With just 2:42 left to play, No. 8 seed The Citadel was tied with regular-season champion UNC Greensboro, and a shocking upset seemed possible at the Southern Conference Tournament.
Then, the Bulldogs got a break when the Spartans' A.J. McGinnis missed a 3-pointer. Get the rebound, and The Citadel could surge ahead.
But there's a reason UNCG's Isaiah Miller is a two-time SoCon player of the year. The 6-0 senior guard went high for the rebound and dropped in a short jumper for the lead with 2:23 left at the Harrah's Cherokee Center.
The Citadel never drew even again, ending its season with an 80-72 loss to the top-seeded Spartans in the quarterfinals of the SoCon Tournament on March 6.
After knocking off Western Carolina in the first round, the Bulldogs ended their season with a 13-12 mark, the team's first winning record since 2008-09. UNCG (19-8) advanced to the semifinals against No. 5 East Tennessee State, a 63-53 winner over No. 4 Chattanooga.
"I'm thankful we just had a season and proud of how our kids played through and persevered through a lot of adverse circumstances," said Citadel coach Duggar Baucom. "We had the toughest schedule in the league, and played four games in eight days three different times. "We played hard through a lot of stuff."
Fletcher Abee scored 18 points to lead the Bulldogs, while Hayden Brown added 15 points and nine rebounds, Kaiden Rice scored 12 points and Tyler Moffe added 11. The Citadel made just 5 of 26 from 3-point range, including 0 of 8 from Rice.
Miller scored 21 points for the Spartans, while 7-1 center Hayden Koval came off the bench for 13 points. The Spartans, the worst 3-point shooting team in the league at 29 percent, made 9 of 25 (36 percent) from deep, including a sizzling 7 of 12 in the first half.
"It wasn't real pretty for us, not our best defensive effort, but we found a way to win," said UNCG coach Wes Miller. "Anytime you win, you are glad. In tournament play, it's all about surviving. We're still here talking about playing tomorrow.”
UNCG outscored The Citadel 11-3 over the final 2:23.
"The last four minutes we really locked down defensively," Miller said. "We didn't play our best, but give The Citadel a lot of credit for that. They made it really hard on us and made great effort plays all night.”
The Bulldogs missed their last five shots from the field, including seven of their last eight.
"I'm proud of my guys," Baucom said. "The game was kind of back and forth in the second half and we were right there, but they made more plays than us down the stretch. We had a couple of turnovers and missed free throws (late in the game) and that hurt us."
Citadel seniors Brown, Rice, Moffe and Derek Webster all could return next year after the NCAA ruled that this pandemic season would not count against eligibility. Baucom said Webster is likely off to medical school.
"We'd love to have all of them back," he said.