2023 Southern Conference Tournament Recap, Notes, and Superlatives
The 2023 Southern Conference Tournament was the 103rd edition of college basketball’s oldest postseason tournament, and while the league was down overall this season, it was a SoCon Tournament that once again delivered some thrilling moments and when it was all said and done, produced a rematch in the Southern Conference Tournament championship game.
When the tournament concluded, only one team could lay claim to the 2023 Southern Conference NCAA Tournament berth, and for the eighth time in nine seasons, including the fifth season in a row, it was the No. 1 seed that ended up cutting down the nets in Asheville at the end of the tournament, as Furman knocked off the No. 7 seed Chattanooga Mocs, 88-79, in the championship game to go dancing for the first time since 1980.
The 2022-23 season marked the sixth campaign in the last seven in which at least three teams from the league produced three or more 20-game winners, with Furman (27-7), Samford (21-), and UNC Greensboro (20-12) all able to win 20 games during the regular-season. Samford headed to Asheville as the No. 2 seed and tied for the regular-season Southern Conference title with Furman, posting a 15-3 overall league mark. UNCG claimed the No. 3 seed in the second season under head coach Mike Jones. However, both the Spartans and Bulldogs would be upset in a couple of thrilling quarterfinal games Saturday night in what was arguably the most thrilling two games of the tournament.
The Bulldogs would have a compelling case for an NIT invite, but probably cost themselves the opportunity with an underwhelming performance to close the season, with losses to Furman (L, 79-93) and Chattanooga (L, 82-85) in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference Tournament.
If you were looking for dark horses or a Cinderella story in the 2023 Southern Conference Tournament, you could look at No. 4 seed Western Carolina and No. 7 Chattanooga. The Catamounts put the biggest scare into the Paladins in the semifinal round, nearly taking down the ‘Dins, however, Furman found a way to force overtime late in the contest, overcoming a three-point deficit to tie the basketball game, 77-77, sending the game to the extra session where the Paladins would eventually hold on for the 83-80 win.
The Mocs had Jake Stephens back, and he would put on a show all weekend, leading the Mocs all the way back to the championship game, despite the Mocs having to open the tournament on Friday. He carried the Mocs to wins over VMI (W, 92-72), No. 2 Samford (W, 85-82), and Wofford (W, 74-62). The Mocs put up a valiant effort in the championship game against top-seeded Furman, however, and eventually ran out of a gas in what was an 88-79 championship game.
Chattanooga was looking to become the first team since Clemson in 1939 to win four games in four days and go on to win the Southern Conference Tournament championship. The Mocs were the fourth team that was a seventh seed or lower to reach the SoCon title game since 2015, joining Furman (No. 10/2015), Wofford (No. 7/2020) and Mercer (No. 7/2021) as lower-seeded teams that had to win an opening round game before making a run all the way to Monday night.
With the Mocs’ loss in the championship game, UTC dropped to 63-34 all-time in the Southern Conference Tournament. It was the Mocs’ 20th all-time appearance in the tournament, dropping 12-8 all-time in championship games. It was also UTC’s fourth-straight winning season.
Furman will wait to see who it will face in the NCAA Tournament, hosting an NCAA Selection Show party at Timmons Arena at 5 p.m. The Paladins’ win over Chattanooga gave the Paladins the season sweep of the Mocs, marking the fifth-straight time that has happened.
Quote of the Tournament: “We keep a few receipts around here”—Furman’s Bob Richey on JP Pegues not being selected to All-Freshman Team or any of the three all-conference teams this season yet winning tournament Most Outstanding Performer
Best Player: JP Pegues (Furman)
Best Dunk: Demetrius Davis (Chattanooga) vs. VMI to open the game
Best Game: UNCG-Wofford/Furman-Western Carolina
Best Blocked Shot: Jalen Slawson’s block of James Glisson III’s dunk attempt in the second half of Furman’s win over Mercer.
Best Clutch Performance: BJ Mack (Wofford) vs. UNCG
Best Tournament Fans: Furman
Best Moment: Mike Bothwell (Furman) heading near mid-court to the exact spot he was last March when Jean-Baptiste hit the buzzer-beater for UTC, paused and hit his chest a couple of times, as the Paladins claimed the title almost a year to the day later.
Best Hairstyle: Keondre Kennedy (UNCG)
Best Team: Furman
Best In-Game Coaching Move: Bob Richey—Switching to a full-court press against Mercer after trailing 32-29 at the half
Best Player not on the championship team: Jake Stephens (Chattanooga)
Best Shooting Performance: Chattanooga went 15-of-28 from three-point range in the 85-82 win over No. 2 Samford
Worst Shooting Performance: Wofford went just 7-for-44 (15.9%) in two Southern Conference Tournament games from beyond the arc.
Most Embarrassing Moment: Logan Dye (Samford) to open the game against Chattanooga, stealing the basketball and then appeared to slip as he went in for an uncontested dunk/layup.
Best Career Milestone: Sean Conway (VMI) scored his 1,000th point as a VMI Keydet in the 92-72 loss to Chattanooga to open the tournament.
Best Sportsmanship Moment: Jake Stephens (Furman) going over to make sure Mike Bothwell was ok following a flagrant foul committed by Stephens’ teammate Demetrius Davis, as Bothwell drove to the basket.
Thank You Jake, Mike and Jalen: There were some great stories in this season’s Southern Conference Tournament, and in the championship game between Furman and Chattanooga, one of the many storylines that could have been written prior to the two taking on each other for the right to go to the NCAA Tournament, but one of the stories was Jake Stephens’ return to the lineup after missing the final month-and-a-half of the season due to a broken thumb. That was opposite the stories of Furman’s Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson, who had to endure the heartbreak of last March and losing on a 36-foot buzzer-beater by David Jean-Baptiste, as Chattanooga claimed a 64-63 win over the Paladins. With the option to turn pro or transfer to any program in college basketball and a chance to leverage NIL deals and make money, Slawson and Bothwell decided to Furman for nothing more than a chance to play on Monday night in Asheville again and become legendary in the lore of the Furman basketball annals. Stephens, like Bothwell and Slawson, was doing the same by following his coach, Dan Earl, when he left VMI to take the job opening at Chattanooga following Lamont Paris’ departure to become South Carolina’s new head basketball coach. Stephens could have also transferred anywhere, however, chose to follow his coach to the Scenic City for one last chance at a title in the SoCon. Unfortunately, an injury against Furman in the regular-season put those hopes on a temporary hold before he returned for the tournament. He led the Mocs all the way to the title in what was a valiant effort. While that Stephens’ story came to an end, he has success and a lot of money waiting for him in pro hoops in the future. No bad for a guy that literally had no real Division I offers out of high school other than VMI coming out of high school. Stephens reminded me at media day that I wrote an article prior to his freshman season talking about impactful recruits in the SoCon for mid-major madness and didn’t include him, but he said that in my defense, he wasn’t really a known prospect either and laughed. I will miss seeing Stephens play basketball in the SoCon, but I appreciate having been able to cover him over the past five seasons. While Stephens’ collegiate career came to an end on the first Monday in March in Asheville, both Bothwell and Slawson extended their careers into the NCAA Tournament. The pressure is off now for those two. Furman will be a dangerous team in March Madness. Stephens finished out his UTC career by scoring 92 points in four tournament games, which is the most by any Mocs player ever in a SoCon Tournament.
Showing up in the NCAA Tournament like…Furman is showing up in the Big Dance is much like Johnny Lawrence in the beginning of the Netflix hit series Cobra Kai, as the world has changed plenty since the Paladins last danced in March of 1980. Bob Richey has Furman’s Firebird revving and ready to go for the tournament, with Oreo Speedwagon and some Peter Cetera in the cassette deck. The Paladins look to do some damage in the NCAA Tournament, as the Paladins try to get the SoCon a win in the NCAA postseason for the first time since Wofford knocked off Seton Hall in 2019 and just the second since Davidson made that impressive run to the Elite Eight in 2008.
Who Wins the 2024 Southern Conference Tournament? Western Carolina– You read that right, and of course, that’s assuming the Catamounts can keep their current collection of talent together and Justin Gray can keep his talented performers in Cullowhee. The core group of talented players return for Gray’s Catamounts, which includes four of its top performers, in guards Tre Jackson, Vonterius Woolbright, and Russell Jones Jr., as well as all-conference big man Tyzhaun Claude. Watch out for the Catamounts in Asheville in 2024. Samford and Furman figure to be the most likely to battle the Catamounts on the final Monday night of the SoCon season in early March of 2024.
Oliver out at East Tennessee State: In some late breaking news Friday, it was learned that Desmond Oliver has been relieved of his duties as the head coach at East Tennessee State after just two seasons at the helm. The Bucs were 27-39 overall and 15-21 in Southern Conference play during Oliver’s two seasons at the helm. The Bucs also had a Freedom Hall record eight-game losing streak that occurred this season under Oliver’s direction, and finished with just a 15-15 record the past two seasons after the Bucs had boasted one of the top home venues in all of mid-major basketball when Steve Forbes left for Wake Forest three years ago. All told since Forbes took the Wake Forest job, the Bucs have posted a combined 40-51 record over the past three seasons under Oliver (2021-23) and Jason Shay (2020-21). Prior to the struggles over the past three seasons, former ETSU legendary head coach Steve Forbes went 130-43 and led the Bucs to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances in 2017 and ’20 in his five seasons at the helm in Johnson City. ETSU will be under the direction of Joe Hugley during the transitional stages, and a national search for Oliver’s replacement will get underway immediately.
SoCon Power Poll heading into 2023-24
- Western Carolina–The Catamounts will have a backcourt as good as any in mid-major hoops, led by all-conference snub Vonterius Woolbright.
- Samford–Should the Bulldogs be able to keep their core group together for next season, four starters would return, including Jermaine Marshall and guard Ques Glover
- Furman–The Paladins might lose Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson to graduation, but should head coach Bob Richey not go anywhere, or if he does but the Paladins manage to keep Marcus Foster and JP Pegues around, the defending champs will still have something to say about how the league race shakes out in 2023-24.
- Chattanooga–No Jake Stephens or AJ Caldwell, however, nead coach Dan Earl has a solid nucleus of talent that should enable the Mocs to be right in the thick of the SoCon title race yet again next season. Most of that excitement will be centered around the addition of Honor Huff in the backcourt.
- Mercer–I expect Greg Gary’s Mercer Bears to make a Western Carolina-like jump from this season to next. Jalyn McCreary will be one of the top bigs in the league, and Jah Quinones looks to have a bright future as a tough, hard-nosed guard in the Bears backcourt
- UNCG–Mike Jones has six seniors, but three have a COVID year of eligibility remaining should they opt to return next season.
- Wofford–Probably the most difficult team to figure is Wofford, however, if Dwight Perry gets the job, he’ll have to immediately find replacements for BJ Mack and Messiah Jones.
- East Tennessee State–We know Mike Morrell had a tough situation when he took over at Asheville as the head coach, turning 27 losses in 2018-19 into 27 wins in 2022-23. Now I predict Doc Sander will ask him to do the same ETSU, as the two have known each other since their time spent together at VCU during Morrell’s time there under Shaka Smart as a young assistant.
- VMI–Look for Andrew Wilson and the Keydets take some small steps forward next season thanks to a tremendous backcourt slated to return.
- The Citadel–Ed Conroy’s job actually looks more challenging going forward than Andrew Wilson, but that’s just a guess. Both should again finish towards the bottom of the league.
Tournament Game Recaps:
Opening Round (Mar. 3, 2023/Harrah’s Cherokee Center/Asheville, N.C.)
Game 1: Mercer 66, The Citadel 41
Brief Recap: —With No. 9 The Citadel down two starters due to injury, including second-leading scorer and the league’s second-leading three-point shooter, in Austin Ash, the No. 9 seed in the 2023 Southern Conference Tournament was always going to be playing at a disadvantage, however, No. 8 Mercer took full advantage of those two starters that were missing just as they did in the regular-season finale just six days ago and even eclipsed the margin in the opening round of the 2023 SoCon Tournament by three points, as the Bears ended the Bulldogs’ tournament run on the opening night with a 66-41 win inside the Harrah’s Cherokee Center to open the 103rd edition of college basketball’s oldest tournament.
The Bears ran out to a 16-1 lead in the opening nine minutes of the contest and never looked back, as The Citadel was never able to get to within single digits the rest of the night as Mercer coasted to its 14th win over the season, improving to 14-18 on the season. The Citadel conclude the season with a 10-22 mark.
The Bears have advanced from the play-in round of the tournament each of the past three seasons, including a run to the 2020 championship game in 2020 before eventually running out of gas in championship game against top-seeded UNC Greensboro, dropping what was a 69-61 contest. The Bears were balanced on offense and tenacious on the defensive end of the floor, and when The Citadel attempted a three without main marksmen Austin Ash, the Bears smothered all would-be Bulldog sharp-shooters, limiting The Citadel to just 1-for-16 from long range for the game.
Mercer’s dominance was personified by its 32-2 edge in bench scoring in the contest, finishing with two in double figures, as Jayln McCreary led the way for Mercer with 11 points and and four rebounds.
Game 2: No. 7 Chattanooga 92, No. 10 VMI 72
Brief Recap: The second game of the opening night of the 2023 Southern Conference Tournament would be another blowout, as Chattanooga was able to cruise past the No.10 seed VMI Keydets, 92-72, en route to moving on to the quarterfinals of the tournament to face No. 2 seed Samford.
The win would see the Mocs improve to 16-16 on the 2023 season, while VMI would conclude its first season under rookie head coach Andrew Wilson with a 7-25 mark.
The biggest storyline to come out of the second game of the tournament was the return of Jake Stephens for the Mocs, as he had no suited up for the Navy Blue and Gold since Jan. 18 in a loss to Furman. In that game, he broke his thumb on his non-shooting hand, and at the time, it was up in the air as to whether he would be able to return to the lineup for the Mocs.
Much like the opening game of the 2023 Southern Conference Tournament, the Mocs jumped on the Keydets from the opening tip-off, running out to a 23-4 lead and never looked back, as the Mocs pretty much put it on cruise control for the remainder of the night.
Chattanooga scored on its first four possessions of the night and led for all but 12 seconds of the contest when the game was tied, 0-0. The Mocs had two players finish with 20 or more points, as Khristion Courseault and Jake Stephens added 21 points apiece to lead the way for UTC. Stephens added 10 rebounds to notch his league-leading 15th double-double of the season, despite having to miss 11 games with a broken thumb. Sam Alexis and Demetrius Davis also added 10 points apiece.
Courseault set a UTC tournament record by making all nine of his shots from the field, including all three attempts from beyond the arch. AJ Caldwell led a strong effort for Chattanooga on the backboards, as he collected 11 caroms in the contest to lead the Mocs to a +12 rebound margin (43-31) over the Keydets.
In the opening 3:53 of the game, the Mocs scored 15 of the game’s first 17 points, which was capped by a Sam Alexis three with 16:07 remaining in the opening half, and the Mocs headed to the first media timeout with a 15-2 lead. The Mocs would push the lead to as much as 20 in the late stages of the opening half before settling for a 19-point, 43-24, halftime lead.
The Mocs blitzed the Keydets in the paint, out-scoring VMI 54-28, while the Mocs’ bench posted an even more substantial margin, out-scoring the Keydets 45-7 in that particular category.
Despite being outmanned and ravaged by injuries, the Keydets battled all night and one of the few bright spots of the evening was Sean Conway, who himself had been battling an ankle injury most of the season, and was nowhere near 100% for VMI in the opening round contest against the Mocs. With a converted free throw early in the opening half, Conway netted his 1,000th-career point, becoming the 45th Keydet to accomplish the impressive milestone.
The effort by the Keydets and no quit attitude was personified in the second half, as VMI hung with Chattanooga, getting outscored by a just a point (49-48). The Keydets could get no closer than 16 points in the second half.
VMI was led in the game by Tony Felder’s 19 points, while Asher Woods and Rickey Bradley Jr. contributed 16 and 14 points, respectively, to lead the Keydets.
Quarterfinals (Mar. 4, 2023/Harrah’s Cherokee Center/Asheville, N.C.)
Game 3: No. 1 Furman 73, No. 8 Mercer 58
Brief Recap: Top-seed Furman had its hands full for the first half of its opening game of the 2023 Southern Conference Tournament against No. 8 Mercer, and it was the lower seeded Bears who took the 32-29 lead into the halftime locker room. The Paladins commenced to showing why they were the No. 1 seed for the 2023 Southern Conference Tournament, utilizing a 32-6 run in the opening six minutes of the second half and coasted to a 73-58 quarterfinal win to advance to the semifinal round of the tournament for a second-straight season.
The win sees Furman tie a school record with 25 wins and the Paladins will face Western Carolina (18-14), which is one of the three teams to have defeated it during the regular-season, as the two will square off in the first semifinal game of the Southern Conference Tournament Sunday at 4 p.m. The loss sees Mercer conclude the 2022-23 season with a 14-19 overall record. The win marked Furman’s 18th-straight against Mercer, including its second-straight SoCon quarterfinal win over the Bears, knocking off No. 7 Mercer, 80-66, in the 2022 tournament. It marked the third time in the past five years that the Paladins had faced the Bears in the quarterfinal round of the tournament. It was the fourth time the Paladins and Bears have squared off in Asheville in the last eight years, with the 10th-seeded Paladins handing No. 2 Mercer a 52-49 setback in the 2015 tournament.
The Paladins placed four players in double figures in the win, with JP Pegues finishing with a game-high 22 points, while Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson added 13 and 12 points, respectively for the Paladins. SoCon All-Freshman team selection Ben VanderWal added 11 points off the bench.
Pegues finished his afternoon by connecting on 7-of-11 shots from he field, including 4-of-7 from three-point range. He added four assists, four rebounds and a steal to his overall totals, and connected on 4-of-5 from the charity stripe.
With Mercer holding a 34-29 lead in the early portions of the second half, the Paladins would begin to see their halftime adjustments begin to pay dividends, as the full-court pressure applied by Furman would turn three first-half turnovers by the Bears to 16 by the end of the afternoon, and would eventually equal a 24-10 advantage in points from turnovers.
The five-point deficit for the Paladins would be turned into a 10-point lead after Furman scored 15-consecutive points as a part of that aforementioned 32-6 Paladin run. Ben VanderWal’s two free throws would give the Paladins a 46-36 lead with 14:05 remaining. The run would conclude two more VanderWal charity shots, giving the Paladins a 61-40 lead with just over eight minutes left.
The Bears were able to take the 32-29 lead into the halftime break by slowing the pace, and were also aided by SoCon Player of the Year Jalen Slawson’s absence from the floor as a result of two early fouls. To offset a 38.7% shooting clip in the opening half of play, the Bears used 10 offensive rebounds to yield 10 points in the opening half of play, while also outscoring the Paladins 18-8 in the paint and were a perfect 6-for-6 from the line. All of that led to a surprising, 32-29, halftime lead for the No, 8 seed.
The Bears had just one player in double figures for the game, with Jaylyn McCreary posting 18 points and four rebounds. McCreary capped his first season in Macon by knocking down 6-of-10 shots from the field and went a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe.
The Paladins finished the contest knocking down 48.9% (23-of-47) of their shots from the field and connected on 37.5% (9-of-24) from three-point land. By contrast, the Bears finished the contest connecting on 38.7% of their shots from the field, and just 13.0% (3-of-23) from long-range.
Game 4: No. 4 Western Carolina 69, East Tennessee State 57
Brief Recap: Western Carolina completed the three-game sweep of East Tennessee State, defeating the Bucs 69-57 in the second quarterfinal contest at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in a game that saw the Bucs threaten to make the game close on several occasions, however, could never quite get over the hump, as the Catamounts were able to move on to the semifinals of the Southern Conference Tournament for the first time since the 2020 season.
The win by the Catamounts improved to 18-14 on the season, while East Tennessee State closes out its second-straight losing campaign, which is uncanny for a program with so much pride and tradition, as the Bucs conclude the 2022-23 season 12-20.
It was a well-balanced offensive blitz by head coach Justin Gray’s Catamounts, who placed four players in double figures in the win, led by Tyzhaun Claude, who posted 15 points on a 7-for-12 shooting performance from the field. Bernard Pelote came off the Catamount bench to add 14 points, and Vonterius Woolbright got his tournament off to a strong start, posting 10 points and 10 rebounds to add yet another double-double to his outstanding season resume’. Tre Jackson also added 14 to round out the Catamounts in double figures.
East Tennessee State saw a pair of players register double-digit scoring efforts, as Jalen Haynes finished with a game-high 23 points, while Jordan King added 18. Haynes also added half of the team’s total assists, finishing by dishing out four of the team’s eight helpers in the setback. His 10 rebounds, which were tied for team-high honors along with Jaden Seymour, saw Haynes finish out an impressive double-double performance in 38 minutes of floor action in the loss.
Much like the two opening round games Friday night, which saw both Mercer and Chattanooga jump out to big leads early in both contests, Western Carolina came out shooting the ball well from three-point range, connecting on 7-of-11 triples in the opening half alone, allowing the Catamounts to take a comfortable 41-26 lead into the half.
In the second half, the Bucs got within 10 points early in the second half, as ETSU scored the first five points of the half to cut the Catamount lead to 41-31 on a Jaden Seymour bucket in the paint. The Bucs would remain within 10 a couple of minutes later, as Justice Smith converted a short jumper just outside the paint to make it a 45-35 contest with 16:58 remaining.
The Catamounts then went on a mini 7-0 spurt to assume what was a 52-35 lead with just over 13 minutes remaining. The Catamounts would eventually stretch their lead to their largest of the afternoon (18 pts), at 67-49, on a Tre Jackson triple with just under five minutes remaining.
The Bucs wouldn’t go quietly, however, and pulled to within 10, at 67-57, late in the contest when Jordan King made a long two-point shot with 1:38 remain. Fittingly, however, Claude would finish off the contest with a vicious dunk with 1:17 remaining, setting what would eventually be the final margin and score.
Western Carolina finished the afternoon connecting on 50.0% (27-of-54), including a 45.5% (10-of-22) effort from three-point land. The Bucs struggled to find their shooting touch the entire afternoon, connecting on just 36.4% (20-of-55) and just 23.8% (5-of-21) from three-point land.
Game 5: No. 7 Chattanooga 85, No. 2 Samford 82
Brief Recap: Chattanooga posted the first of two upsets in the night session of quarterfinal, nipping Southern Conference regular-season co-champion Samford, 85-82, at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center.
The win sees the Mocs improve to 17-16 and move on to face No. 6 Wofford, who produced the other quarterfinal upset of the day with a 67-66 win over No. 3 UNC Greensboro. The semifinal clash between the Mocs and Terriers will get underway at approximately 6:30 p.m. Sunday evening. Samford finishes the regular-season with a 21-11 and will now await its potential postseason fate.
The Mocs are the third seven seed in the past four SoCon tournaments to advance through to at least the semifinal round of the tournament, joining both No.7 Mercer (2021) and No. 7 Wofford (2020). Both of those teams went on to advance one more round in the tournament, losing in the championship game. It will mark the third time in the past five seasons the two have squared off in semifinals of the Southern Conference Tournament, including meeting last season, as the Mocs won in convincing fashion (W, 79-56). The Mocs and Terriers will be meeting for the fifth time in the Southern Conference Tournament, with the series tied, 2-2.
The Mocs blew a 19-point second half lead early in conference play on the road earlier this season against Samford, as they would eventually drop a 75-74 decision to the Bulldogs.
Chattanooga finished the contest with four in double figures, led by Jamal Johnson’s 25 points, five rebounds and three assists, while Jake Stephens added 21 points, five rebounds and dished out four assists en route to leading the Mocs to the semifinals for the third time in the past four years. Johnson did a majority of his damage from beyond the arc, connecting on six of seven shots from long range. Dalvin White and AJ Caldwell finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively to round out the double-figure scorers for the Mocs.
Samford’s Jermaine Marshall posted a game and career-high 27 points and eight rebounds to lead the Bulldogs’ scoring efforts, while Logan Dye finished out his Samford career with a stellar night, despite nursing a knee injury, as he posted 22 points and six boards. Bubba Parham rounded out the Bulldogs in double figures with 11 points and dished out three assists.
Saturday evening’s first quarterfinal clash offered a great big man clash between Samford’s Logan Dye and Chattanooga’s Jake Stephens, with both having to play through injuries. Dye had not practiced in two weeks due to a knee injury, and Stephens still not completely 100% from the hand injury he suffered back in mid-January. Both would be asked to go above and beyond on Saturday evening to advance in the tournament.
Early in the game, Dye had an apparent steal and breakaway dunk, however, as he went to plant to go up and dunk the ball his knee gave way and he went down awkwardly. He would exit the game for a few minutes, returning later in the opening frame. Other injuries would creep up even during the same game for the Bulldogs, as Ques Glover played just 7:01 in the game and did not return, suffering from what looked like an apparent knee injury.
With Dye hampered and Glover unavailable, the Bulldogs fought hard to stay in the battle, while the Mocs, and in particular Stephens, fought through fatigue in the latter stages in the second half. A three-pointer by Stephens at the buzzer in the opening half allowed the Mocs to take the momentum and a 42-37 lead into the halftime locker room.
In the second half, the Mocs increased the lead to 18 after the lone holdover from last year’s title-winning team—AJ Caldwell—canned a three-pointer at the 16:52 mark of the second stanza to give UTC a 55-37 lead. Over the next 15:10 of game time, the Bulldogs would whittle away that Mocs lead until junior all-conference forward Jermaine Marshall gave the Bulldogs a 79-78 lead after a short jumper in the lane, and the Samford fans exploded with excitement with 1:42 remaining. After Dye was fouled in the paint by Demetrius Davis, who committed his fifth personal foul, the senior from Haleyville, AL calmly went to the line and knocked down his first, but missed his second charity shot, leaving the Bulldogs’ lead at two, 80-78, with 50 seconds remaining.
That set the stage for the biggest shot of the night for the Mocs, as the ball found its way to the weakside corner courtesy of a feed from point guard Dalvin White and sharp-shooter Jamal Johnson made his sixth three in seven attempts, giving the Mocs a narrow, 81-80, lead with just 36 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing Samford possession, the Dye would miss a short jumper in the paint and the ball would be corralled by Stephens, who was immediately fouled. Stephens urged the Mocs fans to their feet prior to shooting his two free throws, and he proceeded to make both to give the Mocs and 83-80 lead with just 14 seconds remaining.
The Mocs played not to foul, allowing Samford the clear layup, as AJ Staton-McCray coasted in for the layup to make it 83-82 with seven seconds left. Dalvin White was immediately fouled with 6.1 seconds remaining and he knocked down both to give the Mocs the three point lead. The Mocs let Samford inbound the ball on the ensuing possession and let them burn nearly four seconds off the clock, fouling senior guard Bubba Parham with 2.6 seconds remaining.
Parham missed the first and as a result, had to miss the second and hope the Bulldogs came up with an offensive rebound and quick three. However, on his intentional miss, the ball didn’t hit any part of the rim resulting in a violation and Chattanooga basketball. Stephens launched the ball up the floor to Johnson and time expired, as the Mocs ran off the remaining time and posted the first upset of the 2023 SoCon Tournament.
Chattanooga connected on 15-of-28 three-pointers in the game for a 53.6% shooting clip en route to the win. That shooting performance ranked as the top performance in terms of three-pointers made in the entire tournament.
Game 6: No. 6 Wofford 67, No. 2 UNC Greensboro 66
Brief Recap: BJ Mack’s layup off the glass as time expired allowed No. 6 Wofford to upset No. 3 UNC Greensboro, 67-66, in SoCon quarterfinal action Saturday night at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center. The Terriers advanced to the semifinals of the tournament for the fourth time in the past five seasons and improved to 17-15 on the season, while UNCG finishes the 2022-23 season with a 20-12 mark. The loss marked the second-straight season in which the Spartans have failed to advance past their opening game of the tournament.
The narrow one-point, buzzer-beating win courtesy of Mack’s layup allowed the Terriers to avenge a pair of regular-season losses to the Spartans.
For UNCG head coach Mike Jones, the past two seasons have been particularly tough, as he has been on the wrong end of a one-point setback each of his two tournament games as the head coach at UNCG. In last season’s opening quarterfinal matchup against the No. 3 seed Samford Bulldogs, the Spartans were on the wrong end of what was a 66-64 loss last season and Jones’ team would have a chance to deliver the buzzer-beating dagger last season, however, Keyshaun Langley’s three at the buzzer was no good, and the Bulldogs survived the furious second half half charge by the Spartans.
The game featured some high-level basketball down the stretch, and it appeared that the sixth-seeded Terriers were going put the game away a little earlier, holding a 63-58 lead following a Corey Tripp triple with 3:25 remaining in the contest. However, the Spartans would reel off six-straight points to re-take the lead when a pair of Keondre Kennedy free throws allowed the Spartans to take a one-point, 64-63, lead with just 25 seconds remaining.
Wofford responded with its first points in over three minutes, as Mack converted the first of his two layups high off the glass late in the contest to give the Terriers a one-point, 65-64 lead with just under 10 seconds remaining.
However, UNCG would have a response, as senior guard Dante Treacy converted a short jumper off the glass from the right side, sending the UNCG fans on hand at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center into a euphoric state, as the Spartans held a narrow 66-65 lead with 3.6 seconds left.
The Terriers then took a timeout, and interim head coach Dwight Perry drew up a well-devised plan. First, Jackson Paveletzke threw a strike on the inbounds pass, getting the ball into the waiting arms of Mack near the far sideline, where he promptly called timeout after catching the ball, as he kept both feet from touching out-of-bounds.
Following a Spartans foul, which put them at six team fouls for the half, it allowed UNCG to give a foul after running a bit of time off the clock, leaving Wofford only 2.6 seconds remaining to find a way to find a way to a victory. The Terriers would use every bit of that time, as Paveletzke inbounded the basketball to Mack over UNCG’s Mohammad Abdulsalam, and Mack had enough time to catch the ball, back down Abdulsalam, and scoop a shot under the arms of his defender and high off the glass and through the hoop as the buzzer sounded, giving the Terriers a thrilling 67-66 win.
The Terriers were led in scoring in the win by Mack’s 16 points, while Paveletzke and Messiah Jones added 14 points apiece. Wofford connected on 45.2% (28-of-62) from the field, which included a just a 19.0% (4-of-21) effort from three-point range.
UNCG, meanwhile, finished the contest led by Keondre Kennedy, who led all scorers with a season and game-high 26 points, while Treacy added 13 points and Mikeal Brown-Jones added 11 off the bench. Should this be how UNCG’s 2022-23 campaign comes to a close, it is potentially the final game for six Spartans seniors, which included Keyshaun and Kobe Langley, Mohammed Abdulsalam, Bas Leyte, Dante Treacy and Keondre Kennedy. Leyte, Abdulsalam, and Kobe and Keyshaun Langley are the last remaining links to that 2021 SoCon Championship squad, and the 2023-24 campaign will bring about the dawn of a new era for UNCG basketball. Three of UNCG’s six seniors still have eligibility remaining should they decide to utilize it with the Spartans next season, while the other three played their final basketball game of their collegiate careers.
“What makes it tough is this year we have six seniors. A couple of them have eligibility but three of the have no more. It’s a painful way for it to be their last game. The result didn’t happen the way they wanted it to,” UNCG head coach Mike Jones said.
UNCG finished the contest by connecting on a solid 49.0% (25-of-51) shooting clip, while shooting 36.8% (7-of-19) from three-point range.
Semifinals (Mar. 5, 2023/Harrah’s Cherokee Center/Asheville, N.C.)
Game 7: No. 1 Furman 83, No.4 Western Carolina 80 (OT)
Brief Recap: Despite holding as much as a 20-point second half lead, Furman nearly squandered the opportunity to make it back to the championship game and subsequently forfeit a chance to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 43 years, as Western Carolina made the penultimate stage a difficult hurdle for Furman to traverse, however, the Paladins were a team “calloused” for such a moment, as they were able to hold off the feisty Catamounts, 83-80, in overtime to advance to the championship game of the Ingles Southern Conference Tournament for a second-straight season.
One of the interesting storylines coming into Sunday night’s classic semifinal clash at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center, which was played before a raucous crowd fit for a championship Monday was the fact that the two teams sported a combined 70 years of NCAA Tournament drought, with Furman having not qualified for the postseason since 1980 (43 years) and Western Carolina’s last appearance in the Big Dance coming in 1996 (27 years).
With the win, Furman won its school-record 26th game and improved to 26-7 overall, while Western Carolina concluded its season with an 18-15 record. The Paladins will face Chattanooga (18-16) in Monday night’s Southern Conference Tournament championship game. The 26th win by Furman eclipses the 25 wins achieved two other times in school history, which happened in consecutive seasons (2018-19 and 2019-20). It marks the 10th time in league history in which their has been a rematch in the championship game from the previous season, and it will mark Furman’s fourth trip to the championship game since 1980 and 12th overall, as the Paladins look to snap a three-game losing skid in championship matchups.
The Paladins were led in scoring in the contest by four players in double figures, with Mike Bothwell’s 26 points, while point guard JP Pegues added 24. Jalen Slawson narrowly missed a double-double, with 15 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with two minutes left in regulation, and Garrett Hien finished with 12.
Bothwell’s stellar performance saw him connect on 7-of-15 shots from the field, including 2-for-7 from three-point range and he went 10-of-16 from the line. He also added three rebounds, three assists and four steals.
Vonterius Woolbright’s 30 points led all scorers in the contest, while backcourt mate Tre Jackson added 22 points. Tyzhaun Claude closed out his night with 15 points and 11 boards, as he fouled out with 1:06 left in overtime.
Western Carolina finished the contest connecting on 44.1% (30-of-68) shots from the field, while shooting just 23.8% (5-of-21) from the three-point line. The Catamounts did make the most of their charity shots, connecting on 15-of-19 for the contest, which converts to a 78.9% clip. However, the Catamounts shot 27 less free throws than the Paladins in the contest.
The Paladins on the other hand, connected on just 39.0% (23-of-59) of their shots from the field, including just a 29.2% (7-of-24) clip in the second half. The Paladins did not make a three-pointer in the second half (0-for-11) and finished the game shooting just 22.6% (7-of-31) from long range. However, Furman got the line 46 times, making 30 and ended up with a 15-point advantage in foul shots made as a result. The 46 free throws shot and the 30 made were both season highs for the Paladins.
Western Carolina finished the night with advantages in total rebounds (46-36), points in the paint (46-30), second-chance points (18-12), fast-break points (7-5) and bench points (9-5). Furman owned a 12-6 edge in points from turnovers, and the two teams tied with 11 assists apiece.
Furman came out of the gates quickly, running to a 9-4 lead at the first media timeout, highlighted by a three by JP Pegues, as well as an acrobatic layup from Mike Bothwell and an alley-oop dunk to Jalen Slawson from Bothwell, bringing the Furman faithful to its collective feet.
However, Western responded out of the first media timeout with a three-pointer from Russell Jones Jr. and layups by Vonterius Woolbright and Tre Jackson, allowing the Catamounts to assume their first lead of the night, at 13-12. That would remain the score as the two teams headed to the second media timeout of the opening half.
The two teams would battle back and forth over the next four minutes, but a three by Slawson and a layup by Hien as well as a jumper by Pegues gave the Paladins a 25-20 lead following a mini 13-7 spurt. The Paladins would see their lead grow to as many as 16 points in the opening half of play, as Bothwell scored on a second-chance opportunity in the paint, as his layup gave Furman a 42-26 lead with 2:39 left in the half. The Paladins would finish the half with 45, with a Ben VanderWal foul shot and a layup by JP Pegues helping the Paladins close out the half, taking a 15-point, 45-30 lead to the break.
Furman entered the night 23-2 when leading the game at the break, with one of those losses coming in Cullowhee to the Catamounts, and Western Carolina would very nearly turn the trick again, fighting their way back into the game. After falling behind by 20 following a pair of Bothwell free throws with 17:19 left gave the Paladins a 53-33 lead, the Catamounts would begin their slow but constant charge back into the game.
With just 38 seconds remaining, the Catamounts had surpassed the Paladins on the scoreboard, with Vonterius Woolbright’s layup off the right side, giving the Catamounts a 72-70 lead and sending the Catamount hue of Purple into delirium at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center. It was the first lead held by the Catamounts since they held a 15-14 advantage with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first half following a Tyzhaun Claude jumper in the paint.
Furman would tie the game, 72-72, following a pair of foul shots from Mike Bothwell with 26 seconds remaining. Furman’s defense forced Russell Jones Jr.’s shot to be a fade-a-way from the corner as time expired, and the shot was no good and the two teams would play an extra five minutes of basketball.
When the two teams headed to the extra session, Furman would be without one of its leaders, as Jalen Slawson fouled out of the game with 2:02 remaining. It was not too much unlike the situation earlier this season at the Ramsey Center, when Slawson fouled out of the 12-point loss back on Dec. 31, 2022. The Catamounts would lose Tyzhaun Claude, who played an outstanding game before fouling out in overtime with 1:30 remaining. Like the first matchup with the Paladins in on New Year’s Eve, Claude fouled out. He only had seven points in that game, while he didn’t even play in the clash between the two in Greenville, nursing a sprained ankle. In Sunday night’s classic, Claude finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
The Catamounts wasted little time in getting the extra five minutes off to a fast start, too. The Catamounts, who came into the matchup 3-0 in overtime games this season, got things off to a good start when Tre Jackson banged a three after the Catamounts corralled one of their 14 offensive rebounds in the contest to give the Catamounts a 75-72 lead with 4:22 remaining.
Furman wouldn’t score its first points of the extra session until the 2:29 mark, as Ben VanderWal knocked down a pair of foul shots to get the Paladins within one, however, Woolbright again got free in the paint and coasted in for a layup to give the Catamounts a three-point lead once again, at 77-74, with 2:07 left. On the next trip down the floor, the ball found its way to Bothwell at the left elbow and his three, which is arguably one of the biggest shots of his five years in a Paladin uniform, knotted the score, 77-77, with 1:06 remaining.
The Catamounts continued to play high-level basketball, utilizing excellent guard penetration, much like the Catamounts had done in their win in Cullowhee earlier this season. To a certain extent, it was also something East Tennessee State was able to do well with DeAnthony Tipler and Jalen Haynes in the Bucs’ 83-79 loss in Greenville back on Feb. 19. Woolbright was versatile as a scorer and passer, and it’s something Furman had respect defensively, and it gave the Paladins problems for much of the second half and overtime and it’s how the Catamounts were able to get back into the contest, despite not shooting the ball well from deep. When Woolbright’s under-handed assist found its way to Claude with 1:30 remaining, he flushed it home with a monster dunk to give Western the lead once again, 79-77.
However, Mike Bothwell just wasn’t going to let the Paladins lose. It’s why he and Jalen Slawson came back, and with Slawson already gone, it was up to him to help the Paladins find a way after it had struggled to score points for much of the final 10 minutes and overtime to score points. Bothwell drove in for a layup and missed but drew Claude’s fifth foul with 1:06 to play. He would knock down a pair of free throws to tie the game.
Western Carolina’s Woolbright was fouled on the other end by Marcus Foster with 49 seconds left. He connected on 1-of-2 free throws to give the Catamounts the narrow 80-79 lead.
Furman’s player to be reckoned with for much of the first half and the tournament so far has been JP Pegues. Pegues was able to coax WCU’s Bernard Pelote off his feet and then proceeded to jump into him in the act of shooting a three-pointer to draw the foul and three-shot opportunity from the charity stripe. It was a tactic that former Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller used to utilize with plenty of success throughout his storied NBA career. Pegues made two of three free throws to put the Paladins back on top, 81-80, with 28 seconds to play.
Following a timeout by Western Carolina, the Paladins would force Jackson to take a contested jumper from just outside the paint, which was off the mark and rebounded by Marcus Foster and then quickly passed into the hands of Bothwell, who was immediately fouled with eight seconds to play. Bothwell made both foul shots to give Furman a three-point lead. Furman burned its final timeout and then survived Jackson’s three-point attempt at the buzzer to hold on for a heart-stopping 83-80 win.
Game 8: No. 7 Chattanooga 74, No. 6 Wofford 62
Brief Recap: In the second semifinal game of the night, Chattanooga continued to wear Cinderella’s slipper in the 2023 Southern Conference Tournament and now will fashion that slipper in the championship round Monday night against No. 1 Furman, as the Mocs avenged a pair of regular-season losses to No. 6 seed Wofford, with a 74-62 win over the Terriers Sunday night at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center.
As a result of the win, the league’s gold standard with 12 tournament championships will look to defend its 2022 title and post its second-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the the 1993-94 and the 1994-95 Chattanooga Mocs were able to accomplish the feat in back-to-back seasons. The win allows the Mocs to make their 20th appearance in a Southern Conference championship game.
Chattanooga improved to 18-16 on the season, while Wofford, who upset No. 3 UNCG at the buzzer less than 24 hours earlier, finished the 2022-23 campaign with a 17-16 record and will likely make a decision on a new head coach in the very near future. Look for current interim head coach Dwight Perry
It would once again be Jake Stephens to the rescue for the Mocs, who continued their miraculous run in the 2023 Southern Conference Tournament. He would finish with 25 points and added seven rebounds, four steals and two blocks to lead the Mocs. Stephens would be joined in double figures by Dalvin White, who added 13 points, while Jamal Johnson and AJ Caldwell added 12 and 10 points, respectively. Stephens would add his 25 points on a 7-of-12 shooting performance from the field, which included a 3-for-6 effort from three-point range.
Not to be overlooked was UTC’s Randy Brady, who put forth a great defensive effort off the bench, helping contain Wofford’s talented all-conference forward Mack. He also added eight points on the offensive end of the floor to round out what was a strong performance.
Wofford finished the contest by placing three players in double figures, with SoCon Freshman of the Year Jackson Paveletzke with 20 points, while BJ Mack would add 16 points and seven rebounds. Messiah Jones closed out the Terriers in double figures with 14.
The opening half of the second semifinal was much like the game that preceded it between Furman and Western Carolina…close. In fact, it was Wofford that got off to the better start in the contest, scoring eight of the first 10 points of the contest, with Jones picking up right where he left off in the second half against UNCG, as he scored four of thosen Terrier eight points to give Wofford the early 8-2 advantage.
After starting the game a bit cold from the field, the Mocs would begin to warm up shortly thereafter, and responded to tie the basketball game, 12-12, following a Dalvin White three-pointer with 14:14 remaining in the opening half of play.
The Mocs would eventually take the lead, running to a 31-21 lead following a Caldwell three from the top of the key with 7:16 remaining in the opening half. However, Wofford would close the opening half in strong fashion, as the Terriers would eventually take the lead with a 13-2 run, with a Paveletzke jumper with 40 seconds remaining giving the Terriers the lead once again, at 34-33, with 40 seconds remaining in the first half. However, Chattanooga would carry at least a little bit of momentum into the half after White’s jumper helped the Mocs to go to the half leading the game, with a 35-34 lead.
However, to open the second half, it was all Mocs, as Chattanooga started the frame with an 11-0 run and never looked back the remainder of the half, as despite playing one less full game of basketball, it appeared as if the Terriers were the team that was more lethargic in the second stanza. A Caldwell three-pointer off a feed from Randy Brady gave the Mocs a 46-34 lead with just under 16 minutes remaining.
The Mocs lead would grow to as much as 14 points, at 50-36, when Khristion Courseault knocked down a free throw a minute later. The Terriers would cut the Mocs lead to seven three times over the final 15 minutes, however, could not get any closer and the Mocs would close out the win and moved on to a fourth game at a Southern Conference Tournament for the first time in school history, as the Mocs closed out the 74-62 win.
Chattanooga closed the game by connecting on 68.2% (15-of-22) from inside the arc, while finishing 34.6% (9-of-26) from beyond the arc, continuing a strong shooting weekend for the Mocs and propelled them into the title game for a second-straight season.
Wofford’s shooting night from long range was one of the nights that has seemingly crept up on the Terriers at times during the 2022-23 season, as the Terriers could not find their shooting touch from long-range, finishing just 3-for-23 from long range.
Championship Game (Mar. 6, 2023/Harrah’s Cherokee Center/Asheville, N.C.)
Game 9: No. 1 Furman 88, Chattanooga 79
Brief Recap: Furman got a team-high 20 points from Southern Conference Player of the Year Jalen Slawson, and got 17 from Tournament Most Outstanding Performer JP Pegues, as Furman captured its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1980 with an 88-79 win over Chattanooga in a rematch of the 2022 Southern Conference Tournament championship game, which the Mocs won on a buzzer-beater by David Jean-Batiste, 64-63, in overtime.
Furman’s win sees them improve to 27-7, while Chattanooga concludes its first season under head coach Dan Earl with an 18-17 mark. Mike Bothwell scored all 16 of his points in the second half, and Alex Williams scored 10 of his points in the opening half. Slawson finished the night connecting on 8-of-12 shots from the field, including going 2-for-3 from long-range. He was also 2-for-4 from the line. The fifth-year senior from Summerville, S.C., also added five rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal.
The Mocs got another outstanding performance from Jake Stephens, who posted 25 points, while Jamal Johnson added 17 and A.J. Caldwell, who is one of holdovers from last season, finished with a double-double of 14 points and 10 boards.
Stephens set a Southern Conference record by scoring a combined 92 points in four games. The senior from Bunker Hill, WVa., finished the game with his 20-point effort coming on an 8-of-12 shooting performance, which included a 2-for-3 effort from three-point land. He was also 5-for-7 from the charity stripe.
Stephens spent one year at Chattanooga as a grad transfer from VMI, however, had his regular-season cut short due to a hand injury back on Jan. 18 in a loss to Furman. In addition to his 25-point scoring effort, Stephens also added eight rebounds, two blocks and two assists.
The Paladins were buoyed by a crowd of 6,102 rowdy fans, partial to Furman. The campus in Northern Greenville County is only about a 60-minute drive to the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville.
It seemed like Timmons Arena North when the game tipped off. Stephens started the game in emphatic fashion for the defending champions, dunking home the first two points of the night.
The Paladins tied the game on a Marcus Foster layup before Chattanooga’s “glue guy”–AJ Caldwell–came down and connected on a three to make it a 5-2 Mocs lead.
With the game tied 5-5, Stephens got another easy layup to put the Mocs back up two. However, on the ensuing possession Alex Williams found himself free from top of the key, knocking down a three-pointer to give Furman the lead again, at 8-7, with 16:11 remaining in the opening half of play. It was the beginning of an 18-0 run for the ‘Dins, which would see them take a 30-11 lead following an Alex Williams layup at the 7:26 mark of the opening half.
However, prior to the half, the Mocs would proceed to go on what was a 15-0 run, getting back to within four, at 30-26, following a Caldwell layup with just over three minutes remaining in the opening half of basketball. The Mocs would get as close as three (36-33) late in the half when Jake Stephens converted a four-point play after being fouled by Tyrese Hughey at the top of the key.
The Paladins would carry a small amount of momentum into the locker room, however. when Pegues converted an acrobatic layup in the lane as the buzzer sounded, giving the Paladins a 38-33 lead at the break.
In the second half, the Mocs got as close as one, at 39-38, when Demetrius Davis canned a three-pointer just in front of the Chattanooga bench with 17:51 remaining. The Mocs would get it to within a bucket once again when a pair of Jamal Johnson charity shots got the Mocs to within 44-42 with 15:55 lefr.
It looked like the Paladins might start to put some distance between themselves and the Mocs on the scoreboard once again. A three-point play the old fashioned way by
Furman’s Bothwell helped the Paladins to a 47-42 lead after knocking down his free throw with 15:40 remaining.
It was “make or break” time for the Mocs. The Paladins would eventually jump back out to a double-digit lead moments later when Williams made a running one-handed jumper in the paint to increase the Furman lead to 58-48 with 11:03 left.
The Paladin lead would grow to 12 with 7:25 left, as Pegues split two Mocs defenders in the paint and laid the ball off the right side of the window to give the Paladins a 69-57 lead.
The Mocs, however, were not done and had one more run in them. UTC would score eight-straight points over the next 2:23 of game action, with another Caldwell layup getting the Mocs to within 69-65 with 5:02 remaining following his layup.
With the Chattanooga crowd back into the game, it began to get loud once again inside the Harrah’s Cherokee Center. Slawson converted a pair of free throws to take the Furman lead back to six, however, Stephens was fouled on the other end and his rare 1-of-2 effort at the line kept the margin at five, 71-66, with 4:35 remaining.
The Paladins would then score five-straight with a pair of Bothwell free throws, and after Johnson turned it over, it set the stage for Marcus Foster to make the first of his two daggers from three-point land down the stretch, helping the Paladins back to a double-digit lead, at 76-66, as Foster knocked down his trey from the right corner with 2:51 remaining.
Three Mocs free throws got the Mocs back to within seven, however, the Paladins went back up by nine when Slawson took a bounce pass from Pegues before splitting two Mocs defenders down the lane and dunked it home for a nine-point Furman lead (78-69) with 1:59 remaining.
However, Foster’s second three-pointer from the left corner this time with 1:19 left, which was nothing but net, had Furman fans thinking the unthinkable, giving the Paladins a 12-point lead once again, at 81-69.
Furman never let the margin get closer than eight points the rest of the way, closing out a memorable win at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Bothwell went to the same place on the court where he had laid helplessly a year earlier only to watch Jean-Baptiste’s fall through the hoop as time expired last season, and tapped his chest a couple of times in excited joy, as Furman celebrated returning to the Big Dance for the first time since 1980.
As a team, the Paladins finished the contest connecting on 48.3% (28-of-58) shots from the field, including a 32.0% (8-of-25) effort from three-point land, and knocked down 80.0% (24-of-30) from the charity stripe to close out the championship win.
Chattanooga on the other hand, finished the night making 45.8% (27-of-59) of its shots from the field, including a 34.6% (9-of-24) from three-point range. The Mocs matched the Paladins’ 80.0% (16-of-20) from the charity stripe, which included a 12-for-16 effort in the second half.
Furman finished the night holding advantages in points in the paint (38-36), bench points (21-9), points from turnovers (13-6), and fast-break points (4-0). Chattanooga finished the contest holding advantages in second-chance points (6-4) and total assists (15-11). Both teams finished the contest with 34 rebounds.
SoCon Tournament Superlatives (All-Tournament Teams)
Mike Bothwell, Furman
JP Pegues, Furman (MOP)
Jalen Slawson, Furman
Jake Stephens, Chattanooga
Vonterius Woolbright, Western Carolina
Jermaine Marshall, Samford
Jamal Johnson, Chattanooga
Tyzhaun Claude, Western Carolina
B.J. Mack, Wofford
Jackson Paveletzke, Wofford
Pinnacle Award (highest GPA on championship-winning team)
Blake Harris, Furman
2023 Ingles Southern Conference Men’s Basketball Championship
Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville, Asheville, N.C.
Friday, March 3 (ESPN+)
Game 1 – (8) Mercer 66, (9) The Citadel 41
Game 2 – (7) Chattanooga 92, (10) VMI 72
Saturday, March 4 (ESPN+/Nexstar)
Game 3 – (1) Furman 73, (8) Mercer 58
Game 4 – (4) Western Carolina 69, (5) ETSU 57
Game 5 – (7) Chattanooga 85, (2) Samford 82
Game 6 – (6) Wofford 67, (3) UNCG 66
Sunday, March 5 (ESPNU/ESPNEWS)
Game 7 – (1) Furman 83, (4) Western Carolina 80
Game 8 – (7) Chattanooga 74, (6) Wofford 62
Monday, March 6 (ESPN)
(1) Furman 88, (7) Chattanooga 79