in SoCon basketball action Thursday night at Cameron Hall in Lexington, Va.
WCU (5-12, 0-4 SoCon) had cut the margin to one with two Elijah Pughsley free throws with 36 seconds to go, but Trey Chapman missed the front end of a one and one with nine ticks on the clock. Pughsley rebounded and rushed into the front court, but after a pair of passes, was forced into a desperation three-pointer. Smith blocked the attempt easily, setting off the home team's celebration.
In the victory, VMI (4-11, 1-3) saw Chapman post 18 points while QJ Peterson had his second consecutive double-double, 19 points and 10 rebounds. Smith added 13 and five boards, while Julian Eleby chipped in 14 markers.
Pughsley had 18 points off the bench to lead the visitors.
The Keydets jumped out to an early 10-point lead, 13-3, but that would prove to be the largest lead of the night for either team. The Catamounts took their first lead of the night at the 8:05 mark on a basket by Marc Gosselin, and the drama was on from there.
Neither team led by more than five points the rest of the way, but it was the Keydets who took a two-point lead into halftime, 40-38, behind 12 points from Chapman.
A 10-3 run would give the visitors their biggest lead of the night, 59-54, with 12:09 to play, but VMI scored the next five points to tie the game.
There were nine lead changes over the final nine minutes as the teams traded three-pointers repeatedly, but the last of those came when Eleby hit a trey with 3:31 to go that made it 75-74, VMI. The Keydets would not trail again, thanks to four points by Chapman and Smith's block.
In the victory, VMI shot 27 of 57 overall (47.4%) and overcame a 20-point deficit (38-18) in the paint. The Keydets were 13 of 34 from downtown (38.2%), including a combined 7 of 11 by Smith and Eleby, and finished 12 of 16 (75%) from the line.
WCU shot 29 of 63 overall (46%) and 11 of 15 from the line (73.3%). The Catamounts were 9 of 20 from three-point range overall (45%), including 6 of 12 (50%) in the second half.
VMI basketball will return to action Saturday, when the Keydets play host to UNCG at Cameron Hall. Game time is set for 1 p.m.
QUOTES - VMI Head Coach Dan Earl
"I thought it was a hard fought game and it was a tough game as a coach because you just want to get one more stop or have one more shot go in. It got tight, but Keith Smith made an incredible block. I have been preaching to the guys that every little thing matters, whether it's a free throw, a block out or lose ball. In this case it was a block by Keith Smith."
"I was proud of our guys for responding particularly when our shots didn't fall middle of the second half and then we responded and were able to make a couple of shots and play defense. It was a good win for our guys."