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Citadel News Service
4 Mar 2006

Bulldogs claim first round win in SoCon Tournament

A jubilant Donnie McClendon celebrates with cadets after The Citadel's upset win over Furman in the first round of the SoCon tournament.

The Citadel basketball wowed the crowd Thursday night at the North Charleston Coliseum, claiming a huge win in the first round of the Southern Conference Men's Basketball Tournament against Furman, 65-53. The Bulldogs, a No. 11 seed, advance to round two, set to play No. 3 Davidson in the third game on Friday night.

Cadets were chanting and keys were jiggling as The Citadel (10-20 overall; 2-14 SoCon) extended their lead to as much as 16 in the last minute of the game. When many thought all odds were against them, The Bulldog basketball team showed they have what it takes to win a SoCon tournament game.

"We're here for another day," said The Citadel Head Coach Pat Dennis. "That's all I care about. We got another day. I am as happy as all get-up."

The Citadel, who suffered through 14-consecutive conference losses, broke their streak on Saturday when they claimed their first conference win of the season against Wofford, 84-40, in an overtime thriller. Winning their second consecutive road win, the Bulldogs were just getting started. The Citadel extended their winning streak to three and claimed another conference victory Thursday night when it really counted the most.

"It couldn't have come at a better time," said junior forward J'mel Everhart, who ended the night with 18 points. "We went into Wofford and got a great win and we came in here with that momentum. We said that we were going to win this one for the seniors and that's just what we did."

Commandant Col. Greg Stone congratulates Chris Diasparra after the first-round win.

Down 7-0 at 18:10 in the first period, the Bulldogs were off to a slow start. However a 12-2 run by The Citadel, making the score 12-9 at 12:51, gave them a lead over the Paladins that they held on to until the end of the first half.

Going into halftime with a 31-23 lead, The Citadel shot 50 percent from both the field and long range. The Bulldogs hit seven shots from behind the arc, three by senior guard Dante Terry, while senior forward Matt Davis, freshman guard Chris Diasparra, junior guard Donny McLendon and transfer junior Mark Schiavoni had a trey a piece. Furman, who totaled five team fouls in the half, never sent The Citadel to the line.

Terry captured nine points in the half, while Everhart had six points and five boards, all on the defensive end. Everhart's effort defending Paladin Moussa Diagne, who averages in double figures for Furman, left the all-conference selection scoreless in the first half, going 0-5 from the field.

"I think J'Mel did a great job tonight. He can guard anybody and he did a great job on Moussa tonight," Dennis said.

Having lost to the Paladins twice earlier in the season by more than 20 points in both match-ups, one as recent as Feb. 20, Dennis said that the Paladins found success in the past in their second half performance. He emphasized to his team that they must continue to play hard in the second half and the stats show just that.

Early in the second period, the Bulldog lead began to dwindle with a couple of early shots by Diagne, who started an 11-2 run for Furman. Two three-point baskets by Eric Webb put the Paladins up by one, 36-35, and gave them the lead for the first time since early in the first period at the 12:25 mark.

The Citadel never lost fight, regaining their momentum thanks to Everhart and McLendon, who hit the next five baskets for the Bulldogs. Taking the lead again at the 10:32 mark with two Donny McLendon free throws, the Citadel went on a 16-5 run, extending their lead to 10 points at 5:09 in game. The Citadel held on to the lead for the remaining of the game, ahead by as much as 16 points with 33 seconds left in the game.

Everhart's 18 points was a game high and his third consecutive competition with 17 or more points. He also added eight defensive boards, three steals and one blocked shot. McLendon finished with 14 points, while Terry totaled 14, shooting 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. The Bulldogs shot 47.7 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from long range.

"It was a great team effort tonight and we won convincingly," Dennis said. "I thought we defended well. We took the three-pointer away from them and rebounded well...It was a great team win."

Leading Furman was Robby Bostain with 13 points and seven boards, while Webb added 12 and Diagne totaled eight points and 10 boards. The Paladins shot 30.4 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from behind the arc, hitting only 4-of-18.

"We were playing good basketball. I saw it at Savannah State and at Wofford. These kids are scrappy and were clawing for everything. There are no superstars on this team. Different guys have different roles and they're all stepping up for us," Dennis said.

The Bulldogs will move on in tournament play to take on No. 3 seed Davidson 30 minutes after the conclusion game two, which starts at 6:30 p.m. on Friday. The last time the two teams met was at McAlister Field House on Feb. 13. The Citadel lost by only four points in the 81-77 Wildcat victory.

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