The Citadel has dropped seven of its last eight games heading into Thursday night’s matchup at Furman, and the Bulldogs find themselves 1½ games back in their attempt to secure a bye in the Southern Conference Tournament that begins March 5.
Call this a “been there, done that” scenario if you’d like. But Citadel coach Chuck Driesell’s teams always seem to pull themselves together late in the season and have notable victories to prove it:
Feb. 2011 — The Bulldogs fought back from a 21-point deficit to beat Western Carolina, 70-62, in Cullowhee, N.C.
Feb. 2012 — A team with seven freshmen halted an 11-game losing streak with consecutive wins over Chattanooga and Appalachian State.
Feb. 2013 — The Citadel toppled App State, 80-77, in overtime, then registered a Senior Night victory over Furman for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
“It’s all part of the process, handling the adversity from losing as well as the success from winning,” said Driesell. “We have to get better after every single game, whether it’s a win or a loss, and be a better team each day then we were the day before.”
It was that ardent commitment that helped The Citadel snap a school-record 17 game losing streak a season ago and take the final two games of the regular season over Samford and Georgia Southern and then upset UNCG in the first round of the SoCon Tournament.
“It was the accumulation of coming together every day,” Driesell said. “Winning gives you a natural boost, and it proved to the guys that their work was paying off and that we are continuously getting better.”
A week ago, The Citadel traveled to Samford riding a season-long six-game losing streak. Ashton Moore’s buzzer-beating jumper produced a 66-65 Citadel win that seemed to support the aforementioned trend.
But three nights later, the Bulldogs built an 11-point second-half lead against VMI only to give up a season-high 15 three-pointers and limp to a disappointing 84-69 final in front of a season-best 4,248 fans at McAlister Field House.
“It’s easy to get this ‘here we go again’ mentality where late in the game, we don’t get a loose ball or we give up a tip in,” said assistant coach Rob Burke. “We’ve got to break that cycle by making the right plays, and that comes from having mental toughness for 55 minutes — the 40 minutes of game and 15 minutes of halftime — to stay mentally focused, understand what needs to get done and what we have to do to get it done.”
The Citadel has just one winning season since 2002, so establishing a winning mindset is a particularly challenging proposition, one that Driesell has attempted to embrace by what he refers to as “coaching confidence.”
“All teams want to be confident and feel good about themselves when they step on the court. That process starts the day they come on campus,” he said “We’ve always been very positive and upbeat and learn as much as we can about the defeats without being defeated.”
This week’s Upstate road swing — at Furman (Thursday, 7 p.m.) and at Wofford (Saturday, 7 p.m.) — will go a long way in revealing exactly that.