Down by 15 points just six minutes into the game, Citadel basketball coach Duggar Baucom called timeout and asked his players a question.
“Are you happy now? We're down by 15,” Baucom said in the huddle. “So let's start playing.”
This time, the Bulldogs were able to make their comeback stick. Freshman Preston Parks scored a career-high 37 points, and The Citadel rallied for a 102-96 victory at the Hanna Center in Birmingham, Ala.
Freshman Ezekiel Balogun, making just his second start, added 21 points as The Citadel snapped an 11-game losing streak. The Bulldogs' first win since Jan. 7 lifted them to 10-20 overall and 3-14 in the Southern Conference.
It also left Baucom, in his second season at The Citadel, emotional in the locker room.
“You lose 11 in a row, a lot of teams would quit on you,” Baucom said in his postgame radio interview. “We've had some pretty tough practices over the last couple of days and these guys never flinched. For them to get rewarded for that was great.
“I told the guys, in 25 years of coaching, I've never been prouder of a group of kids.”
Samford, playing for a first-round bye in the SoCon Tournament, got 35 points from Alex Thompson and 30 from Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, but fell to 17-13 overall and 8-9 in the SoCon.
After trailing 24-9 early, The Citadel rallied to take a 42-41 lead before heading to halftime down 47-42.
Matt Frierson (12 points) hit three treys in the second half as The Citadel built an 85-74 lead with just 4:53 left on a bucket by Zane Najdawi (16 points).
Samford got the lead down to 96-93 with 17 seconds left, but Parks made four free throws and scored at buzzer as The Citadel held on.
“Preston was the guy who we wanted to have the ball in his hands,” Baucom said. “EZ's play was amazing throughout, Matt Frierson helped us extend the lead. EZ and Preston really kept us in it the first half, and in the second half everybody made plays.”
Senior Warren Sledge, who will play his final home game Monday against Chattanooga along with Brian White and Tom Koopman, had seven points, five steals, four assists and four rebounds.
The Citadel shot 54.8 percent from the floor, hit 8 of 25 from 3-point range and was plus-6 on turnovers, forcing 18 by Samford.
After an 8-hour bus ride home (with a stop for milkshakes), the Bulldogs face a quick turnaround before taking on Chattanooga on Monday night.
The Mocs (19-10, 10-7), preseason favorites to win the SoCon, have lost three straight and four of six, including a 64-54 loss to Mercer at home on Saturday.