For long stretches on Thursday night, The Citadel basketball team resembled the one that started the season by winning nine of its first 11 games.
Zane Najdawi scored inside and out, as did point guard Lew Stallworth. With Matt Frierson out with illness, Kaiden Rice rained in 3-pointers.
But in the end, it wasn't enough at ETSU. The Bucs became the fourth Southern Conference team with 20 wins this season, turning a halftime deficit into a 91-83 victory at Freedom Hall in Johnson City, Tenn.
Najdawi scored 29 points, Rice had 21 and Stallworth went for 18 points and 10 assists and his seventh double-double before fouling out. The trio combined to make 15 of 26 from 3-point range as the Bulldogs (11-13, 3-10) made 17 of 33 from deep, including a career-best five for Najdawi.
It was The Citadel's best 3-point shooting performance since the Bulldogs made 23 of 40 (57.5 percent) in a 112-87 win over High Point on Nov. 27.
"That team resembled the pre-Christmas team, was a lot more like the 9-2 team," said Bulldogs coach Duggar Baucom, whose team led by 46-40 at halftime. "And that's the first glimpse we've had of that. We can win more games with that effort and execution."
Stallworth fouled out on an offensive push with The Citadel trailing by 74-67 with 5:37 left. Baucom leaped in protest and was hit with a quick technical, and ETSU (20-7, 10-4) hit two free throws for a nine-point lead.
The margin reached 11 before the Bulldogs rallied to get within 83-80 on two free throws by Hayden Brown with 44 seconds left. The Bucs made 8 of 8 from the foul line in the final 35 seconds to ice the win.
"I told the guys that if you play with that intensity and execute like that, there's no doubt you can win Saturday (at Western Carolina)," Baucom said on his post-game radio show. "And there won't be another game we can't win."
Frierson didn't play for the first time this season, and senior guard Quayson Williams has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. That left only freshman Jerry Higgins to man the point after Stallworth fouled out.
"We had to throw Jerry in the fire and I'm really proud of the way he played, he played hard," Baucom said. "(ETSU) made some free throws down the stretch, although we fouled the right guys ... Playing the last six minutes without the best point guard in the league was pretty difficult."
Isaiah Tisdale scored 29 points, and Patrick Good and Bo Hodges scored 18 each for the Bucs, who had eight blocks and six steals.
"We're never about moral victories, but we certainly have something to build on," Baucom said. "We played the most athletic team and probably the best defensive team in the league, and we scored 83 points and had a chance to win."
Najdawi and Rice combined to hit 8 of 10 from 3-point range as The Citadel led by seven points in the first half, settling for a 46-40 lead at the break. Najdawi had 15 points in the first half and Rice 12, with Stallworth chipping in 14.
The Citadel is at Western Carolina on Saturday.