When College of Charleston’s 73-69 victory over The Citadel was finally secure, Cougars coach Doug Wojcik hugged his friend of almost 30 years.
“You guys played hard,” Wojcik whispered to Citadel coach Chuck Driesell. “You played really well.”
The Bulldogs, losers of 10 straight coming in and dead-last among 347 Division I teams in some RPI rankings, gave heavily favored College of Charleston all it wanted before a crowd of 2,742 at McAlister Field House.
“If that’s the last-place RPI team in the country, that’s a pretty good basketball team,” Wojcik said after senior guard Andrew Lawrence scored the Cougars’ final seven points. “I think Chuck has done an unbelievable job with his team. I’m just glad to be out of here with a win.”
More efforts like this one, and The Citadel (3-12, 0-5 Southern Conference) would not own an 11-game skid. The Bulldogs’ defense, switching between man and zone, was more aggressive than it’s been all season. The Citadel blocked six shots, made four steals and held the Cougars (12-5, 4-1) to 41 percent shooting.
Apparently, this one was personal for the Bulldogs.
“They played a hell of game,” said Lawrence, who finished with a game-high 21 points. “They battled for the whole 40 minutes. It was a tough, grind-it-out game. We knew coming in they’d make a lot of shots and play their hearts out, and they really did.”
Citadel freshman Matt Van Scyoc scored 17 points, played 40 minutes and got a technical foul for taunting in his first taste of the rivalry.
“We hate them, they hate us,” he said. “The way it ended was rough, because we were ahead most of the game and doing what they wanted to do. Give them credit, they hit some big shots at the end.”
Citadel senior center Mike Groselle went head-to-head with the Cougars’ talented 6-9 sophomore, Adjehi Baru (16 points, 12 rebounds) and finished with 19 points and nine boards. Guard Ashton Moore added 10 as the Bulldogs shot 52.8 percent.
“Great effort,” said Driesell, whose team has lost its last three by an average of 4.3 points. “We were very disappointed we did not win that game. We felt we could, and my guys are starting to believe they can. They will be the first to tell you, they’ve got to find a way to win that game.”
That’s what the Cougars did. When the Bulldogs took a 57-50 lead, sophomore guard Anthony Stitt (14 points) hit two huge 3s, followed by one from Willis Hall. When The Citadel got within 61-60, Anthony Thomas (10 points) drove twice for buckets, one turning into a 3-point play.
And when the Bulldogs’ Moore nailed a clutch 3-pointer with 44 seconds left, it was the senior Lawrence — he of Olympian experience — who made the tough shot. His spinning one-hander with 33 seconds left made it 71-69, and he made two icing free throws with 11 seconds left after Groselle was double-teamed and missed a banker.
“Andrew came up big, and that was a big-time shot,” said Wojcik, whose team is 6-0 on the road. “But I thought a lot of my guys made plays. It was a great way to close the game.”
The Cougars made the kind of plays the young Bulldogs are learning to make.
“We’re knocking on that door,” Groselle said. “The last three games, we’ve given a phenomenal effort. It’s going to pay off for us.”