Who else but Ashton Moore?
The Citadel’s scintillating senior hit the game-tying 3 and got a fortunate roll when his jumper found its way home at the buzzer, halting a six-game losing streak in a thrilling 66-65 win over Samford on Thursday night at the Pete Hanna Center in Birmingham, Ala.
After Moore’s 3-pointer tied the game at 64-64 with 32 seconds left, Samford (12-15, 5-9 SoCon) center Michael Bradley was fouled with five seconds on the clock, and made the front end of the resulting one-and-one for a 65-64 lead.
Bradley missed the second, which was rebounded by Jake Wright and allowed The Citadel (9-14, 4-8 SoCon) to use its last timeout.
There was no question as to whom was taking the final shot.
“It’s a great feeling that the team wants the ball in my hands in that situation and expects me to make that shot,” Moore said.
With four seconds left, Quinton Marshall inbounded to Moore from just beyond half court. Moore navigated his way to just inside the right wing, rose up over Christen Cunningham for a jump shot and waited as the ball bounced off the front rim three times, teetered off briefly, then back inside and then down the cylinder, ending Samford’s five-game winning streak — its longest since the 2005-06 season — and setting off a euphoric celebration for the visitors.
“This feeling is unexplainable,” said Moore, who finished with 17 points and a team-high six assists. “When I crossed half-court, it was one-on-one, and I thrive in those situations. I thought it was going in from the moment I shot it.”
The Citadel had hit just one of its previous nine field goal attempts over an eight-minute stretch prior to Moore’s last two buckets, but the Suffolk, Va., native added to an ever-growing highlight reel.
“He took the shot that he needed to take,” said Citadel head coach Chuck Driesell, whose squad pulled off its first sweep of a SoCon team since twice beating Furman during the 2012 season. “We ran a good set at the end, and then Ashton did what Ashton does. I love him. He played great.”
Jake Wright led four Citadel players in double figures with 20 points on a career-high-tying 6-of-9 from 3-point range, upping his season total to 56, the fourth-highest freshman mark in program history. Brian White and P.J. Horgan scored 11 points each, as the visiting Bulldogs shot an even 50 percent for the game aided by a 10-of-15 clip from 3-point territory.
The Citadel notched its first victory since Jan. 15 by changing things up at both ends of the floor — Moore started at point guard for the first time this season, and The Citadel employed a 2-3 zone defense for the entire contest.
Moore had some early difficulties negotiating Samford’s full-court press and picked up his second foul with 13:43 left in the half, helping Samford carve out a 17-11 lead at the 12:34 mark.
In Moore’s absence, Wright picked up the scoring slack, hammering four first-half 3’s and igniting a 15-8 run for a 26-25 advantage with 7:55 to play.
“Who knows, as a sophomore maybe he’ll make 12 3’s a game,” said Driesell of his sharp-shooting freshman, who ranks second in the SoCon, hitting 43 percent from distance.
Offensively, The Citadel shot 65 percent in the first half, nailing 6-of-7 from distance (4-4 from Wright), while the active zone defense held Samford to just 27 percent (4-of-15) from beyond the arc in establishing a 38-34 halftime lead.
“We decided to give the zone a look tonight, and I thought it was good,” Driesell said. “Guys were flying around and we also out-rebounded them, which was essential tonight.”
In the second half, the offense cooled off considerably (37 percent) and the turnovers piled up (16 total) against unwavering pressure, but The Citadel gripped the lead for much of the half until Darius Jones-Gibson’s and-1 swung the lead back to Samford at 58-57 with 4:48 to play.
The lead changed hands twice more over the next two minutes before Horgan tied the game at 61-61 via the front end of a one-and-one with 1:42 left.
He missed the second, though, and Samford made The Citadel pay courtesy of Cunningham’s contested 3 with 1:10 left for a 64-61 margin.
Moore wrote the rest of the script, providing not just a memorable finish, but a hopeful springboard for the rest of the campaign.
“I wouldn’t trade them for any team in America,” Driesell said. “They battle adversity with class and do everything we ask of them. They earned and deserved this one.”
The Citadel returns home to McAlister Field House for a rare Sunday home game against VMI in the “Pack The Mac” game. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. and will be televised on the American Sports Network.
For additional “Pack The Mac” ticketing and parking information, call (843) 953-3647 or visit citadelsports.com.
With the win, The Citadel improved to 10-4 all-time against Samford.