Less than thrilled with a 73-point loss at No. 24 Butler in its season opener, The Citadel basketball team returned home Tuesday night determined to show it is better than that.
Thanks to two Derrick Henry free throws with 11 seconds left and a huge blocked shot by freshman Zane Najdawi in the frantic final seconds, the Bulldogs did just that.
A 94-93 win over Stetson gave new coach Duggar Baucom a victory in his first game at McAlister Field House.
“I thought we’d come out and play hard tonight, because that’s the kind of kids that we’ve got,” said Baucom, who spent the last 10 seasons at The Citadel’s military school rival, VMI. “It wasn’t always pretty and we made some bonehead plays, but we always say, you get what you deserve. And I thought our guys worked hard enough to win this game tonight.”
Najdawi, a 6-7 freshman, scored 22 points and blocked four shots to lead the Bulldogs. Henry added 21 points while Brian White scored 15 and new point guard P.J. Boutte went for 13 points.
The win wiped away any bad feeling left over from the 144-71 loss at Butler, which marked the most points an NCAA Division I team had scored against another D-I team since 1997.
“It wasn’t our best night and we didn’t play Citadel basketball,” Henry said of that game. “We just used that for fuel for the fire, because we knew we had to win this game and bounce back from that.”
Henry and Boutte, graduate-student transfers from Winthrop and IUPUI, respectively, showed the leadership Baucom needs from the backcourt pair. Henry was the go-to guy down the stretch, scoring eight points during a 16-0 run that gave the Bulldogs an 86-78 lead with 4:53 left.
Boutte, a slick ball-handler at 5-9 and 160 pounds, added nine assists and seven rebounds to his 13 points, many of those dishes to Najdawi, who hit 10 of 12 shots from the field.
“We are an interesting bunch, because we are such a mix of guys,” Baucom said. “Five returners, five freshmen, three walk-ons and two transfers. We’re just now getting to know each other, so it’s nice they get this reward with a win at home.”
Stetson (0-2), picked to finish seventh in the Atlantic Sun, rallied to take a 93-92 lead with 29.8 seconds left on a 3-pointer by Cameron Harvey.
Henry got tied up on the right wing, but the possession arrow favored The Citadel with 18.4 seconds left. This time, the 6-3 Henry drove the lane and was fouled with 11.8 seconds left. His first free throw swished, and the second one nearly bounced off the rim before rolling in.
As Stetson came down the floor, Najdawi leaped to block a layup attempt by Harvey, and the Hatters missed two follow-up shots before the buzzer sounded.
“What Zane was able to do as a freshman was pretty amazing,” Baucom said, “especially that play at the end. It’s just a huge win, because we’re such a hodgepodge and we’re trying to jell. Wins help that.”
Stetson was led by 22 points from sophomore guard Divine Lyles. The Hatters guarded the 3-point line well and limited The Citadel to just 18 3-point shots, but the Bulldogs shot 58.1 percent from the field and made 16 of 18 free throws.
The Citadel is at home to Mid-Atlantic Christian on Thursday and plays at Presbyterian on Saturday.