As court-stormings go, The Citadel's celebration after an 81-71 victory over Samford on Monday night won't make the ESPN top 10.
But when a small throng of cadets rushed the court to mob Citadel players at McAlister Field House, the cheers were loud and the grins were genuine, and for good reason.
The Citadel won a basketball game for the first time since before Christmas, snapping a 17-game losing skid and earning its first Southern Conference victory of the season.
"It was a long time coming and it was a lot of fun," said Citadel sophomore Matt Van Scyoc, who scored 19 points to support 24 from guard Ashton Moore. "I'm glad most of the Corps came out, a lot of our classmates. It was unexpected that they would come out on the court like that, but it was a lot of fun."
The Citadel improved to 5-25 overall and 1-14 in the Southern Conference with one regular season game left to play, at home Saturday against Georgia Southern. The Bulldogs avoided becoming the first Citadel team to go winless in the SoCon since the 1955-56 team went 0-10.
"Just to get a win, it feels so good," said Moore, who has averaged 24.3 points over the last four games. "The storming of the court, it was a great feeling. I was so happy, I didn't know who I was grabbing. It was a joyous moment."
A joyous moment that was well-earned. The Citadel had not won since a 79-68 victory over Division II Brevard on Dec. 18. Since then, the Bulldogs had broken a 60-year-old school record for consecutive losses in one season, dropping their first 14 league games by an average of 12.2 points.
"It definitely weighed on us," Moore said. "We put forth a lot of work, and to not get rewarded for what you are doing . it feels good to get that weight lifted off."
But through it all, coach Chuck Driesell said, the Bulldogs never stopped working hard, even if their play on the court didn't always reflect that.
"I'm really proud of them," Driesell said. "It's difficult when you lose the number of games we've lost. But the thing that's unique about these young men is they work hard every day in practice. I give them a lot of credit for never wavering on that idea.
"I know it's just one win, but it's a big win for our guys and one that we can build on."
Just as the losing streak was a team effort, so was Monday's win. Samford (11-18, 5-9) had posted SoCon wins over contenders Elon and Chattanooga, and got 24 points Monday from freshman guard Isaiah Williams and 20 points from big man Tim Williams.
But The Citadel shot 53.1 percent and hit 9 of 20 from 3-point range, led by Moore (3 of 5), Van Scyoc (2 of 7) and reserve Rae Robinson (2 of 3 for six points). Point guard Marshall Harris had 13 points and four assists before fouling out; freshman Warren Sledge backed him up with six assists and no turnovers in 19 minutes.
But it was Moore, a 6-0 junior from Suffolk, Va., who took over in crunch time as Samford cut a 16-point deficit to five on two occasions. Moore scored the Bulldogs' final 10 points, including a clutch drive with 1:39 left that doomed Samford at 74-65.
"Coach said the other day Ashton's been playing like a pro, and he definitely has," Van Scyoc said. "His confidence is high - he's hitting everything. I'm in awe, too, of the shots he's making. Credit his work ethic. He went through a little slump but kept grinding and is now playing extremely well."
No matter their final record or the program's future, these Bulldogs never quit on this particular losing season.
"I'm proud of these guys for not having folded and packed it in," Driesell said. "There might be some teams across the country that if they'd gone though what we have, might do that. These guys never did, and that means a lot."
The Citadel’s Ashton Moore, who had 24 points, shoots over Samford’s Isaiah Williams during the Bulldogs’ 81-71 win Monday night to snap a 17-game skid.×
The Citadel's Ashton Moore (12) lays up a shot past Samford's Isaiah Williams during the Bulldogs 81 to 71 victory Monday night. (Brad Nettles/Staff) 2/24/14×