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The Citadel and Chattanooga move on in SoCon Tournament

We got our first upset on opening night in Asheville.

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

Eight of The Citadel’s first nine field goals in the second half came from three-point range, opening up as much as an 18-point lead before holding on for a 78-70 win over VMI to open the 2018 Southern Conference Tournament at the US Cellular Center in Asheville, N.C.

With the win, The Citadel continues its season and improves to 11-20 overall, while VMI sees its season come to an end, finishing 9-21. With the win, the Bulldogs will face the top overall seed, UNC Greensboro, at noon Saturday.

The win marked the first time in 105 years of Citadel basketball that the Bulldogs have claimed back-to-back first round wins. It will be deja vu’ as well, as for the second-straight season, the Bulldogs will face UNC Greensboro in the first quarterfinal game of the day.

The Bulldogs placed four players in double figures in the win, led by first-team All-SoCon selection Zane Najdawi, who finished the night with 16 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field, including 1-for-4 from three. Meanwhile, Najdawi finished the night 7-for-11 from the charity stripe, and added two assists, two steals and a block.

Najdawi was joined in double figures by guard Frankie Johnson and Matt Frierson, who added 12 points apiece, while Hayden Brown contributed 11. During the opening run in the second half, which saw the Bulldogs score 21-straight points on three-point field goals, Frierson had three consecutive treys, accounting for nine of his 12 points in that span. All told, he finished 4-for-8 from three-point range.

In the opening half, VMI started strong, connecting on five of its first six shots from three, and would lead by as much as 12 points. However, the Bulldogs would take the lead for good with 1:45 remaining in the opening frame, 35-32, following a Najdawi triple.

In the second half, the Bulldogs would get as close as three points (73-70) following a Garrett Gilkeson jumper that hit the back iron and bounced back and down through the hoop from the right baseline. That would conclude an 18-6 run by the Keydets, however, VMI would get no closer and the Bulldogs would escape with the eight-point win. The Citadel dropped both regular-season meetings to the Keydets in the rivalry matchup of military institutions.

VMI was led in the contest by two players in double figures, with Keith Smith leading the way with 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting from downtown, while Jordan Ratliffe added 13 points. The Keydets were led on the glass by Austin Vereen’s 11 rebounds.

London, Chattanooga upend Samford

The second matchup of the opening night would produce the first upset, as No. 10 seed Chattanooga ended No. 7 Samford’s season, with an 89-79 win. The win helped the Mocs claim the rubber match between two teams that split the regular-season series.

Chattanooga imrpoved to 10-22 overall, while Samford’s season concluded with an identical 10-22 mark. The Mocs will move on to the quarterfinal round to face No. 2 seed East Tennessee State.

The story for the Mocs was 6-10 junior forward Makinde London, who used a pair of emphatic, power dunks to highlight a 25-point effort in the opening-round win.

London finished the night with a monster effort all-around, with 14 rebounds to go with his 25-point effort. He connected on 9-of-18 shots from the field, including going 3-for-7 from three and was 4-for-5 from the foul line to finish out his strong all-around effort. He also finished with four assists, three steals and a pair of blocks.

London was one of four Mocs in double figures, as he was joined by guards Rodney Chatman and David Jean-Baptiste, who added 18 points apiece, while fellow backcourt mate Makale Foreman added 14.

Samford ran out to an early lead in the opening half of play, jumping out to an 8-0 lead, which was the largest of the game for the Bulldogs, but would see Chattanooga respond from that point. After carrying a 39-35 lead into the halftime locker room, the Mocs would use a 12-4 run down the stretch to post the upset win.

The Bulldogs took a 66-65 lead following a Kevion Nolan layup with 7:19 remaining, however, it would prove to be the final lead the Bulldogs would taste the rest of the way, as Chattanooga assumed as much as a seven-point lead (77-70) following a Foreman triple with 5:06 left. The Bulldogs would cut it to a three-point game (79-76) after a pair Justin Coleman free throws with 2:10 left in the game, however, that would be as close as Scott Padgett’s club would get the remainder of the game. Chattanooga was able to hit its foul shots down the stretch to claim the win.

Samford got a team-high 20 points from senior guard Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, as he led four Bulldogs in double-figures. Denzel-Dyson finished 7-of-12 from the field, including going 3-for-6 from three-point land and was 3-for-4 from the free throw line. Denzel-Dyson added four rebounds, two assists and a steal to his overall stat line.

The Bulldogs had two platyers garner double-doubles, with junior point guard Justin Coleman adding 19 points and a single-game school record 15 assists. Senior center Eric Adams added a double-double in his final game for Samford, posting 14 points and 10 boards, while fellow senior Alex Thompson chipped in 12 points and four boards.

The key stat of the game proved to be bench scoring, which saw the Mocs post an amazing 43-8 advantage in bench scoring. Chattanooga will look to avenge two regular season losses to ETSU when it faces the Bucs tomorrow evening.