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SoCon Shakeup: The Citadel Proving to be Giant Killers

It’s going to be a wild finish to the regular season this weekend.

NCAA Basketball: Citadel at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Remember that run that Furman made in the 2014-15 basketball season? The Paladins became the first No. 10 seed to ever make the Southern Conference Tournament title game only to lose to league juggernaut and top overall seed Wofford, 67-64.

Fast forward three years and that dangerous team in Asheville could be wearing Citadel blue. The Bulldogs have quite simply been giant killers this season, and Duggar Baucom’s club has gained confidence each step of the way.

It probably started with a 73-71 loss to East Tennessee State back on Jan. 29. After that heartbreaking loss to the Bucs, Baucom’s Bulldogs would reel off a pair of impressive wins over Wofford (80-78) and Furman (100-92). People started to raise their eyebrows around the league, and took note of the Bulldogs.

However, following a streak of four-straight losses that included one to lowly VMI on the home floor this past weekend, most might have written of Baucom’s club. Then came this past Tuesday night, when the Bulldogs traveled to Johnson City to face SoCon power ETSU at Freedom Hall—a building where the Bucs were 12-1 overall and 6-0 against SoCon opponents this season—and the Bulldogs faced a Bucs team without do-everything guard and SoCon Player of the Year candidate Desonta Bradford. Bradford missed the game with a sprained ankle.

But even without Bradford, most folks didn’t figure to be checking this score on their ESPN app late into this game. However, that’s exactly what happened as the Bulldogs pulled the shocker of the year in the SoCon, posting an 84-82 victory over Steve Forbes’ Bucs.

It was not how Forbes had hoped his first game would go after receiving a contract extension. A few keys to the win for the Bulldogs were hitting 13 triples and tallying 11 more free throws than the Bucs in the win.

Though maybe a little undersized for a center in this league, junior center Zane Nadjawi continued to show why he was one of the best in the SoCon underneath the basket, posting 24 points, six rebounds, a block, a steal and an assist. He led four Bulldogs in double-figures in the win, with Quayson Williams (17 pts), Kaelon Harris (13 pts), and Frankie Johnson (12 pts, 7 asts) rounding out the double-figure scorers in the contest.

With the track record of Baucom’s Bulldogs, who have already knocked off four of the top five teams in the league standings this season, is this really a team you want to face in March? The 84 points surrendered by ETSU were the most surrendered by the normally sound defensive Bucs this season.

The Citadel closes out the regular season at home against Mercer on Friday night and at Western Carolina on Sunday. ETSU will have the two Palmetto State schools paying a visit to Freedom Hall this weekend, with Wofford coming to town Friday night and then Furman coming to Johnson City for a Sunday matinee.

However, the game of the night took place in Spartanburg as UNC Greensboro traveled to face Wofford at the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium.

The game was huge for many reasons. Wofford was battling with Furman in the standings to try and gain the No. 3 seed for next week’s Southern Conference Tournament, while UNCG continues to try and chase down ETSU for a SoCon regular-season title.

The Spartans gave the Paladins a little bit of a boost Tuesday night, sweeping the season series from Wofford with a 76-66 win.

Fresh off a school-record 45-point performance and Southern Conference Player of the Week plaudits, Fletcher Magee would lead the Terriers with 20 points, but went just 7-for-17 from the field and 4-of-10 from three-point land.

Wofford was held to just 41.1% shooting for the game, including just 35.3% in the second half against one of the better defensive units in mid-major basketball. Francis Alonso, who connected on some back-breaking three-pointers in the contest, led the Spartans with 24 points while dishing out four assists, grabbing four boards and adding one steal.

Without question, the hottest team in the SoCon down the stretch this season has been the Mercer Bears, who claimed their sixth-straight win Tuesday night with an 81-64 win over Western Carolina.

The Bears claimed their sixth-straight win by getting a season-high tying 24-point effort from senior guard Demetre Rivers, who also joined the prestigious 1,000-point club.

The Bears have done this without the services of their leading scorer, Ria’n Holland, who has been out with a wrist injury. The senior guard is expected to return to the lineup in time for the SoCon Tournament.

Finally, Senior Night is special at any school for some many reasons. But in last night’s 76-54 win over VMI, it was truly a memorable one for the Paladin faithful considering how far the group of four seniors has brought the Furman basketball program.

With the win, Furman improves to 20-9 overall, and in doing so gave Furman its first back-to-back 20-win seasons since 1978-79 and 1979-80 campaigns.

The Paladins celebrated the careers of four seniors in getting their fourth-straight win. Daniel Fowler, Devin Sibley, Geoff Beans and John Davis III all played their final regular-season home game in front of the home folks. The quartet has posted a 73-59 record and is tied for the second-most wins with two other senior classes in Furman basketball history.

Check out these words from head coach Bob Richey in the interview below, as well as the interview with senior Daniel Fowler and junior Andrew Brown.

Updated Power Rankings After Feb. 20 Results

  1. ETSU (20-5, 14-2 SoCon)
  2. UNCG (22-7, 13-3 SoCon)
  3. Furman (20-9, 11-5 SoCon)
  4. Wofford (19-10, 10-6 SoCon)
  5. Mercer (16-13, 9-7 SoCon)
  6. The Citadel (10-18, 5-11 SoCon)
  7. Western Carolina (12-17, 7-9 SoCon)
  8. Samford (9-20, 5-11 SoCon)
  9. VMI (8-19, 3-13 SoCon)
  10. Chattanooga (9-20, 3-13 SoCon)