With senior guard Desonta Bradford (Humboldt) out while nursing an ankle injury, the ETSU men’s basketball team looked on as The Citadel took advantage Tuesday night inside Freedom Hall.
Making 11 more free throws in the game and hitting 13 3-pointers on the night, the Bulldogs took the lead early in the second half and made clutch plays down stretch to hold on for an 84-82 upset victory over the first-place Bucs in Southern Conference play.
With the loss, the Bucs dropped to 23-6 overall, 14-2 in SoCon action, but still hold a one-game lead in the league standings over UNC Greensboro with two games left in the regular season this weekend. Meanwhile, The Citadel improved to 10-18, 5-11.
“Without question this is our most disappointing loss in my tenure, especially with what was at stake,” said ETSU head coach Steve Forbes, whose team could have locked up at least a share of the conference regular season title with a victory. “The Citadel came in and we didn’t guard them all night. We scored 82 points and that should be enough to win, so it wasn’t our offense at all tonight but our defense. It’s cut check time now.”
Despite trailing by as many as seven points late in the contest, the Bucs battled back to tie the game with a 7-0 run that was capped by a dunk from senior forward David Burrell (Milwaukee) with one minute left in the contest. However, at that point, The Citadel’s Zane Najdawi – who finished with a game high 24 points – connected on a clutch 3-pointer to make it 79-76 with 35 seconds left and the Bulldogs went on to hit 4-of-5 at the free throw line down the stretch to secure the victory.
Along with Najdawi’s points, the Bulldogs put three other players in double figures. Meanwhile, the Bucs got a double-double effort from Burrell with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while freshman guard Bo Hodges (Nashville) and freshman post Mladen Armus (Belgrade, Serbia) had 17 and 14 points, respectively.
The Bucs suffered the loss despite dishing out 25 assists on 33 made shots, shooting 48 percent from the floor, and holding advantages in points in the paint (48-20), points off turnovers (24-14), second chance points (14-8), fast break points (16-6) and bench points (40-21). ETSU also had 12 steals compared to The Citadel’s five, and forced the Bulldogs into 18 turnovers.
But still, those numbers did not add up to a victory.
In the first half, both the Bucs and the Bulldogs put on an offensive show. With ETSU shooting 50 percent from the field and The Citadel connecting on 46 percent, both teams combined for 88 points in the opening 20 minutes.
The Bucs led by as many as 11 at 43-32, but the Bulldogs ended the half on a 10-3 run to cut the deficit to just four at 46-42 heading into intermission. Armus led all scorers in the first half with 12 points, while The Citadel got a team high 10 from Najdawi. As a team, ETSU had 19 made shots on 14 assists and outscored the Bulldogs 32-10 in the paint.
After the break, The Citadel opened the half with a 7-0 run to take the lead at 49-46 and actually never trailed the rest of the way, as the Bucs were only able to tie the contest a total of six times in the second half.
The Bucs season-ending home stand will continue on Friday, as the Bucs host Wofford on Fan Appreciation and Star Wars Night inside Freedom Hall. Tip is set for 7 p.m.