Fletcher Abee

Citadel freshman Fletcher Abee scored 17 points in his Bulldogs' debut on Saturday in a 91-76 loss to UNCA. Provided/Citadel Athletics 

Citadel basketball fans got their first look at the Bulldogs' newcomers on Saturday in the team's season opener against UNC Asheville.

There is some promise among the new faces, but the collective will be a work in progress as demonstrated by a 91-76 loss to UNCA at McAlister Field House.

Freshman guard Fletcher Abee scored a team-high 17 points in his Citadel debut, and graduate transfers Tyson Batiste and Eddie Davis combined for 21 points. Junior forward Hayden Brown added 15.

"Our freshmen have come in here since the summer and put in just as much work as anybody else," said Brown, the lone returner to score in double figures. "They've been implemented into our offense as quickly as anybody I've seen in my time here, and they've done a really good job."

But UNCA, just 4-28 last year under coach Mike Morrell, scored at will while piling up a leads of 57-38 at halftime and 26 in the second half, improving its record to 1-1. UNCA shot 68.8 percent in the first half, hitting 9 of 14 from 3-point range.

Taijon Jones and DeVon Baker combined to hit 18 of 29 shots, with Baker scoring 25 and Jones 23 for UNCA, which lost its season opener by 78-63 at Tennessee.

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Citadel freshmen guards Abee, Jackson Gammons and Rudy Fitzgibbons each converted on their first college 3-point attempts. Abee, a 6-2 rookie from Morganton, N.C., ended up making 5 of 6 from deep, while Fitzgibbons was 2 of 4 and Gammons 1 of 2, a combined 8 of 12 for the young trio.

"There were a little bit of nerves, but once you get in the flow of the game and make a few shots, it goes away," said Abee. "It felt just like it did in high school."

Transfers Batiste and Davis also had solid debuts. Batiste, a 6-3 point guard from Central Connecticut State, finished with 11 points and led the team in assists (6) and rebounds (9). Davis, a 6-7 forward from Hartford and Southern Miss, had 10 points and five rebounds in 14 minutes.

"Tyson and Eddie are going to help us," said coach Duggar Baucom. "Eddie is just now losing his weight, but I'll take 10 and 5 from here every night, that would be great."

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With only two regulars above 6-foot-6, The Citadel is going to face a rebounding challenge in every game. UNCA out-rebounded The Citadel by 36-23, with a 12-6 edge on the offensive glass and a 17-10 lead in second-chance points.

Citadel guard Kaiden Rice, the team's top returning scorer, got only two shots in his 14 minutes as UNCA made him its top priority on defense. Rice averaged 11.3 points per game last season, but was just 1 of 2 for two points on Saturday.

"We've got to do a better job of getting him better looks, and he'll have to do a better job of getting open," Baucom said. "They completely shut him down and did a good job. They knew who are returning players were, but they didn't know our freshmen."

Looking ahead

The Citadel, which opened at home against a Division I foe for the first time since 2012, will have a tough early slate, with games at Georgia on Tuesday and at home against another Big South team in Campbell on Nov. 16.

Then comes a stretch of three straight road games at D-I teams (Southeast Missouri, Illinois and Marist) before the first of three non-DI foes on Dec. 26 against Brevard.

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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