CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA---In their season opener, The Citadel Bulldogs made headlines for all of the wrong reasons. They were blown out by the Butler Bulldogs, allowing 144 points in the process. It was not the way they had hoped to open the 2015-16 campaign, and Coach Duggar Baucom was looking for a better showing in their home opener against Stetson on Tuesday night.
As for the visiting Stetson Hatters, they opened their season with a road loss to the Richmond Spiders. Like the Bulldogs, the Hatters let their opponent top the 100-point mark as the Spiders put up 108.
Both teams were looking for a better showing on the defensive end and for their first win of the season, but only one would come out on top. There was no shortage of offense for the majority of the game, but the game was decided with a timely defensive play for the host Bulldogs.
As the final buzzer blew, The Citadel Bulldogs came away with a hard-fought 94 – 93 victory, much to the delight of a packed house inside McAlister Field House.
There was a feeling-out process to open the contest, as neither team could sustain positive momentum and put separation between themselves and the other. The Bulldogs stretched their lead to as many as 5 points on a Ty Cockfield jumper, but Stetson would hang around.
The Hatters would take a slim one-point lead at the halfway point of the opening half, at 24 – 23, on back-to-back field goals from Divine Myles and Luke Doyle. Then, the see-saw action would ensue. The lead went back and forth several times as the half wore on, with neither team being able to stretch their lead to larger than four.
In the closing minutes, a Zane Najdawi three-pointer gave the Bulldogs a seven-point lead. As was the case early on though, Stetson fought right back. Derick Newton made a lay-up just before the buzzer to bring the Hatters within 1 at the break while the Bulldogs entered the intermission clinging to a 51 – 50 lead.
Just like the opening half, the action in the second half was filled with more back-and-forth action. For the first eight-plus minutes of the half, the Hatters and the Bulldogs would take turns holding slim leads. With both teams playing each other so tight, the game had the feeling that it was going to come down to the wire.
Come down to the wire, it did.
At the 10:19 mark of the second half, it looked as though Stetson would finally pull away. The Hatters scored 7 quick points in under a minute, highlighted by a three-pointer from Divine Myles, and held a 74 – 68 lead.
Keeping with the trend, The Citadel fought back and then they took a big lead of their own with under five minutes to play. A lay-up from Warren Sledge put the Bulldogs up by 10, at 86 – 76, and it looked as though the game was over.
Stetson continued to fight, and brought themselves almost all the way back in the dying seconds. Down just 1 with under 10 seconds to play, Cameron Harvey drove the lane for a lay-up, only to be met by Najdawi, who sent the ball back where it came from to preserve the victory for the Bulldogs.
The Citadel fought hard, and held on down the stretch to knock off Stetson in Charleston, S.C., 94 – 93.
For the visitors, Brian Pegg and Divine Myles led the way. Pegg put up his second-straight double-double performance of the season for the Hatters, recording 15 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Myles scored a team-high 22 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 4 assists, but it wasn’t quite enough.
On the Bulldogs’ side of the ball, freshman forward Zane Najdawi led the way in the win. He put up 22 points, 4 rebounds and 4 blocks, none bigger than the block in the dying seconds to preserve the win. Winthrop-transfer Derrick Henry scored a game-high 25 points in the win.
IUPUI-transfer P.J. Boutte flirted with a triple-double for the Bulldogs, putting together a stat line of 13 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds.
The Stetson Hatters (0 – 2) will look to regroup and put together new strategies as they push on in the early part of the season. They take on the West Virginia Mountaineers on Friday night to close out their three-game road trip.
As for The Citadel Bulldogs (1 – 1), the loss to the Butler Bulldogs is firmly in the rear-view mirror. They will look to make it back-to-back wins when they take on Mid-Atlantic Christian on Friday night as a part of the USC Upstate Classic.