BUFFALO, NY – Some statistics can be misleading. Virginia Military’s scoring average is not one of those stats.
The Keydets came into the game averaging 87.7 points per game, tops in the nation, but bested that, topping the century mark in a 111-100 victory over Canisius in the first round of the College Insider Tournament Tuesday evening.
Led by senior D.J. Covington, who scored a career-high 37 points, VMI shot 50 percent from the floor and scored a Koessler Center high, 59 points in the first half. They jumped out to a 21-point lead in the first half before the Golden Griffins cut it to 14 at halftime. They were able to get within two with 10:07 left, but the Keydets countered with a 12-2 run to put the game out of reach.
VMI opened with the games first 15 points and the Griffs never got within seven after that point in the first half. They shot over 53 percent in the first half as Covington was three points over his season average through the first 20 minutes. He added 15 in the second half and finished the game shooting over 70 percent from the floor while making 13 of 14 free throws in the highest scoring game in Koessler Athletic Center history.
“I thought our guys played good, they were ready to play from the start, really got things going,” said VMI head coach Duggar Baucom. “D.J. Convington was a load inside. He played really well.”
The Griffs seemed lackadaisical from the opening tip as they were never able to battle out of their early hole. Despite a season-high 30 points from Chris Perez and a season average from Billy Baron, the two seniors were unable to carry their team further into the postseason.
“They came out firing,” said Billy. “We didn’t really put a stop to any of that. I don;t think we really made a great effort to get any defensive stops. We’re all accountable for that. They came out and hit a lot of shots… They were strong. When we made a layup or anything, they kept firing right back down.”
Griffs freshman guard Zach Lewis went down with an ankle injury just five minutes in, after he fell awkwardly on a fast break layup attempt. He was helped off the floor and couldn’t put any weight on his left ankle. He was immediately given ice and left the Koessler Center on crutches following the game.
Redshirt sophomore Dominique Raney came off the bench to replace Lewis and scored a career-high 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He played 33 minutes and knocked down four of this six threes to keep Canisius within striking distance in the second half.
Each team had four players in double-figures but the difference in the game came at the free throw line and on the glass. VMI went 30-of-34 from the free throw line, and out rebounded the Griffs by six, pulling down crucial offensive rebounds in the second half to keep the lead.
“We’re the best offensive rebounding team in our league even though we’re smaller, we make it a priority,” said Baucom. “D.J., he only had six (rebounds) but D.J.’s battling in there allows the guards to go. A lot of time, he sacrifices rebounds for being the warrior in there. Phillip Anglade did a little of that too. They occupy the big bodies and guards can kind of swoop it in. But I thought as a team collectively as a team we rebounded really good. We out-rebounded those guys by six and we’re proud of that.”
This was the first postseason game for the Keydets since 1977, something the team was extremely proud of, and grateful to have the opportunity to do so.
“It means the world to us,” said Covington. “This is all we’ve been talking about here. Coming in here and trying to change the culture of VMI. Just continuing on to try and make the team better because the guys before us, they worked hard and we don’t want to let them down. We want to make sure we continue to add to what they built.”
While Baron scored his season average, it took him 20 shots to do so, as he made just eight shots and went 4-of-11 from beyond the arch. He dished out a team-high eight assists and grabbed five rebounds, but constant double-teams and traps forced him to give up the ball quickly, and work harder than usual for everything he got offensively.
“We thought we were playing one of the top guards in the country,” said Baucom. “I thought we did a great job on him. He’s a hyper-efficient scorer. I think he only takes 17 shots to average 24 points but tonight we made him take more and make him go 4-of-11 from three. I’m really proud of the way my guys guarded him by committee.”
Rodney Glasgow, a first-team All Big South selection along with Covington, flirted with a triple-double, registering 28 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. He also recorded his 500th career assist in the first half.
The Griffs came back from a 20-point deficit in the second round of this tournament last year on the road against Youngstown State but couldn’t make it to years in a row, officially ending their season and the careers of four seniors who helped turn the Canisius program around.
“I think we left this program with something to be proud about,” said Billy. “We’ve set a standard here and thats extremely important on and off the court… I think we made a good stamp on that program and we’re proud of that.”