Fresh off his CCR Mid-Major Player of the Week honour, QJ Peterson led the VMI Keydets into their regular season finale on Monday night, looking to play the role of spoiler.
With their standing in the Southern Conference tournament set in stone, the Keydets turned their attention to the top team on the SoCon totem pole: the Chattanooga Mocs. While the Mocs had already locked up the 1-seed in the conference tournament, they were still playing for the outright regular season crown.
The Mocs came into the night winners of three of their past four games, including a 77-66 win over the Samford Bulldogs in their last outing. Not to be outdone, the Keydets have won back-to-back games, and were looking to carry their positive momentum into the post-season.
VMI wasn’t intimidated by the conference’s top dogs, and held a 7-point lead with less than 15 minutes to play in the game.
Despite their best efforts, including 11 straight points from Peterson in the closing minutes, Chattanooga fought their way back and came away with the 67-65 victory.
After a back-and-forth first half, the Mocs held a slim 1-point advantage over the Keydets, at 36-35.
VMI wasted little time taking a slim lead of their own in the second half, as Peterson hit a three pointer just 41 seconds into the half to give the home team a 38-37 lead.
That three pointer kicked off a 10-1 run for the Keydets that spanned over 4 minutes. Fred Iruafemi capped off the run by completing a three-point after being fouled by Duke Ethridge on a jumper.
After Iruafemi made the free throw, VMI found themselves in front by 7, at 45-38, and looked to be clicking on both ends of the floor.
As they have done many times this season when they have fallen behind, Chattanooga began to flex their muscle and show why they are the team to beat in the Southern Conference. Chuck Ester put in a layup to end the Keydets; run, then Tre’ McLean followed that up with a jumper to get the Mocs to within 3.
Chattanooga would continue to chip away, and they would retake the lead at the 9:46 mark of the half on a Greg Pryor three ball. Dee Oldham followed that up with a layup, and the Mocs were back in front by 4 with under 9 to play.
Their lead would stretch to as many as 10 points with 3:21 to play in the contest when Ethridge threw down a dunk in the paint.
With his team’s backs squarely against the wall, Peterson did his best to bring the Keydets back into the game. He scored his team’s final 11 points of the game, connecting on a pair of three pointers and making some clutch free throws to keep the game close.
After Peterson made three free throws, Pryor committed a turnover and gave VMI a chance to steal the win. Peterson’s last-second three was off the mark, and Oldham stepped to the line and hit one-of-two free throws to ice the game with just over 1 second on the clock.
VMI fought down to the wire, but Chattanooga escaped with a 67-65 victory, securing the regular season title in the Southern Conference in the process.
Once again, Chattanooga used a balanced scoring attack to lead them to arguably their biggest victory of the season. Four different players scored in double-figures, including Tre’ McLean, who scored a team-high 16 points to go along with 12 rebounds in the win. Greg Pryor added 13 points of his own.
Justin Tuoyo was held in check on the night, recording just 5 points on 2-of-10 shooting. Tuoyo did pull in seven rebounds, 4 of which game on the offensive end of the floor.
QJ Peterson led the way for the VMI Keydets on Senior Night, scoring a game-high 21 points to go along with 3 rebounds and 3 assists.
Fred Iruafemi put together arguably his best performance of the season, recording 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 blocks in the loss.
Both teams have now completed the regular season, and now turn their attention to the Southern Conference tournament. As the top seed, the Chattanooga Mocs (26-5, 15-3) have a bye to the quarter-finals, where they await the winner of VMI-Samford.
The VMI Keydets (9-20, 4-14) had an opportunity to gain some more momentum as they head into the post-season, but it slipped through their hands. In the First Round of the Southern Conference tournament, the Keydets will take on the Samford Bulldogs, with the winner to face off against the Mocs in the quarter-finals.