I was really looking forward to the matchup of Coastal Carolina and VMI when the schedule was first released. While I always appreciate slowed-down defensive basketball I'd have to say VMI is a guilty pleasure for me. As many of you know, VMI plays at a ridiculous pace with the full court press and tons of 3's. The style of play has almost gotten them to the tourney in the past, most recently reaching the Big South championship in '09.
Adding to my intrigue of the game was that CCU was returning home after knocking Clemson at the buzzer for an in state Red Line Upset. It had Chant fans around town on a real high. Some were even mentioning that Coastal was 18th in the RPI, which obviously was a ridiculous thing to even care about, with only two D-1 games played. The excitement was stymied a few days later when Florida International beat them on a buzzer beater of their own. A contributing factor was that starting point guard Kierre Greenwood was out for the game.
I was more concerned with the fact that Greenwood was questionable for the VMI than I was the loss. I wasn't too sure how CCU would be able to handle the Keydets press. While a lot of people think VMi is all about the offense, it's the defense that makes them successful. After Chavis and Travis Holmes graduated a few years ago, their ability to force a bunch of turnovers had tailed off in recent years, but it could still be a problem for Coastal if Greenwood was out.
I made my way to the game and got a lucky parking spot a few seconds away from the arena from a student leaving campus for the day. While the game did eventually sell out, I was surprised there were still tickets available 20 minutes before the game. The students were back from Thanksgiving break, but the band wasn't there leading to much quieter timeouts than normal.
One of the first things I noticed was Greenwood was in street clothes during warm ups, so he was a no go, but my concerns over the VMI press were silenced for a bit as the Chants were having no problem with it most of the first half. A big part of that was that the up-tempo style of VMI was producing nothing. They only made one shot in the first 13 minutes of the game. CCU wasn't playing much better as they were getting used to several different lineups, but were building a bit of a lead.
This wasn't the game that I was hoping for. The game had no flow to it throughout much of the night with a bunch of fouls and stoppages in play, be it for video review, a player bleeding, resetting the game clock, you name it. The crowd was getting surly with the officials. I've noticed whenever a charge or block call or a possible blocked shot call goes against CCU early in the game people will get agitated the rest of the game. It becomes a very negative atmosphere with a ton of crying and moaning no matter what the score is or if the call is correct. They need to let it go and enjoy the game especially when the home team is winning.
The student section was awful with no energy or enthusiasm whatsoever. Even the 8 kids that stand the whole game really gave up cheering in the second half with one or two resorting to lame name calling. Calling Michael Sparks by the name of Bubba Sparxxx 500 times or emphasizing "gay" in Keith Gabriel's isn't witty or funny, it's lazy, but not as lazy as the 300 or so students who sit there and do nothing the entire time.
The second half was a bit more entertaining than the first. I've always been a big fan of VMI's Keith Gabriel and Stan Okoye. They are both super athletic and can fly around the gym whenever the offense is really humming. Okoye, especially, tried to bring the Keydets back hitting calm walk up 3's and dribble drives for 21 points in the half. However, they were missing some sort of inside presence as they were having injury issues of their own with Big South Freshman of the Year DJ Covington only playing 3 minutes. With Covington playing and healthy VMI is a completely different team as they can better defend the rim. Without him, Chants Chris Gradnigo and Anthony Raffa scored pretty easily in the paint.
Coastal Carolina ended up winning 87-78 in one of the least exciting games I've seen. (and I saw an ABA game where the home team won by 94! a few weeks ago) Everyone seemed angry or disinterested. That was no fault of the players as they played hard the whole night. My expectations were high, but nowhere near being met, but it's a game I'll forget about, as I look forward to Saturday's tilt against Liberty.
at COASTAL CAROLINA 87, VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE 78 12/01/2011
VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE 3-3 (0-1) -- R. Burks 1-5 9-10 12; S. Okoye 10-18 2-5 25; K. Gabriel 5-13 4-4 16; M. Sparks 0-3 1-4 1; N. Gore 2-6 0-1 4; W. Whiting 1-1 2-4 4; R. Glasgow 2-6 2-2 6; Q. Upshur 1-3 2-3 4; J. Weethee 2-4 0-0 6; D. Covington 0-2 0-0 0; B. Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-61 22-33 78. COASTAL CAROLINA 6-1 (1-0) -- A. Raffa 8-13 7-8 23; C. Gradnigo 8-16 6-7 22; S. McLaurin 8-11 3-7 19; W. Gillis 2-6 0-0 4; B. Crawford 5-8 1-2 11; J. Pack 2-3 2-5 6; J. Griffin 0-3 0-0 0; C. Ashford 0-2 0-0 0; D. Moore 1-2 0-0 2; W. Kirkland 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-64 19-29 87.
Three-point goals: VMI 8-24 (R. Burks 1-2; K. Gabriel 2-5; M. Sparks 0-3; S. Okoye 3-4; N. Gore 0-2; R. Glasgow 0-4; Q. Upshur 0-1; J. Weethee 2-3), CCU 0-9 (C. Gradnigo 0-3; A. Raffa 0-3; J. Griffin 0-2; W. Gillis 0-1); Rebounds: VMI 26 (K. Gabriel 5), CCU 48 (S. McLaurin 15); Assists: VMI 6 (S. Okoye 2), CCU 18 (C. Gradnigo 7); Total Fouls -- VMI 24, CCU 24; Fouled Out: VMI-None; CCU-None.