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VMI faces tough road to reach title game
The Keydets face regular-season champion and tournament favorite Charleston Southern.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
CONWAY, S.C. — Leave it to colorful VMI basketball coach Duggar Baucom to apply a humorous spin on his team’s tough matchup in today’s Big South tournament semifinals.
Following his team’s 90-86 hold-on victory over Longwood in Thursday’s first round, Baucom chuckled when asked about the Keydets’ next assignment — regular-season champion and tournament favorite Charleston Southern (18-11).
Only 16 days ago, a then-reeling VMI squad ventured into Charleston, S.C., and got whacked 92-69 by the Buccaneers.
“That was the fourth game of the Bataan Death March and that wasn’t good,” Baucom cracked. “We filed that one away a long time ago. I don’t even remember playing them.”
If the Keydets are going to survive and advance to a fourth title game appearance in seven years, they will have to find a way to slow down a Charleston Southern team that’s loaded with size and talented guards.
In the first meeting, forward Mathiang Muo and guard Arlon Harper combined for 44 points as the Buccaneers shot 59.3 percent, including 56 percent from 3-point range, plus whipped VMI 45-27 on the backboards.
Charleston Southern “has got great guards,” Baucom said. “The guards get all the credit but their big guys are good. That’s one thing I did take away from that game — they’re athletic and lengthy.”
The Keydets (14-16) played without point guard Rodney Glasgow (groin pull) in the Buc Dome beatdown. Since his return, Glasgow has played some of the best basketball of his career. He was brilliant against Longwood, scoring 22 points — one off his career high — with six assists and three steals.
“We’ll put together a game plan for them and just hope we play well,” Baucom said. “We’re in the semis and we know how tournaments are. It’s just a blessing that we’re there after our finish [against Longwood].”
The best omen in VMI’s favor is it will be playing on a neutral court. In each of the Keydets’ semifinal and championship game losses in the tournament under Baucom, all have occurred to a team playing on its home court.
“We’ve never lost a game on a neutral court in tournament play,” Baucom noted. “So we’ll see how that holds [today].
“I like the format here. Now that Coastal [Carolina] is gone, I like it a lot,” Baucom said in Thursday’s postgame news conference.
“Shoot, at this time of year we’ll play anywhere, won’t we?”
VMI will need another herculean effort from what Baucom calls his “Big Three” — league player of the year Stan Okoye, league defensive player of the year D.J. Covington and Glasgow. The trio combined for 79 of VMI’s 90 points against Longwood. Okoye’s 31-point performance marked his eighth 30-point game this season, the most in Division I.
While Charleston Southern already has locked up the Big South’s automatic NIT bid, each team will be vying for a Sunday title game shot to earn the league’s automatic NCAA tournament bid. The winner will face the victor of today’s second semifinal that pits Gardner-Webb (21-11) against long shot Liberty (13-20).
“Of course, we feel like this is the year,” said Okoye, fully aware that VMI’s last NCAA appearance came in 1977.
“Now, the most important thing is to focus on Charleston Southern and not worry about the championship game until we get to that position.”
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