As a new resident of Columbia, S.C. I took it upon myself to visit nearby South Carolina State to watch the highlight reel known as the VMI basketball team.
I learned two major lessons.
First, SC State’s gymnasium, while outdated and poorly designed, is named after three gentlemen whose lives were taken in the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre where police officers opened fire on a protesting group of students on SC State’s campus, killing three and injuring twenty seven. I was sitting in Southern Civil Rights history and had no clue until I got home.
Second, the refs from last night’s game might actually be employed by the university.
From the beginning of the game, VMI looked sluggish and never quite got into a groove. Regardless, they shot well enough to build a 12-point lead five minutes into the second half and it looked as though they were finally going to run away with the game. A few minutes and several missed open looks later, the Keydets found themselves trailing the Bulldogs—and from there they would never reclaim the lead.
While VMI’s lackadaisical effort was certainly a part in the loss, the refs—as I suggested—did not help the Keydets’ cause. Not only did SC State shoot 23 free throws to VMI’s nine, but Coach Baucom’s staff was regularly chided—and were eventually given an ultimatum to shut up or suffer the consequences.
The real shame of the contest came in the closing seconds, however. With the help of poor free throw shooting from SC State, VMI trailed by only one with less than 10 seconds to go. Junior Travis Holmes (19 pts, 8 rebounds) drove the length of the floor but missed a contested layup. Reggie Williams (24 points, 11 rebounds) followed the play and appeared to tip in Holmes’ missed shot before the buzzer sounded.
Instead of marching out of Orangeburg with a win, though, the Keydets watched the refs huddle for several minutes, wave off the game-winning basket, then inexplicably call a foul on the unguarded Williams and add 1.8 seconds to the clock. All the while, fans, players, and coaches were baffled by the call, which was never actually explained. From there, SC State missed two free throws and Reggie Williams’ desperation heave was far off the mark. The final horn sounded with the score reading 89-88.
It was a disappointing loss for VMI. The last 15 minutes of the game were brutal, as the Keydets missed open looks from all over the court and allowed an inferior team to crawl back into the game—and eventually take control. A win last night would have been another building block for a young team heading into conference play.
As it is, the Keydets lost their second close game in a row—and now find themselves 3-5 overall and winless away from Cameron Hall, their home arena.
VMI’s next game is home against Howard this Saturday.