The Citadel men's basketball team opened the 2017-18 Southern Conference (SoCon) slate Saturday afternoon, falling 81-79 to Western Carolina despite a last-second attempt to send the game to overtime inside McAlister Field House.
With just under four seconds left, the Bulldogs (5-8, 0-1 SoCon) trailed by just two and inbounded the ball from under the basket to Zane Najdawi, who drove around to the left side of the lane for a layup, but his shot was heavily contested and was off the mark.
Earlier in the half, the Bulldogs rallied from a 13-point, 68-55 deficit with 9:17 to play to take a four-point, 74-70 lead with 2:58 left in regulation when Hayden Brown hit a pair of free throws.
In the first half, the Bulldogs led by as many as 16, 35-19 with 7:32 to go in the opening period, but the Catamounts (5-8, 1-0 SoCon) closed out the half on a 25-3 run to take a 44-38 lead into the locker room at halftime.
"The first 12 minutes (of the game), we played probably as good as we've played all year," said head coach Duggar Baucom. "We were up 16, but missed the front end of two one-and-ones that could have put us up by 20 and then (Western Carolina) got after us a little bit and we kind of melted and didn't score for the last 7:32 of the first half to go down six. Then we got down 13 in the second half and we fought our guts out the last nine minutes to go up four, but just didn't get on a couple of their shooters. We still had a chance to tie it at the end, but it just wasn't our day."
The two teams combined for 54 fouls and both squads took over 30 free throw attempts for the game. The Bulldogs hit on 18 of their 33 free throw attempts (54.5%) while the Catamounts converted 23 of their 35 attempts (65.7%).
The Bulldogs shot 38.1% (24-of-63) from the field for the game, but converted just 13 of their 44 three-point attempts (29.5%).
Freshman Tariq Simmons led the scoring drive for The Citadel with 16 points, his fifth straight game scoring in double figures and the fourth consecutive game where he has scored at least 16 points. Behind Simmons, junior Matt Frierson scored 15 points off five three-pointers, two off his career-high for made treys.
Freshman Alex Reed, making his third straight start, was just two rebounds off of his first career double-double, netting 13 points and eight rebounds. Najdawi rounded out the Bulldogs who finished in double digits with 11 points to go along with four rebounds and six blocks. The six blocks matches Najdawi's career high set during his freshman campaign against ETSU on Feb. 18, 2016.
Western Carolina was led by Desmond Johnson's 19 points off the bench, including 14 fast break points. The Catamounts scored 46 points in the paint and had 20 fast-break points. The Cats also took advantage of 22 Citadel turnovers and turned those into 30 points.
FAST BREAK FACTS
Matt Frierson hit five three-pointers Saturday against Western Carolina, two off of his career-high of seven. Frierson has now hit at least one three-pointer in 19 consecutive games and he now has 147 career made three-pointers.
Freshman Alex Reed posted his third-straight double-digit scoring outing with 13 points Saturday. It was also his third-straight start.
Freshman Tariq Simmons has now scored in double figures in the last five games and has scored at least 16 points in four straight games.
Zane Najdawi's six blocks matched his career-high set during his freshman campaign against ETSU on Feb. 18, 2016.
The Citadel will next hit the road to take on the top two teams in the conference, traveling to Furman on Thursday, Jan. 4 before heading to Wofford on Saturday, Jan. 6.