VMI knocks-off Wofford

Sports

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The Wofford men’s basketball team dropped its Southern Conference opener on Wednesday night, rallying for a valiant second-half effort late, though, still falling to a hot-shooting VMI squad (8-5, 1-0 SoCon), 80-73, behind a 51.7 percent outing from the Keydets at the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium. Three Terriers finished in double figures in B.J. Mack, Isaiah Bigelow and Morgan Safford, including season-high performances for Bigelow and Safford, though, the loss moves the Terriers to 8-5 overall and 0-1 in the Southern Conference.

“A lot of credit to VMI. Their two veteran and best players [Kamdyn Curfman and Jake Stephens] scored a lot of points, got a lot of rebounds, made a lot of plays for them and we obviously didn’t handle some things very well,” said head coach Jay McAuley. “That’s a credit to VMI. They came in here really really well and obviously shot the ball extremely well, which we knew we had to defend and we didn’t.”

VMI finished the contest hitting 30-of-58 from the field (51.7%), including 13-of-35 from beyond the arc (37.1%), with four Keydets in double figures – led by Jake Stephens’ 27 points and 12 rebounds and Kamdyn Curfman’s 21 points.

Wofford shot 45.8 percent from the floor (27-of-59), while hitting 36.4 percent of its look from 3-point range on the night (12-for-33) and 7-of-10 at the free-throw line (70%).

“We wanted to be the aggressor tonight because they are a system-oriented team and we had six deflections at half after 38 deflections at Presbyterian … just on our heels, getting blown by,” added McAuley of the Terriers defensively. “And once they saw the ball start going through the net, that really frustrated us I thought offensively to where you saw some sloppy turnovers.”

Leading the SoCon in turnover margin (+4.3) and fewest turnovers (138) heading into the contest, turnovers would plague the Terriers on Wednesday night, as VMI forced a season-high 16 turnovers.

Additionally, Wofford recorded just nine assists for the game, marking its second-lowest output this season.

Junior forward B.J. Mack tallied his 10th double-figure performance of the season with a team-high 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including a 3-pointer and three free throws. Isaiah Bigelow eclipsed his season-high last set at Presbyterian on Dec. 18 (14 points) with a 16-point effort, on a season-best 4-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc (40%), and seven rebounds.

Sophomore guard Morgan Safford rounds out the Terriers in double figures with a season-high 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including 2-of-5 from beyond the arc (40%) and three free throws, and three rebounds.

Senior guard Ryan Larson stuffed the stat sheet with eight points, five rebounds and five rebounds in 34 minutes of action, as Austin Patterson also recorded eight points in 26 minutes, including hitting 2-of-4 shots from deep as the SoCon’s 3-point percentage leader (53.8%).

Freshmen Corey Tripp and Luke Turner contributed three points apiece, while Tripp pulled down a career-best four rebounds in a career-high 18 minutes off the bench. Sam Godwin matched a team-high seven rebounds on the night.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in everyone that stepped on the floor today,” added McAuley on a variety of different lineups in Wednesday’s contest. “Our guys had a good look to them coming into this game. I just thought, when those first three threes went in, the barrage of threes really got us on our heels. Again, credit to them, they executed and we did not respond.”

Both squads opened the contest trading points, as Morgan Safford took one to the rack and drilled a corner trey for Wofford’s first five points prior to Larson capping a three from the right wing, trailing 9-8. A Bigelow finish at the rim ensued to knot the margin (10-10) before B.J. Mack got on the board to give the Terriers its first lead of the contest at 12-10 early on.

From there, the Keydets started clicking offensively, hitting six of their next seven attempts from the floor to bust a 15-3 run and first double-digit spread at 25-15.

Wofford responded with a brief 7-1 run of its own after a B.J. Mack layup and Austin Patterson 3-pointer from Bigelow (26-22), as a Ryan Larson trey ball would answer a VMI 3-pointer trailing by four with 5:04 remaining in the half, 29-25.

Another Mack layup cut the margin to one possession, 29-27, though, VMI managed to nearly find a timely run each time the Terriers came within striking distance, using a 7-0 run on scores from Stephens and Curfman to summon a nine-point cushion at 36-27 (1:23). Safford would finish an offensive rebound prior to the Keydets connecting on their eighth trey of the half to bring a 39-29 margin at halftime.

VMI hit 8-of-22 from beyond the arc over the opening 20 minutes (36.4%), while tallying seven points off nine Wofford turnovers in the first half.

Both teams came out trading scores to commence the second frame, seeing a pair of 3-pointers from Patterson and Luke Turner cut the margin to single digits (44-37), though, the Keydets seemed to always have the answer as a Curfman three pushed the VMI lead back to 10, 47-37 (15:18).

The Keydets continued to flourish, holding Wofford scoreless for nearly 2:30 while using a 9-0 run to bust their largest lead of the game at 17 points, 53-37. A Sam Godwin up-and-under in the paint broke the drought for the Terriers (53-39), as the Terriers chipped away prior to recording a 7-0 run that provided a second wind in bringing the margin to six points by the 8:40 mark, 59-53.

Mack would convert and and-one in the paint to spark the run, as the Terriers got a stop to see Patterson dime Morgan Safford for a three-ball from the top of the key to come within single digits, 59-51. On the ensuing possession, Ryan Larson would jump a handoff for a steal, finishing the fast break lay on the other end to force a Keydets timeout at 59-53.

Stephens and Mack traded buckets before the Keydets pushed the spread back to double figures after a 9-2 run, 70-57. Coming out of a timeout with 4:14 remaining upon a Safford floater, the Terriers rallied for a final comeback, as B.J. Mack and Isaiah Bigelow knocked down consecutive 3-pointers to bring the game within seven, 72-65, with 1:58 to play. In the midst of the comeback, the Keydets continued to score on the other end (76-68), though, another pair of Bigelow 3-pointers summoned a five-point game with 40 seconds left at 76-71.

The Terriers used a run-and-jump press prior to ultimately fouling to put the Keydets on the line, as VMI would manage to hold steady in hitting 4-of-5 free throws in the bonus down the stretch to hold on for the 80-73 win at the end of regulation.

Wofford won the rebound battle for the contest, 32-30, though, VMI bested the Terriers in points inside the paint (32-28) and points off turnovers (13-10). The Terriers’ bench outscored VMI’s for the contest, 14-5.

“It’s a long conference season … I know one thing,” added McAuley. “Every single adversity or disappointment we’ve had this year, the next day we’ve had a really really good day and response, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Next, Wofford (8-5, 0-1 SoCon) prepares to travel to Greensboro, N.C., for a matchup at UNCG on Saturday, Jan. 1. Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum.

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