The Citadel’s Ashton Moore and Wofford’s Karl Cochran both proved Thursday night why they are two of the best that the Southern Conference has to offer.
But it was Moore who laughed last. At Cochran’s expense.
Moore scored a season-best 29 points and stole the ball from Cochran with five seconds left as the Bulldogs erased a 14-point second-half deficit and closed the game on a 10-2 run in toppling the Terriers, 69-66, in front of 1,971 fans at McAlister Field House.
“That’s one of the best atmospheres we’ve had since we’ve been here,” said Bulldog head coach Chuck Driesell, whose team is now 7-1 at McAlister Field House in continuing the best home start since the 2004-05 season. “Shout-out to the Cadets and the fans. What a great atmosphere and what a great college basketball game.”
At one point, Moore scored 25 of The Citadel’s (8-9, 3-3 SoCon) 29 points as part of a 10-for-17 performance from the field and 6-for-10 from 3-point range in forging past Wofford (13-5, 4-1 SoCon) for just the second time in the last 17 series meetings.
“To come back like that against a team like Wofford shows the kind of heart and fight that we have,” said Moore, who registered his 20th career 20-point game. “They beat N.C. State earlier this year, so to beat a team of that caliber is a great feeling.”
Cochran finished with a team-best 23 points — 18 of which came on six 3-pointers over the final 7:38 of the first half, but the preseason SoCon Player of the Year was held to just five second-half points on 2-of-10 shooting.
“We did everything we could against him in the first half, but he made some unbelievable shots,” Driesell said. “There’s no defense for what he was doing. Putting Quinton (Marshall) on him in the half gave him a different look.”
After a pair of Spencer Collins free throws with 3:29 to play gave the Terriers a 64-59 edge — and put the Easley native over 1,000 career points — The Citadel mounted its comeback.
Freshman Jake Wright scored the next six Citadel points – four of which came when he hit a 3 while being fouled by Collins with 3:13 left and knocked down the free throw, cutting Wofford’s advantage to 64-63.
Collins responded with a jumper, but the Minnesota native then drilled a step-back two-point jumper which hit the backboard and every part of the rim, with Wofford still leading 66-65 with 2:22 to play.
Following a tie-up on Cochran that forced a jump ball and gave possession back to the Bulldogs, Moore cleaned up his own missed 3 with a contested putback for a 67-66 lead at the 1:26 mark, The Citadel’s first lead since 4-2 with 16:22 in the first half.
Cochran’s 3 on other end missed, forcing the Terriers to foul Marshall with 25 seconds left, setting up the junior for a one-and-one.
Marshall misfired on the front end, and Wofford’s CJ Neumann grabbed the rebound. Wofford isolated Cochran on the ensuing possession, but Moore ripped the ball away from the guard and passed off to Marshall Harris, who was fouled and made the both free throws in the double bonus, increasing the Bulldog margin to 69-66 with two seconds left.
“I’ll give credit to Cochran ... he played a heck of a game,” Moore said. “At that moment, I knew he was going to be in position to take the shot. I had to step up for my team, and I’m so thankful that it worked out.”
Collins’ off-balance, running 3-point attempt at the horn was too strong, as the Corps of Cadets rushed the court in the signature victory of the Driesell era.
“That’s one of the best Wofford teams I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Driesell said. “It should give our guys confidence that they can play with anyone in the league.”
Cochran’s borderline ridiculous first-half shooting, coupled with Wofford’s penchant for timely offensive rebounds, made for a 37-28 halftime lead, as the senior guard scored all 18 of his points — as part of Wofford’s final 22 as a team — over that last 7:38.
On the other side, the Terriers constantly hounded Moore, doubling him off of ball screens and holding him without a field goal until the 2:06 mark of the half. That 3-pointer, though, ignited a spark for Moore, as he scored the last eight Citadel points and 17 of the Bulldogs’ first 21 of the second half to cut a 45-31 deficit with 18:31 to play to 49-45 at the 12:21 mark.
Wofford was unable to shake the motivated Bulldogs, who shot 59 percent from the field in the second half and drained 5 of 7 from 3-point range.
The Citadel finished 56 percent shooting — its fifth straight contest over 50 percent — and affirmed its position as the league’s best 3-point shooting team (9-of-14) and free-throw shooting team (14-of-18).
“Our guys will enjoy this, but they have to understand how they did it,” Driesell said. “I’m really happy for those guys in the locker room.”
The Citadel renews the longest-standing rivalry in SoCon history against rival Furman on Saturday in the 201st all-time meeting. Tipoff at McAlister Field House is set for 1 p.m.