VMI’s surge dooms Citadel

On the strength of an overwhelming 28-5 second half run, VMI sent The Citadel to an 85-75 defeat on Saturday afternoon at Cameron Hall in Lexington, Va.

Brian White’s transition dunk had The Citadel (8-12, 3-6 Southern Conference) within two points at 35-33 with 19:43 to play, but VMI (8-13, 4-6) scored the next 11 points to effectively put the game out of reach.

In a game that saw a Cameron Hall-record 59 combined fouls called, The Citadel set season highs in free throws made and attempts (27 of 35, 77 percent) but shot just 37 percent from the field, 30 percent from 3-point range (6 of 20) and committed a season-high 21 turnovers, which led to 25 VMI points.

“I didn’t think our guys handled the situation very well,” said Bulldogs coach Chuck Driesell. “We have not played with enough confidence the last few games, and that’s something we really need to work on.”

Julian Eleby led four Keydets in double figures with 15 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the line, as VMI shot 25 of 39 (64 percent) as a unit. The Keydets also used two five-man platoons and unwavering full-court pressure to collect 15 steals — a season standard against Division I competition — and got five blocks from Phillip Anglade, who ranks second in the league in that category.

Ashton Moore scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half to pace The Citadel, while P.J. Horgan notched his seventh career double-double with 14 points and a career-high 14 rebounds.

Moore’s two free throws trimmed the deficit to 51-38 with 15:06 remaining. Again, though, VMI stormed back with 12 consecutive points over a 2:40 stretch in establishing the Keydets largest lead at 63-38 at the 13:12 mark.

Over that seven-minute stretch, The Citadel was held to just one field goal while committing seven turnovers.

The Citadel did manage a 21-9 run late to trail just 83-75 with 44 seconds left, but the contest had long been decided.

VMI’s early fullcourt pressure flummoxed The Citadel, as Brian Brown scored five quick points to give the Keydets a 19-10 lead with 13:02 left in the first half.

Driesell’s timeout stemmed the tide, as the Bulldogs took advantage of VMI’s over-aggression by getting into the bonus with still 11:56 left in the half. The Citadel started 9 of 9 at the line and reeled off 10 straight points to grab its first lead at 20-19 with 8:36 on the clock.

Warren Sledge’s runner tied the game 27 with 5:01 left, but the Keydets outscored The Citadel 8-4 the rest of the way for a 35-31 halftime advantage.

Ultimately, the Bulldogs could not take advantage of VMI’s first-half foul trouble, making just three of their next 10 free throw attempts after the 9-of-9 start and missing eight layups.

“VMI gives you chances to get the rim, but we were very hesitant inside,” Driesell said. “I’ll give VMI the credit, though. They made us miss shots.”

The Bulldogs now get a week’s rest between games, next traveling to Chattanooga on Jan. 31 for a 6 p.m. tip at McKenzie Arena. The Citadel was held to a season-low in points scored in a 67-48 loss to the Mocs on Dec. 11 at McAlister Field House.

The teams will meet for the third time in the regular season on Feb. 15 at McAlister Field House slated for a 5:30 tipoff.

With a career-high five steals, Marshall Harris now has 101 for his career.

Since topping Wofford eight days ago, The Citadel has lost three straight games, all by double figures.