Cold-shooting Bulldogs can’t pull off upset bid

The Citadel’s Warren Sledge drives against East Tennessee State on Thursday night.

Despite everything — missing 25 of 30 3-point shots, turning the ball over 17 times, getting crushed on the boards — The Citadel had chances to pull off a Southern Conference upset against East Tennessee State on Thursday night.

Three times in the second half, the Bulldogs had the ball with a chance to cut ETSU’s lead to three points or fewer. Each time, they blew the opportunity with a turnover, and the Bucs pulled away in the final minutes for a 67-51 win over The Citadel before 1,389 fans at McAlister Field House.

The loss was the sixth straight for the Bulldogs (10-18, 3-12 SoCon) and was the aesthetic opposite of their 101-92 overtime loss at ETSU last month.

In scoring its fewest points of the season — some 37 points below its Division I-leading average — The Citadel shot a season-worst 16.7 percent from 3-point range, making just 5 of 30 from distance. It was the fewest points by a Duggar Baucom-coached team since his VMI squad lost by 63-49 to Gardner-Webb in 2013.

“A very ugly game,” said the Bulldogs’ Baucom, whose VMI teams led the nation in scoring six times in 10 years. “But credit ETSU. They hammered us on the boards and dictated their will, pushed us off the 3-point line. And when we had open shots, we couldn’t make them.”

Freshmen Matt Frierson (2-4) and Connor Schroeder (2-6) were the only Bulldogs who could make more than one trey. The rest of the team went 1 for 20 from distance, and the Bulldogs shot just 27.9 percent overall. Derrick Henry and Quayson Williams were the only Bulldogs in double figures with 11 points each.

“Our defensive effort was tremendous,” said ETSU coach Steve Forbes, whose team is 18-10 overall and 11-4 in the SoCon. “We got back on defense and did not give up easy baskets, and we didn’t do that the first time we played them. We gave them too many drives last time, and this time we were more gap-oriented and fought over their screens instead of going under. That was a good adjustment for us.”

T.J. Cromer scored 17 points and 6-7 junior Isaac Banks had 10 points and 18 rebounds for the Bucs, who out-rebounded The Citadel, 58-36, and had a crushing 26-3 edge on second-chance points.

Still, the Bulldogs had chances. Down three with the ball early in the second half, guard Warren Sledge threw the ball away; ETSU pushed the margin back to 10.

The Bulldogs got it back down to 50-45 with the ball after a Sledge jumper, but Sledge missed in the lane and Henry traveled; ETSU went up by seven.

And finally, Bulldogs point guard P.J. Boutte turned it over with the Bulldogs within six at 54-48; the Bucs outscored The Citadel 13-3 the rest of the way.

“We couldn’t get out of our own way at times,” Baucom said. “We’ve been very competitive at home, at least, but tonight it was like we were stuck in mud.”

Citadel freshman Zane Najdawi blocked six shots; that’s tied for third-most in a game in Bulldogs history. Kirill Misyuchenko holds the school record with 10 blocks in a 1996 game. Najdawi’s 55 blocks this season now stands fifth in school history.

The Citadel closes out its home slate at 1 p.m. Saturday against Western Carolina.