CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - QJ Peterson scored 40 points in just 38 minutes, leading the VMI Keydets past the Chattanooga Mocs, 80-64, in SoCon basketball action Wednesday night in Chattanooga, Tenn. The victory was VMI's first-ever win at UTC's McKenzie Arena and first win against the Mocs in any Chattanooga venue since 1979, as the Keydets broke a 20-game road losing streak against UTC.
It was the first 11:30 of the second half that turned the game around, as VMI turned a two-point halftime deficit into a 14-point lead with 9:34 to play by outscoring UTC 28-12 over that time period.
Peterson finished with 28 second-half points, tying his own mark for the second most points in a half in Keydet program history. He also became just the second VMI player ever to score 40 or more points in a game on multiple occasions, joining Reggie Williams, who accomplished the feat seven times during the ultra-fast pace VMI offense of the previous decade.
Peterson hit 15 of 19 from the field including seven 3-pointers in nine tries.
VMI shot 77.3% from the floor in the second half connecting on 17 of 22 shots. VMI also drained nine of 10 free throws over the last 1:30 of regulation to keep distance and snap a seven-game skid to the Mocs and hand them only their fourth home loss in 41 games dating back to the start of the 2014-15 season.
VMI’s active zone defense helped force Chattannoga into 23 turnovers which the Keydets parlayed into 24 points.
Senior guard Julian Eleby added 14 points and drained ffour straight free throws to help close out the contest.
Guard Greg Pryor led Chattanooga (15-5, 6-2 SoCon) in scoring and guard Tre’ McLean added 11 points and eight rebounds.
The Keydets set the tone for the game by hitting five of their first six shots from the floor to take an 11-5 lead at the first media timeout. Chatttanooga rallied with seven straight points to kick start a back-and-forth first half that saw eight lead changes with neither team holding more than a seven -point lead.
Chattanooga shot 65% in the first half but led by just a 32-30 count at the break due to 10 turnovers that limited the Mocs to 20 shots. VMI meanwhile, canned 12 field goals in the opening half, just once less than UTC to hang close at the break.
VMI took control of the game with an 18-3 to start the second half. Forward Armani Branch opened the scoring with a layup to tie the game at 32-32 and guard Adrian Rich followed with a layup at the 18:13 mark to put the Keydets up for good. Branch tallied again to cap a 6-0 start to the frame.
Peterson started his torrid scoring run shortly after, hitting back-to-back treys to give VMI its first double-digit lead of the night at the 13:43 mark to make it 48-30. McLean scored five quick Chattanooga points to cut the VMI lead to seven points, but the Mocs could not come any closer.
Chattanooga shot just 25% from the floor in the second half after going 65% in the first half. The Mocs were five of 30 beyond the arc.
The Keydets ended a stretch of games with seven of nine on the road and return home Saturday to open a six-game home stand beginning with Samford at 1 pm.
Head Coach Dan Earl – “I’m really proud of our guys for sticking together. You lose some games and you go through dry spells and it gets frustrating, but our guys stuck together. We had two really good practices coming into this one and for me the best part of the game for me was the first half between the 12 and eight minute mark and we went into media timeout and we had just made two turnovers and the guys had this look like they were dialed in and patting each other saying “we’re fine”. There was a different look in the huddle and we were playing together the whole time.”
“Certainly, QJ Peterson was outstanding, He goes for 40, He was outstanding every which way you talk about it. But the fact that the guys were locked in early on and believed - that meant a lot and I was proud of our guys’ effort.”
“Our guys were flying around and communicating and had a lot of energy in our zone. In the first half, we only gave them one offense rebound which was huge. I thought our guys did really well with the game plan.”