Citadel basketball coach Duggar Baucom was hard on his seniors after a come-from-ahead loss to Campbell on Sunday. And rightfully so, said one of those seniors, guard Warren Sledge.
“I'm the captain of this team, and I take full ownership for what happened against Campbell,” Sledge said of a game in which the Bulldogs lost a 10-point second-half lead. “Coach had the right to be hard on us on Sunday, because the team didn't come out and play with effort, at all.”
A game against lower-division Toccoa Falls on Wednesday night was the perfect chance for Sledge and the Bulldogs to bounce back, and they did just that with a 144-94 rout at McAlister Field House.
Sledge scored 18 points and dished 10 assists, and more importantly hit 6 of 10 shots from 3-point range. The 6-3 senior had made just 5 of 30 (16.7 percent) over the first 10 games of the season.
“It felt great,” said Sledge, who shot a solid 38 percent from 3-point range last season. “Everybody was so happy for me, because they know I can shoot it. Coach said after the game, 'We finally got you out of the slump. You've been the missing link.'”
Sledge has dual responsibilities on this young team, shepherding nine freshmen into Baucom's fast-paced system while looking after his own game.
“We've expected a lot of Warren, and he's got to have pretty broad shoulders,” said Baucom, whose team is 7-4 after playing its final non-Division I foe of the season. “Stuff kind of rolls downhill, so my wrath goes to him first, and then to other guys.
"But he's done great with that and has been very mature and handled things really, really well. I know he's put pressure on himself, but we knew it would come and it was nice to see him get over the hump a little bit.”
Plenty of Bulldogs got to see the ball go through the net against Toccoa Falls (4-5), which lost to its fourth Division I opponent this season.
Zane Najdawi also had a double-double with 22 points and 10 assists, and nine Bulldogs scored in double figures. Senior Brian White hit 4 of 6 from 3-point range for 16 points, and freshman Preston Parks had 12 points and seven assists as the Bulldogs assisted on 29 of 45 baskets. Freshman Frankie Johnson had 12 points and five assists.
Some rookies who play supporting roles also got going a bit. Ezekiel Balogun had four dunks on the way to 15 points and nine rebounds, and Leandro Allende scored 11 points on 4 of 9 shooting. Kaelon Harris added 13 points.
The Bulldogs' 19 3-pointers tied for the second-most in a game in Citadel history, and their 144 points was two shy of the school mark.
The Citadel's pressing defense forced 28 turnovers, 16 of them on steals, that led to 42 points. But out-manned Toccoa Falls still was able to shoot 56.5 percent for the game, including 60.6 percent in the first half. Cameron Williams led the Eagles with 28 points.
“We've just got to keep getting a little better defensively,” Baucom said. “We forced some turnovers tonight, and we did this past weekend, too. The thing I liked tonight is that when we turned them over, we converted, and that isn't always the case. And we shared the ball really well, and that's something we didn't always do last year.”
The Citadel is off until a road trip to Virginia Tech (Dec. 17) and Maryland-Baltimore County (Dec. 19), and then opens Southern Conference play at home against UNC Greensboro on Dec. 28.