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VMI Slows Game Down To Top Flames In Big South Quarterfinals, 79-78
VMI, who scores more and gives up more points then anyone in the country, started on a slow pace much different than its normal-season style, allowing them to open a 19-11 lead on the heels of a Reggie Williams bucket at the 11:28 mark.
The Keydets then extended their lead to 25-13 on a 6-2 run capped by a Fred Robinson bucket at the 9:30 mark. Liberty then came roaring back on a 14-0 run taking its first lead of the game at 27-25 after a Tyler Baker three-point bucket from the wing which tied the game and a Larry Blair floater at 6:46 took the lead.
Behind a 19-9 run, the Keydets grabbed a 44-36 lead with 47.3 seconds remaining in the half on a Williams bucket. Dwight Brewington cut the lead to 44-38 at the half on a bucket with 23.1 seconds remaining.
The story of the first half was VMI slowing the tempo down from its normal pace after Liberty won the two previous horse races this season. The Keydets held the Flames to 41.0 percent from the floor on 16-of-39 shooting while hitting 57.6 percent from the floor on 19-of-33 shooting. The Flames had not shot under 59 percent in any half this season against the Keydets till this period.
After being outrebounded 61-22 on Feb. 21, the Keydets grabbed a 22-17 advantage in the first period over the Flames.
Matt Murrer and Williams were strong forces for VMI, scoring 12 points each in the first half. Williams also grabbed eight boards. Blair led the Flames with 10 points and four rebounds.
Liberty started the second half on a 16-7 run to retake the lead at 54-51, courtesy of an alley-oop dunk by Anthony Smith off a Brewington pass at the 13:30 mark.
The next twelve minutes were dead locked with the Keydets holding a slight 26-24 advantage as Alex McLean scored a bucket in the paint with 1:16 left in the game, giving Liberty the 78-77 lead.
VMI came rushing back with Williams taking the ball straight to the hoop, scoring a bucket with 1:05 left giving the Keydets the 79-78 lead.
Liberty had a few chances to score. Blair missed a three-point basket from the wing as the shot clock expired. Chavis Holmes grabbed the rebound. VMI ran the shot clock down and Williams missed an off-balance three before the violation. Murrer grabbed the rebound, prompting Liberty and Rell Porter to foul Williams who got the outlet pass.
Williams missed the front end of the one-and-one with Brewington coming down with the rebound with nine seconds left. Liberty tried to push the ball but VMI fouled Blair with 3.8 seconds left.
On the in bounds play, Smith found Blair about half court, who got was strongly guarded by Adam Lonon. Blair took a three-point shot but it hit the back end of the rim.
Liberty finished shooting 46.6 percent from the floor on 34-of-73 shooting while VMI hit 51.6 percent of their shots on 33-of-64 shooting. VMI won a narrow rebound margin, 38-36.
The win was VMI's first in two tries in the Big South Championship while Liberty dropped its third-straight first round game.
Blair in his final game for Liberty scored 17 points on 7-of-18 shooting with seven rebounds, five assists, a block and one steal. Blair finishes his career as the Big South leader in points with 2,211.
Brewington scored 15 points while dishing seven assists and Baker scored 12 points and grabbed three boards. Smith rounded out the top Liberty scorers with 10 points and five assists.
VMI was led by Williams' 23 points and nine boards. Murrer collected a double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds while Travis Holmes scored 16 points. Chavis Holmes added 13 points in the win.
With the loss Liberty conclude the season, dropping their last two home contests by a combined two points. On Feb. 12, Coastal Carolina topped the Flames on a Joshua Mack buzzer beater, 77-76.
VMI moves on to the Big South Championship semifinals against No. 2 seed High Point at the Winthrop Coliseum on Thursday. The game is set to tip at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPNU.
VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom
The players bought into our new game plan and kind of liked the change. For the first time this year, we went away from our shift substitutions. This is a great win for not only the program but the institution. We've lost several close games this season, but I'll trade them all for this win in the tournament.
Liberty Head Coach Randy Dunton
We've had a number of possessions versus zone this year, but it really limited us inside. We struggled to shoot the ball in the first half and were not as active as we needed to be on the other end of the floor. We're disappointed we didn't take the seniors farther than we did.