Ashton Moore knelt at the foul line, hands covering his head in disbelief. A teammate crouched beside him, offering whatever comfort he could.
"I was in shock," The Citadel's freshman guard said after the Bulldogs' 73-72 overtime loss Saturday to Georgia Southern. "I thought it was going in. It was right there."
Moore was just one of 2,518 people at McAlister Field House who thought his 14-foot jumper at the OT buzzer was going to give the Bulldogs (4-21, 1-13 in Southern Conference) their first victory in more than a month. The shot rattled around inside the rim before popping out of the basket like a ping-ping ball in the lottery, sending the Bulldogs to their 10th straight loss.
"I was really hoping that shot would go in for Ashton, for him and this team," said coach Chuck Driesell. "We've had a lot of ups and downs, mostly downs, but these guys keep working hard. This would have been a great win for us, but this will make us tougher."
The young Bulldogs, who had four freshmen on the floor in the final minutes of regulation and in OT, should be tough by now. They lost in double OT at Georgia Southern (13-12, 11-4) last month, and won't soon forget Trevis Simpson's buzzer-beating dunk in UNC Greensboro's 67-66 win on Jan. 14.
"We're improving," said Moore, who scored 24 points to lead the Bulldogs. "In past games, we were getting blown out. Now, we're right there with a chance to win. We're not there yet, but we're learning."
The Eagles, who trailed by 11 early in the game, celebrated when Citadel center Mike Groselle (10 points, six rebounds) fouled out with 3:49 left and the Bulldogs behind, 69-65. But Marshall Harris hit a jumper at 2:12 and Bo Holston poked the ball away, took a pass from Moore and threw down a dunk with 14 seconds left to tie the score at 69.
The Bulldogs scored the final eight points of regulation to force OT.
"Groselle is so good that you have to try to get him out of the game," said Eagles coach Charlton Young, whose pressing style forced 18 Citadel turnovers. "You have to go at him at both ends of the floor. We had to get him out of the game to have a chance."
The Bulldogs led by 72-69 in OT before GSU senior Willie Powers got into the lane for two baskets, the second giving the Eagles a 73-72 lead at 1:31.
A key call went against the Bulldogs when Eric Ferguson fouled Holston on a rebound with 32 seconds left, apparently sending Holston to the line for two free throws. But during a GSU timeout, the referees decided that Ferguson had possession of the ball when he fouled Holston, resulting in a non-shooting player-control foul.
Instead of shooting free throws -- they made 21 of 24 -- the Bulldogs had to take the ball out under their own basket, the game ending with Moore's miss.
"I thought we got the rebound and they went over our back, that's what they told us," Driesell said. "Then the officials called us together and said that wasn't the case, that they had the ball when they fouled us. Never seen that before."