It’s been two months since The Citadel basketball team found itself in this situation, in the final minutes with the game in doubt.
The Bulldogs could use some practice in that scenario, as the last five minutes of a 70-65 loss to Chattanooga on Thursday night demonstrated. The Citadel scored three points in the final 4:53 and failed to hold onto a 10-point second-half lead, losing its ninth straight game before a crowd of 1,066.
Not since a 77-70 loss to Air Force on Nov. 11 had the Bulldogs (3-10, 0-3 SoCon) played a game that was up for grabs in the final minutes.
“Yeah, I thought that told a little bit,” said coach Chuck Driesell, whose team has not won since a 92-50 blowout of Division II Union on Nov. 17. “You are up by 10 and you start to feel, “OK, we’re gonna get this thing done.’ And you become a little tentative, and I think that affected us some.”
So did a couple of deep 3-pointers by Chattanooga senior Dontay Hampton, who played for the first time this season after tearing his ACL over the summer. Hampton (11 points) hit two long ones from the top of the key to pull the Mocs even at 62-62, and junior Z Mason (15 points) muscled up an offensive rebound to give Chattanooga a 64-62 lead with 1:07 left.
The Citadel came up empty on five straight possessions, including a missed front-end free throw by Mike Groselle and an airmailed 3-pointer by freshman Rae Robinson with 27 seconds left. The Mocs (7-9, 2-1) salted the game away with six straight free throws.
“Those might have been NBA threes,” Driesell said of Hampton’s treys. “They were as deep as I’ve seen. If they are going to take those and consistently hit them, more power to them.”
Still, there were bright spots for the Bulldogs. The Mocs dared freshman Matt Van Scyoc to beat them from outside, and after struggling at first he hit 5 of 10 from 3-point range for a career-high 20 points. Robinson, another knob making his first start, made three 3-pointers and scored a career-best 15.
Groselle added 13 points and seven rebounds, and Stephen Elmore had 11 points and six boards as The Citadel totaled 19 assists on 23 baskets, committed 14 turnovers (its fewest in seven games) and held Chattanooga to 40.7 percent shooting (worst for a D-I foe since the season-opening win over VMI).
“We really did everything we wanted to do,” said Van Scyoc, who had hit just 2 of 17 from long distance over the last three games. “And we kind of forced Chattanooga out of their comfort zone. I think we’re getting there and I see a win coming soon.”
In the final minutes, The Citadel had two freshmen, a sophomore, a baseball player (Elmore) and the senior Groselle on the floor. It was Robinson, in just his second game back after suffering a broken foot in the preseason, who took — and missed — the big shot, that 3-pointer off an inbounds play with 27 seconds left.
“We wanted to get it inside to Mike,” Driesell. “But our screen was poor and we didn’t get the penetration we needed to get into the paint and dump it off to Mike. Rae was 3 for 6 going into that shot, but he might have rushed it. He’s a freshman. But he’s fun to watch. He’s not tentative, and consistency will now be his big thing from night to night.”
Chattanooga’s bench outscored The Citadel’s, 18-0, and the Mocs made 13 of 14 free throws (92.9 percent), their first 90-percent effort since 2004.
“We defended and rebounded there at the end,” said Mocs coach John Shulma, who got 14 points from 6-9 senior Drazen Zlovaric. “And having Dontay Hampton back on the court was huge for us. He made some big, big shots.”
The Citadel is home Saturday to Samford, which scored a 62-57 upset of College of Charleston on Thursday.