Junior Zane Najdawi has been playing some of his best basketball in recent weeks and all while he has had a bit of a figurative monkey on his back in the form of a looming career milestone. Thursday night, the 6-7 forward was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief as he scored his 1,000th-career point in the second half of an 80-78 win over in-state rival Wofford at McAlister Field House.
Najdawi is just the second Bulldog in program history to score 1,000 points, corral in 400 rebounds and block 100 shots, joining Matt Newman (1994-98) in the honor. Najdawi is also the 33rd Bulldog to score 1,000 points and is just the 10th to score 1,000 in just three years.
Thursday's game was a back-and-forth affair filled with plenty of emotion on both sides. The score was tied seven times and the lead changed hands seven times. While Wofford (16-7, 7-3 SoCon) led for 26:38 in the game, The Citadel (8-14, 3-7 SoCon) led when it mattered the most, the final 2:10 of the game.
The Bulldogs have now been a part of three straight games that were decided by two points or less, including a pair of wins over Mercer and Wofford.
"We were better for 40 minutes tonight, I guess. We were certainly better for the last two minutes and I'm proud of our guys," said head coach Duggar Baucom. "This is our third straight two-point game and being able to win two of them certainly helps. The guys never lost hope after Monday's game, they were disappointed, but we certainly felt like we achieved something. We've felt like we are a different team and we practiced this week like we are a different team. I told them we've earned the right to win this game and now we just have to go out and do it. Our focus has been great, our practice habits have been great, body language has been great and now they're believing in themselves."
The Bulldogs took a 42-41 lead into the locker room at halftime as Matt Frierson hit a three-pointer with seven seconds remaining in the period, but Wofford came back out in the second half and almost immediately retook the lead and established some breathing room.
With 11:35 to go, Fletcher Magee hit one of his patented deep, NBA-distance three-pointers to give the Terriers a 10-point, 64-54 lead, but the Bulldogs have shown in recent weeks what they are capable of and responded with a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to just three, 64-61.
With 4:23 to go, Kaelon Harris connected on his only three-pointer of the game to knot the score at 70-all, energizing the crowd of over 1,000 fans gathered inside the Mac. Harris ended the game with the first double-double of his collegiate career as he led the team under the basket with 11 rebounds, including eight in the first half, to compliment his 11 points.
After Nathan Hoover hit a pair of free throws to hand the lead back to Wofford with just over 4:00 to play in regulation, Frierson tied things back up with a pair of free throws of his own. Frankie Johnson followed that up with a driving layup to give the Bulldogs the lead back for good at 74-72 with 2:10 to play.
Storm Murphy was able to make things interesting in the waning seconds as he hit a three-pointer with just 10 seconds left on the game clock to pull Wofford back to within one point of the Bulldogs, but Najdawi essentially iced the game when he was fouled on the ensuing in-bound and calmly hit both free throws.
The Citadel was able to win Thursday night despite being out-shot by Wofford as the Terriers connected on 50.8% (31-of-61) of their attempts from the field compared to 40.0% (26-of-65) for the 'Dogs. The Bulldogs converted 10 three-pointers compared to just eight by the Terriers
The difference in Thursday's game was turnovers as The Citadel netted 21 points off 14 Wofford turnovers compared to just 10 points for the Terriers off 14 Bulldogs miscues. The Bulldogs also out-rebounded Wofford 44-32, marking just the third time this season The Citadel has won the battle beneath under the net.
Najdawi led the Bulldogs in scoring with 16 points, including going 4-of-4 from the free throw line. He added seven rebounds and four blocks, marking the 36thtime in his career he has blocked multiple shots in a game. Since opening up SoCon play, Najdawi has averaged a team-best 18.7 points per game.
Najdawi was joined in double-digit scoring by Frierson with 15 points and Harris with 11. Frierson has averaged 15.9 points per game in SoCon play and extended his current streak of consecutive games with at least one three-pointer to 28, including 10 in a row with multiple treys.
Magee, who only scored 11 points the last time the two in-state rivals met in Spartanburg on Saturday, Jan. 6, led all scorers with 21 points, including a game-high four three-pointers, while Hoover added 13 points and Murphy chipped in 12.
FAST BREAK FACTS
Each of the last three games for The Citadel have been decided by two points, including wins over Mercer and Wofford. The Bulldogs are 4-2 on the year in games decided by three points or less.
Thursday night, junior Zane Najdawi scored his 1,000th-career point when he connected on the second of two free throws with 17:40 to play in the second half.
Najdawi became just the second player in program history to score 1,000 points, collect 400 rebounds and block 100 shots, joining Matt Newman (1994-98) for the honor. Newman is currently 14th in program history with 1,239 points and fourth in rebounds and blocks with 666 boards and 114 blocked shots. Najdawi is now 33rd in program history with 1,009 career points and is third with 123 blocks. He also has 447 career rebounds.
Najdawi is just the 10th player in program history to score 1,000 career points in three years and is only the fifth Bulldog to do so as a junior. Five Bulldogs scored 1,000 career points in three years while the NCAA restricted freshmen from playing varsity basketball.
Najdawi joined two other SoCon players in reaching the 1,000-point mark Thursday night as UNCG's Marvin Smith and Mercers Jordan Strawberry also accomplished the feat.
Najdawi's four blocks Thursday marks the 36th time the junior forward has had multiple blocks in a game.
Matt Frierson connected on three three-pointers Thursday night against Wofford, marking the 10th game in a row and 20th game this season the junior guard has converted multiple three-pointers in a game. Frierson is currently riding a 28-game streak where he has hit at least one three-pointer.
Frierson has hit a team-high 78 three-pointers this season, a mark that has him currently sixth in program history for treys made in a season. The record is 102 set by Travis Cantrell during the 2001-02 campaign. Frierson needs just one more to reach a tie for fourth and five more to reach third.
With his eight points Thursday night against Wofford, junior Quayson Williams is just nine points away from reaching the 700-point mark for his career.
Sophomore Kaelon Harris recorded just the third double-double of the season for the Bulldogs Thursday night. It was also the first of his career as he netted 11 points and 11 rebounds. The 11 rebounds is a career-high for the sophomore.
The Bulldogs will close out the current homestand by hosting Furman on Saturday, Feb. 3. The game will tip off at 1 p.m. and halftime will feature a special presentation honoring Citadel graduate Pat Conroy.