VMI 96   Western Carolina 83

(Asheville, NC) – When it comes to basketball in March, it’s common knowledge that the team that defends the best will have the upper hand in typically close, tense games. But in the opening game of the 2019 Ingles Southern Conference Basketball Tournament Friday night, defense took a backseat as VMI (8-24, 4-14) rode the red-hot shooting of sophomore Bubba Parham to run past Western Carolina 96-83 in the U.S. Cellular Center. 

Parham, the SoCon’s leading scorer at 20.8 points per game, dropped a career high 41 on six of eight shooting from behind the arc to lead all scorers. Parham’s effort ties him for the 7thmost points in SoCon Tournament history, and are the most in a tournament game since Stephen Curry dropped 43 for Davidson against App St. in 2009. Along with everyone in the arena, his coach was impressed. 

“Bubba has shown throughout the year that he knows how to score the ball,” said Keydet head coach Dan Earl. “He’s doing a good job on knowing when to distribute and when to score. He’s making really good decisions.”

A back and forth first half actually saw the Catamounts (10-21, 4-14) surge to a seven point lead midway through the first twenty minutes. But a prolonged scoring drought coupled with VMI getting their offense going saw the Keydets take a 41-39 lead at intermission. But a 10-0 run by VMI in the first five minutes of the second half proved too much for the Catamounts to overcome.

“Honestly, I think it’s in a nutshell how our season’s been,” said WCU senior forward Marc Gosselin. “We go back to talking about how good we are sometimes and I think that as a young team our attention to detail varies. So there’ll be times where we’re locked in, we’re focused, and we’re good and we feel good about ourselves. And then there will be countless times where the intensity level drops down, the attention to detail drops down and that’s what gets us killed.”

In addition to Parham’s outburst, Sophomore guard Sarju Patel added 22 points on 7 of 9 shooting from the field, and four of six from three. As a team, the Keydets were a scorching 15 of 29 (51.7%) from deep. Junior guard Garrett Gilkeson also added twelve points, six rebounds, and four assists for VMI. 

“I’m really proud of our guys,” Earl said. “We’re continuing to fight, we’re continuing to get better, which has been huge for us. We had a tough stretch in the Southern Conference. We gave away a few games where we gave away the lead late. I thought we’ve been better down the stretch in late game situations. We competed throughout tonight.” 

WCU was led by Carlos Dotson with 27 points and a game high 13 rebounds. Kameron Gibson added 23 points, while Gosselin finished with ten. 

“VMI played very well,” said WCU head coach Mark Prosser. “We tried to mix it up a little bit and make some adjustments and they were able to take advantage of those and make plays. But I thought we competed. It wasn’t the outcome we had prepared for. But that was the outcome by the end. But I could not be any more proud of the young men sitting here and the young men sitting in that locker room.” 

Next up for the Keydets is #1 seed Wofford at noon on Saturday. The Bulldogs enter the second round matchup with a 26-4 record, 18-0 in conference.  

“They’re a tremendous team,” Earl said. “For them to run the table against a very good Southern Conference is just phenomenal. It’s going to be tough, but we have to go out there and compete.” 

Samford 100 The Citadel 71

In the nightcap, Samford closed the first half on a 21-6 run to lead 45-30 at the half, and never looked back in route to a 100-71 win over The Citadel. Samford (17-15, 6-12) shot 60.7% from the field for the game, including an astounding 70.8% in the second half to secure their spot in the second round. 

“I just thought the effort that we played with tonight for 40 minutes was really good, said Samford head coach Scott Padgett. “We weren’t perfect, we made some mistakes. But we can make up for a lot of those mistakes when we play with a great effort. On the offensive end, we shared the ball. With the great ball movement, we got great open looks and we were knocking down shots.” 

The Bulldogs from Birmingham tallied an impressive 22 assists on 34 made baskets, and were paced offensively by junior Brandon Austin’s 26 points and seven rebounds. According to Coach Padgett, the key to Austin’s game is as much about the rebounds as the scoring. 

“When B.A. rebounds the ball, he scores the ball, it’s that simple,” Padgett said. “When he’s getting rebounds, he’s locked in. And when he’s locked in, he makes shots.” 

Junior guard Josh Sharkey added 16 points and eight assists, junior Myron Gordon scored 15 points and dished out four assists, senior post Ruben Guerrero chipped in twelve points and grabbed eight rebounds, and freshman Robert Allen added eleven points and eight boards. 

After splitting the regular season matchups in extremely close contests, Citadel coach Duggar Baucom was more than impressed with the Samford team that ended his team’s season. 

“Congratulations to Samford,” Baucom said. “They did really, really well. They shot the ball extremely well. They made us do a few things that we didn’t want to do but credit to them for making shots in the first half.”

The Citadel (12-19, 4-14) was led by senior Zane Najdawi with 15 points and eleven rebounds, and freshman Jerry Higgins III with twelve points and six assists. But it wasn’t enough to extend the Bulldogs’ season. 

“I’m very, very proud of my guys,” Baucom said. “I thought we fought till the very end and I’m very proud of them for that.” 

Samford will have less than 24 hours to regroup as they face #2 seed UNC-Greensboro at 6 p.m. on Saturday. The Bulldogs dropped the first two contests with UNCG by eight points each, but before moving on, the coach was going to let the team enjoy this one – a little.

“Tonight is tonight,” Padgett said. “What it did was give us an opportunity to play tomorrow. I told (the team) we’re going to celebrate this win – for about 30 minutes. Because we have to go get ready for UNCG.” 

HMG Staff: Paul Whitt and Pete Wehry