LEXINGTON, Va. – The VMI basketball team continues its three-game December road swing with a road test against state rival George Mason Monday at 1 pm at EagleBank Arena. It will be VMI’s lone scheduled game against an A-10 opponent and last non-conference game this season. The Keydets enter the contest after falling at Gardner-Webb, 88-77, Friday afternoon at Boling Springs, N.C. which ended VMI’s three-game win streak. The Keydets enter Monday’s game in search of their first road victory of the year after dropping their first three away contests. The Keydets will break for the holidays after the George Mason game and close out the month on December 30 against Samford in Birmingham, Alabama in the Southern Conference opener.
Last Time Out: Gardner-Webb 88, VMI 77
Despite a furious second-half rally to overcome an early 18-point deficit, the VMI basketball team fell by an 88-77 score to host Gardner-Webb Friday afternoon at Paul Porter Arena in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. Junior Jake Stephens found his rhythm en route to a career-high 26 points in the contest while teammate Kamdyn Curfman scored five three-pointers for the third time this season. The Keydets (5-3) started the game off cold, missing their first seven three-point attempts and shooting 37 percent overall (10-27) in the first half. VMI finished the opening stanza shooting 4-15 (26.7%) from beyond the arc as the Bulldogs opened with a commanding lead. VMI battled back and trimmed the disadvantage to 11 going into the half down, 40-29. The Keydets rallied and twice pulled ahead of Gardner-Webb in the second half but could not sustain the momentum.
Last Time against George Mason: December 23, 2009
Freshman forward Luke Hancock hit a reverse putback layup with :50 remaining to put George Mason up for good and junior guard Cam Long added a layup at the :09 mark to key a last-minute rally as George Mason defeated VMI, 89-86, Patriot Center. The game featured only the second meeting between the schools in 30 seasons and saw 10 lead changes and 12 ties before Hancock’s basket turned the tide in favor of the Patriots. Sophomore guard Keith Gabriel led VMI in scoring with 24 points including six 3-point goals. Junior guard and current VMI assistant coach Austin Kenon added 22 points and six assists while freshman forward Stan Okoye matched his career-high with 18 points. Mason got a team-high 24 points from freshman guard Sherrod Wright while sophomore forward Ryan Pearson added 16 points. VMI rallied from a double-digit first half deficit and took its first lead of the second half when Gabriel fired a 3-pointer with 14:48 left to push the Keydets to a 59-56 lead. A pair of free throws by Gabriel with 2:09 left inched VMI within 85-84, and Okoye followed with a slam dunk on a perfect inbounds feed from Ron Burks to give the Keydets an 86-85 lead with 1:11 left. After a 30-second timeout, Mason worked the ball to Whack, who misfired from long range only to see Hancock secure the rebound and score the decisive basket on the second chance opportunity. Following a 30-second timeout in which VMI inserted all of its key shooters, the Keydets maneuvered for an open look for Kenon from the right wing, but the Virginia Beach, Va. native could not drain the 3-point attempt from 24 feet and the long carom was scooped up by Mason’s Isaiah Tate who hastily threw ahead to a racing Long for a driving layup with :09 left.
A win over George Mason would:
—Be VMI’s first road win of the season.
—Give the Keydets a 2-1 edge in the brief series history.
VMI vs. George Mason
This will be the only the third meeting between the schools that first met in the 1979-80 season. VMI took the initial meeting in Lexington, 95-81, before George Mason took the rematch 30 years later in the 2009-10 season, 89-86, in Fairfax.
STEPHENS SETS NEW SCORING HIGH
Junior center Jake Stephens set a new career-high in points when he tallied 26 against Gardner-Webb December 18 surpassing his previous high of 24 set against Samford in the first round of the 2020 SoCon tournament. Against the Bulldogs, Stephens hit seven of 15 shots including two 3-pointers and grabbed nine rebounds while hitting 10 of 11 from the line. Stephens ranks third in the SoCon in free throw shooting at 84.6%.
CURFMAN ON TARGET
Sophomore guard Kamdyn Curfman drained a career-high tying five 3-point shots for the third time this season and sixth for his career against Gardner-Webb December 18. Earlier, the sophomore marksman nailed five threes against Hampton Dec. 13 in a 17-point effort and also tallied 17 points at Penn State November 28 while hitting five shots from beyond the arc. Through eight games, Curfman is hitting 50.9 % in 3-point shooting which ranks third in the SoCon.
PARHAM HANDING OUT
Senior guard Greg Parham’s play has been in the holiday spirit the last two games as he has handed out 11 assists over that span. Parham dished out five assists in VMI’s 106-72 win over Clarksburg-Harrodsburg Dec. 15 and followed with a season-high six assists at Gardner-Webb December 18. Through eight games, Parham leads the team averaging 4.1 per game which ranks fourth in the SoCon.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
After Monday’s game with George Mason, VMI will have played on every day of the week this season, a rare instance this early in the season. The Keydets did have a Monday game scheduled December 7 against Regent, but that was postponed. In its first eight games, the Keydets have played on Tuesday three times, and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday once.
NOTEWORTHY – Gardner-Webb’s 55.6% shooting from the floor December 18 was the first time the Keydets had allowed an opponent to shoot over 50% for a contest this season…VMI has had four different leading scorers the last four games (Lewis, Curfman, Parham, Stephens)…VMI is 5-0 when outrebounding an opponent and 0-3 when being outrebounded this year.
VMI posted several noteworthy marks in the 106-72 win over Campbellsville-Harrodsburg December 15. The Keydets accumulated assists on 41 baskets which tied for fifth in program history (Last time – vs. Stevenson Nov. 20, 2008). The 106 points scored was the most for the team since a 106-80 victory over Kentucky Christian University on November 20, 2018 and the second time in the last three outings that the Keydets reached the century mark. VMI’s 21 threes tied for third most in a game in program history (Last time vs. Johnson Univ. Nov. 18, 2014).
LEWIS DECEMBER DOUBLE STREAK
Senior forward Myles Lewis had his string of three straight double-doubles end on December 15 after 12 points and five rebounds against CU-Harrodsburg. Lewis earlier had posted 14 points and 11 rebounds Sunday against Hampton that followed 17 points and 10 rebounds against Greensboro College Dec. 8. Lewis started the string with 13 points and 12 rebounds in the Dec. 3 game at 16th ranked Virginia Tech. Lewis currently leads the Keydets on the boards averaging 8.3 per game which ranks fifth in the SoCon.
BONHAM BREAKS OUT
Freshman guard Trey Bonham has upped his point production in December hitting doubles figures scoring in four of the last five contests. Against Hampton December 13, Bonham scored a season-high 12 points – all in the second half- to help VMI to the win over the Pirates.
TOPS FROM THE STRIPE
VMI converted 16 of 19 free throws at Gardner-Webb December 18 which moved its team FT percentage to 80.3% through eight games – best in the SoCon.
STEPHENS STRONG AGAINST PIRATES
Junior center Jake Stephens posted his second career double-double with 11 points and a career-best 12 rebounds while also trying his career-high in blocks with four rejections against Hampton December 13. He logged a team best +21 against the Pirates in 35 minutes of action.
SEASON BEST SHOOTING
VMI’s posted season highs in FG%, 3-point %, and FT% in its 100-65 win over Greensboro College December 8. Against the Pride, the Keydets fired 55% from the floor (33-60), 44.1% from beyond the arc (15-34) and 19 of 21 from the charity stripe. VMI also amassed a season high 26 assists on 33 made field goals.
THREE SHOOTING SPREE EXTENDED?
Keydet fans are hoping for a continuation of last season’s formidable shooting from beyond the arc. VMI in 2019-20 ranked second in Division I in three-pointers made averaging 10.9 per game, second only to North Florida. VMI hit 18 three-pointers against Samford in the opening round of the SoCon tournament March 6 and for the season connected on 359 threes – third most on the school all-time list.
KEYDET CAPSULE LOOK
VMI returns 10 players from last year’s roster including three starters. The 2020-21 roster consists of four seniors, two juniors, four sophomores, and five freshmen.
EARL ENTERS SIXTH SEASON
VMI head basketball coach Dan Earl enters his sixth season as head coach of the Keydets and is moving into some select company in the Keydet all-time coaching ranks. Earl joins Louis “Weenie Miller (1958-64) and Charlie Schmaus (1976-82) as coaches who reached six seasons at the helm. Only Joe Cantafio (1986-94), Duggar Baucom (2005-15) and Bart Bellairs (1994—05) had longer tenures as basketball head coach at the Institute.