Ashton Moore has had a season overflowing with head-shaking performances. Make room for one more.
The Citadel’s senior guard buried a cold-blooded 20-foot jumper with 1.8 seconds on the clock in leading the Bulldogs to a joyous 74-73 victory over East Tennessee State on Thursday night at McAlister Field House.
In a contest that saw six lead changes over the final 2:11, Moore had enough ink left in the pen to hit The Citadel’s (11-17, 6-11 SoCon) last two shots — his only two of the half — and guide his Bulldogs past ETSU (16-12, 8-9 SoCon) for their eighth home win of the campaign, the highest total since 2009-10.
“This is a good team we beat tonight,” said Citadel head coach Chuck Driesell. “Everyone wants to be playing their best at the end of the season, and I think this is something we can really build on.”
Moore finished with 21 points (9-9 FT), a career-high 11 assists with only one turnover and six rebounds in playing all 40 minutes, while Jake Wright canned five triples for 15 points. Quinton Marshall pumped in 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and P.J. Horgan grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds while blocking three shots.
“It was a great game, and I hope the fans liked it,” said Moore. “It was so back and forth, but we had trust in each other and we were able to get it done tonight.”
That final 2:11 began with a pair of Moore free throws giving The Citadel a 67-65 lead. Enter ETSU’s Jalen Riley, who came into the game with consecutive 31-point efforts and was the league’s top scorer at better than 20 points per game, and caught fire drilling his first triple of the half for a 68-65 advantage with 1:52 to play.
After a Bulldog timeout with 1:28 left, Moore located CJ Bray at the top of the key with a rapidly decreasing shot clock. Bray uncorked a 3 that was offline from the outset, but the James Island native immediately sprinted to the baseline and grabbed his own rebound for a much-needed extra possession, with Moore eventually finding Marshall for the layup and a 69-68 lead at the 1:06 mark.
“All I tried to do was keep the play alive and give us a chance,” said Bray. “Fortunately it gave us the lead.”
Riley, who finished with a team-high 19 points, responded again with a 3 from the left wing, pushing the Bucs back ahead 71-69 with 49 seconds left.
One possession later, Moore attempted to play hero, but his leaner misfired with 23 seconds left. So did Marshall’s tap back at the rim, as it bounced toward a sea of extended arms.
Somehow, the serendipitous carom went back to Moore, who made an off-balance catch and dropped in a dramatic falling floater in the lane — his first field goal of the half — with 17 seconds on the clock while being fouled by Riley, squaring the game at 71-71.
Before, Moore could shoot his free throw, The Citadel used its final timeout for defensive purposes.
“We knew that we wouldn’t be able to run another set play because we didn’t know what [ETSU] would do on their possession,” Driesell said. “I wanted to make sure we were set on the other end.”
With necessary aplomb, Moore made the free throw — the team’s 18th make in 18 attempts — for the 72-71 cushion.
The individual battle continued with Riley taking the joystick, finding the same spot on the left wing and knocking down what looked to be the dagger with 8.7 seconds left — the last of his 10 straight points over 1:44 — to put the visiting Bucs ahead 73-72.
Out of timeouts, the Bulldogs had one chance to avoid a crushing defeat in front of a rejuvenated home crowd.
“Once the ball went through the net, there was a sense of urgency,” said Moore. “I had to push the ball as fast as I could.”
Moore painted the left sideline, shook Riley enough to create space, and with two defenders flying at him, hit nothing but net from just inside the left wing, evoking an involuntary frenzy and vivid memories of his Samford buzzer-beater from just two weeks before.
“Great players make great plays in situations like that, and he’s our great player,” said Driesell. “He was smart and heady knowing that we didn’t have a timeout and made a truly great basketball play.”
Amidst a cacophony of fans cheering and coaches coaching, Riley’s heave hit off the right of the backboard, ending a SoCon classic, which certainly felt like a tournament game.
“I think it’s great for our program to win a game like this,” Driesell said. “It shows our fans that this team is getting better and does a lot for the players, the coaches and the school.”
The Citadel closes out the regular season hosting Western Carolina at 1 p.m. Saturday for Senior Day, where Moore, Horgan and Marshal Harris will be honored.
The Citadel now has 491 all-time wins at McAlister Field House.
ETSU had won 25 of the last 28 matchups dating back to 1989.
Moore now has 518 points this season, becoming the eighth player in school history to score 500 points in a single campaign. The senior also now has 1,376 career points to rank seventh in school history, and he registered his 300th career assist in the contest, sitting eighth all-time with 309.