VMI Basketball Ends Best Season since 2013-14

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VMI basketball was seeded No. 6 in the SoCon Tournament and ended tournament play 1-1.—Photo by The Sports Photo Guy.

VMI basketball ended the best season since 2013-14 March 7. Coach Dan Earl was named Southern Conference Coach of the Year and three players earned conference honors. In the conference tournament, the Keydets topped Furman 91-90 in overtime, but fell to Mercer 59-73.

March 6: VMI 91, Furman 90

Down by 10 with just over three minutes to play in regulation, the VMI basketball team made a furious rally to knot the score at 80 apiece to force overtime and eventually pulled out a 91-90 overtime victory over No. 3 seed Furman March 6 at Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, North Carolina.

Greg Parham ’21 converted a pair of free throws at the 3:08 mark and a minute later scored a jumper to trim the Furman lead to 80-74 with 2:13 on the clock. On VMI’s next possession, Parham converted a three-pointer at the top of the arc to make it 80-77 with 1:28 to go. The Paladins (16-9, 10-5) milked the clock but missed a three-point attempt by Noah Gurley with one minute to play. On the other end, Sean Conway ’23 found a wide-open Jake Stephens ’22 in three-point range and he sunk it to tie the game at 80 apiece with 33 seconds to play. Furman’s Gurley missed a jumper to win the game and the overtime period was forced.

VMI senior Myles Lewis ’21 kicked it up a notch in the overtime period to score VMI’s next six points, including a layup, a huge steal that led to another layup in transition, and a short jumper to pull VMI ahead 86-82 with 2:43 to play. Parham scored a jumper to make the game 88-82 before Furman’s Alex Hunter converted a three. Parham was then fouled with 1:10 left and converted both free throws to make it 90-85. Furman’s Clay Mounce quickly scored a three to cut the VMI lead to 90-88 with 0:57 on the clock. Stephens was fouled, missed his first free throw but converted the second in what turned out to be the difference with two seconds remaining. The Paladins’ full-court heave was received by Gurley, who spun around and converted an 18-footer from the baseline but was unable to shoot from the intended three-point range to tie the game. Stephens finished the game with 25 points while Parham ended with 21. Freshman Trey Bonham ’24 logged 14 points, Lewis finished with 13, and Conway earned a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds in the win that featured five ties and four lead changes. Furman was paced by Gurley’s 30 points while Mounce and Hunter both finished with 17.

March 7: VMI 59, Mercer 73

Looking to continue its momentum following their March 6 big upset over No. 3 seed Furman, the No. 6 seed VMI basketball team fell by a 73-59 score to No. 7 seed Mercer March 7 at Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, North Carolina. The loss puts an end to VMI’s breakthrough 2020-21 season in which the Keydets registered a 13-12 overall record, including a 7-7 record in the Southern Conference, and three wins over the top-ranked team in the league at the time of the matchup. It also marked VMI’s first winning season since the 2013-14 campaign.

Conference Honors

VMI head basketball coach Dan Earl was named 2020-21 SoCon Coach of the Year by both the league coaches and media, the league office announced March 3 following its postseason awards voting results. VMI senior guard Parham (Richmond, Virginia) was voted to the All-Southern Conference first team by the media and earned second team honors on the coaches’ squad while junior center Stephens (Bunker Hill, West Virginia) earned spots on the All-SoCon second team by the media and third team coaches. Freshman guard Bonham (Mobile, Alabama) was named to the all-freshman team by both media and league coaches.

Earl, in his sixth season as head coach of the Keydet program, has led VMI to a 12-11 overall mark and 7-7 record in conference competition this season while securing a No. 6 tournament seed. The 12 victories are the most since 2013-14 and the seven SoCon wins are the most since 2014-15. VMI went 11-1 at home for its most successful season at Cameron Hall in seven years. VMI posted wins over the top four finishers in the conference including victories over three first-place teams at the time of play (Furman, Wofford, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro). It also marked the first time that VMI defeated the top four teams in the regular conference standings since 2008-09 when the Keydets competed in the Big South Conference.

Before the SoCon tournament, Parham ranked third in the SoCon in scoring with an 18.6 points per game average and has scored 20 or more points in 11 games this season. He became to 42nd player in VMI program history to reach 1,000 career points and currently stands at 1,042 career points. He led the SoCon in scoring in league games with a 20.5 PPG average and also topped the SoCon in 3-point percentage with a 45.3% mark. Parham also earned the first SoCon player of the month basketball honor for the Keydets since November 2015 by averaging 23.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game in eight January contests, and was named SoCon Player of the Week for consecutive weeks in late January becoming the first Keydet since Jason Bell ’98 in 1997-98 to earn SoCon POTW in consecutive weeks.

Stephens has been a steady presence in the recent Keydet basketball success and has averaged 17.9 points and 8.6 rebounds over his last 13 games. He pulled down a career-high 16 rebounds along with 19 points at The Citadel Feb. 20. Stephens was named SoCon Player of the Week Feb. 9 after a 22-point, nine rebound effort against Wofford Feb. 3. Stephens has five double-doubles on the season. Earlier in January, Stephens scored a career-high 33 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the 110-103 victory over The Citadel Jan. 16. Stephens is currently ranked third in the SoCon in rebounding (7.8), is third in blocks (1.6), and fourth in free throw shooting at 82.0%, and 12th in scoring (14.7).

Bonham has provided solid backcourt depth this season and averages 8.6 points while shooting 40.8% from three-point range. He was also inserted into the starting lineup in January and scored a season and career-high 20 points against Wofford Jan. 13 in his first start and averaged 11.7 points in seven starts. Bonham, who dished out a season and career-high seven assists against Western Carolina Jan. 27, had 13 double-figures scoring games on the year.

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