Zane Najdawi

Citadel senior Zane Najdawi scored 25 points in his final regular-season game Saturday in a loss at VMI. Provided/Citadel Athletics

The Citadel blew a 16-point, second-half lead for the second game in a row on Saturday, losing by 81-78 at VMI on Saturday.

The Bulldogs (12-17, 4-14) will limp into the Southern Conference tournament next week with five losses in their last six games and destined for the play-in round next Friday in Asheville, N.C. The Citadel will be the 10th seed and faces No. 7 Samford at 7:30 p.m.

The Citadel was picked to finish sixth in the SoCon in coach Duggar Baucom's fourth season, but lost four league games by a total of 12 points. That included a 100-96 loss to UNC Greensboro last Thursday, another game the Bulldogs led by 16 points in the second half.

At VMI (10-20, 4-14), The Citadel led by 46-34 at halftime and by 16 early in the second half before faltering down the stretch.

Greg Parham hit two 3-pointers in the final 61 seconds for the Keydets, including a trey with 12 seconds left for a 79-75 lead. The Citadel's Lew Stallworth answered with a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 79-78 with 5.8 seconds left.

VMI's Garrett Gilkenson made two free throws for 81-78, and The Citadel's Connor Kern missed a deep 3-point try at the buzzer as the Bulldogs lost for the seventh straight time at VMI in Lexington, Va.

"Credit VMI, they just kicked our butts in the second half in every facet," Citadel coach Duggar Baucom said on his post-game radio show. "They were making 3-pointers when we weren't making layups, and that's a recipe for disaster."

Senior Zane Najdawi had 25 points and seven rebounds for the Bulldogs, and Stallworth added 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Matt Frierson had 13 points and Kern 12 as The Citadel shot 12 of 32 from 3-point range (37.5).

Stallworth set the school record for assists in a season with 181, and his 586 points in a season is third in school history.

With guard Kaiden Rice out for the second straight game with an illness, the Bulldogs got only five points off the bench.

VMI got 19 points each from Gilkeson and Sarju Patel, while Bubba Parham scored 15 and Greg Parham 12. The Keydets were 16 of 38 from 3-point range.

The Citadel had 16 turnovers, seven of them by Stallworth, to just eight for VMI, and the Bulldogs were outscored 19-6 in points off turnovers.

"We had turnover after turnover after turnover, missed layups, an airball 3," Baucom said. "We turned it over four straight times, and they scored on all of them.

"It makes for a very, very, very long bus ride back to Charleston," Baucom said. "It's sickening, absolutely sickening."

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

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