When a team loses 13 games in a row, as The Citadel's basketball team has heading into Saturday's game with Wofford, there are a lot of things going wrong.
WHO: Wofford at The Citadel
WHEN; 7:05 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: McAlister Field House
But there's one trend that's as baffling as it is frustrating for the Bulldogs, who are 4-21 overall and 0-10 in the Southern Conference after a 54-45 loss at Appalachian State on Thursday.
In five of the last six games, and 11 times this season, The Citadel's opponent has hit a buzzer-beating basket just before the halftime break.
"It seems to happen to us all the time, but I can't tell you why," said junior forward C.J. Bray. "I feel like we're playing the best defense we can on them, and then we have a breakdown at the last second. But it seems like just about every game, somebody is going to hit a buzzer-beater on us."
The buzzer-beater backlog in the last six games:
. In the loss at App State on Thursday, 6-8 freshman Mike Obani caught a pass from Mike Neal and scored with one second left for a 27-21 halftime edge. This was after coach Chuck Driesell called a timeout with two seconds left to set up his defense, subbing in 6-9 forward P.J. Horgan for guard Warren Sledge.
. At Davidson last weekend, De'Mon Brooks scored with just one second to go for a 24-20 lead at the break.
. Against visiting Western Carolina on Jan. 25, Tom Tankelewicz launched a long 3-pointer from near the sideline just before the buzzer. It swished with no time on the clock for a 38-24 advantage.
. When App State played at McAlister Field House on Jan. 23, it was Neal who did the damage, hitting a jumper with three seconds left for a 40-32 lead.
. And on Jan. 18, Furman's Charlie Reddick nailed a trey as the clock turned to :00, good for a 39-25 Paladins lead at McAlister.
Those buckets are probably worth more than just two or three points on the scoreboard. They send one squad sprinting into the locker room in good spirits, and the other trudging off the court wondering what can go wrong next.
"It can put a little deflation on you as you go into the half," Bray said.
Driesell and his assistants have added last-second defense to the list of things to work on in practice.
"We're working awfully hard not to let that happen," Driesell said. "Some of them are breakdowns, but some of them are covered pretty well and they've made some tough shots. We've got to do a better job."
The buzzer-beaters have helped Citadel foes come from behind to take halftime leads, or turn tight games into blowouts by intermission. With three minutes to go in the half against App State on Thursday and at Davidson, the Bulldogs were ahead -- and ended up trailing App State by six points and Davidson by four at the break. In the loss to Western Carolina, an 8-3 run capped by the Tankelewicz trey turned a nine-point WCU lead into a 14-point margin.
In fact, over the last five games in which the Bulldogs have allowed a halftime buzzer-beater, they've been outscored by a collective 44-19 in the final three minutes of the first half.
"Some of that comes from the losing streak; it's confidence," Driesell said. "We've got to hold on to the rope and finish out some of these halves and games better. Once we do that, I think the guys will see the light at the end of the tunnel."
Over the last two games, Driesell has shuffled his lineup and ordered up a more deliberate pace that's helped keep the Bulldogs in the game until the final minutes. Bray, 6-7 and the 6-9 P.J. Horgan have replaced freshman Brian White and guard Marshall Harris in the starting lineup, with junior Ashton Moore moving to the point and 6-5 Quinton Marshall to the 2-guard.
Davidson, averaging a SoCon-best 78.3 points and 58 shots per game, got up just 46 attempts (and scored only 62 points) in a 19-point win over The Citadel that was close unitl the final minutes. In their next game, the Wildcats scored 109 points in a blowout of Samford.
"I think that helps a lot," said Bray, who scored nine points against App State on Thursday. "We're really limiting the other team's possessions, like we did at Davidson. Being able to slow the game down lets us play with them and control the game a lot better."
Wofford (12-10, 7-3) is riding a five-game win streak heading into today's game, and beat the Bulldogs by 79-75 in overtime on Jan. 9. The Terriers also play at a fairly deliberate pace, holding foes to 64.6 points per game, tops in the SoCon in scoring defense.
"It's a game-to-game situation," Driesell said. "Davidson was that type of team, that scores a lot of points and is hard to contain. To try to beat them, we had to do something. But we'll go into each game and see what works best for us."
A loss to Wofford would give The Citadel 14 straight defeats and will match the second-longest skid in school history. But the Bulldogs haven't given up, they say.
"One thing we've made a point of is to stay as positive as we can, especially through this losing streak," Bray said. "Our time will come, our hard work will pay off, and that's what we keep focusing on."