Virginia Military’s standing as the nation’s highest scoring Division I team is bound to raise a healthy dose of skepticism. How impressive is it when the Keydets dump 121 on Bluefield State, or 112 on Bridgewater College? Is that supposed to suggest that VMI could do the same against, you know, a “real” team?
Well, yes, apparently that’s exactly what it suggests.
VMI rolled into the Koessler Athletic Center for the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament Tuesday night and proved its scoring average no mirage. D.J. Covington, an athletic 6-foot-9 senior, struck for a career-high 37 points, two teammates scored 28 apiece and records fell like dominos as the Keydets affirmed their lofty scoring status with a 111-100 victory over Canisius.
VMI (20-12) set opponent records for most points by a Canisius opponent in a half (59) and a game and teamed up with the Griffs to obliterate the previous record of 197 combined points. VMI never trailed, bolting to a 15-0 lead, and the Griffs could get no closer than two. For a short while it appeared the Griffs might reprise their 22-point comeback against Youngstown State in last year’s CIT. But the Keydets went on a 7-0 blitz after Canisius (21-13) closed within 76-74 and that was it.
Covington was 12 for 17 from the field in 13 of 14 from the line and produced five blocks in one of the more dominating performances in Koessler history. The 37 points rank third all-time in the tournament. The record of 39 was set Evansville’s Colt Ryan in last year’s third-round victory over the Griffs.
Rodney Glasgow and QJ Peterson each added 28 points for VMI, which shot an even 50 percent from the field. The Keydets came in averaging 87.7 points a game.
Chris Perez had a season-high 30 for Canisius while Billy Baron went for 24 and Dominique Raney for a career-high 20. The Griffs shot 51.4 percent. “They came out firing,” Baron said. “We didn’t get any defensive stops. I think we’re all accountable for that.”
The Griffs are accustomed to up-tempo games, but this made their shootouts with Iona look like a slow dance. Although VMI did have one short clock violation, it typically ran and shot, ran and shot, and hammered the boards for 16 offensive rebounds.
“They were pushing that thing,” Perez said. “The coaches said they were going to push it like Iona, but like you said they were just getting that thing down the court, on a make, on a miss, on everything. It was pretty tough.”
VMI seemed to feed off the excitement of the its first postseason appearance since 1977, when it advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Not even the 9½ hour bus ride to Buffalo could temper that enthusiasm.
“When we got this draw to be quite honest we weren’t real excited about it,” said VMI coach Duggar Baucom. “We thought it was a tough draw, tough travel, but most important we thought we were playing one of the top guards in the country in Billy. I thought we did a great job on him. He’s a hyper-efficient scorer, I think he takes only 17 shots to average 24 points, but tonight we made him take a little bit more and make him go 4 for 11 from three.”
Canisius was one point better than VMI over the final 16 minutes of the first half. That hardly compensated for the fact they were 15 points worse over the opening four minutes. The Griffs used two timeouts while falling into a 15-0 hole and then had to make 12 of their final 20 shots from the field just to keep pace and trailed 59-45 at intermission.
“I thought the game was played at our pace and that’s what we wanted to do,” Baucom said. “We just came off a loss at Coastal Carolina in the conference semifinals where we only scored 62 in a game. And to come in here tonight and score 59 in a half, I was proud of our guys. That was kind of our point of emphasis since we brought the kids back on Saturday to practice.”
No one in Division I has attempted more threes than the Keydets, and they rained 17 of them upon the basket while building the 59-45 lead that broke the opponent Koessler Center mark of 58 by Loyola (Md.). VMI hit the target with seven of the long-range bombs, three of them by Glasgow (13 points). When they weren’t letting fly from great distance the Keydets were dumping it inside to Covington, who had his way with the Griffs’ interior defense.