ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Fueled by 14 three-pointers and a 57% field goal percentage, the #7 VMI Keydets upset the #2 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, 85-68, in the quarterfinals of the Advance Auto Parts Big South Basketball Championship, contested Wednesday in Asheville, N.C. The Keydets now advance to the conference semifinals for the fourth time in six years, where they will face #6 Winthrop Thursday night at 6 p.m. on ESPNU.
Coastal (19-11) scored the first basket of the game, but the Keydets (16-15) scored the next nine unanswered points, including seven by Keith Gabriel, and would not trail again. Gabriel finished with a team-leading 20 points, including 14 in the first half when the game was tight, while Jordan Weethee added 15 on 5 of 6 shooting from three-point range.
The VMI win snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Chanticleers, as the teams have now ended each other's seasons each of the past four years.
Just four days after being held to 28 percent shooting in a 17-point loss to the Chanticleers to end the regular season, the Keydets shot a blistering 57 percent from the floor. That mark was highlighted by a 50 percent clip from three, as VMI led by as many as 20 in the second half.
Redshirt junior forward Sam McLaurin paced Coastal with 14 points as the Chanticleers shot 51 percent themselves, but had their season come to an end in the quarterfinal round for the first time since 2009.
VMI enjoyed an advantage as large as 11 on two occasions in the first half, but saw it shrink to one as Coastal used an 8-0 run stretching both halves to draw within 43-42 on a Chris Gradnigo three. The Chanticleers held the Keydets without a field goal for 8:35 during the stretch, showcasing the defense which allowed them to finish 1st in the Big South in opponent scoring and field goal percentage.
Sparked by its defense, VMI seized the momentum back with a 15-2 run to assume a commanding 60-46 advantage on a Rodney Glasgow pull-up jumper in the lane. The Keydets scored the first 10 points of the burst consecutively, and the last two scores were triggered by steals. Glasgow came up with the first and then grabbed an offensive rebound before kicking out to Michael Sparks for a triple.
Stan Okoye came up with a swipe on Coastal’s next trip down the floor and gave off to Gabriel, who threw down a left-hand slam in transition for a 55-44 VMI lead.
McLaurin connected on a short turn-around jumper on Coastal’s next possession, but VMI closed strong and never allowed its cushion to fall below 12. An 11-4 spurt upped the lead to 76-56 at the 4:59 mark, as Okoye provided a highlight with a two-hand dunk follow off a miss by Ron Burks.
Gabriel tallied 14 points in the first half as VMI led by as many as 11 and entered halftime with a 43-37 advantage on the strength of a 9-of-15 showing from downtown.
Coastal scored the game’s opening bucket on a McLaurin dunk but VMI responded with a 9-0 run to take control early. Gabriel scored seven of the Keydets nine points during the spurt and punctuated it with a long three-pointer from the top of the key. He then added another trey from nearly the same spot moments later to up the VMI advantage to 12-4.
The Chanticleers answered back with four free throws, but continued to struggle to find the range from the field as the Keydets challenged shot after shot. Freshman forward Jordan Weethee came off the bench to provide an offensive spark for VMI, meanwhile, nailing a pair of triples to pad the cushion to 18-8 at the 12:29 mark.
VMI built its lead to 23-12 on another Weethee three-ball from straight-on with 10:41 remaining, but Coastal settled in after opening 1-of-8 from the floor to whittle its deficit to 30-24 on an Anthony Raffa three 4:11 later.
The threes kept falling for the Keydets, however, as Quinton Upshur hit one from the corner and Burks connected from the right wing to reinstate an 11-point VMI cushion with 4:34 left until intermission.
Coastal was able to string together some stops to hold VMI without a field goal over the final 2:54 of the first stanza, and made the halftime deficit a manageable six when Danny Nieman knocked down a three from the right side.
McLaurin led the Chanticleers with eight first half markers, as Coastal connected on 12 of its final 16 shots of the opening 20 minutes. Weethee added nine and Burks eight in support of Gabriel for VMI, as they finished the period shooting 62.5 percent (15-of-24) from the field.
Weethee continued to be a factor during the second stanza for VMI, hitting two more threes to record a 5-of-6 mark from deep and 15 points off the bench. Okoye chipped in 15 as well for the Keydets, while Burks rounded out the four double-digit scorers with 13 points.
Raffa and Kierre Greenwood joined McLaurin in double figures for Coastal, posting 12 and 11 markers, respectively.
The win gives the Keydets their second consecutive trip to the semifinal round, and their triumph marks the second straight year the No. 7 seed has upset the No. 2 seed.
VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom
"Needless to say I'm happy to be up here. Credit Coastal, they have had a great year. Coach Ellis is one of the best coaches in the league, one of the most veteran coaches in the league. They put us out of the tournament the last two years. We started playing with term energy. That was the shooting that I've been looking for for 31 games now. It finally came around in game 31. It came around at a good time. These guys were the ones out there making plays, making it happen."
Coastal Carolina Head Coach Cliff Ellis
“I want to congratulate VMI they played a tremendous game. They came out and shot the three, Gabriel got them going and they fed off them. It seemed like a lid was on the basket for us early and the combination of VMI’s three’s put us in a hole. We pressed a little too much in regards to trying to get it back. I give VMI full credit."