The 2021-22 VMI basketball season came to an end March 20 as the Keydets fell to the University of North Carolina Wilmington by a 93-78 score in the opening round of the Roman Collegiate Basketball Invitational at Daytona Beach Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Florida.
The Keydets (16-16, 9-9) trailed by just two at the half, 39-37, but the Seahawks (24-9) pulled away in the second half to outscore the Keydets, 54-41, to secure the win and advance to the second round.
UNCW employed a suffocating defense to the Keydet offense and forced a season-high 18 turnovers for VMI, surpassing 16 turnovers from three previous games this year.
The Keydets were led by 26 points from Trey Bonham ’24, his fifth 20-point game of the season. He finished the season with double figures, scoring in 19 of the last 20 games of the year. Still battling injury, VMI’s Jake Stephens ’22, center, scored 23 points, his 17th 20-point game of the year.
The matchup featured four ties and eight lead changes as the teams were knotted up at 51-51 with just under 14 minutes to play. The Seahawks then went on a 21-9 run over the next five minutes to break the game open as they hit four treys during the stretch. UNCW also proved dominant in the paint, outscoring VMI, 40-18, and took advantage of VMI’s turnovers with 21 points in transition. UNCW turned to its bench for additional support as they outscored VMI, 16-0, throughout the game.
Four Seahawks finished the game in double figures, led by Mike Okauru’s 27 points on 8-16 shooting, including four three-pointers. Jaylen Sims also had a strong performance by scoring 18 points and hit eight of nine free-throw attempts. James Baker contributed 13 points, and Shykeim Phillips finished with 10.
Kamdyn Curfman ’23 also finished in double figures for VMI with 18 points on the afternoon, including six of 10 from the field and four treys. Sean Conway ’23 finished with eight points.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t play our best basketball,” Dan Earl, head basketball coach, commented. “The turnovers were really costly. With 18 turnovers, it’s tough to win a basketball game. You have to credit UNCW for playing tough, physical defense—their press slowed us down quite a bit. That’s not how we want to play. We want to be attacking and not passive. Once we beat the pressure in the second half a little bit, we weren’t making the best decisions.”
Looking forward, Earl is optimistic about next year’s season.
“When you reflect back (on the season), I think we took a step forward and did a lot of good things,” the coach noted. “We have some young guys that have some promise and some bodies that have to get stronger and get that confidence. That’s what the summer and the offseason is for. I expect a lot of guys to get much better and come back and see if we can have a better year next year.”
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at vmikeydets.com.