East Tennessee State built a 23-point first-half lead and held off numerous Citadel comeback bids in dusting off the Bulldogs, 70-59, Thursday night at Freedom Hall in Johnson City, Tenn.
ETSU (12-6, 6-3 SoCon) jumped out to a 16-5 lead by forcing five turnovers over the first six minutes and never trailed in the first meeting between the schools since Jan. 24, 2005. The Citadel (8-11, 3-5 SoCon) committed 16 turnovers which the Buccaneers converted into 21 points.
Rashawn Rembert and Jalen Riley scored 18 points each to lead four ETSU players in double figures. The Buccaneers shot 51 percent from the field in the first half and 48 percent overall.
Ashton Moore scored a team-high 19 for The Citadel, while Jake Wright knocked down a career-high-tying six 3s en route to 18 points off the bench.
Moore was fouled on a made 3 with 14:21 left in the first half and hit the corresponding free throw to cut the Bulldog deficit to 16-9. The Citadel’s well went notably dry after that.
ETSU ran exceptional offense and stifling defense in reeling off the next 16 points over the ensuing 7:07, expanding the margin to 32-9.
“We were stagnant early,” said Bulldog head coach Chuck Driesell. “Their speed and quickness really took us by surprise.”
After a Rembert 3 pushed the ETSU lead to 37-15 with 5:21 left, The Citadel woke up on both ends, switching to 2-3 zone on defense and finding its offense in the form of Wright’s marksmanship, drilling three 3-pointers as part of a 15-0 run over the next 3:41 to trail 39-30 at the half.
“I was just trying to play off my teammates,” said Wright, who ranks third in league games shooting 52 percent from distance. “They did a great job of finding me”
The second half began with five unanswered Bulldog points as the lead shrunk to 39-35, but The Citadel got no closer than that the rest of the way.
ETSU, though, failed to pull away like it nearly did in the first half, confused by The Citadel’s switch to a 1-3-1 zone, but the Bulldogs shot just 33 percent in the second half and made only one field goal over the final 10:12 of the game.
That field goal — a Moore 3 at the 4:31 mark — made for a 60-55 ETSU advantage.
Rembert’s 3 with 1:29 left was the dagger, moving the score to 66-56.
“I’m proud of the fight they showed, sometimes that’s the toughest thing for a coach to get,” Driesell said. “We’ve got to be better, though. I’m tired of moral victories. I want to win.”
As part of this season-long three-game road swing, the Bulldogs head to Lexington, Va., for a rematch with VMI at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Keydets eked past the Bulldogs, 66-65, in the season opener at the All-Military Classic in West Point, N.Y.
On his first bucket of the game, ETSU’s Lester Wilson went over 1,000 career points, becoming the third player to do that against The Citadel this season (Tyler Hood, Samford; Spencer Collins, Wofford).