The Day and Date: Jan. 25, 2023
The Game: Samford (14-7, 8-0 SoCon) at Furman (15-6, 6-2 SoCon)
The Venue and Location: Timmons Arena (2,500)/Greenville, S.C.)
Coaches: Samford–Bucky McMillan (41-31, 3rd season)/Furman–Bob Richey (126-53/6th season)
Series: 34th meeting/Furman leads 23-10 (Last meeting: Furman 71, Samford 68/SoCon semifinals in Asheville, N.C.)
Brief Preview: A lot will be determined as Furman and Samford play their final game in the first round of round robin games in league play. Furman, which was the consensus pick to claim the 2022-23 SoCon basketball crown, takes the floor against a Samford team, which is the team that currently leads the league, perched atop the standings with a perfect 8-0 conference record, which includes a 4-0 mark in road league games. Below is a look back at that classic meeting between the two last March in Asheville, which determined who Chattanooga’s opponent would be in the 2022 Southern Conference Tournament title game.
Furman 71, Samford 68 (SoCon Semifinal No. 2 2022)
Sunday March 6, 2022—The penultimate hurdle for No. 2 seed Furman would prove to be a tough one, as the Paladins faced No. 3 seed Samford it had lost to in Alabama the previous week, and one that had just survived a feisty UNC Greensboro club, nearly surrendering a 22-point halftime lead before eventually holding on for a too-close-for-comfort 66-64. Realistically, the Bulldogs, who exhausted themselves the previous night in the win over the Spartans, should have been the more fatigued of the two teams. But things seemingly never play out the way they should in a tournament setting, and its been said before many times that the semifinal stage in any tournament in any sport is often the hardest game. That may or may not be true, however, the penultimate challenge to get to Monday night’s championship game for Furman proved to be a worthy one, as a pair of teams with 21 wins battled it out to see who would meet top-seeded Chattanooga in Monday night’s championship contest. Samford would open the game as the fresher of the two teams in the second semifinal, and it would be Bucky McMillan’s Bulldogs that would take the game to the Paladins, building as much as a 15-point lead in the opening half of play before Furman would eventually gain its bearings. Jalen Slawson, who would go on to finish with 17 points, helped set the tone in terms of shooting and on the defensive end of the floor, as Slawson scored 17 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field and was also a crucial 7-for-9 from the charity stripe, as he was one of three players in double figures, with his 17 points tying Mike Bothwell for team-high scoring honors. The Bulldogs jumped out to an early 9-3 lead, with sharp-shooting, and it was Ques Glover’s three-pointer that helped the Bulldogs to the early six-point edge. Glover led all scorers with 23 points. Samford seized that momentum almost shockingly to the onlookers at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center, and it would be Slawson that would answer Glover’s triple with a long trey from the top of the key, and then had a word or two with Bulldogs’ talented sophomore Jermaine Marshall, which yielded a technical foul both ways. Samford would eventually build its lead to 28-13 with 6:01 left following a Jaden Campbell triple, and it appeared the Paladins were in real trouble. Furman would get a three from Conley Garrison and then two foul shots from Garrison got the Paladins quickly back within 10. A steal and a monster dunk from Tyrese Hughey would be the momentum play that literally changed the complexion of the proceedings the rest of the way for Furman. Hughey’s dunk had gotten the Paladins back to within eight, and Furman would end up maintaining that distance at the half, as Samford held a 35-27 at the break. In the second half, Furman would begin to find its rhythm after the halftime break, and inside the final 11:30, the game would see seven lead changes. After the Bulldogs built a 50-43 lead following a Marshall triple with 11:51 left, Furman would reel off the next eight points to take a 51-50 lead with 9:20 remaining following a Slawson layup. Marshall answered with a triple to put Samford back in front, 53-51, with 9:09 remaining. The teams would trade blow for blow over the next eight minutes until Slawson’s layup gave the Paladins a 66-64 lead with 1:24 left. After Glover connected on 1-of-2 foul shots on the other end, cutting Furman’s lead to a single point (66-65) with half-a-minute remaining. The two teams would combine for nine down the stretch, with Slawson making four-straight to help Furman hold off Samford, 71-68. The win meant the Paladins would be making their 11th appearance in a Southern Conference Tournament title game, as the Paladins would face Chattanooga in Monday night’s 7 p.m. contest set for ESPN at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center. Samford would finish off its 2021-22 season with a 21-11 overall record. Aside from Glover’s game-high 23-point effort, Marshall added 22 and Jaden Campbell added 14 points. Slawson would be joined by Bothwell with 17 points, while Garrison added 10 and Alex Hunter finished with nine. The victory saw the Paladins improve their overall record to 22-11 heading into Monday night’s title clash against Chattanooga.
2022-23 Bulldogs have a lot of bite
Following last season’s semifinal defeat to Furman, Samford head coach Bucky McMillan made sure to drive home the point to the media that Samford was here to stay as a league title contender. For now at least, that seems to be all bark and all bite, as the Bulldogs have left eight foes in their wake to start SoCon play.
And for the second-straight game, they will have the services of talented point guard Ques Glover, who missed almost two months with a foot injury. The Bulldogs had to learn how to play without the dynamic Glover, and even weathered a seven-game losing streak, which was followed by a seven-game winning streak before he took the floor for his first action since Nov. 30 in a loss at Depaul last time out against Western Carolina.
He was part of what was another solid 74-65 win over Western Carolina–one of the two SoCon teams to defeat Furman–and Glover did his part in helping lead the Bulldogs to the home win, as he posted 20 points on a 6-for-10 shooting performance from the field.
Like Furman, however, the Bulldogs are more than just Glover in terms of the offensive threats they present opposition.
Glover is one of four Bulldogs that were on the preseason All-SoCon team, as the talented guard was joined by junior forward Jermaine Marshall (11.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG), senior forward Logan Dye (13.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG) and graduate senior guard Bubba Parham (9.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG) on the preseason 10-man all-league team.
Glover and Marshall are to Samford what Furman’s Mike Bothwell (19.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG) and Jalen Slawson (15.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG) are to the Paladins. But like Furman, it’s about the ancillary parts for the Bulldogs, or the supporting cast, that makes Bucky McMillan’s bunch such a dangerous, well-rounded basketball team.
Players like A.J. Staton-McCray (6.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG), Jaden Campbell (9.1 PPG, 1.8 RPG), Achor Achor (6.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG), Nathan Johnson (5.5 PPG, 2.7 RPG) and Jaron Rillie (5.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG) all know their respective roles, and have learned to play them well.
An offensive showcase…
Statistics through eight conference games suggest Wednesday night’s battle should be a high-scoring, up-and-down basketball game.
Since the start of Southern Conference play, Furman and Samford represent the league’s two top offensive teams. Furman ranks first in the SoCon in scoring offense (82.1 PPG), while the Bulldogs are right behind in second (76.4 PPG). For the third time in eight conference games, the Paladins posted 90 points in a league game through their first eight, posting 96 in Sunday’s 14-point win at Wofford. The Paladins have been getting big-time production from point guard J.P. Pegues (9.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG), who posted a career-high 24 points in the win over the Terriers last time out.
Pegues will have his hands full trying to slow Glover, however, on the other end, Pegues figures to put plenty of stress on Glover to stop him.
The two teams also rank as the top two shooting teams in the SoCon, with Furman leading the league and ranking 12th nationally in field goal percentage (49.3%). In league games, the Paladins are shooting a slight bit lower, at 48.1%, while Samford is right on Furman’s heels at 47.1%.
Shooting the three isn’t a problem for either, as Samford is leading the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage (39.4%), while Furman is right behind in second in that same category, connecting on 37.7% of its shots from long range.
The two teams have played pretty well defensively since the start of league play, with Furman ranking third in field goal percentage defense (42.5%), while Samford is fourth (43.0%). Samford ranks second in scoring defense (66.8 PPG), while Furman enters ranking sixth in the league in scoring defense (71.8 PPG)
Furman ranks third in three-point field goal percentage (31.8%) defense, while Samford is seventh in three-point field goal percentage defense (35.3%).