ASHEVILLE, N.C. – (Courtesy SoCon) The Citadel’s Zane Najdawi led all scorers with 16 points as the Bulldogs erased an early first-half deficit and downed VMI 78-70 Friday in the first round of the 2018 Southern Conference Basketball Championship presented by General Shale at the U.S. Cellular Center. The win sets up a quarterfinal matchup between the Bulldogs and top-seeded UNCG on Saturday at noon.
VMI jumped out to an early lead and held a 29-19 advantage with 5:29 remaining in the first half. From there, the Bulldogs used a 23-7 run that spanned the end of the first half and into the second frame to take the lead for good. The Keydets pulled to game to within three (73-30) with 2:45 to play but would not score the remainder of the game as The Citadel knocked down five free throws to secure the win.
Najdawi was one of four Bulldogs in double figures. Matt Frierson and Frankie Johnson each added 12 for the No. 8 seed, while Hayden Brown added 11 off the bench. The Bulldogs limited VMI to just 37.1 percent shooting in the contest, yielding just 12-of-37 from the field in the second half.
Keith Smith paced the Keydets with 15 points, while Jordan Ratliffe posted 13 points and four rebounds for VMI. Austin Vereen led all players with 11 rebounds in defeat.
ON THE RECORD
The Citadel: 11-20
The Citadel dropped both games to VMI in the regular season but moved to 3-0 against VMI all-time in the Southern Conference Championship. The Bulldogs posted wins over VMI in the 1998 quarterfinals (77-66) and in the first round of the 2002 tournament (80-70).
The league’s Freshman of the Year, as selected by the media, was VMI’s Bubba Parham. The last Freshman of the Year to see his team win the tournament was Davidson’s Stephen Curry in 2007.
- The Bulldogs have given up 89.2 points per game this season but limited VMI to 70 points in the win.
- VMI averaged just 2.8 blocked shots per game this season but tallied seven rejections Friday night.
VMI Head Coach Dan Earl –
“It was tough and a lot of emotions going on (after the game). The Citadel played well and we had too many turnovers, but I thought out guys continued to fight and for that, I am proud. We were right there and it was a three-point game (73-70) and we had a couple of attempts to cut it even shorter, but we weren’t able to put it in.”
“Bubba Parham unfortunately tweaked his knee at halftime and he wasn’t able to play in the second half and Austin Vereen just had a tough shooting night (1 of 13). There were a lot of good looks. As we know, if often comes down to making shots, and, unfortunately, we weren’t able to make enough.”
“I thought we had a great group of guys who stayed bought in all season long – everybody wanted to win more games but they had high character and I was proud of them. Fred Iruafemi did a good job leading them and I think we have a good core to continue, I want them to be hungry. It was good for our young guys to get that experience and I look forward to coaching them in the future going forward.”
More VMI Notes
---Jordan Ratliffe scored all of his 13 points in the second half in 14 minutes of action and scored five straight points as VMI went on a 10-0 to eventual pull within 73-70 with 2:45 remaining in regulation. It was Ratliffe’s 10th double-digit game of the season.
---Keith Smith’s 15 points was his first double-digit scoring game since January 18 when he tallied 17 points against Mercer. Smith tonight also tied his career-high with five 3-pointers set earlier in that Mercer game.
---Despite the tough shooting night, Austin Vereen finished with a career-high 11 rebounds.