It was late last Wednesday night when Duggar Baucom's cell phone buzzed with an incoming text.
Baucom's Citadel basketball team had turned in a first-half effort against Western Carolina that night that he called "nonsense," falling behind by 20 points to a team the Bulldogs were tied for last place with in the Southern Conference.
"Coach, I know you are mad, and I'm mad too," the text said, according to Baucom. "But I promise, that will never happen again."
So far, Bulldogs freshman Preston Parks has lived up to his text. Parks scored 59 points as The Citadel won its next two games, snapping an 11-game losing streak and heading to the Southern Conference tournament in Asheville with a spark of hope.
The No. 9 seed Bulldogs (11-20, 4-14) will take on No. 8 Western Carolina (9-22, 4-14) to open the tourney at 5 p.m. Friday at the U.S. Cellular Center. The winner will face top seed UNC Greensboro at noon Saturday.
The Citadel's 11-game skid bottomed out in that first half against Western Carolina, with the Bulldogs trailing by 49-31 at halftime before a disappointed home crowd at McAlister Field House. Baucom, who before the game had called himself "the most optimistic coach on a 10-game losing streak in the country," let his players have it in the locker room.
"It's wasn't pretty," said sophomore forward Zane Najdawi. "Coach got on us, because he knows we can play a lot better, because we've proven it before against better teams."
The Bulldogs rallied, outscoring WCU in the second half to lose by just 84-80. But Baucom promised a "spirited practice" the next day.
"We did a lot of toughness drills, diving on loose balls, 50-50 balls, fighting for every rebound," Najdawi said. "It was a tough practice, but it got us going."
Said Baucom, "It wasn't fun for anybody."
Baucom also changed his starting lineup, inserting Parks and freshman Ezekiel Balogun, who both spent most of the season coming off the bench. Parks, the SoCon freshman of the year, scored a career-high 37 points in the next game, a 102-96 win at Samford, and the 6-6 Balogun hit 9 of 11 shots for 21.
Then in the regular-season finale on Monday, the Bulldogs were in control almost the whole way against preseason favorite Chattanooga. Parks scored 22 points and Balogun had 18 points and nine rebounds against the Mocs, short-handed due to injury and suspension.
That's why confidence is at a season high heading to Asheville, even though the Bulldogs are 0-2 against Western Carolina this season.
"Ever since that night against Western, we've had a different mindset," Parks said. "We're playing for each other and the program instead of playing for ourselves."
Much to Baucom's frustration, WCU had a player come out of nowhere for a career night in both wins over The Citadel. In a 100-95 win on Jan. 19, Elijah Pughsley came off the bench to score 28 points; he's scored a total of 23 points in nine games since.
And last week, forward Ashley Williams scored 20 points against The Citadel after totaling 25 points in the previous 12 games.
"They all know that those are games we could have won if we were just a little bit better," Baucom said. "We didn't have to be way, way better, just a little bit better. We'll make some tweaks, and in tournament basketball, anything can happen."
2017 Southern Conference Tournament Schedule
(First 3 days on ESPN3)
Friday, March 3
Game 1 - (8) Western Carolina vs. (9) The Citadel, 5 p.m.
Game 2 - (7) Samford vs. (10) VMI, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 4
(1) UNCG vs. Game 1 winner, noon
(4) Chattanooga vs. (5) Wofford, 2:30 p.m.
(2) Furman vs. Game 2 winner, 6 p.m.
(3) ETSU vs. (6) Mercer, 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, March 5
Semifinal 1 – 5 p.m.
Semifinal 2 – 7:30 p.m.
Monday, March 6
Championship Game – 7 p.m. (ESPN)