As the Bulldogs filed into the locker room at McAlister Field House after Monday night's 82-78 loss to Chattanooga, one of them shouted in frustration.
This one hurt.
Badly in need of a confidence-building victory, The Citadel did not trail in its Southern Conference basketball opener until just 100 seconds remained in the game.
But the Bulldogs could not cope with Mocs senior Z. Mason in the second half, and couldn't score down the stretch. Mason, a 6-6, 235-pound former Ole Miss tight end, bulled his way for 30 points and 14 rebounds, his fifth straight double-double.
The result was one of the more painful losses in what's been a difficult season already for the Bulldogs.
"Yeah, these hurt," said Citadel coach Chuck Driesell, whose team has lost four straight to drop to 4-12 overall and 0-1 in the SoCon. "Sometimes you come out after a loss and you know you didn't play well, didn't do your job. But tonight our guys really battled and they played, for the most part, like they knew they could win."
Ashton Moore filled up his stat line with 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Freshman Brian White added 20 points and Matt Van Scyoc had 16 for The Citadel, which led by 12 early in the second half and by six with 3:48 left.
"We put forth a valiant effort," said Moore, whose nine rebounds were a career-best. "We came out and played a lot tougher than in our last game against Radford, so yeah, it hurts."
The difference down the stretch for the Mocs (8-8, 2-0) was Mason, who was just 2 of 10 for four points in the first half. He went off for 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting in the second half, exploiting matchups with the slender White and with forward P.J. Horgan, who played 15 minutes in his return from a back injury that kept him out for the first 15 games.
"Really proud of Z.," first-year Mocs coach Will Wade said of Mason, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds in a 72-63 win at Furman on Saturday. "Last year, his stats went down about 35 percent on the back end of back-to-back games. We've drilled it with him, and he carried us tonight. He was phenomenal."
Driesell said he considered going to a "junk defense" to slow Mason in the second half, but he never pulled the trigger.
"The guys kept saying, I've got him, I've got him," he said. "And maybe I was fooled a little bit because we had him in the first half. He played outstanding, but I'm sure we're going to face other players like that, and we've got to do a better job."
The Mocs tied the game five times before Martynas Bareika, a 6-5 junior from Lithuania, hit a trey with 1:40 left for a 77-76 lead, Chattanooga's first of the game.
Moore answered with two free throws, but the Mocs took the lead for good when Casey Jones got loose on an inbounds play and scored for a 79-78 lead with 50 seconds left.
Two drives by Moore and Marshall Harris in the final 25 seconds resulted in no points - and no foul calls - and Mason secured the rebound both times.
"Those guys need to make decisions, draw contact or kick, but it didn't go our way tonight," Driesell said.
Now, the Bulldogs must pull something positive from this latest disappointment before going to Wofford on Thursday.
"There's plenty of things for the guys to be proud of," Driesell said. "The key will be to replicate the confidence we had for the most of the game on the road at Wofford."
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