CULLOWHEE, NC - Freshman Kaiden Rice and junior Zane Najdawi each set career marks Sunday afternoon, but The Citadel men's basketball team fell 92-75 in the regular-season finale to Western Carolina in Southern Conference action at the Ramsey Center.
Rice exploded for a game and career-high 28 points, including eight 3-pointers. The freshman from Columbia added a career-high seven rebounds as he had half of the Bulldogs' treys on the afternoon.
Najdawi, a native of Midlothian, Virginia, recorded his 500th-career rebound in the closing seconds of the first half. Najdawi, who ended the game with 10 points and nine rebounds, becomes just the 27th player in SoCon history and second in Citadel basketball history to record at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 100 blocks in a career, and he has done so in just three seasons.
"We got off to a great start, got up eight with 12 minutes to go and we had a turning point of a play in a loose ball and they certainly got the momentum after that," said head coach Duggar Baucom. "After we were down 12 at the half, we got down even more, but were able to get it down to six before we just ran out of gas. You just can't dig yourself that big of a hole on the road to a team that was as hungry as Western Carolina was."
After the game opened up scoreless for nearly two minutes, the Bulldogs (10-20, 5-13 SoCon) opened up an eight-point, 22-14 lead on Western Carolina (13-18, 8-10 SoCon), including Najdawi scoring the team's first five points off a layup and a 3-pointer.
However, a 13-0 run by the Catamounts aided by four Citadel turnovers flipped the script and gave the home team a five-point, 27-22 advantage with 8:43 to play in the first half. Nearly three minutes later, the Catamount lead was 11, 37-26 as Deriece Parks hit a three.
Western Carolina took a 12-point, 49-37 lead into the locker room at halftime and came storming out in the second half with a 7-0 run to stretch the advantage out to 19 in the first 3:40 of the new period.
That was when Rice and Matt Frierson took control for the Bulldogs, scoring all of The Citadel's next 19 points. Frierson started the drive with eight points off a pair of free throws and a pair of 3-pointers with Rice following up with a trio of treys capped by a layup.
The duo of Rice and Frierson pulled the Bulldogs to within six points, 60-54 of the Catamounts, but that was as close as The Citadel would come to completing the comeback as Parks hit a layup with 9:22 remaining to set the WCU advantage at 10, 69-59. From there, the Catamounts steadily built up a 19-point lead with 3:20 to go before cruising to the victory.
The Citadel ended the game shooting 33.3% (24-of-72) from the field, including 33.3% (16-of-48) from long range. The Bulldogs' 16 treys as a team is tied for third-most by a Bulldog team in a regular-season SoCon game.
In comparison, the Catamounts opened the game shooting 48-.7% (19-of-39) from the field before cooling off a bit in the second half to shoot 43.2% (32-of-74) from the floor for the game. The Catamounts received 57 points from their bench and out-scored The Citadel 32-14 in the paint.
Behind Rice's 28-point performance, Frierson added 14 points, including a trio of 3-pointers, and Najdawi chipped in 10. Frankie Johnson had six assists in the game with Frierson adding four of his own.
Five Catamounts finished in double figures led by Parks' 19 points off 7-of-15 shooting from the field (46.7%). Behind Parks, Marc Gosselin finished with a double-double of 13 points and 12 boards and Mike Amius added 16 points.
-per The Citadel Athletics