The Citadel put on an entertaining basketball show Saturday afternoon. A season-best crowd of 4,424 almost packed the Mac, with the Corps of Cadets turned out in battle fatigues. At halftime, football players flung cheerleaders into the air -- and didn’t fumble them when they came back down.
The Bulldogs did their part, too, engaging Western Carolina in a back-and-forth tilt that saw the score tied 10 times and the lead change hands 17 times.
But when the 3-pointers stopped going in for The Citadel, the show ground to a halt. The Bulldogs missed 15 straight 3-point shots down the stretch, and Western Carolina pulled away for a 102-97 win at McAlister Field House.
“We always have about four or five minutes where we go flat and the ball doesn’t go in,” said Citadel coach Duggar Baucom, whose team lost its seventh straight to fall to 10-18 overall and 3-13 in the Southern Conference. “And then that affects our defense. Good teams, that doesn’t happen to.”
Citadel senior Quinton Marshall had a fine effort in his final home game, scoring 22 points with six rebounds, and Derrick Henry and freshman Quayson Williams each scored 19 points.
But after Warren Sledge hit two 3-pointers early in the second half to give The Citadel a 61-57 lead, the Bulldogs went almost 17 minutes without a trey, missing 15 in a row from distance.
Western Carolina (13-16, 8-8) built up a 12-point lead before Citadel freshman Matt Frierson broke the drought with two treys in the final 27 seconds. The second one cut WCU’s lead to 100-97 with 20 seconds left, giving the Bulldogs one final chance.
But WCU senior Rhett Harrelson made two free throws with 15 seconds left to put the game out of reach. Torrion Brummitt scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead five Catamounts in double figures.
The Citadel made 9 of 20 (45 percent) from 3-point range in the first half, but shot 17.4 percent in the second to end up at 13 of 43 (30.2 percent).
“We were still getting good shots, and we missed so many around the rim, too,” Baucom said. “We just missed so many shots in close, it’s extremely frustrating.”
The Citadel scored more points in the first half (54) on Saturday than it did in Thursday’s 67-51 loss to East Tennessee State. The Bulldogs also allowed WCU to shoot 58.7 percent from the field and score 100 points in a road game for the first time since 2001.
“We can’t miss defensive assignments and let them have stick-backs,” Baucom said. “We’d have four guys bust their tails for 25 seconds, and then somebody slides in behind us because we’re not paying attention. That’s what is crushing.”
Reserve forward Tom Koopman had one of his best efforts of the season, hitting 4 of 5 shots for eight points. Point guard P.J. Boutte had eight rebounds and eight assists.
The Citadel finishes out the regular season next week at UNC Greensboro and VMI before the SoCon tournament March 4-7 in Asheville. The Bulldogs are vying with Samford and VMI for the eighth seed in the tournament.
The No. 8 seed gets to play the No. 9 seed in the first round, but the No. 10 seed has to play the No. 7 -- likely UNC Greensboro, Western Carolina or Mercer.
“We need to be the hot team going into the tournament,” Marshall said. “We need to win these last two going into the tournament and get some momentum going in there.”
• The Citadel got a verbal commitment Saturday from Obinna Ofodile, a 6-7 forward from Duluth, Ga., and a native of Nigeria. When he signs a letter of intent, Ofodile will join 6-6 Ezekiel Balogun, 6-5 Mohammed Kabir and 5-8 Frankie Johnson of Darlington in The Citadel’s recruiting class for next year.