McAlister Field House was packed with 3,213 fans, including the entire South Carolina Corps of Cadets, and the raucous crowd brought plenty of energy, but The Citadel men's basketball team came up just short against rival VMI Saturday as the Bulldogs fell 75-71 in Southern Conference play.
"We played like we're supposed to play for about two minutes and forty seconds. There was tremendous energy and we beat them to the floor on balls, but for the other 37 and a half minutes, they completely out-played us, out-worked us, out-coached us," said head coach Duggar Baucom. "All the credit goes to them. They guarded us and we shot 30% for the game, 20% from three."
After falling behind early, the Bulldogs (9-18, 4-11 SoCon) were able to take the lead off Matt Frierson's second 3-pointer of the game nearly six minutes in. Even though The Citadel was able to hold on to the lead for a solid 10 minutes in the first half, the Bulldogs never could put enough distance on the Keydets (8-18, 3-12 SoCon).
With 2:46 to go in the opening half, Jordan Ratliffe hit the front end of a pair of free throws to give VMI the lead back, and the Keydets built up a five-point, 44-39 lead by the halftime break as Bubba Parham hit a layup just before time expired.
The second half started off extremely slow as the two teams combined for 21 points in the first 10 minutes, but things picked up when Keith Smith hit a jumper with nearly nine minutes remaining.
The Keydets managed to build up a 12-point, 68-56 lead with 3:48 to play, but the Bulldogs came to life as the home crowd came to life.
Zane Najdawi spurred an 11-0 run for The Citadel when he hit a pair of free throws before Frierson converted six in a row on back-to-back possessions and Kaelon Harris pulled the Bulldogs to within one, 68-67 with 2:15 to play when he drilled a 3-pointer to cap the run.
After Garrett Gilkeson hit a layup, Harris and Najdawi combined to give the 'Dogs a one-point, 71-70 lead with just under a minute to play. With the game on the line, the large crowd made every attempt to make it difficult on the Keydets, but VMI overcame as Austin Vereen hit a 3-pointer from the left side before Ratliffe finished the game off with a pair of free throws.
The Bulldogs struggled from the field for much of the game, converting just 32.8% (21-of-64) of their shot attempts, including just 25.8% (8-of-31) in the second half. The Citadel connected on just seven of their 35 3-point attempts (20%), but VMI also struggled from long range, hitting on just 16% (4-of-25) from beyond the arc. The Keydets shot 41% (25-of-61) from the field for the game.
Najdawi, who was honored prior to the game for scoring his 1,000th-career point a few weeks ago against Wofford, led the Bulldogs with a double-double performance of 23 points and 14 rebounds, including six off the offensive glass. The Midlothian, Virginia native shot 58.3% (7-of-12) from the field and had two assists, a steal and a block while recording his ninth career double-double.
Frierson joined Najdawi in scoring at least 20 points as he had four 3-pointers and went 6-of-6 from the charity stripe for 20 points.
VMI's Parham led all scorers in the game with 25 points off 8-of-18 shooting (44.4%) from the field while Myles Lewis hit all five of his field goal attempts and one free throw for 11 points.
-per The Citadel Athletics