Chattanooga serves cold-hearted fate to Furman’s SoCon title dreams

Furman senior guard Mike Bothwell led all scorers with 24 points

David Jean-Baptiste’s desperation 36-foot contested effort from just past half court on the left side swished through the hoop as time expired and the Mocs portion of the crowd of 5,023 fans on hand at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center went bonkers, as Chattanooga qualified for its SoCon standard 12th NCAA Tournament in program history, while denying Furman its first trip to the Big Dance in 42 years, downing Furman, 64-63, in overtime in what was an epic SoCon tournament title game Monday night.

With the win, Chattanooga’s season will continue in the NCAA Tournament, with the Mocs improving to 27-7 and will find out their seed and locale for the postseason on Selection Sunday at 6 p.m. on CBS. The loss sees the Paladins fall to 22-12 on the season, as Furman will now await its postseason fate.

Chattanooga will be making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2016, and improved to 12-7 in title games and 60-33 overall in the conference tournament.

Furman, which has the second-most tournament wins in league history, fell to 54-63, all-time in league tournament play, and with its third-straight title game loss, dropped to 6-5 in league championship games.

The thrilling win for Chattanooga was a fitting way for the journey to end for what was a great season for the nation’s No. 12 ranked conference. However, the sting of defeat is a little more after a loss like that for Furman COVID senior Alex Hunter, which played his final Southern Conference game for the Paladins Monday night, as Furman saw what was an evident first NCAA Tournament bid in 42 years disappear in the span of 4.3 seconds and after making all five of its shots in overtime, with that being the reality of the crushing defeat for a one-bid league no matter the strength of the conference ranks among the top one-third of college basketball leagues nationally. Hunter did all the right things, and so did the Paladins to suffer such a fate. It’s the cruel reality of sports. Furman didn’t miss a shot in overtime (5-for-5), yet were 

Ironically, it was a story told on both sidelines with a similar narrative for two players that personify greatness and winning effort for the two teams they represented in Monday night’s championship tilt. For David Jean-Baptiste, who redshirted the 2016-17 campaign and was at Chattanooga prior to Lamont Paris’ arrival in the spring of 2017, it was a fitting end to a player that stayed loyal through it all to his coach. 

“Just unbelievable. I always talk about this book that I’m gonna write when this is all said and done, and the longest chapter will be titled, ‘DJB III.’ Its surreal what has transpired, the good, the bad, the ugly, we’ve been all over the place as a team, and for it to come down to that, I literally am now committed to writing that book and telling that story,” Chattanooga head coach Lamont Paris said. 

There was an interesting story that played out for both UTC’s Jean-Baptiste and Furman’s Alex Hunter, who are identical in importance to their respective programs as culture builders, the finality result delivered showed the true exhilaration of sport, while also showing that the game of college basketball is no ethical code for sweat equity. There’s always an ultimate final score, however, what sport can never deliver is a definition on how you represented your school and loyalty to it. For that, Hunter and Jean-Baptiste will always be lauded. 

But for one, in Hunter, only agony and heartbreak in the moment. For the other, in Jean-Baptiste, sheer jubilation and overwhelming joy. 

Furman’s Mike Bothwell, who finished with  a game-high 24 points, found that zone in the game of basketball that some players sometimes do. They say sometimes one player can put a team on his back and seemingly pull it across the finish line in a game. On Monday night in Asheville, that’s exactly Bothwell attempted to do for the Paladins and he nearly pulled it off. He scored 15 of Furman’s final 20 points of the game, including the final eight in regulation to help force the extra five minutes of basketball. 

Furman, which went the half with a 26-16 lead by holding Chattanooga to just 28.0% shooting from the field, and a mere 8.3% (1-of-12) from three-point range in the opening half, but responded in the second half out of the locker room by using a 24-6 run over the 10 minutes of the second half, which culminated with David Jean-Baptiste’s only other three-point field goal of the night, giving the Mocs their biggest lead of the night, at 40-32, with 9:38 remaining. That’s when things would get interesting.

A quick 7-0 spurt by the Paladins was a response they had to have in order to keep squelch the momentum of the Mocs, and keep the title tilt within winning range. A Hunter three, Bothwell layup and Marcus Foster layup with 6:36 left allowed the Paladins to cut the Mocs lead to a single point, 40-39. 

The Mocs responded with a quick 6-0 spurt to stretch their lead back seven, using a Malachi Smith rebound and one-handed floater in the paint, which was followed by a Jalen Slawson missed three-pointer on one end, and a Silvio De Sousa dunk pn the other, giving the Mocs a 44-39 lead with a little over five minutes remaining in regulation. 

Following another Furman missed three-pointer off an offensive rebound, De Sousa would get fouled in the paint, accounting for Furman’s seventh team foul, ultimately putting Chattanooga in the 1-and-1 bonus. De Sousa knocked down both free throws with 4:10 left, giving the Mocs a 46-39 lead. 

Sometimes being a media member has its special perks due to seating along. As I was sitting behind the basket on the end in which Furman was shooting in the second half at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center, I was afforded such an opportunity. 

Following a foul by Chattanooga’s A.J. Caldwell on Furman freshman point guard A.J. Caldwell, there was a media timeout.

When the two teams broke from their respective huddles, Pegues would be stepping to the stripe for the Paladins for a 1-and-1 opportunity.

As I glanced, Mike Bothwell gathered his team on the floor, looked at them and said “We can do this…come on…we can do this.” It was subtle, but at that moment,  you could tell he was “locked in” but the question I had was did the rest of the team think that too. It wouldn’t take me long to find out the answer to that question. It was an emphatic yes. 

Pegues knocked down both ends of the 1-and-1 to get the Paladins within five, at 46-41. Furman would get the a Garrett Hien layup following a Malachi Smith miss on the other end, which made it a one-possession game, as the Paladins trailed, 46-43, with 3:20 remaining. 

Chattanooga’s Caldwell would miss a three from the right elbow and Slawson came up with a big rebound for Furman. The rest of the game, Mike Bothwell simply made the decision that he wasn’t going to let Furman lose, and if the Mocs were going to win, they’d have to take it from him and the Paladins. He started with a step-back three from left elbow to knot the score, 46-46, with 2:12 left. 

Smith put the Mocs back up three, with a three-point play the old-fashioned way as he drew the foul from Furman’s Pegues, making it a 49-46 contest following his made free throw with 1:52 remaining. Furman’s Hien would get a beautiful feed from Slawson on the other end to convert an easy layup, making it a 49-48 Paladin deficit with 1:34 left. 

A big defensive play was made on the other end to give Furman a chance to take the lead, as Bothwell swatted away a Smith shot attempt with just over a minute remaining, however, a Slawson missed three and a Caldwell rebound gave the Mocs the ball back with 46 seconds remaining. Following a 30 second timeout with 39 ticks remaining, David Jean-Baptiste missed his shot in the lane, however, there to provide the tip-in in the paint was De Sousa, giving the Mocs a 51-48 lead with 23 seconds remaining. 

Furman, which was already out of timeouts, had no choice than to trust its leader in the moment, and that was unquestionably Bothwell. Another three from the top of the key with four seconds remaining tied the score, 51-51.

UTC inbounded the ball quickly and it appeared Malachi Smith was going to have a chance to win the game at the buzzer at the end of regulation, but there to meet his shot and nullify the attempt was SoCon Defensive Player of the Year Slawson, who just a game earlier sealed a win with a block of a Ques Glover to help Furman past Samford in a 71-68 thriller,  and this time his block on Smith’s shot helped preserve the result to give Furman a chance at a win in overtime, with the game heading to the extra five minutes tied, 51-51. 

De Sousa won the jump ball in overtime, and his layup 19 seconds later gave the Mocs a 53-51 lead. 

Bothwell, however, was by now taking things over. He drove across the lane and put the ball off the left window in the paint while drawing contact from and foul UTC’s K.C. Hankton, giving him a chance to give the Paladins the lead for the first time since a 32-31 Furman lead at the 12:58 mark of the second half. Bothwell’s foul shot was good with 4:11 remaining in overtime, and it gave the Paladins a 54-53 lead. 

On the next possession, Jean-Baptiste missed a on a three, which would provide the only missed shot of the extra session. Bothwell stepped out of bounds on the next Paladin possession, however, would make up for one of his few miscues on the night by getting a steal on the other, as he intercepted a Smith pass. On the other end, he converted another layup off the glass to give the Paladins a 56-53 lead with 2:28 remaining. 

With just under two minutes left, Jean-Baptiste answered with his first of two made threes in the game,  knocking one down from the top of the key with 1:59 left to tie the game, 56-56.

On Furman’s next possession, it would be the one of the few baskets not scored by Bothwell down the stretch for the Paladins that would again give the Paladins a three-point lead, as Hunter’s top of the key three gave Furman a 59-56 lead with 1:37 remaining, which came out of a 30-second timeout from the Paladins. 

Chattanooga would respond just as they had all night as Darius Banks drew a foul on the other end, as he went to the line for a 1-and-1 with 70 seconds remaining to cut Furman’s lead to one point, 59-58, after converting both of the bonus shots. Slawson took a hard spill on the play, suffering an apparent head injury and did not return to the contest.

Furman maintained its high level of basketball on the ensuing possession, as Bothwell found a cutting Garrett Hien once again for a layup to give the Paladins a 61-58 lead with 43 seconds left.

Cue the late-game heroics. The Mocs had a player used to making big shots already this season, in Caldwell, who has a couple of buzzer-beating efforts in his career already, including earlier this season against Mercer, canned a top of the key three with 24 seconds remaining to tie the game.

Furman and Bothwell would seemingly be able to hold the ball for the final shot, and as he had done for a majority of the final five minutes of regulation and overtime, it was once again Furman’s clutch performer, who would have the ball in his hands with the game on the line.

Bothwell drove the left side of the lane giving the Paladins a 63-61 lead with 4.3 seconds left, sending the Furman fans into delirium. For a brief few seconds, it seemed as if Furman would be heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1980, however, it wasn’t to be. 

David-Jean Baptiste took the inbounds and sprinted to mid-court releasing the ball from about 36-feet with the ball leaving his hands with approximately half-a-second remaining, as his high-arching three hit nothing but net, providing the Mocs some madness, while serving up a cold dish of March Sadness for the Paladins.

Furman took a 26-16 lead into the halftime locker room by holding the Mocs to just 28% shooting in the opening half. The two teams started the game slow in what were some tense early moments, with the two teams combining to miss their first nine shots. The Mocs

Chattanooga got out to the early advantage, taking a 7-4 lead following a Josh Ayeni advantage on a short baseline jumper with 14:30 remaining in the half.

From there, the Paladins would sore the next nine points of the game, using a pair of three-pointers from Slawson and a three-point play the old-fashioned way from Marcus Foster.

Bothwell helped the Paladins close the half with momentum, as his triple with 53 seconds remaining in the opening half helped the Paladins enter the locker room with the momentum and a double-digit lead, at 26-16.

The Mocs missed four of their first 17 shots from the field, and the Paladins stingy play on the defensive end led to seven first-half turnovers for the Mocs, which led directly to nine Paladin points.

The Paladins increased their lead to their largest of the night early in the second half, as a layup by Slawson helped the Paladins assume what was its largest lead of the night, at 28-16, with 19:22 remaining.

The Mocs responded with a 13-0 run to get back in the game and eventually take their first lead since it was 7-4 at a similar point in the opening half of play.

As a team, the Mocs shot the ball at a 41.9% (26-of-62) clip from the field, including a 24.0% (6-of-25) shooting effort from the field. The Mocs also finished shooting 75.0% (6-of-8) from the line.

Furman finished off its first title game appearance since 2015 by connecting on 44.2% (23-of-52) from the field, while going 28.1% (9-of-32) from three-point range. The Paladins finished with a 72.7% (8-of-11) shooting clip from the charity stripe.

The Mocs finished the contest holding advantages in points in the paint (38-28), second-chance points (16-0), total rebounds (38-30), fast-break points (6-3) and total assists (11-9).

Furman held advantages in points from turnovers (15-6) and bench points (12-10).

Furman senior forward Jalen Slawson

Three-ville

Furman entered Saturday’s matchup with Chattanooga leading the nation in three-pointers made (392).

With its nine triples in the title game, the Paladins have eclipsed the 400 made three-pointers mark for the season, with 401 made treys this season. The 401 triples are already a school record.

The Individual Particulars:

Bothwell was one of two Paladins finishing the night in double figures, as his 24 points came on 9-of-13 shooting from the field, which included a 3-for-5 effort from three and he was a perfect 3-for-3 from the line. Bothwell scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half, including posting 15 of Furman’s final 20 points in overtime in regulation

In addition to his game-high point total, Bothwell added added five rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block.

Alex Hunter was the only other Paladin in double figures with 12 points, which included a 4-of-11 effort from the field and 4-for-10 mark from long range. Hunter also added four rebounds and two assists to the Furman cause.

Chattanooga had three in double figures, led by a double-double from Silvio De Sousa, who posted a double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds, while David Jean-Baptiste added 13 points, and the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Malachi Smith added 12.

A different championship perspective for Paladin fans:

In truth, heartbreak is not a stranger to Chattanooga or any other basketball program in the Southern Conference for the most part. For a program that is as storied in tradition as Chattanooga, there are some heartbreaks that stick out in the minds of Mocs fans no matter how far removed.

On March 4, 2001, in Greenville, S.C., it was  UNCG’s David Schuck and a  buzzer-beating effort in the 2001 tournament, which sunk the Mocs, 67-66. 

Chattanooga suffered that same heartbreak some 15 years earlier in Asheville against Davidson on a buzzer-beater from Gerry Born. It would be somewhat ironic that less than a full decade later that Gerry Born’s brother-Brandon Born-would play a starring role for the Mocs in their 1994-95 SoCon title run.

It’s something rare, though, to see occur in a title game. Often there are close games, but few are ever decided at the buzzer. Chattanooga has been a part of at least two in SoCon history, as detailed in the links provided below. 

https://www.wfmynews2.com/article/news/local/the-hero-from-the-2001-uncg-team-tells-us-what-he-thinks-about-this-years-squad/83-526364149

Furman in Overtime this season:

In the title game Monday night, the Paladins played their fifth overtime game of the season, with the Paladins falling to 3-2 in overtime games.

Despite being just 3-2 in overtime games this season, the Paladins have shot an impressive 65.1% (28-of-43) in those games this season. Below are the games that have gone to overtime.

Interestingly enough, a similar theme has presented itself in each of those overtime games this season, which is the fact that Mike Bothwell has seemingly come alive in each of those games, averaging 21.4 PPG in games in which the Paladins have forced overtime this season.

Furman 80, Louisville 72 (OT)–Bothwell 30 pts

Belmont 95, Furman 89 (OT)–Bothwell 23 pts

Furman 74, High Point 70 (2OT)–Bothwell 11 pts, including two shots to force overtime and then a second overtime.

Furman 91, College of Charleston 88 (OT)--Bothwell 19 points, which included the banked in three-pointer to force OT in the waining seconds.

Chattanooga 64, Furman 63 (OT)–Bothwell scored 24 points, including 19 in the second half.

Chattanooga Quotes:

Chattanooga head coach Lamont Paris

Opening Statement:

“I got a lot of words normally, but wow, there’s not a lot to be said. Just unbelievable. I’m a very fortunate coach, and the good part about this is that everyone believes it now because we won a championship, but if we had not, I still am such a blessed coach to be able to coach this group. Incredible game, what a finish. We tried to do what we could do to make it exciting, shaved a couple years off my life, but what an unbelievable game. This group is so brilliant, so mature, so together, that you can go out there and throw up 16 points. I get there were people that were turning it off, and jumped off the bandwagon, I’m sure of it, and I don’t blame them. But they let me get on them hard at halftime, they allowed me to coach them, and they came out and played in the second half. We had an opportunity in regulation, made a couple of errors, they made a couple plays that hurt us, it was just a heck of a basketball game, and there’s not a better ending for it than that.”
 
On the respect the SoCon deserves:


“I know there’s not enough respect for this league. Great coaches, there’s no just going out and hooping, you can’t do that, you’re going to lose to teams that no one else knows is a good team. I was in the Big Ten for seven years. This is the most competitive in terms of guys-that-get-after-it-and-compete league that I’ve ever been around, or played against, or seen. You look at nonconference and Citadel goes to Pitt and wins by double figures, Samford goes to Ole Miss, someone goes to Louisville. It’s never shocking to me that those games happen. One day, people that are doing their research will call a second team out of this conference.”
 
On how surreal it was that David Jean-Baptiste, one of his first players at UTC, hit the game-winning shot:

“Just unbelievable. I always talk about this book that I’m gonna write when this is all said and done, and the longest chapter will be titled, ‘DJB III.’ Its surreal what has transpired, the good, the bad, the ugly, we’ve been all over the place as a team, and for it to come down to that, I literally am now committed to writing that book and telling that story.”
 
What the championship means to himself and the city of Chattanooga.


“It means a lot to me. Somewhere way down the list I’ll look at what it means for me and how it ranks in my personal career. This eclipses everything. The thing I get the most out of it, it makes me so excited and happy for two things: one, I’m with these guys every single day. Then, the growth that I’ve seen from our whole community and university, I get texts from people who’ve never gone to a game, our student section in our last home games have been phenomenal. When I dreamed about something after I got here, I saw what we had, and I was dreaming big. This is what I dreamed about. Not this, this net and trophy are byproducts, but getting the right kids, the right culture, getting the city into it, if you get all those things, nets can’t help but happen at some point. That’s what my vision was, and we got the right people on the boat in order to make it happen.”
 
On Furman’s effort


They have such a good team, and it’s beyond they are such a good team. They communicate well, how they interact together with the coaches, they had it together, and we didn’t have it together when I first got here. You look at them and say ‘we have to get to that point.’ Bob (Richey) does a tremendous job with his team, they compete like crazy, they know who they are, and all the credit in the world to them. I can’t say enough about them and how good they are, and how resilient they were to also put themselves back in position to win the game.”
 
Silvio De Sousa


On his second-half play and offensive rebounding.

When we got to the locker room to end the half, coach always says it, but we have to compete. I asked this question in my head, but, ‘Why compete when we can dominate?’ And I just came out and tried to get my teammates involved. I don’t think I’ve talked as much as I have on the defensive end to make sure everyone was engaged, involved, you know hands up. It was just in my head, ‘why compete when you can dominate?'”
 
On the wisdom he has from NCAA tournament experience.

“I think it was the very first practice, I remember telling the guys in the locker room, ‘You think playing ball in fun? Just make it to the NCAA tournament, you’ll have a lot more fun.’ I just hope they will get to enjoy it, and just have the fun I once told them about.”
 
Malachi Smith, So.-G

On David Jean-Baptiste’s game-winner

Believe it or not, Dave shoots those before practice. I was literally looking at him like, ‘Just shoot it, bro,’ and when it went in, I didn’t know if it was real or not. I just looked at him, and when he took his jersey off, I was like, ‘OK!’ He’s a great player, and he just did what he does.”
 
David Jean-Baptiste, Gr.-G


On his game-winner in OT

“It was surreal. I knew I had four seconds left, tried to put myself in the best position possible just to get the shot up, and it felt like it took forever for the ball to reach the basket, but once I saw it hit the net, I couldn’t feel no more after that. It was unbelievable.”

Furman postgame press conference audio

Furman postgame quotes:

Head coach Bob Richey

Opening statement

“Incredible game. Welcome to March Madness. Went blow for blow, and came down to the very last play, and unfortunately didn’t go our way. This is one of the hardest things I’ve been through, and the only thing I know how to do in life and the hard moments is give God the glory when it’s good, and give God the glory when it’s tough, and we gotta learn from it. I really believe as much as this hurts right now, this will propel us forward in some direction. We’ll be back and we’ll be back in this game, and we’re going to cut those nets down. We saw this weekend that we belong on this stage, and you gotta give Chattanooga the credit, they made one more play, and it was an instant classic. This hurts, but this will push us, this will motivate us. These guys to my left (Mike Bothwell and Alex Hunter) were warriors tonight, and it was a big-time basketball game. It’s a shame that this league doesn’t have the respect yet to get two teams in at this point, but that’s two NCAA tournament teams right there. Congrats to them, won a heck of a league tournament, we’ll learn from it, we’ll hurt, our guys care, our guys are passionate, they laid it on the line, we’ll be back.”

On Jalen Slawson’s injury late in OT

“We were trying to see if he could stay out there. I was trying to get some indication from the referees to see what was going on, but one of the officials thought he needed to come out for the safety of him, and I made the decision to put Marcus (Foster) in. He’s in the locker room now, and we’ll get more clarification later.”

On Garrett Hien’s play

“Twenty-seven minutes, eight points, he battled down low defensively. No complaints about our efforts, their pressure definitely bothered us some in the second half, but then we started to get back in rhythm a little bit. Garrett is going to be a phenomenal player, he’s basically a Covid freshman. He’s going to have another phenomenal offseason. He cares, he’s hurting, but he went out there and laid it on the line for Furman tonight.”

On whether the result of this game could convince the NCAA Committee that the SoCon is a two-bid league

“That’s part of a larger conversation. I see it. I don’t think people understand quite how good this league is. At some point, hopefully the Southern Conference will get two teams in. I think it’s worthy, and you saw that tonight. We’ll just see what the next days are like ahead. It’s hard to explain all that that just happened, but I’m telling you, its going to push this thing forward. It doesn’t make a lot of sense now, but we will look back on this moment, and it will turn into a positive. There was a lot of noise around this program, in terms of ‘we can’t do this,’ or, ‘we can’t do that,’ but this team showed we can get here. We’re going to keep pushing, we’re not stopping. This isn’t about maintaining this, it’s about how can we gain from this. Hopefully we can keep playing, hopefully the NIT at least, but we’re going to have another great offseason. This guy did make history (Alex Hunter), the all-time winningest player in school history, and the all-time 3-pointers made in school history. This other guy to my left (Mike Bothwell), I mean both of them, just unbelievable people. That’s what makes it hurt so bad. Even in a moment that’s as painful as this, I’m proud of them and we’re going to be OK.”

Senior guard Mike Bothwell

On the momentum and what he was feeling down the stretch

“Like coach Richey says, gotta give glory to God for that game. Biggest thing coach has probably ever told me, just keep believing and keep trusting this program. Things weren’t looking good late second half, and I kept trusting, just kept trying to believe in the team and my teammates. We lost that game in one second, and such is life, but I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates, how we responded, and we battled. It just shows the character on our team. I hate that we couldn’t get it done, but I’m proud of the way we battled.”

Fifth-year senior Alex Hunter

On the mood in the locker room and feelings postgame


Still in disbelief. Credit to them and (David Jean-)Baptiste, but it’s going to take a while to process. I don’t know what’s coming here in the future, but this might be my last game in this uniform. We worked so hard, give glory to God like coach said, but this program has come so far even before I was here, and I definitely wanted to be a part of that team that made history. I know the program is in good hands. Coach always says, ‘You want to leave a program better than you found it,’ and I feel confident in myself that I can say I did that. I bleed purple for life, and I really mean that. I have no regrets coming back for my fifth year at all. This was a magical journey, and that said, I’m a Paladin for life.”

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