Furman and Samford meet with No. 1 seed on the line

Furman (23-7, 14-3 SoCon) at Samford (21-9, 15-2 SoCon), 2 p.m. EST

Location: Homewood, AL/Pete Hanna Center (3,500)

Series: Furman leads 24-10

Last Meeting: Jan. 25, 2023/Furman 91, Samford 84 (OT)

Coaches: Furman-Bob Richey (134-53, 6th year)/Samford-Bucky McMillan (48-33/3rd year)

TV: CBS Sports Network

As fate would have it, Furman’s final game of the regular-season will offer an opportunity and one final chance for a chance at a piece of a Southern Conference regular-season title as a result of the work put in by the Paladins over the course of a 30-game basketball season to this point. Unlike any of the 30 games the Paladins have played to this point in the 2022-23 season, a win Saturday afternoon offers the Paladins a chance to win a piece of the regular-season Southern Conference title, as well as garner the top overall seed for the Southern Conference Tournament for the first time since 1991. That season saw the Paladins garner the No. 1 overall seed for the Southern Conference Tournament, despite tying atop the league with East Tennessee State and Chattanooga for the league title.

Saturday afternoon’s meeting at the Pete Hanna Center will mark the 35th all-time meeting between the Paladins and Bulldogs, with Furman holding the commanding 24-10 all-time series advantage. Furman has won seven of the past eight meetings between the two programs.

A win by the Paladins, despite if UNCG wins at East Tennessee State, will force a three-way tie atop the league standings, with the ultimate tiebreaker going to Furman as a result of its 91-84 overtime win over the Bulldogs earlier this season. A win would also see Furman’s two dynamic seniors—Mike Bothwell (17.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG) and Jalen Slawson (16.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.4 APG)—record their 112th win of their respective careers as Paladins, which would represent a school record for career wins, eclipsing the 111 wins by former teammate Alex Hunter (2017-22) done over a five-year span.

The Paladins were the preseason pick to win the Southern Conference regular-season crown by the media and coaches, while Samford was picked to finish third by the media and second by the league’s coaches. With its 75-70 win at Chattanooga on Wednesday night, Samford was able to gain at least a share of its first-ever Southern Conference title. The win was also Samford’s 21st of the season, as the Bulldogs improved to 21-9 overall and 15-2 in Southern Conference play this season. The 15 league wins matches a school-record, which dates back to the 1998-99 season for conference wins, dating back to Samford’s membership in the Trans America Athletic Conference.

Samford’s 20-win season marks just the fourth in school history, and the 21 victories this season matches last season’s final win total, and it’s also the first time the Bulldogs basketball program has ever had back-to-back seasons, in which it has posted 20 wins in back-to-back regular seasons. The Bulldogs finished 21-11 last season, and went to the tournament in Asheville last March as the No. 3 seed before a narrow 66-64 win over No. 6 seed UNC Greensboro in their quarterfinal matchup in the tournament to advance to the semifinals, as Samford would eventually lose to Furman, 71-68, in the SoCon Semifinal in Asheville.

The Bulldogs’ lone two losses in Southern Conference play this season have both come in the Upstate of South Carolina, losing to both Furman (L, 91-84 OT) and on the road at Wofford () a couple of days later. The loss to Furman would snap what had been an eight-game winning streak to open league play by the Bulldogs. Since the loss in Spartanburg to the Terriers, the Bulldogs have won seven-straight games to arrive at Saturday’s final regular-season contest against the Paladins.

The Bulldogs have posted a remarkable run of success against Southern Conference homecourt against Southern Conference competition, having posted 15-straight wins against league foes on their home floor this season. All told, dating back to last season, Samford has won 24 of its last 28 Southern Conference games after having won nine of its last 11 league games last season, and including the Southern Conference Tournament last season, the Bulldogs have won 25 of their 30 SoCon games. Two of those five losses have come to Furman.

A look back to 1991

Furman had the rare opportunity to win a Southern Conference regular-season outright, and all the Paladins had to do was win its regular-season finale on the road against Chattanooga to win the league crown outright. However, with Chattanooga’s 79-74 win in the Scenic City, meant that a three-way tie was forged atop the Southern Conference standings. The Mocs were led by a big night from Derek Kirce, who posted 31 points to help lead the Mocs to the memorable win. Despite the loss and the shared Southern Conference title, the Paladins were the No.1 overall seed heading into the Southern Conference Tournament, but were down a couple of players when they took on Appalachian State in the SoCon semifinals. The Paladins were without star guard Hal Henderson due to an injury for the game with the Mountaineers in the Southern Conference Tournament, and despite winning the regular-season and receiving the bid to the NIT, the Paladins’ stay in Asheville would be short-lived, as the Mountaineers handed the Paladins a 100-82 setback in the SoCon semifinals to advance to the SoCon title game.

Samford’s Forgotten Hoops History

Samford hasn’t enjoyed the Southern Conference success it might have hoped for, however, the program has had its moments of success in the past. The Bulldogs joined the Division I basketball ranks in the 1971-72, but it took a while to experience the kind of success you’d expect for a program to make headway nestled in what is a football-crazed state like Alabama.

It would take a good 27 years as a matter of fact for the Samford basketball program to make a breakthrough and make the NCAA Tournament as a Division I member. During the 1998-99 campaign, and under the direction of then head coach Jimmy Tillette, the Samford Bulldogs would win the Trans-America Athletic Conference (TAAC) to gain access into its first NCAA Tournament.

The Bulldogs had put together quite the campaign under the then second-year coach Tillette, as the Bulldogs dominated the TAAC championship game, with an, 89-61, win over Central Florida in the championship game to garner its debutante appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

In Tillette’s first season as the head coach of the Bulldogs, he was able to turn what was a 14-13 record into a school-record 24-6 and a TAAC Tournament Championship a year later, which was also, in turn, Samford’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

The 24 wins during the 1998-99 season were a school-record for the school as a Division I member, and one of the school’s all-time record for wins, which occurred in 1938-39, which saw Samford finish the season with a

The Bulldogs were picked to finish third at the TAAC’s media day in October behind normal challengers Central Florida and Georgia State. The 1997-98 Bulldogs had only one senior on the squad, and were primed for a championship run, despite lacking the overall athleticism the two teams picked ahead of them had.

 Samford would finish non-conference play with a 6-4 overall record, as the Bulldogs knocked off both Tulane and Northeast Louisiana in the non-conference, while suffering losses to Chattanooga and UTEP in what were close basketball games.

In conference play, the Bulldogs were no less than dominant throughout conference playing during that particular regular-season. Samford got league play off to a strong start with wins over Troy and Mercer, and before you knew it, the Bulldogs were off to a 4-0 start to league play. An 82-57 win over the Jacksonville Dolphins had improved Samford’s mark to 5-0 in TAAC play.

A three-game road trip to Centenary, Georgia State and Campbell didn’t slow the Bulldogs at all, as they won all three games soundly, and then returned home to take on another one of the league favorites, but an injury-plagued Central Florida, defeating the Golden Knights, 70-58, and then beat Florida Atlantic in overtime, 80-73, and suddenly the Bulldogs had started league play 10-0 and were 16-4 overall.

Samford started TAAC play 13-0 before eventually suffering its first league loss, which was a 57-54 setback to Georgia State on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by the Panthers. Samford would then clinch the regular-season with a 56-49 over Campbell and closed out the season with another 69-61 win over Centenary to head into the 1999 TAAC Tournament as the No.1 overall seed.

The Bulldogs had only advanced past the opening round of the TAAC Tournament on three occasions in a decade and hadn’t reached the championship game since the 1983-84 season. But the 1999 tournament would be much different for the Bulldogs, who got past the opening round of the tournament with relative ease, knocking off Campbell, 67-51, in the opening game of the tournament. Then came a battle with Centenary in the next round. It would be a hard-fought, 62-54, win over Centenary in the next round.

Samford would then meet Central Florida in the championship game, and the game was never in doubt, as the Bulldogs won in convincing fashion, with a 28-point win in the championship game, fashioning an 89-61 win. The big win by the Bulldogs helped eclipse what was a 24-point, 94-70, win over Samford a year earlier in the TAAC championship game.

The 1999 tournament would be much different, however, as Tillette’s Princeton-style offense worked in symphonic fashion, leading the Bulldogs to their first NCAA Tournament as a Division I program. After witnessing a 70-percent shooting performance from the field from the Golden Knights just a year earlier, this time it was the Princeton-style offense that set up easy buckets for the Bulldogs a year later, as Samford was able to knock down 63-percent of its shots en route to its first appearance in the Big Dance.

Samford was led in the championship game by Tournament MVP Marc Salyers, who finished with 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field, and 5-of-6 shooting from the charity stripe. Salyers’ teammates Reed Rawlings, Will Daniel, and talented freshman Chris Weaver all ended up garnering All-TAAC Tournament honors. Samford moved on to the NCAA Tournament the following week as the No. 14 seed, where it would face No. 3 seed St. John’s in the South region in Orlando, FL.

The Bulldogs would see an abrupt ending to an outstanding season, as Samford was soundly beaten by the Red Storm, 69-43, to bring a somewhat disappointing end to the season. The Bulldogs finished the season ranked sixth nationally in three-pointers made per game, as well as finishing sixth nationally in field goal percentage.

Samford would repeat the feat as TAAC champions a year later, amassing the third-highest wins in school history, as the Bulldogs won 21 games. A group of 10 letterwinners and a solid group of five starters back, the Bulldogs were already solid favorites to get back to the NCAA Tournament heading into the 1999-2000 season.

Among those five starters returning to the fold were two all-conference selections, with the return of both Reed Rawlings and Will Daniel. This time around, Samford was the favorite by most to win the TAAC. The Bulldogs started the season with a rematch against the same St. John’s team that had knocked them out of the NCAA Tournament the previous spring. The Bulldogs would upset the Red Storm in the season opener, getting a 68-60 win in the CoSIDA Classic in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In the win over the Red Storm, Will Daniel led the Bulldogs with 17 points, while Marc Salyers finished with 16 points and Reed Rawlings added 14 in the win over St. John’s. The Bulldogs used stout defense and an 11-for-21 shooting performance from the field, and the stout Samford defense held the 15th-ranked Red Storm to poor shooting in the second half to pull off the upset.

Then Samford would face in-state rival Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and Samford’s excellent three-point shooters would catch fire inside Coleman Coliseum, as the Bulldogs knocked off the Crimson Tide, 79-67, in a big road win. Rawlings was the star of the night for the Bulldogs, posting 26 points for Samford. Rawlings knocked down four of Samford’s 14 three-pointers in the contest to help the Bulldogs secure the win. All told, the Bulldogs went 14-of-27 from three-point range.

In early February and in the meat of TAAC play, Samford took a 58-57 win over Georgia State before blasting Stetson, 92-57, and also blew out Jacksonville (79-58) and Florida Atlantic (75-56) before dropping their second overtime game of the season, with a 71-68 loss at Central Florida.

The Bulldogs would go on a little run after that, however, as they would win the next five games in a row on the schedule, which included three-straight in the tournament over Campbell (80-61), Georgia State (83-80), and Central Florida (78-69) to capture its second TAAC title.

The Bulldogs would end up back in the NCAA Tournament and a second battle with a team from the state of New York, as Samford faced Syracuse this time in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.  The Bulldogs would enter the tournament as the No. 13 seed, while Syracuse was the No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament.  Samford would end up putting up more of a battle in its second time in the NCAA Tournament against the Orangemen, losing 79-65.

At a school known more for its football lineage and outstanding baseball program, Samford fans will certainly never forget those first three seasons under then head coach Jimmy Tillette, who made Pete Karrill’s offense a ticket worth the price of admission in Birmingham.

Over his first three years at the helm, Tillette helped the Bulldogs to a 59-30 overall record and back-to-back TAAC Tournament championships, and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances. More importantly, it provided memories for Bulldog fans and alumni in a sport they weren’t accustomed to making.

Scouting the Bulldogs:

Much like Furman, Samford has been an offensive juggernaut in the SoCon this season, and come into the contest ranking second in most offensive categories, including scoring offense (78.6 PPG), while ranking fourth in field goal percentage offense (45.4%), third in three-point field goal percentage (35.3%), third in rebounding margin (+2.9) and fourth in three-point field goals made (272/9.1 PG).

The Bulldogs will be celebrating Senior Day Saturday, looking to polish off an outright Southern Conference crown in the process. Logan Dye (13.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG) and Bubba Parham (9.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG) will be honored for Senior Day in a short ceremony prior to tip-off Saturday at the Pete Hanna Center.

Dye is one of pillars by which the Bulldogs’ turnaround story has been built around this season, and he has arguably been Samford’s best player since the start of Southern Conference play back in late December. He has battled an injury as of late and saw only 12 minutes of game action in the win at Chattanooga, scoring five points.

Parham is the reigning Southern Conference men’s basketball Player of the Week averaging 20.0 PPG last week after leading the Bulldogs to wins over both UNCG and VMI, as he was the team’s leading scorer in both of those wins. Parham has connected on a team-best 56 three-pointers this season, and is shooting an impressive 38.6% (56-of-145) from three-point land this season.

Parham, a transfer from Georgia Tech and once a standout at VMI, will team in the Bulldogs backcourt with Ques Glover (14.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG), who was a preseason All-SoCon selection. Glover spent most of the early portion of the season on the shelf with an injury, and in the first meeting with the Paladins this season, was playing just his second game in the lineup since late November. Glover is lightning quick, and presents one of the more challenging defensive assignments off the bounce in the league. .

The Bulldogs also have a pair of talented scoring threats coming off the bench that could present issues defensively for the Paladins, as both A.J. Staton-McCray (8.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG) and Jaden Campbell (7.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG) are both outstanding outside shooters. Staton-McCray has been an x-factor for this team, and should the Bulldogs cut down the nets in Asheville next week, you can be sure that Staton-McCray will have played a major role in the overall winning equation. Jaron Rillie did an excellent job in Glover’s absence to injury in helping provide stability and leadership as the starting point guard. That experience has been invaluable for Bucky McMillan’s Bulldogs this season, and there’s not much of an overall drop-off when he enters the game to spell Glover.

Set to team with Dye in the paint for the Bulldogs is a player that in many ways is the team’s motor. When Jermaine Marshall’s (12.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG) energy is good, things are usually going well for the Bulldogs. However, when his energy and focus aren’t where they need to be for Samford, it’s usually not going well for Samford. He’s very much to Samford what Jalen Slawson is to Furman in that respect. Marshall’s work on the defensive end is also something that often times doesn’t get mentioned enough.

Both Nathan Johnson (5.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG) and Achor Achor (6.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG) have been excellent role players off the bench for the Bulldogs this season.

Furman Notes:

–Furman leading scorer Mike Bothwell (17.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.2 APG) has been held below double digits scoring in three-straight game for the first time since the 2019-20 campaign, when he was held below double figures in games against Winthrop (4 pts), Mercer (8 pts), VMI (0 pts) and East Tennessee State (6 pts). After that string of single-digit performances, Bothwell went for 27 in a key win at Chattanooga on Jan. 8, 2020. It was one of the signature performances of his career. Over the past three games, Bothwell has been held single-digit scoring efforts in games against The Citadel (6 pts), East Tennessee State (9 pts) and Mercer (9 pts).

–Jalen Slawson (16.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG) has a string of 16-straight double-figure scoring games and is coming off a season-high 27-point effort in Furman’s home win vs. Mercer last time out.

Published by soconjohn

I am a lover of all things SoCon, and I have had a passion to write about, follow and tell the world about this great conference for pretty much my entire life. While I do love the SoCon, and live in the SoCon city, which is home to the Furman Paladins, have a passion for sports in general, with college football and college hoops topping the list.

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