Western Carolina spoiled The Citadel’s Senior Day in a comfortable 67-54 victory Saturday at McAlister Field House, as the Catamounts defeated the Bulldogs for the eighth straight time.
By virtue of Saturday’s action, The Citadel clinches the seventh seed and will play 10th-seeded Furman at 8:30 p.m. Friday in the first round of the SoCon Tournament at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, N.C.
James Sinclair led all scorers with 17 points for Western Carolina (14-16, 9-9 SoCon), which operated at a slower pace than usual and found immediate success hitting 58 percent for the contest while a stifling defense straight-jacketed The Citadel’s (11-18, 6-12 SoCon) Ashton Moore, holding the senior guard to 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting and just 2-of-12 from downtown.
Jake Wright led all Bulldog scorers with 15 points of 5-of-9 from distance, finishing with 71 triples, third-most ever by a Citadel freshman. Brian White continued his solid play with 13 points and seven boards — his sixth straight game in double figures — but the Bulldogs shot just 35 percent overall and were hammered in the paint to the tune of 34-6.
“We were a totally different team today on both ends of the floor,” said Bulldog head coach Chuck Driesell, whose team notched a last-second home win over ETSU on Thursday. “We had some pretty good looks but we weren’t making shots. We’ve struggled with consistency all year long.”
The Catamounts hit five of their first seven shots in jumping out to a 10-4 lead with 16:08 to play in the first half. After shooting just 25 percent in a loss at Furman on Thursday, the Catamounts’ rangy guard combo of Sinclair and Mike Brown sliced through the Bulldog defense, creating 10 layups out of 14 first-half field goals.
On the defensive end, Moore could not shake from constant double-teams off ball-screen defense and virtually became a pass-first point guard, accounting for all six of The Citadel’s assists in the first half. Wright and White were the beneficiaries of Western’s defensive focus, combining for 18 points, but the Catamounts built a 12-point lead and forged to a 34-25 halftime advantage.
From a rebounding standpoint, The Citadel gave itself a puncher’s chance, snatching more than 50 percent of its missed shots and scoring 16 second-chance points, but never found the defensive answer for Western’s dribble penetration and a consistent offensive presence, allowing 17 points off 11 turnovers.
“We gave ourselves a chance on the offensive glass, but missed a ton of shots from in close,” Driesell said. “That and Western’s ability to score off turnovers really hurt us today.”
Western built a 16-point second-half lead at 47-31 with 14:11 remaining and the Bulldogs got no closer than nine points the rest of the way.
It was an unfortunate home conclusion for The Citadel’s three seniors — Moore, Marshall Harris and PJ Horgan.
“They are three outstanding young men who have taken care of business the way The Citadel asks them to, with honor, duty and respect,” Driesell said. “They will be a tremendous representation of this institution.”
Moore finishes the regular season with 531 points this season, ninth-most in Citadel history, and 1,389 career points to rank seventh in school history.