Duggar Baucom scrawled the message on the chalkboard in The Citadel's locker room. After a heart-breaker of a loss to Southern Conference-leader ETSU on Monday night, he wanted his Bulldogs to believe.
“You earned the right to win this game,” The Citadel's coach wrote before the Bulldogs took on second-place Wofford at McAlister Field House on Thursday night.
The Bulldogs proved their coach correct, pulling off an 80-78 upset. Players, cadets and fans among the 1,008 in attendance celebrated a victory over a Wofford team that has beaten ACC squads North Carolina and Georgia Tech this season.
“It's a big win,” said 5-foot-5 guard Frankie Johnson as teammate Quayson Williams hugged his neck. “Everybody doubted us, and we played as a team and came out on top.”
Johnson, who missed a crucial late-game layup in the 73-71 loss to ETSU, hit a similar shot with 15 seconds left against Wofford (16-7, 7-3), giving the Bulldogs a 78-74 lead. And he guarded the Terriers' top scorer, 6-4 Fletcher Magee, down the stretch, giving up almost a foot in height.
Magee, who scored 21 points, did not score a field goal in the final 11:30.
“Frankie's a warrior, that's all I can say,” said Citadel junior Zane Najdawi, who led the Bulldogs with 16 points. “He didn't let the last game get in his head, and he came back this game and executed.”
The Bulldogs (8-14, 3-7) have played three straight two-point games. They struggled in late-game situations in a 76-74 win at Mercer and against ETSU, but did everything right at crunch time against Wofford.
After the Terriers' Storm Murphy hit a 3-pointer to cut The Citadel's lead to 78-77 with 10 seconds left, Najdawi hit two free throws for 80-77 with 7.6 ticks left.
During a timeout, Baucom told the Bulldogs to foul before Wofford could get off a 3-point shot. The Terriers were able to get the ball to Magee, the top 3-point shooter in the SoCon. But Matt Frierson (15 points) grabbed him with 1.5 seconds left, forcing Magee to the foul line.
Magee made the first and banged the second off the iron, but Citadel freshman Hayden Brown was there for the biggest rebound of his young career.
“We executed the last play perfectly,” Baucom said. “We weren't going to let Magee or (Nathan) Hoover beat us with a 3-pointer. They got it down to 1.5 seconds and did what they were supposed to do.”
After the alma mater, the Bulldogs headed over to the cadet section to celebrate with their classmates.
“I don't even have words,” said Najdawi, who scored his 1,000th career point and his the second Bulldog ever with 1,000 points, 400 rebounds and 100 blocks. “I'm so proud of our team. We executed and played well the whole night.”
For the first time all season, The Citadel played mostly man-to-man defense. It helped keep the Terriers off of the 3-point line; they were 2 of 8 in the first half and finished 8 of 19.
“We wanted to show them something new,” said Johnson, who had six points, six assists and three steals. “Everybody's seen the zone, so we have to give them a different look.”
Citadel sophomore Kaelon Harris had 11 points and 11 rebounds as the Bulldogs out-rebounded Wofford, 44-32, with a 15-6 edge on the offensive glass and 12-2 lead in second-chance points.
The effort left Terriers coach Mike Young unhappy.
“It wasn't very pleasant,” Young said on his post-game radio show, describing his message to the Terriers. “If we play that cool and casual (at Mercer), with better players, we'll take another one across the mouth.”
For Baucom, now 30-57 in his third year at The Citadel, it was a long-awaited signature win.
“I'm so proud of the guys,” Baucom said. “Our focus has been great, our practice habits have been great, the body language has been great. They are just now believing.”
Maybe the rest of the SoCon will, too. Furman, which destroyed The Citadel by 40 points last month, comes to McAlister Field House on Saturday.