ASHEVILLE, NC - With just nine players able to suit up on Saturday, The Citadel men's basketball team gave it all they could against a much larger and experienced UNCG team. Despite showing plenty of fight, the No. 8 seed Bulldogs ultimately came up just short in the Southern Conference Men's Basketball Championship quarterfinals with a 72-58 loss to the No. 1 seed Spartans at the U.S. Cellular Center.
"Congratulations to Wes (Miller) and his guys (at UNCG). They have had an outstanding season. They won the regular season. They are a good team and do not have a lot of weaknesses and they have depth," said head coach Duggar Baucom. "I am very proud of our guys with the way they fought with a 19-hour turnaround from a tough game last night and to compete the way they did today. I thought we were very good for 25 to 27 minutes, and then fatigue set in. I am very proud of their fight.
"We have shown progress," Baucom continued. "We won another tournament game. Anytime you lose your tournament game, it is pretty emotional, but I am not going to be in tears today because we don't have any seniors. I do not have to say goodbye to anybody."
The two teams started the game off by trading 3-pointers in the first two minutes as Zane Najdawi matched Demetrius Troy tit-for-tat, setting the tone for what would ultimately be a hard-fought, back-and-forth first half.
From there, UNCG (25-7), the designated home team, edged out to a five-point, 16-11 lead off an Isaiah Miller layup, but a few minutes later, Kaiden Rice tied things back up at 16-all with a 3-pointer.
After the Spartans edged back out to a five-point lead, the Bulldogs (11-21) came storming back to take a three-point lead off a trey by Matt Frierson and a pair of free throws by Najdawi.
With 39 seconds remaining in the first half and the Spartans down by one, 28-27, Kylia Sykes hit a jumper to give UNCG the lead heading into the intermission.
Despite the lead being in UNCG's favor, the momentum proved to be in favor of the under-sized Bulldogs as out of the locker room, Najdawi, Leandro Allendeand Frankie Johnson quickly worked to give The Citadel a four-point, 36-32 lead. Najdawi hit his third 3-pointer of the game just 24 seconds into the half and Johnson deftly hit a trey of his own after Allende's jumper in the paint.
With 16:01 to go in regulation, Troy took the lead back for UNCG with a layup, and the Spartans never relinquished the lead from there as UNCG went on a 12-0 run, extending the lead out to as many as eight points with 11:46 to play.
Najdawi, Allende and Frierson were able to keep the game close down the stretch for the Bulldogs, but UNCG's deeper bench continued to provide fresher legs for the Spartans and with 32 seconds remaining, UNCG set the final score at 72-58 with a pair of Francis Alonso free throws.
The Bulldogs ended the game shooting 35.1% (20-of-57) from the field, including 11 3-pointers, but their efforts were hampered by 14 turnovers compared to 10 by the Spartans.
UNCG ended the game shooting 45.8% (27-of-59) from the field, including 55.2% (16-of-29) in the second half alone.
Najdawi led all scorers with a game-high 17 points off 5-of-11 shooting (45.5%) from the field. The junior from Midlothian, Virginia had a game-high four 3-pointers and added five rebounds in 35 minutes of work.
Allende finished the game with 12 points, including a 3-for-3 effort at the charity stipe, while Frierson finished the game with a trio of 3-pointers and a free throw for 10 points in 36 minutes of work.
Due to the short bench, Johnson joined Najdawi and Frierson in playing over 35 minutes, with 38 by the sophomore point guard who scored eight points and had a game-high five assists while also corralling in five boards.
UNCG was led by Troy's 14 points as well as 13 from SoCon Defensive Player of the Year James Dickey. The Spartans also received 12 points from Alonso and 10 from Marvin Smith. Dickey ended the game with a double-double, including 10 rebounds.
-per The Citadel Athletics