LEXINGTON, Ky. - Behind a career-best 30-point performance by senior guard Travis Holmes, VMI scored its first win over an SEC program in 32 years, stunning Kentucky, 111-103 in front of 22,579 stunned fans at Rupp Arena on Friday evening.
The Keydets (1-0) matched a facility record with 14 three-pointers, including five by sophomore gunner Austin Kenon.
Kentucky (0-1) got a valiant effort from junior Jodie Meeks, who poured in a career-best 39 points in leading a massive second-half comeback. After holding a 57-47 advantage at halftime, VMI extended the lead to 23 points on a three-pointer by freshman Keith Gabriel with 14:10 remaining. After the teams traded buckets to make it 85-62, Meeks led a 35-10 run over the next ten minutes, giving Kentucky their first lead of the game at 97-95 with 4:52 remaining.
It would be the Wildcats' only lead of the night.
Following Ramon Harris' layup to give Kentucky the lead, the Keydets answered quickly with a jumper by senior Willie Bell, knotting the score at 97. Kenon then knocked in his fifth three-pointer of the night, a dagger from the right corner, to give VMI the lead for good.
The win is VMI's first against an SEC program since defeating Tennessee 81-75 in the NCAA East Regionals on March 13, 1976. It is also the Keydets' first victory in the series against Kentucky since 1922, when the Keydets scored a 37-32 decision.
It was a picture-perfect start for VMI, forcing seven turnovers in the first four minutes, running out to a 17-5 advantage at the first media timeout. The Keydets hit seven of their first eight three-pointers in the opening ten minutes and gained their largest lead in the first half on a pair of free throws by Willie Bell at the 10:21 mark, doubling up the Wildcats 42-21.
Kentucky cut into the lead with a 21-9 run, as an expectant Rupp Arena crowd tried to will their Wildcats back into a 51-42 game with 3:18 remaining in the opening half. But the Keydets answered with five-straight points by freshman Keith Gabriel, who poured in 20 points on the night.
Holding a ten-point advantage at halftime, the Keydets had already forced 16 Wildcat turnovers, leading to 23 VMI points. Travis Holmes had a game-high 20 points at the intermission, followed closely by Meeks' 19 markers.
Fans that were looking for a Wildcat rally to open the second half instead saw the Keydets go on a 26-13 run to open up an 83-60 advantage on a Gabriel three-pointer.
Kentucky then began to rally, as Perry Stevenson poured in six straight points to jump-start the comeback. Meeks then poured in 12 points in just over three minutes to cut the advantage to 90-84, before Harris hit back-to-back field goals to give the Wildcats their short-lived lead.
Down the stretch, VMI continued their solid free-throw shooting, ending the evening with a 77% clip from the line. The Keydets shot 45% from beyond the arc, including 53% in the first half, and 49% from the floor for the game.
The Keydets had six players in double figures for the night, with Travis Holmes and Gabriel leading the way. Senior Willie Bell had 12 points and eight rebounds in the win, while senior Chavis Holmes contributed 16 points, two rebounds and six assists.
Kentucky got 20 points and 14 rebounds from Perry Stevenson behind Meeks' standout performance, while Harris (16 pts.) and Darius Miller (12 pts.) rounded out the double-figure scoring.
The Keydets return to action on Sunday afternoon, traveling to Charlottesville to take on Virginia at 4 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Comcast Sports Net Mid-Atlantic.