Among them, Citadel seniors Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus and Austin Dahn have played more than 12,000 minutes of basketball for the Bulldogs.

Few have been more painful than the first five minutes of Thursday night's Senior Night game against rival College of Charleston.

The Cougars scored the first 17 points of the game, opened up a 23-point lead and held off a late rally for an 85-63 victory before 4,131 fans at McAlister Field House.

The Bulldogs fought back to within five points in the second half, but those first five minutes were too much to overcome.

College of Charleston, led by a career-high 21 points from Willis Hall, responded with a 22-7 run to lock up its fifth straight victory, a first-round bye in the Southern Conference tournament and its fourth 20-win season under coach Bobby Cremins.

"We were bending, but we did not break," said Cremins, whose team is 20-7 overall and 13-2 in the SoCon. "I give Citadel a lot of credit for fighting back. The start of the game was one of those weird things."

Weird, indeed. The Bulldogs (9-19, 5-10), who have relied heavily on 1-2-2 and 2-3 zone defenses this season, came out in a trapping man-to-man aimed at Cougars star

Andrew Goudelock. Charleston hit 7 of its first 10 shots for a 17-0 lead, and it was 36-13 with 7:55 left in the half.

"That was pretty crazy," said Hall, a 6-6 sophomore who hit 8 of 8 from the floor and 4 of 5 from the foul line. "Everybody was hitting everything. It felt good, and I was hoping we would ride it on to the end. But we knew Citadel would make a run at us."

Said Urbanus: "We tried to throw some wrinkles at them defensively, and they were able to take advantage. It was a little bit of a gamble, but they were able to get open shots and hit them."

The Bulldogs, led by 19 points from Dahn and 16 from Wells, whittled it down to 47-34 by halftime, and climbed to within 55-50 on Dahn's 3-pointer with 13:36 left.

"We were in trouble," Cremins said.

But the Cougars answered with seven straight points as Donavan Monroe scored on the break, Goudelock lobbed for an Antwaine Wiggins jam and Andrew Lawrence nailed a big 3-pointer for a 62-50 lead.

"I think so," Urbanus said when asked if the Bulldogs ran out of gas at that point. "You put so much effort into coming back, and as talented as they are, it's tough to maintain that high level of basketball."

Charleston has won four in a row since losing 6-7 senior Jeremy Simmons, and it's been a group effort. All five starters scored in double figures Thursday, with Monroe scoring 16, Goudelock and Wiggins 15 each and freshman Trent Wiedeman 10.

"Losing Jeremy was a big blow," said Goudelock, who had nine assists. "But we know how to focus and play as a team. Just because Jeremy's out, we know we have to pick up the slack. As long as we rebound and play defense together, we're going to score points, and that will take care of itself."

Citadel seniors finished their careers with a 3-8 record against the Cougars.

"This is the best team they've had the last four years, the best one I've played against," Urbanus said. "They are senior-led, and Goudelock is playing at a very high level. And they have other people to take advantage of us helping on Goudelock. They are a very good team."

Late in the Bulldogs' sixth straight loss, coach Chuck Driesell pulled Wells, Urbanus and Dahn aside.

"I told them I was really disappointed that we couldn't get that win for the seniors," said Driesell, whose team will finish the regular season with three straight road games. "But I also told them that the season is not over. We've got a lot of work to do, and we're going to surprise a lot of people."

--Mike Groselle posted his fifth double-double of the season for the Bulldogs, with 10 points and 10 rebounds ... C of C had 21 assists on 35 baskets against only four turnovers, and has 34 assists and eight turnovers in the last two games ... The Cougars are at home to Vermont at 5 p.m. Saturday in an ESPN BracketBusters game.