Junior Matt Frierson converted five 3-pointers Friday night, helping him set the program record for treys made in a season, but it was not enough as The Citadel men's basketball team fell 83-70 to Mercer in the home finale at McAlister Field House.
"I was pleased with the first half even though we didn't make very many shots. We were down one and we did a great job guarding them, but then in the second half four of our players we count on went 3-of-14 (21.4%)," said head coach Duggar Baucom. "We can't rely on just two players night-in and night-out. Matt and Zane played great tonight, and Kaiden did too off the bench, but all the credit goes to Mercer. They're a very good team and there's a reason why they have won seven games in a row."
The Citadel (10-19, 5-12 SoCon) was able to hang with Mercer (17-13, 10-7 SoCon) for much of the evening, but a 60.7% (17-of-28) shooting performance in the second half by the Bears doomed the Bulldogs as The Citadel connected on just 41.9% (13-of-31) of their attempts in the second period.
The two teams traded the lead back and forth 10 times, including eight in the first half. After Mercer took a one-point, 34-33 lead into the break at halftime, the Bears trailed for just 50 seconds in the second half after Kaelon Harris converted a pair of free throws two minutes into the final period.
Cory Kilby gave Mercer the lead back for good with 17:26 to play, but the 'Dogs were able to keep things interesting at times down the stretch.
With 14:43 to play, Frierson hit a 3-pointer off an assist from Frankie Johnson to pull the Bulldogs back to within three, 46-43 of the Bears, but a 12-3 run by Mercer extended the lead back out to double digits.
Freshman Kaiden Rice managed to cut into the lead again with a trey with 52 seconds remaining, setting the score at 75-68, but Ross Cummings hit both free throws on the other end of the court and local product Demetre Rivers followed suit with a pair of free throws of his own to stretch the lead back out to double figures.
For the game, the Bulldogs shot 36.7% (22-of-60) from the field, including 35% (14-of-40) from 3-point range. The 'Dogs converted seven treys in each half and shot 75% (12-of-16) from the charity stripe for the game.
Mercer ended the game shooting 49.2% (29-of-59) from the field and 73.9% (17-of-23) from the free throw line, but hit just eight 3-pointers in the game.
Four Bulldogs finished the game in double figures led by Frierson's 18 points. Frierson went 5-of-9 (55.6%) from 3-point range and converted all three of his free throw attempts. It is the fifth time this season that Frierson has led the Bulldogs in scoring and the 14th time this season he has converted at least four treys. Frierson now has 104 3-pointers on the season, setting a new program record.
Frierson was joined in double-digit scoring by fellow junior Zane Najdawi with 17 points off 6-of-10 shooting. Najdawi converted three of his four 3-point attempts and scored his first six points off treys. He added seven rebounds, giving him 496 for his career.
Behind the pair of juniors, Harris scored 13 points and Rice was just two points shy of his career high with 12 points. Rice went 4-of-8 from the field with all four makes coming beyond the 3-point arc.
For Mercer, Rivers led all scorers with 22 points off 8-of-15 shooting (53.3%). Jordan Strawberry just missed out on a double-double as he ended the game with 17 points and nine assists. Cummings was the final player in double figures as he netted 14 points.
FAST BREAK FACTS
The Bulldogs' loss Friday night guarantees The Citadel will play in the opening round of next week's SoCon Men's Basketball Tournament in Asheville. Seedings will be confirmed after Sunday's games.
Mercer has now won seven games in a row after dropping four straight.
With his 17 points Friday against Mercer, junior Zane Najdawi has now scored 1,163 points in his career, moving him up a spot into 20th all-time in program history.
Najdawi's seven rebounds gives him 496 for his career.
Najdawi had three blocks Friday night against the Bears, marking the 40th time in his career that he has swatted away multiple shots in a game. It was also the 10th time this season he has accomplished the feat.
Friday night marked the 14th time this season and 23rd time in his career that junior Matt Frierson has converted at least four 3-pointers in a game as he had a game-high five.
Frierson has now converted at least one 3-pointer in 35 consecutive games.
Frierson's five 3-pointers Friday night against the Bears gives him 104 made treys on the year, setting the program record for threes made in a single season.
Frierson now has 210 career treys, moving him up a spot to sixth all-time for treys made in a career.
Frierson attempted nine 3-pointers Friday night, moving him into sole possession of first all-time for treys attempted in a single season with 283.
With his three assists Friday night, sophomore Frankie Johnson now has 122 assists on the year, a mark that moves him up to 10th all-time for assists in a single season.
Johnson now has 243 career assists, which is tied for 14th in program history.
The Bulldogs will close out the regular season on Sunday, Feb. 25 with a 2 p.m. game at Western Carolina.