Without all-conference guard Lew Stallworth on the floor, The Citadel was no match for Samford in the opening round of the Southern Conference Tournament.
Stallworth, ruled academically ineligible, was not with the 10th-seeded Bulldogs as they were blown out by No. 7 Samford 100-71 on Friday night at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, N.C.
The Citadel ended its fourth season under coach Duggar Baucom at 12-18 overall, losing 16 of its last 19 games after a 9-2 start. Senior Zane Najdawi had 15 points and 11 rebounds in his final game for the Bulldogs, his 17th career double-double.
"I'm proud of my guys," Baucom said in his postgame press conference. "I thought they fought to the bitter end, and I'm very proud of them for that."
Stallworth, a graduate-student transfer who was third in the SoCon in scoring with 20.2 points per game this season, was ruled ineligible after he dropped a class and fell below the NCAA's required minimum for class hours.
In a direct message on Twitter, Stallworth said the class was dropped without his consent.
"I didn't find out until yesterday while in Asheville," said Stallworth, who transferred to The Citadel after stints at Texas-El Paso and Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
Stallworth said he had planned to submit a form dropping the class after the SoCon Tournament. A school spokesman said Stallworth apparently was not flagged as an athlete in The Citadel's system as he should have been.
"A form was submitted on my behalf by someone in the graduate college without my consent," Stallworth said. "The form was supposed to be submitted by me after (the tournament).
"(I) didn't have any knowledge the form would be submitted prior to the tournament. I had been on the phone with all types of people at The Citadel trying to figure the issue out. I was told it was not supposed to happen and that it was an error, but no one could do anything to help me."
Stallworth, named second-team All-SoCon by league coaches and media, also averaged 5.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists, setting the program record for assists in a season with 181.
The Stallworth snafu marked the third time in four years at The Citadel that Baucom has had a key player miss the tournament. Point guard PJ Boutte was dismissed from the team just before the tournament in 2016. Last year, forward Kaelon Harris missed the tournament due to "responsibilities in the Corps of Cadets."
Baucom had no comment on the Stallworth situation, a school spokesman said.
With Stallworth out, freshman Jerry Higgins started at point guard and had 12 points and six assists in 32 minutes.
"He had literally less than 24 hours notice that he was going to be the starting point guard," Baucom said. "We spent all day convincing him that he was the best point guard in the country that nobody knew about. And he played pretty well, did a pretty good job."
But the Bulldogs fell behind quickly against a Samford team that they had split two close games with during the regular season.
Led by Brandon Austin's 26 points, Samford (17-12) pulled out to a 17-point lead in the first half and ran the margin up to 29 while cracking the 100-point barrier for just the second time this season. Samford will face No. 2 seed UNC Greensboro in Saturday's quarterfinals.
Samford shot 60.7 percent from the field and 45.8 percent from 3-point range as all five starters scored in double figures.
Alex Reed added 10 points for The Citadel, which shot just 38.4 percent from the floor and 28.9 percent (13-45) on 3-pointers. Senior Matt Frierson scored six points in his final game and finished with 324 3-pointers, sixth in SoCon history and first at The Citadel.
Najdawi finished his career as the only player in Citadel history with at least 1,600 career points, 700 rebounds and 175 blocks, and just the fourth in SoCon history.