Furman Football 2022: Previewing the Paladins’ November slate of games

Mercer has won the last two meetings against Furman

Furman will enter its most crucial month of the 2022 season with a much needed off week before beginning the final month of the season, which will likely decide both FCS playoff and SoCon title hopes.

In the previous two articles, I have projected the Paladins will be 6-3 overall and 4-2 in league play at this point. Closing out the season with wins over Mercer and Wofford would likely be enough to see the Paladins back in the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2019. That will be easier said than done. Here’s a look at the final two games of the season.

Nov. 12, 2022–Furman at Mercer

The last two times that Furman has faced Mercer, as well as former its assistant coach/offensive coordinator Drew Cronic, things haven’t gone well-especially offensively. In those two meetings against the Bears, the Paladins have a combined 17 points and a combined 535 total yards, and did not break 300 yards of total offense in either of the past two clashes.

Meanwhile, the Bears have seemingly been unstoppable at times offensively in those two wins, and while last September’s win was more in a methodical fashion, both have seen the Bears offense seemingly come up with the big plays when they needed, especially in the passing game.

In those two games, the Bears have rolled up 898 yards of total offense and 40 points, with 574 of those yards coming through the air, which included a school-record 406 yards passing in the spring of 2020.

It’s been a pair of dominating performances from the Bears against the Paladins, and it was Mercer that found themselves neck and neck with East Tennessee State for the entire conference season, and naturally, the game between the Bears and Bucs would ultimately end up deciding the 2021 outright Southern Conference champion in Johnson City on the final day of the regular season.

That win meant the SoCon would be sending just one representative to the FCS playoffs, as the Bears only scheduled 10 games, and had a win over a non-Division I foe, finishing with a 7-3 overall record and a 6-2 mark in SoCon play. Given the SoCon’s slip among FCS leagues in terms of national perception, scheduling only 10 games was the exact wrong thing to do by the administration.

With that said, even with that Mercer did pass the eye test, and for those of us that cover the SoCon on a regular basis, they were worthy of a playoff bid. The Bears also return enough to be considered one of the favorites to win the Southern Conference title once again this fall. The Bears return some key performers on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Fred Payton Jr. on the offensive side of the ball, where he showed tremendous awareness and overall big play ability at times last season.

Both Payton and Carter Peevy both return as capable leaders of a Bears offense that was especially strong running the football last season. Overall, the Bears finished the 2021 campaign 12th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 209.4 YPG on the ground, including averaging an impressive 4.84 YPC.

The leader of that multi-faceted and diverse ground unit this fall will once again be Fred Davis. The redshirt freshman running back was a force to be reckoned with last season, as he finished the campaign rushing for 847 yards and 14 TDs, averaging 5.2 YPC.

The Bears will also have one of the top wideouts in the SoCon, in Ty James, who has been a thorn in the side of the Paladins in each of the past two meetings. He has 11 catches for 258 yards and a pair key touchdowns in each of the past two Bears wins over Furman, highlighted by an eight-catch, 179-yard effort, which included a touchdown in Mercer’s 26-14 win in the spring of 2021.

James garnered all-conference accolades last season after hauling in 26 passes for 611 yards and seven TDs.

Three regulars also return up front, with Riley Adcock (center), Santo DeFranco (right tackle), and John Harris (left guard) all slated to return from that unit that helped pave the way for Davis last season.

While the Mercer offense was good, it was its defense that was largely responsible for putting Cronic’s Bears in position to claim its first-ever SoCon title last fall. The Bears ranked 20th in all of the FCS in total defense, allowing just 327.5 YPG. The Bears ranked 12th nationally in passing yards allowed, surrendering just 179.4 YPG through the air last fall.

Mercer has some of that star power back once again this fall, with Solomon Zubairu returning along the defensive front, while linebacker Isaac Dowling will return as one of the top defensive players in the Southern and will once again patrol the middle of the Mercer defense, as he comes off a 2021 campaign, which saw him finish the season as Mercer’s leading tackler, posting 73 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss, and recovered a fumble for the Bears last season.

When Furman travels to Mercer on Nov. 12, it will mark the 21st meeting on the college football gridiron between the two, with the Paladins holding the narrow 10-8-2 all-time series edge in a football rivalry that dates back to a 39-0 Mercer win over the Paladins in 1914.

Since Mercer resurrected its football program in 2013, the Paladins and Bears have met a total of eight times, with the two programs having split those eight gridiron clashes four apiece.

This will be one of the most difficult road games on the schedule, and the Bears, like the Paladins, will likely be right in the thick of the Southern Conference race when the two meet in mid-November. It will also mark the final regular-season home game of the season for the Bears, so a large, vocal road crowd will likely be a strong prediction for this one.

That said, I think the odds of Mercer getting a third-straight win in this series are a bit lower, considering Furman has an off-week heading into this crucial matchup. I’ll say Furman wins this one 20-17 on a field goal as time expires. Might as well. It’s early May after all. Kickoff for the Nov. 12th clash between the Paladins and Bears at Five Star Stadium has not yet been set.

Nov. 19, 2022-Furman vs Wofford

Furman freshman QB garners first start career last season at Wofford/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

There was arguably no higher moment of the 2021 football season than the one that the Furman Paladins experienced in Spartanburg, as the Paladins picked up a resounding 42-20 win over Wofford at Gibbs Stadium.

It marked the first win by Furman in Spartanburg over nemesis Wofford since 2006, snapping a streak of seven-straight losses by the Paladins in the Hub City.

Furman’s win over Wofford would be costly, however, as All-SoCon running back Devin Wynn ran so violently on that sun-splashed early October afternoon last season that he was never completely 100% the remainder of the season. Wofford, meanwhile, was seemingly never the same after that Furman game and went on to finish out its worst season as an NCAA Division I member, marking its worst season since a 1-10 campaign under the direction of Rick Gilstrap back in 1987.

The Paladins’ 22-point victory over Wofford last season marked the first-ever start for quarterback Jace Wilson, and he delivered a gem.

The Texan showed us flashes of what made Paladin coaches so excited upon his signing last year. He connected on 14-of-23 throws for 189 yards with a TD and no turnovers, while also rushing for 26 yards and a score on just five attempts.

His performance allowed Wynn to do what he was able to do, as a result of the Terriers having to respect what Wilson could do with his legs and how much of a threat he could be with his arm. That would allow Wynn to run wild, as he carried the ball 31 times for 204 yards and a pair of TDs, while hauling in three passes for 39 yards and a score to have easily his most productive performance of the season for the Paladins.

Wynn suffered a hit in the fourth quarter, as the Paladins continued to grind Wofford down, and the Greensboro, GA, native would seemingly never be the same from that performance forward in the 2021 fall season.

The 42-20 win by Furman over Wofford marked the first meeting between the two programs since 2019, as the two teams did not play in the spring of 2021, due to the cancellation of the game between the two slated to take place in Greenville, due to COVID-19 issues within the Terrier football team, as Wofford was forced into an abrupt ending to the 2021 (2020 season) spring season after playing only five games.

The Terriers enter the 2022 campaign led by head coach Josh Conklin, who heads into his fifth season at the helm of the Wofford football program since taking over the reins of the program for the legendary Hall-of-Fame head coach Mike Ayers, who retired following the 2017 season, and after leading the Terriers to the FCS Playoffs and a pair of SoCon titles in his first two seasons, leading Wofford to a combined 17-8 mark in his first two campaigns.

Since the end of that outright SoCon title campaign of 2019, the decline of the program due to a combination of factors–COVID-19 included–has been especially swift. In fact, the Terriers head into the 2022 campaign losers of 14 of their last 16 games combining both the 2020 and 2021 campaigns, and have lost 12-straight Southern Conference games, dating back to a 31-14 win over Mercer on Feb. 20, 2021.

The lone two wins during that span have come against Elon (W, 24-22) and the aforementioned win against the Bears. Along with attrition due to COVID, one of the concerning factors for Wofford football is the fact that a number of key players have hopped into the transfer portal, with some of those players having done so during the season itself.

The Terriers have also been in the process of transitioning away from the traditional wing bone offense, which has also not been an exactly smooth transition. Quarterback issues, offensive line injuries and depth, and the lack of a true offensive identity have been among the other factors that have been pre-eminent during the past couple of seasons, causing struggles along the way.

The Terriers have a decent amount of talent returning for the 2022 season, however, and they aren’t a team to be taken lightly in the SoCon. Still, this team has to find the confidence it needs that brought it plenty of success in the not-so-distant past.

The 2022 season will see the Terriers in search of a new starting signal-caller, with veteran Jimmy Weirick accounting for the lone holdover with starting experience. Kyle Pinnix, Cade Rice, Trey Baker and Bryce Corriston are a young trio of signal-callers alongside Weirick to garner the starting responsibilities for the fall when competing to lead the Terrier offense in the season opener on Sept. 10 against Elon.

All told in his Wofford career, Weirick has seen action in 11 games, having made six starts. He has completed 71-of-123 passes for 880 yards, with four TDs and three INTs.

Some veteran know-how does return in the backfield at least for the 2022 season, as Nathan Walker returns for yet another season in the backfield for the Terriers. Walker rushed for 254 yards and a touchdown in the 2021 season, as he saw action in all 11 games, including starting four of those contests.

In his career with the Terriers, Walker has rushed for 1,480 yards and 11 scores in 39-career games donning the old gold and black, including having made 18-career starts.

The best news for the Terrier ground attack will be the return of Irvin Mulligan, who is coming off a strong season running the football for the Terriers, and he was arguably the Terriers’ biggest offensive weapon this past season, rushing for 854 yards and eight scores on 124 rush attempts, averaging an impressive 6.9 yards-per-carry last season.

Mulligan enters his senior season for Wofford having rushed for a total of 1,324 yards and 11 TDs on 190-career attempts, averaging 7.0 YPC for his career.

All told, Wofford finished the season ranking fifth overall in rushing offense, averaging 232.8 YPG, which marked the 22nd-straight season the Terriers have finished the season ranked in the Top 10 nationally in rushing yardage.

As a part of the unit paving the way for the likes of Mulligan and Walker, with two starters returning from that unit from a year ago that once again helped the Terriers rank among the nation’s best ground attacks.

Jysaiah Cromer will anchor the unit, as he returns at left tackle for the 2022 season, while Anthony Garcia returns at center.

The ever-evolving passing attack for the Terriers will feature some big-play threats, including leading wideout and rising junior Alec Holt, while senior R.J. Khayo adds even more experience on the other side.

Holt comes off a 2021 campaign that saw him haul in 22 passes for 458 yards and five scores last season, averaging 20.8 yards-per-catch last season. Khayo added 16 catches for 189 yards in 2021.

The biggest disappointment for Wofford was literally its defense in pretty much every respect. The Terriers struggled in nearly every phase on that side of the ball last season, which for Conklin, given his background as a defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh, couldn’t not have sat too well during the off-season.

In terms of total defense last season, the Terriers surrendered 454.5 YPG, which accounts for one its most frustrating seasons on the defensive side of the football since joining the SoCon as an official gridiron member way back in 1997.

Wofford also surrendered 34.5 PPG to foes last season, and were especially weak against the run, as the Terriers gave up an average of 229.5 YPG on the ground.

One of the reasons the Terriers have been able to establish themselves as the team of the decade in the league from 2010-19 was due in large part to their play on that side of the football, routinely ranking nationally as one of the top defensive units in the nation.

The good news is that seven starters are slated to return from a unit that was relatively young last season. The best news for Terrier fans will be that they will once again have one of the top defensive players in the SoCon returning along the defensive front, with the return of all-conference performance Michael Mason at defensive end. He saw action in eight games last season, posting 44 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, 2.5 sacks and forced a pair of fumbles.

The linebacking corps was hit hardest by graduation, losing both John Beckley and Joe Beckett to graduation. Beckett recently getting invited to the New York Giants’ mini-camp, as he was signed as an un-drafted free agent. Beckett was the only player to start all 11 games for the Terriers during the 2021 campaign.

The secondary looks like it will be the strength on the defensive side of the football for Wofford in 2022. Three of four starters are back from a unit that 224.9 YPG, led by Tahir Annoor, who posted 36 tackles, two pass breakups and recovered a fumble. Astonishingly, the Terriers intercepted just two passes in 11 games last season, gaining just nine total turnovers for the season (2 INTs, 7 FRs).

Overall, the Terriers were extremely young last season, with 32 players having garnered their first-career starts in 2021, while a total of 54 players saw their first action on the gridiron for the Terriers.

The series between the Paladins and Terriers accounts for one of the oldest in the Deep South, dating back even earlier than the Auburn-Georgia rivalry, which has for many years erroneously claimed that it is the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry,” however, that rivalry began three years later in 1892 than the first-ever meeting between Furman and Wofford–a 5-1 win by Wofford over Furman in Spartanburg in 1889–and the Paladins and Terriers will be playing for the first time at Paladin Stadium since 2018.

Despite recent history being owned by Wofford, having won five of the past seven meetings in the series, the Paladins have been dominant overall in the all-time series, having post a 55-33-7 all-time series edge, with the 2022 meeting marking what will be the 96th all-time clash between the two.

Rivalry games are never easy, but I feel good about the Paladins getting a second-straight win in the series, and should they do that, the Paladins would finish off the 2022 season with an 8-3 overall mark and a 6-2 ledger in league play, according to really early schedule outlook for the Paladins.

That should be good enough for a return to the FCS postseason for head coach Clay Hendrix and the Paladins. Only time will tell.

Final Record Projection: 8-3 overall, 6-2 in SoCon play

Furman Football 2022: Previewing the Paladins’ Oct slate of games

I continue my preview of Furman’s early-season schedule, taking a look at what will be the determining month of the season for Furman football as it usually is, as the Paladins enter the meat of their Southern Conference schedule.

Oct. 1, 2022–Samford at Furman

Furman was able to claim a second-straight win in the series against Samford last season

Furman and Samford has seemingly been one of the more underrated rivalries in the Southern Conference since the Bulldogs joined the league as an official member back in 2008.

The Paladins emerged from Birmingham last season having played maybe their most complete game on both sides of the football of the entire season, and the regular-season finale at Seibert Stadium saw Furman post an impressive 41-34 win.

The game would ultimately see Jace Wilson play maybe his best game of the season under center for the Paladins, as he completed the contest leading a Furman offense that was able to roll up an impressive 503 yards of total offense, which included a season-best 358 yards on the ground.

The win ensured Clay Hendrix’s team would secure a winning season, as the Paladins notched their sixth win in Homewood, while it put a cap on what was a disappointing season for the Bulldogs, as Samford finished the campaign with a 4-7 overall mark and a 3-5 record in league play, which was good enough for a tie for seventh-place in the nine-team SoCon. It was well below the expectations many had foreseen for the Bulldogs coming into the season.

Samford head coach Chris Hatcher enters his eighth season at the helm of the Bulldogs football program, and the offensive mastermind will have some key vacancies on that side of the football entering the 2022 season.

The first which must be addressed is quarterback Liam Welch, who put together an outstanding career following in the footsteps of Walter Payton Award winner and former Pittsburgh Steeler Devlin Hodges, who left the FCS as its all-time leading passer.

Welch, who entered the 2021 fall season as a Walter Payton Award candidate himself, finished out his stellar career in Homewood, AL, by passing for 3,369 yards and 22 TDs, however, did throw 15 picks. He was also an integral part of the ground game, rushing for 510 yards and a team-best eight TDs. All told, Welch completed the 2021 fall season with 3,879 yards of total offense and 30 TD responsibilities.

Battling for the right to lead the Bulldog offense when they open the season on Sept. 1 at Kennesaw State will be JUCO transfer Michael Hiers and University of Kentucky transfer Nik Scalzo.

Whomever is able to emerge at the conclusion of fall camp as the starter will be leading an offense that routinely is one of the more explosive aerial big-play offenses in FCS football. The Bulldogs are coming off a 2021 fall campaign, which saw the Bulldogs lead the league in scoring offense (37.9 PPG), while ranking second in total offense (448.7 YPG). The offensive highlight of note and potentially the most memorable moment of the disappointing campaign for the Bulldogs was putting up 52 points and 530 yards of total offense in a 70-52 loss at SEC East member Florida last season.

The 52 points were the most ever allowed by Florida to an opponent in a win, and the most ever scored by an FCS team against SEC opposition.

Another area of concern on the offensive side of the ball could be wide receiver, where the Bulldogs must replace leading wideout Montrell Washington, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft just this past weekend. Expected to step into the role as the Bulldogs’ go-to-wideout this fall should be Ty King, who returns for his senior campaign in 2022.

With those two key losses, it would be a shock if the Bulldogs weren’t again one of the most explosive passing attacks in the SoCon and FCS football. The two top performers returning on the offensive side of the football heading into the 2022 campaign are tight end Michael Vice and running back Jay Stanton.

The Bulldogs were relatively young along the offensive front last season, with the lone significant departure along the offensive front being Gavin Orr.

Despite the vacancies on the offensive side of the ball, defensive improvement is a must if the Bulldogs hope to find themselves in the thick of the SoCon title race this fall.

Samford ranked as the worst defense in the nation last fall, finishing the campaign surrendering 505 YPG and 39.5 PPG. Defensive linemen Tay Berry and Nelson Jordan account as two of the more significant departures on the defensive side of the ball heading into the 2022 season.

When the Bulldogs and Paladins tee-it-up in Paladin Stadium on Oct. 1, it will mark the 25th all-time meeting between the two, with the Paladins having a narrow 13-11 lead in the all-time gridiron series. A win would give Furman its third-straight over the Bulldogs in the series.

Oct. 8, 2022 Furman at The Citadel

Furman ran over and through The Citadel last season, but it was a key defensive play that sealed the 24-14 win/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

There isn’t a better rivalry, or perhaps more accurately, one that features more hatred and vitriol for the other–in a sporting sense at least–than the one between Furman and The Citadel.

When the two met on a chilly October evening last fall at Paladin Stadium, it marked the first start for Paladin true freshman signal-caller Jace Wilson, and he looked good early before the Bulldog defense made some adjustments and made Wilson look very much like a freshman.

Fortunately for Paladin fans, their veteran defense came up big late, as senior linebacker Elijah McKoy’s came up with maybe the most spectacular defensive play made by anyone in the league all season last fall.

It was the fifth-year senior’s caused fumble on a Jaylan Adams option pitch in a tense, 17-14, game midway through the fourth quarter that changed the complexion of the 101st meeting between the two heated rivals.

On 1st-and-10 at the at The Citadel 43, McKoy’s timing was impeccable, breaking through The Citadel line unblocked and batted the pitch down, falling on the ball at The Citadel 31.

Seven rushing plays later, the Paladins took back their two-score lead when Devin Abrams broke through the Bulldog line for a 1-yard scoring plunge on 3rd-and-goal, with 3:36 remaining to make it a 24-14 game.

The win was arguably the sweetest victory of the season for Clay Hendrix’s Paladins, and at that moment of the season the Paladin defense was playing some of the best football of anyone in not only the SoCon, but also all of FCS football.

It came just six months after the Paladins were dominated on the road at Johnson Hagood Stadium, dropping the 27-6 contest on a day when Furman’s offense was seemingly non-existent.

At the very same time the Paladin defense was doing its thing at the very mid-point of the 2021 fall season, it was the emergence of a dominating running game that also had Paladin fans excited. Playing mostly without Devin Wynn, who had been injured a week earlier in a win at Wofford, the emergence of Dominic Roberto in the backfield was something that would be a theme for the latter part of the season.

Roberto, Wayne Anderson, Jr., Devin Abrams, starting quarterback Jace Wilson and Kendall Thomas combined to rush for 205 yards, but it was Roberto that did a lion’s share of the work, rushing for a career-best 132 yards and a score on just 12 carries. The 5-11, 242-lb sophomore’s 90-yard rumble accounted for the second-longest scoring run in program history.

Furman’s 205 yards on the ground was a large bulk of its 289 yards of total offense on just 52 total plays. Furman quarterbacks Jace Wilson (4-of-12, 89 yds, 1 TD) and Hamp Sisson (0-of-3) combined to go just 4-of-15 for yards and a TD through the air.

In fact, the Bulldogs owned advantages in total plays (89-52), total yards (364-289), time of possession (36:45-21:59), rushing yards (241-205) and passing yards (123-84). However, the Paladins did manage to win the turnover battle (3-2).

It was a significant turning point in the wrong direction for The Citadel and head coach Brent Thompson for much of the latter portion of the 2021 fall season. There was some question as to whether or not Thompson would retain his job as a result of some of the performances over the latter half of the campaign for the Bulldogs, which is why in my opinion The Citadel’s win at Chattanooga in the regular-season finale probably saved his job in the Scenic City.

The loss to Furman would be part of a five-game skid that would end until the final two weeks of the regular-season, when The Citadel was able to get a thrilling 45-44 overtime win over Wofford before sealing Chattanooga’s playoff hopes of an at-large FCS playoff bid a week later, with a 24-21 win over the Mocs.

With those two wins, the Bulldogs rallied for a 4-7 record and a 3-5 mark in league play, which was good enough for a tie for seventh in the SoCon standings with Samford at season’s end.

Like Samford, The Citadel will have to replace a starting signal-caller, as Jaylan Adams entered the transfer portal in search of a new start and a new position, deciding it was time to give wideout a try.

It led to a pretty interesting quarterback battle in the spring for Thompson’s option attack, with Graeson Underwood putting together a nice spring to likely put himself out in front in that positional battle heading into fall camp.

The 6-0, 225-lb quarterback isn’t the guy you normally picture running Thompson’s multi-faceted option attack, as he looks more like a fullback under center than a elusive, slippery quick option quarterback like former cadets Brandon Rainey or Ben Dupree.

Underwood’s main competitors for the starting job in the fall will be a pair of redshirt freshmen, in Ahmad Green and Varney Farhnbullah, who also progressed nicely with added reps in the spring.

The Bulldogs also graduated a player in do-everything wideout Raleigh Webb, who in my opinion, leaves as one of the top offensive weapons in the history of Bulldogs football. Haden Haas and Jon Barrett-Lewis are major losses along the offensive front from a unit that averaged 262.1 YPG on the ground last season.

While the losses are significant, the Bulldogs have some key pieces returning to that ground attack, which include running backs like Cooper Wallace, Logan Billings, Emeka Nwanze, Sam Llewellyn, and Nkem Njoku.

Defense was supposed to be a strength last season for The Citadel, however, that was side of the ball struggled from the outset. The Bulldogs did rally to rank fifth in the league in total defense by season’s end, but still ended up yielding over 400 YPG for the season (422.5 YPG).

The Bulldogs should have one of the better defensive backfields in the SoCon this fall, highlighted by Dominick Poole, who was named the SoCon Freshman of the Year last fall, finishing the season with 51 tackles, a tackle-for-loss, nine pass breakups and a pair of interceptions.

Furman and The Citadel will be meeting for the 102nd time in series history when they do battle in early October, with Furman holding a 61-37-3 all-time series edge. Kickoff time for that rivalry contest has not yet been announced.

Oct. 15,- Western Carolina at Furman

Rogan Wells had a big day, as Western Carolina scored a thrilling 43-42 win over Furman last season in Cullowhee/photo courtesy of Western Carolina athletics

If there is one game the that Furman will have circled on its calendar this fall, it’s the game against Western Carolina, who with its 43-42 win over Furman in Cullowhee, scored its first win over the Paladins since 2015.

It’s been a series dominated by Furman over the years, but it’s been a series that has featured some thrillers along the way, and the 2021 meeting certainly followed that theme that had been prevalent throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the series, despite the fact Furman had the better of those close ones.

Few Catamount fans will ever forget the 1983 win at Paladin Stadium, as it was a game that progressed Western Carolina’s football program into uncharted territory as a program, as the 14-13 win meant the Catamounts would become the first Southern Conference program to ever play for a national championship.

The Cats, which were at the time led by legendary and South Carolina Football and SoCon Football Hall of Fame head coach Bob Waters at the time, took down a Paladin team that had produced arguably its best team in school history, downing the Paladins, 14-7. The Catamounts would go on to drop a 43-7 contest in the national title game at Johnson-Hagood Stadium in Charleston to Southern Illinois.

Having never won a Southern Conference regular-season crown on the gridiron since joining the SoCon in 1976, the runner-up season of 1983 to go along with an impressive 11-win campaign remains the greatest accomplishment in the history of Catamount football.

The two teams had played to a 17-17 tie earlier in the season when the two had met at E.J. Whitmire Stadium in Cullowhee. With Catamount fans so overcome with joy, the goalposts at Paladin Stadium came down. For all those Paladin fans and players that were apart of that particular, that has never been forgotten, despite the Paladins having dominated the series.

That said, last year’s 43-42 loss might not have been anything like 1983, but the loss stung in a similar way, as Furman blew a third quarter lead in a game it was seemingly in complete control of in the third quarter.

As the past has seemingly always proven, strange things happen to Furman in the mountain air of western North Carolina. The Paladins have a weird propensity for coming up point short in the mountain air of this particular geographical region of the old North State. Furman held a seemingly comfortable double-digit lead early in the fourth (42-31), but it wouldn’t stand up.

The Catamounts, which lost their first six games of the season, all of the sudden had won three-straight with its win over the Paladins. The game played out much differently than it had in Greenville a few months earlier in the spring meeting between the two, as the preseason spring SoCon title favorite had kicked off that rarest of rare seasons the preceding February with a dominant 35-7 over the Catamounts.

The subject of the horror story for the Furman defense that played out for much of the afternoon was Valdosta State/Tusculum graduate transfer Rogan Wells, who might as well have been Richie Williams (Appalachian State/2002-05) against the Paladins on that early November afternoon, as he could seemingly do nothing wrong. He had the Midas touch against the Paladins.

On Oct. 9, 2004, App State’s Williams set an NCAA record with 28-consecutive pass completions,completing 40-of-45 passes for 413 yards and no INTs, leading the former SoCon and FCS member Mountaineers to a 30-29 win a little over 17 years ago. All told, Williams accounted for 440 yards of total offense and three TD responsibilities

Some 17 years later, Wells’ day strong day offensively came despite throwing a pair of INTs, and was enough to help the Catamounts overcome four turnovers in the contest. However, the INTs almost were an afterthought in comparison to how he played for nearly the entire afternoon.

Along with his 386 passing yards and two touchdowns, Wells also rushed for 91 yards, which included a 33-yard rushing score in the third quarter, as he totaled 477 yards of total offense and three touchdown responsibilities. He finished the day completing 22-of-33 passes, and it could be argued that both of the INTs he threw were on the receiver, and not on bad throws.

Wells is gone, but the problems that second-year head coach Kerwin Bell and his Catamounts could cause the Paladins once again this year even in Greenville aren’t. And while Bell has to find a replacement for Wells, he won’t have to look far, as Carlos Davis, who started and helped the Catamounts to a win a week earlier against The Citadel, landing Davis SoCon Player of the Week accolades.

The Catamounts also had much of that same staff in place, including offensive coordinator Kade Bell, who is Kerwin’s son.

That well-oiled machine of an offense certainly won’t be lacking for talent even without Wells around calling the shots under center anymore, with the likes of all-league wideout Raphael Williams, as well as Calvin Jones, who is another big-play threat at receiver.

Two things were prevalent that came together down the stretch for the Catamounts, which allowed them to win four of their final five games in the 2021 fall regular season and they were improved offensive line play, as well as a defense that seemingly improved as much as any in a five-week span than maybe any in FCS football.

Both the offensive line and the defense should be even better this fall, and I am of the opinion that it will make the Catamounts a dark horse league title contender in 2022.

The offensive line welcomes the return of all five starters that it had by the time it played Furman, which were all freshmen or sophomores due to a rash of injuries that hit the Catamounts early in the season. Keep in mind that the 2022 season had the backdrop of tragedy, with the sudden and tragic death of offensive line coach John Peacock of COVID-19 in August.

A little over a two weeks later, the program was dealt another tragic loss, as former Catamount Hall-of-Fame wideout and Super Bowl Champion with the New England Patriots David Patten was killed tragically in a motorcycle accident near Columbia.

But the Catamounts rallied strong to finish 4-7 overall, and their 4-4 mark in league action was good enough to ensure a tie for fourth place in the league standings along with Furman and VMI. In fact, with the Catamounts having beaten both the Paladins and Keydets head-to-head, they could at least claim fourth outright.

While the offense was young and fun to watch, the Catamount defense seemingly made game-changing plays look routine over the latter half of the campaign, with the most notable plays behind made in the secondary Andreas Keaton and Ronald Kent Jr. in the secondary–a unit that should be among the best in the SoCon this fall.

When the Battle of Purple of Supremacy kicks off on Oct. 16, it will mark the 50th all-time renewal of the rivalry, with Furman owning a commanding 34-13-2 all-time series edge.

Furman has yet to announce the kickoff time for the mid-October clash between the Paladins and Catamounts.

Oct. 22, 2022–Furman at VMI

Big plays spelled doom for VMI vs. Furman in 2021/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

Prior to Scott Wachenheim’s arrival in Lexington to take over the helm as VMI head football–arguably one of the if not the toughest Division I (FBS or FCS) coaching jobs in the country, a Furman loss to the Keydets was almost unfathomable.

However, Wachenheim has patiently built a VMI program that continues to do things once thought borderline miraculous, like winning a Southern Conference title in the spring of 2021 (2020 season).

After Furman dropped what was a heartbreaking 14-13 decision to the Keydets a couple of years ago, Furman was able to rally from behind to come up with a 37-31 in what was the regular-season home finale last season.

When the Paladins captured the six-point win over the Keydets last season, it was a game that saw both teams execute at a high level for much of the game, especially in the passing game.

At the end of what had become a cool fall evening by the time the game concluded, the Paladins had once again used big plays to dispatch of an opponent on home turf, which had become a theme in almost every home game of the 2021 fall campaign, starting with the season opening 29-18 win over North Carolina A&T.

In fact, if one were to define Furman’s offense for the 2021 fall season with one phrase, it would probably be something like the following– ‘be big-play or bust Paladins’.In the six-point win over the 20th-ranked Keydets, VMI, that theme continued true to form on what was a sun-splashed senior day defined once again by a bevy of big plays.

Furman had touchdown passes of 64 and 73 yards, and a scoring run of 39 yards in the opening half, which accounted for 21 of Furman’s 37 points on a day the Paladins honored 13 seniors (8-defense, 4-offense, and 1 specialist). 

Similar to its basketball program under Earl, and even more pronounced following his exodus to the Scenic City of Chattanooga to become the Mocs head hoops coach, it has become even harder to keep student athletes in either major sport within the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.

However, Wachenheim has not been phased, and he’s given the program a little bit of backbone and culture, which it had lacked for the better part of four decades prior to his arrival. For the first time since the late 1970s, the 2021 season saw VMI enter the season as one of the ‘hunted.

VMI will have a number of weapons still around on the offensive side of the ball, despite the fact that so many of those big-play skill position players are now suiting up somewhere other than VMI, including guys like Reece Udinski and Kris Thornton have transferred out of the program in recent seasons.

However, despite losing players of that ilk in recent seasons, the Keydets still managed to experience some solid success.

That’s due in part to the offensive system, but even when the Keydets have to replace some talented offensive or defensive coaches, Wachenheim has seemingly been able to more than adequately adjust to those departures by making the right replacement hire.

That will need to be the case this season, as for the first time in quite a while, the Keydets are having to replace coaches on both sides of the ball due to being successful over the past couple of campaigns rather than lack thereof.

The new coaches on staff for the Keydets will be defensive coordinator Nick Reveiz, while Jack Abercrombie will not only direct the passing attack, but will also now add overseeing the running back to his offensive coordinator responsibilities this fall.

Along with Reveiz joining the VMI staff, JB Lageman (Defensive Line), Dino Waites (Safeties), Bilal Marshall (Wide Receivers), and Greg Wood (Specialists) will all be part of the new re-tooled staff heading into 2022.

Wachenheim, who is entering his eighth season at the helm of the VMI football program, has some familiar faces returning on the offensive side of the ball, despite losing some pieces on that side of the ball, including maybe the best receiver in the SoCon, in Jakob Herres.

The good news is junior quarterback Seth Morgan returns under center, and due that injury to Udinski back in the spring of 2021, he will enter the season with already 1.5 seasons of starting experience under his belt.

Morgan isn’t probably going to threaten Udinski’s NCAA mark of 368 passes without an interception in his career, however, he brings his own savvy and athleticism to the VMI offense, which is unique and is a great leadership quality–something Wachenheim knows a little bit about, having been involved as a head coach or assistant coach at a military school or service academy for a good chunk of his coaching career.

Last season, Morgan passed for 2,175 yards, with 14 TDs and 11 INTs. He also is an elusive runner, coming off a campaign, which saw him rush for 191 yards and three scores. His best performance came in a thrilling 46-45 come-from-behind win over Samford, as he set a new program record for total offense with 525 yards in the epic come-from-behind win.

While Morgan is just one of several weapons to return on an offense that finished the 2021 fall season ranking 24th nationally in total offense (417.9 YPG) and 23rd nationally in passing offense (256.9), as the Keydets featured maybe their most balanced offensive version of the air raid under Wachenheim last season.

Defensively, a lack of size up front to generate pressure in a three-man or four-man front has been an issue at times even in current times as the program is undergoing a current run of success. The Keydet defense ranked 108th nationally in total defense (443.6 YPG). The Keydets struggled the most against the run, ranking 120th out 123 ranked teams in FCS football in rush defense last fall (232.9 YPG).

The one huge positive for Keydet fans on the defensive fans is that they may not have had the best defense in the SoCon over the past few seasons, however, they can lay claim to arguably the league’s best defensive player, in Stone Snyder, who returns at linebacker this fall.

Snyder led the SoCon in total tackles for a second-straight season last fall. His impressive 10.9 tackles-per-game also ranked an impressive sixth nationally.

When the Paladins and Keydets meet at Foster Stadium on Oct. 23, it will mark the the 40th all-time meeting between the two, with the Paladins owning the commanding 29-10 all-time series edge.

Furman has won 27 of the past 29 meetings between the two programs. However, both wins that VMI has recorded over the past three decades have come during Wachenheim’s previous seven seasons leading the program, including a 14-13 back in the spring of 2021 (2020 season) in Lexington.

Kickoff for the contest between Furman and VMI in Lexington has yet to be announced.

Oct. 30, 2022–Furman vs. Chattanooga

Furman’s Travis Blackshear interested a pass vs. Chattanooga in 2021 to thwart a first half scoring drive in Furman’s 13-3 loss in the Scenic City/Photo courtesy of Furman athletics

Ask most Furman fans what the most demoralizing SoCon game of the 2021 fall season, and probably most in unison would say the 13-3 loss at Chattanooga. Ask them what’s different about the Mocs than any other team the Paladins will face in October and most would say–DEFENSE!

That’s not just because the previous four foes during the month were among the worst in the nation, however, that is an actual fact. It’s more the Mocs were just so dominant. The Paladins could muster just 157 yards of total offense in last season’s loss in the Scenic City. The Paladins ran just 43 plays, garnered just six first downs, and were nearly doubled in time of possession (39:48-20:12) in that 10-point loss.

It’s also Furman’s homecoming game, which over the years has featured some doozies and I don’t mean that in a good way. One can point to the 1997 debacle vs.ETSU or ’98 vs. The Citadel, or more recently in 2014 vs. Samford, which saw Furman blanked 45-0!

In fact, the loss to the Mocs on that rainy Saturday during the mid-season felt almost identical to the NC State game, only the score was much closer. But it felt Furman’s offense was light years way from being able to offer any kind of threat to the Mocs, even the game remained close all afternoon.

Chattanooga’s defense was that good, and have been for the most part for the better part of a decade. You’d literally have to go back to the Rodney Allison era somewhere around 2007 to final an absolutely putrid one.

The Mocs, though, were a disappointment. Chattanooga’s talent level was not 6-5, and the Furman coaches would even tell you that the Mocs were the best team the Paladins faced in league, especially on the defensive side of the ball, yet lacked something on offense.

The Mocs’ 6-5 mark in league play meant UTC would finish third in the league when the dust settled on the season, and with losses to Mercer and The Citadel to close the season, the Mocs’ playoff fate was seemingly sealed.

The Mocs entered the 2021 fall campaign as the heavy favorites to claim the league crown after sitting out half of the previous spring for “COVID-19” concerns, which most around there were potentially ulterior at play in the form of strategy to gear up for a big run at not only the regular-season league title, but also a deep run in the FCS playoffs.

Chattanooga’s defensive line could rival any in FCS football. They are and were no joke. The rest of that defense followed suit. It may well do that again this season.

The Mocs’ football program has been in the news for all positive reasons lately, as offensive lineman Cole Strange became the first player from a SoCon school drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft since 1974, as he was the 29th overall pick by the New England Patriots.

It was not only good publicity for Chattanooga, but also the SoCon as a whole, which takes a lot of unwarranted jabs from national media about being a now also-ran conference in comparison to its former days of glory when Appalachian State and Georgia Southern called the league home.

In fact, it could be argued that Chattanooga, along with Wofford, have kind of carried the mantle of the league’s prestige programs since the Mountaineers and the Eagles decided to to move on to the Sun Belt Conference some eight years ago.

Rusty Wright’s Mocs will likely enter the season as one of if not the favorites again in the Southern Conference if UTC can get some better production out of its offense as a whole. The defense has been a constant, and that doesn’t look like changing much this season either.

At times last season, Chattanooga looked every bit the part of how they were picked to finish, handing eventual champion and bitter rival East Tennessee State its only league loss, and also narrow loss to a solid Kentucky team, which was still in the balance well into the fourth quarter.

Twelve starters are expected back for the Mocs entering the 2022 season, and several of the major pieces on both sides of the ball have decided to hang around the Scenic City for another year, which is enough to make the Mocs once again a more than capable title contender among the league’s pecking order.

If you include UTC’s specialist, a total of 15 regulars return for the 2021 fall campaign. All told, the Mocs return six starters that garnered All-SoCon honors last season, including one that earned All-America recognition.

Seven starters return to highlight a unit that should be able to rival any in FCS football this fall, including the most dominant defensive lineman in all of FCS and potentially all of Division I football (FCS or FBS) Devonsha Maxwell returning to the unit. Maxwell is seemingly unblock able with even two men at times. He’s that good. Davis Tull good.

Maxwell’s Mocs were stellar against the Paladins, which by season’s end actually turned out to be decent offensively side of the ball, as the young Jace Wilson continued to learn the Paladin offense, splitting time with Hamp Sisson, who has decided to move on and pursue a degree in the medical field.

Maxwell will lead a defensive unit that will be coming off a season which saw them rank ninth in the country in total defense (275.8 YPG). The Mocs had few weaknesses if any on defense last season, finishing 27th nationally against the run (122.3 YPG), second in passing yards allowed (153.5 YPG), 11th in scoring defense (17.1 PPG), 16th in team sacks (31.0/2.82 SPG), and 14th in passes intercepted (15/2 TDs).

Though the offense wasn’t horrible, it was certainly anything but consistent. Just five regulars return on that side of the ball for the Blue and Gold, however, like the defensive side of the ball with Maxwell, the Mocs have one of the best at his respective position in all of FCS football, in running back Ailym Ford, and while Cole Strange is now making the big bucks and eating plenty of New England Clam Chowder with his new OL teammates, the ones he left to enjoy the Choo-Choo Inn’s famous white chili together as a unit is not too shabby either, with both McClendon Curtis and Colin Truett have acted as iron sharpening iron with both being thrown into action early in their careers due to injured veterans.

Ford ended the 2022 campaign by rushing for 1,071 yards and 11 TDs last season, splitting time with veteran Tyrell Price to give the Mocs a great one-two punch in the backfield. That guy this season could be Gino Appleberry, who came up big in UTC’s spring win in 2021 at Furman, as he rushed for 85 yards and a score.

All told, the Mocs finished the 2021 fall season a decent 49th nationally on the offensive side of the ball, averaging (374.2 YPG), however, it was in those big moments when the unit seemingly faltered.

Cole Copeland heads into fall camp as the projected starter under center for UTC, but could be challenged to hold onto that starting job from guys like redshirt freshman Ty Gossett and Parker Brown.

All told, when the Paladins and Mocs tee-it-up a day before Halloween at Paladin Stadium, it will mark the 52nd all-time clash between the two tradition-rich programs, with the Paladins holding the 30-21 all-time edge, although the Mocs have won the last two.

October Prediction: It’s certainly preliminary to say too much of anything at this point. I mean, these articles usually end up showing that us so-called prognosticators know next to nothing about prophecy or football by season’s end. I’d imagine that local palm reader on Poinsett Highway heading towards Furman might do a better job were she to have Clay Hendrix stop in one day for a session…(You laughed).

Now to the seriousness of May predictions made by someone who has never played down of football at any level. That being said, I don’t need the palm reader across from Ken’s Plumbing and directly diagonal from Hakim Rugs to tell me that October is make or break for the Paladins, or pretty much any program in this great country.

It’s an eclectic mix Furman will face. Four of the five defenses the Paladins will face during the first four weeks of the month go from absolutely worst in the nation, to pretty bad, to mediocre/bad, to awful and then to outstanding. Go figure. All were good-to-great offensively last season, and all seemingly have unique schemes. It’s nightmare game prep 101 for the excellent Paladin defensive staff, headed up by defensive coordinator, Duane Vaughn.

That said, I can confidently assert that Furman will be probably be in good shape at home against both Samford and Western Carolina, and so I will at least for now, those two will be close wins.

The Citadel is tricky, and never easy to defeat anywhere. After all, they’re a rival, and those games are supposed to be close, tough and nasty. Even at that, breaking in a new quarterback could lead to some issues this season. So I’ll say Furman gets one there, too.

I think the games at VMI and at home vs Chattanooga at clearly two of the toughest games of the season. Unfortunately, I think Furman loses at least one of those games, and maybe both.

Both could be pick ’em type games.That said, I’ll say Furman goes 1-1 in those two, with a likely loss at home to the team I think will be league favorite Chattanooga. So, at 2-2 in the month of September and 4-1 in October, the Paladins’ playoff fate will be likely decided by the final two games of the season in November.

A 3-2 mark in the month of October, which is probably statistically speaking the most likely outcome according to an analytical breakdown, the Paladins are in real trouble for a playoff bid because of the Division II game against North Greenville. That’s a problem Furman hasn’t had to worry about all too often. Even at 4-1, Furman would need to win both games against Mercer and Wofford to close out the season.

The only plausible theory to avoid a perfect pressure packed November is to win at ETSU, or find a win in a game the Paladins would otherwise be an underdog in, such as the ETSU contest early in the season.

For now, I’ll say 4-1, which means Furman would head to the final month of the season with no margin for error at 6-3 overall and 4-2 in league play.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of the 2022 Furman football schedule preview coming in the very near future.

Furman Football 2022: Previewing the Paladins’ Sept slate of games

Devin Wynn vs North Carolina A&T in the 2021 season opener/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

Noting a busy off-season:

With spring sports winding down at every program around the nation, and with the NFL Draft heading into its third day, naturally I have started to shift my focus towards the 2022 SoCon Football season, as well as what lies ahead for head coach Clay Hendrix and the Paladins, as the Commerce, GA., native heads into his sixth season at the helm of the program.

It’s been a slower build than usual for me when taking a look forward to Furman’s 2022 football season.

Some of it has to do with having to re-charge the batteries after what was one of the more thrilling Furman basketball seasons in recent memory, culminating with the heartbreaking loss to Chattanooga, following David Jean-Baptiste’s 36-foot contested buzzer-beating effort just over two months ago.

That said, as I have now made another trip around the moon, it’s this time of year when I start to at least devote some time to taking a look towards SoCon and Furman football for the upcoming season.

What’s Changed?

Though the last calendar year might have not produced the type of results Paladin fans might have hoped for, the truth be told is that it has been overall a pretty successful five seasons for Paladin football, having gone 31-23 during that span, with FCS playoff appearances in 2017 and ‘19, and a shared Southern Conference regular-season title in 2018. 

When East Tennessee State’s Randy Sanders decided to retire following the most successful season in Bucs football history, ETSU Director of Athletics launched a national search looking for Sanders’ replacement. When it was all said and done, Sanders ended up calling one of East Tennessee’s own back home. 

When Associate head coach/offensive coordinator George Quarles first arrived in Greenville, he was one of the most successful high school coaches in the history coaches in the history of the Volunteer State during his time as the head coach at Maryville High School, as he won 11 state championships at the helm of that program. 

Quarles has been Furman’s offensive coordinator since the start of the 2018 season, following Drew Cronic’s departure to become the head coach at Lenoir-Rhyne, and now of course, is the head coach of the Mercer Bears, showcasing the overall success of that staff originallty was put together by head coach Clay Hendrix in 2017. 

Taking over at offensive coordinator will be Justin Roper, who comes from Holy Cross, where he helped the Crusaders navigate their way to the playoffs. 

Though Roper was still at Oregon in 2008, he probably remembers having caught wind of now co-worker Drew Dudzik near-heroic effort in leading the Dukes past the Montana Grizzlies in the FCS semifinals after all-everything starting quarterback Rodney Landers went down with a game-ending injury.

Though Dudzik would lead a valiant effort in relief, it was Montana that held on for a 35-27 win on a cold Virginia night in mid-December. A week later in Chattanooga, the Griz were no match for Richmond, which defeated Montana 24-7.

Roper was still at Oregon at the time, but would lead Montana to the same destination a year later after transferring from Eugene to Missoula, only to be on the end of the same negative result as a year earlier when the Griz lost a heartbreaking 23-21 decision to Villanova in the 2009 national title game.

During his time at the helm of the Holy Cross offense last season, he presided over one of the more balanced offenses participating in the FCS postseason, as the Crusaders averaged  203.8 YPG on the ground, while averaging 201.5 yards-per-game through the air. 

Roper was just one of three changes, which had to be made at the conclusion of the 2021 season on the offensive side of the ball for the Paladins. 

With Brian Bratton having left to take a role as the receivers coach for the Indianapolis Colts. 

Then James Madison signal-caller Drew Dudzik helped lead JMU to one of the biggest wins in the history of FCS football, as the Dukes took down No. 11 Virginia Tech, 21-16, in Blacksburg on Sept.11, 2010/photo courtesy of JMU athletics

As a result of the loss of Bratton to the NFL, the Paladins hired the aforementioned former JMU signal-caller Dudzik to succeed Bratton as the wide receivers coach for the Paladins heading into the 2022 season. 

Dudzik served in the same role as a wide receivers coach from 2019-21 at East Carolina. 

As a player, Dudzik is surely most remembered for leading to JMU to one of its signature moments as a football program in 2010, as he helped lead the Dukes to that magical, 21-16, win over No. 11 Virginia Tech in flood-like conditions at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg.

The 2022 Schedule:

Sept. 1–vs North Greenville–For the first time since the 2005 season, Furman will begin its regular season on a Thursday night when the Paladins host North Greenville for the first-ever meeting between the two programs separated by only 12 miles.

Ingle Martin delivers decisive scoring pass to Justin Stepp as time expires

The last time the Paladins took the field on a Thursday night to open a season was as the No. 2 ranked team in all of FCS football, when the Paladins traveled to Jacksonville State and claimed what was a thrilling 37-35 win over Jacksonville State at Paul Snow Stadium, as Florida transfer Ingle Martin, who was in his second season as the Paladin starting signal-caller, delivered a perfect strike to Justin Stepp on a perfect 9-yard scoring toss as time expired to claim one of the most thrilling regular-season wins in Furman football history.

The last time the Paladins opened the season with a non-Thursday night game was in 2016, as Furman opened with a Friday night, 28-13, loss to Michigan State.

North Greenville is coming off a 5-6 season, which includes a 2-5 mark in Gulf South Conference play, which is traditionally regarded as one of the top Division II conferences in the nation.

One of the interesting connections among several heading into the first-ever clash between the two schools is Corey Watkins, who will be suiting up with the Crusaders this fall after transferring in from Furman.

Watkins, who did not play last year due to an injury, will be suiting up for the Crusaders this fall. During Watkins’ time as a Paladin, he rushed for 883 yards and four touchdowns on 117 attempts at Furman.

Three coaches have ties to Furman football, including head coach Jeff Farrington, as well as assistant coaches Carrol McCray and Maurice Duncan.

Farrington served nine seasons (2002-2010) as an assistant football coach at Furman, and was the Paladins’ defensive coordinator in 2010. He also served in stints at Mercer (2013) and Virginia Military Institute (2014) before taking over the reins of the North Greenville Football program in 2015.

McCray served as the offensive line coach at Furman from 2007-10 under then Paladin head coach Bobby Lamb.

Finally, Maurice Duncan, who is the Crusaders’ defensive coordinator, spent time as part of one of the best defenses in Paladin football history in 2004, helping the Paladins to a 10-2 regular-season record and a No. 2 overall seed in the Division I-AA playoffs. He was a four-year letterman 2001-04, finishing his career with 116 tackles and intercepted five passes. Duncan was a member of a pair of SoCon championship teams.

The 7 p.m. kickoff between the Paladins and Crusaders will be part of a five-game home slate for the Paladins during the 2022 season.

Sept. 10, 2022 at Clemson

Furman dropped a 48-7 decision at Clemson in 2018/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

For the first time since the 2018 season, Furman will face off against Clemson on the college football gridiron when the Paladins travel to Memorial Stadium on Sept. 10.

It will mark the 58th renewal of one of the oldest college football rivalries in the state of South Carolina, which first began in 1896, with Clemson claiming what was a 14-6 win in Greenville.

The Tigers hold a commanding 43-10-4 all-time lead in the series between the two schools, which includes a 48-7 win over the Paladins back in 2018. In notching the lopsided win over the Paladins, the Tigers were to claim the program’s 31st-straight win over the Paladins, dating back to a 0-0 tie between the two Palmetto State teams in 1937 in Greenville. Furman’s last win was a 12-0 triumph over the Tigers in Clemson the previous season.

Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney enters his 14th campaign as the program’s head coach, having posted an impressive worksheet during that span, posting a 150-36 record as the program’s head coach, including a pair of national titles (2016 and ’18), six trips to the College Football Playoffs (2015, ’16, ’17, ’18, ’19 and ’20), and seven Atlantic Coast Conference crowns (2011, ’15, ’16, ’17, ’18, ’19, and ’20).

Clemson brings back 15 starters (9-offense/6-defense) from a team that finished the 2021 campaign with a 10-3 overall record and final Associated Press ranking of No. 14 nationally. The Tigers claimed the Cheez-It Bowl with a 20-13 win over Iowa State in Orlando.

Furman is Clemson’s oldest gridiron rival.

Sept. 17 at East Tennessee State

No. 14 East Tennessee State captured its first win at Furman since 1997 in Greenville

Furman will square off against East Tennessee State on Sept. 17 to kick off Southern Conference play.

The Paladins suffered what was a heartbreaking 17-13 setback last season against the Bucs, which marked just the third win all-time for the Bucs inside the friendly confines of Paladin Stadium. The loss dropped the Paladins to 16-3 all-time against Furman in Greenville.

The Bucs are coming off one of the best seasons in program history, having claimed the program’s first-ever outright Southern Conference title with an 11-2 mark, which included a 7-1 mark in Southern Conference play, with the lone SoCon loss coming at the hands of the Chattanooga Mocs, dropping a 21-17 contest.

The Bucs would bow out of the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion, as Malik Murray was able to haul in 3-yard scoring pass with nine seconds remaining, concluding what was a 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive, as Murray hauled in the winning scoring strike from signal-caller Tyler Riddell to secure the winning points.

The Bucs’ win over the Paladins marked the first victory since the 2017 season, when ETSU launched its biggest come-from-behind win in school history to capture a 29-27 victory over the Paladins during the 2018 campaign. That would mark the second of three league titles that the Bucs have won as a program.

The Bucs will likely enter George Quarles’ debut season back in his native surroundings of East Tennessee as the favorite to defending their SoCon title from a year ago.

Quarles will have weapons returning on both sides of the football, including all-conference running back Jacob Saylors returning in the ETSU backfield, while Riddell returns under center.

ETSU was knocked out of the postseason in the FCS quarterfinals by eventual national champion North Dakota State, dropping a 27-3 decision at the Fargo Dome.

The Paladins and Bucs will be meeting on the college football gridiron for the 37th time in series history, with Furman owning the 27-9 series edge. The Paladins claimed a 17-13 win over ETSU in come-from-behind fashion in the spring of the 2021 (2020 season), and had won the previous two prior to last season’s win by the Bucs in Greenville last fall.

ETSU has a number of significant departures on the defensive side of football, with pillars like linebacker Jared Fowlkes, as well as All-American defensive back Tyree Robinson, however, the good news is the Bucs will have at least some playmakers back that helped contribute to their magical run through the SoCon and FCS playoffs a year ago, with Alijah Huzzie returning to anchor the Bucs’ secondary.

Overall, Quarles’ first spring as the head coach of ETSU went off smoothly, despite having had to recruit on the run, as well as having to had some unforeseen departures in the transfer portal, with maybe the two most notable being Tre’Mond Shorts from the offensive line, as well as one of the league’s top defensive performers–linebacker Donovan Manuel–deciding to play their trade at the FBS level, with Shorts set to continue his career at LSU next season, while Manuel will continue his career at Florida International.

Following Quarles from Furman to ETSU was Dru Duke, who will serve as the tight ends and offensive line coach for the Bucs this fall.

No kickoff time has been set for the contest at William B. Greene Stadium.

Sept. 24-at Charleston Southern

Furman opened the 2019 season at home against Charleston Southern, defeating the Bucs in demonstrative fashion with a 46-13 win/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

It will be back-to-back Bucs for Furman when it takes on Charleston Southern to close out the opening month of the 2021 season.

In the first-ever meeting between the Paladins and Bucs back in 2019, the Paladins made easy work of Charleston Southern at Paladin Stadium, using a three-headed monster in the backfield to do a majority of the damage, as the Paladins rolled up 369 yards on the ground behind the efforts of Devin Wynn, Devin Abrams, and Corey Watkins, as the trio delivered a performance worthy of a tip-of-the-cap from Charleston Southern head coach and Notre Dame’s all-time leading rusher, Autry Denson, who was making his debut at the helm of the CSU football program on that very same sun-splashed season opener in Greenville some three years ago.

Since that afternoon, Denson has slowly built the Bucs into a viable contender in the Big South Conference, and has done so using a version of the Air Raid offense in the process.

Denson saw his Bucs continue to take incremental steps as a program last season, as the Bucs look to chase the tradition first established under head coach Jay Mills and quarterback Colin Drafts, and after some really trying times early in the Jamey Chadwell era, increased its program profile to easily its highest point in 2017, when CSU dropped a heartbreaking 24-17 overtime decision to juggernaut and reigning national champion North Dakota State to open the 2016 season.

Charleston Southern posted a 4-6 overall mark last season, which included a 3-4 mark in the Big South. One of the breakout performances of the 2021 season for CSU came against cross-town rival The Citadel, 38-21, in the 2021 season-opener.

The biggest adjustments for Denson’s Bucs will need to be made on the offensive side of the ball, having to replace Jack Chambers, who led CSU with 2,967 yards of total offense (2,490 pass yds/477 rush yds) and accounted for 24 TD responsibilities (17-passing, 7-rushing) last season.

The good news is the Bucs do return first-team All-Big South wideout Cayden Jordan this fall, as he hauled in 53 passes for 752 yards and a touchdown, averaging 14.2 YPR in 2021.

It will mark Furman’s first-ever trip to Ladson, and kickoff is slated for noon at Buccaneer Field.

September Prediction: If Furman makes it out of September with a 2-2 record, it won’t be the end of the world, but it will likely be what will likely happen if we were to go by the games the Paladins will be favored in and the ones that they won’t be.

Facing perennial national title contender Clemson is no picnic, but there are positives to facing the Tigers…Simply knowing you won’t face a team as talented the remainder of the season is one of those, while the other is that I am a big believer in the notion that team’s like Furman get better after facing a team like Clemson as the season moves forward.

The key game of the month is a no-brainer, as Furman’s trip to Johnson City is one that most all around the league have circled on their respective schedules. Furman represents the program by which to be measured in terms of all-time success and tradition, and are the only current member with a national title, will likely look on as one of those significant pieces of that national title puzzle leads ETSU in his first SoCon game as a head coach, while his team will likely be getting rightfully admonished for the accomplishments of such a dominant 2021 season.

It all will be an interesting backdrop to that league opener on Sept. 17. It will have a little bit of a biting edge to it, and should be a great game as it almost always is.

Predicted record after Sept. 2-2

Breaking down a busy off-season in the SoCon

Dan Earl is the 22nd head coach of Chattanooga’s storied basketball program

A brief SoCon postseason recap

It seems like its been a while since the season ended, yet the news has been non-stop.

Three SoCon teams played in the postseason, with all three losing their opening game, highlighted by Chattanooga’s heartbreaking 54-53 loss to Illinois.

The Mocs had two excellent chances to win before seeing two potential game-winners miss their mark, which could have delivered the Mocs their first tournament win since that remarkable run back in 1997. However, it just wasn’t to be.

VMI and UNCG’s losses were much less-publicized, as the two programs took part in the College Basketball Invitational played in Daytona Beach, FL.

The Keydets had an up-and-down year by their standards, ad after a 2-0 start in Southern Conference play, with wins over VMI and Wofford, it must have seemed at the time that a 16-16 overall finish wasn’t in the cards, and perhaps the Keydets might be a team that would break through and win 20 games.

However, a late season ankle injury in arguably the biggest road win of the season to VMI’s Jake Stephens was seemingly the Keydets’ undoing.

That said, Stephens’ toughness showed through in the Southern Conference Tournament, as he played on one leg basically, as he battled his way to a game-high 23 points in 68-66 loss to Wofford.

Despite Stephens’ 17th 20-point effort of the season, and a game-high 26 points from Keydet guard Trey Bonham, the Keydets couldn’t overcome a solid UNC Wilmington team, dropping a 93-78 contest.

The Seahawks represented the CAA well, as UNC Wilmington went on to win the 16-team tournament, downing Northern Colorado in the championship game.

While VMI (16-16, 9-9 SoCon/5th) was taking part in its first postseason of any sort since 2014, which was during its pre-SoCon days and pre-Dan Earl days as head coach, UNC Greensboro (17-15, 9-9 SoCon/6th) was certainly no stranger to postseason play.

Under the direction of first-year head coach Mike Jones, the Spartans were challengers atop the league, despite having to try and shed the phrase “rebuilding season” for much of the campaign.

In fact, it marked the sixth season over the past seven that the Spartans have taken part in some postseason tournament, whether it be NIT, NCAA Tournament, or CBI.

But like VMI, the stay in the postseason didn’t last all that long for first-year head coach Mike Jones and his Spartans, as UNCG lost its first game in the CBI, dropping a 71-68 contest to Boston University.

In his final game as a Spartan, De’Monte Buckingham, who had led the Spartans in scoring all season, led the Spartans with 21 points. Bas Leyte chipped in with 17 points in the losing effort.

Both Furman (22-12, 12-6 SoCon/2nd) and Wofford (19-13, 10-8 SoCon/4th) did not take part in postseason play for different reasons, with Furman not being chosen to take part in the National Invitational Tournament, following its buzzer-beating loss to Chattanooga in overtime in the Southern Conference championship game, while Wofford, which was chosen to play in the newly formed College Basketball Classic (formerly known as the CIT), opted out of the tournament after some uncertainties and cancellations which was enough for the Terrier athletic administration to see the writing on the wall and pull the plug on the season.

Below are some news and notes involving coaching changes, the early transfer portal report, and an extremely early look ahead to next season.

Coaches on the move and staying put

While the SoCon title game gave us a bit of drama, it didn’t stop with Chattanooga’s David Jean-Baptiste’s buzzer-beating effort to beat Furman, it didn’t end there.

In fact, it continued into one of the more highly-publicized coaching searches in the nation, as both UTC’s Lamont Paris and Furman’s Bob Richey were among the finalists for the job opening at the University of South Carolina.

After Sean Miller turned down the post to take the job at Xavier, and Matt McMahon (Murray State)–another highly sought after mid-major coach–turned down the offer to go to take the job at LSU, South Carolina Director of Athletics Ray Tanner ended up extending the offer to Paris, despite pleas from the South Carolina faithful to give current Wake Forest assistant and former ETSU and Charleston Southern assistant B.J. McKie an opportunity.

Paris, who finished out his UTC career with an 87-72 record in five seasons, will take over as the 33rd head coach of the South Carolina basketball program.

During his time at Chattanooga, Paris had to rebuild a program that struggled in his first two seasons. In his final three seasons as the head coach, Paris won 65 of his 87 games as the head coach, which included winning 27 games and claiming SoCon regular-season and tournament titles in his final season at the helm of the Mocs.

With Richey staying, Furman figures to be one of the favorites again

While Paris is on the move, Richey is staying put at Furman, and will head into his sixth season at the helm of the Furman basketball program. He has compiled a 111-46 record during his time as the Paladins head coach, and was within one buzzer-beating shot by David Jean-Baptiste of helping lead Furman to its first NCAA Tournament in 42 years.

Richey and staff have been outspoken about maintaining culture and not selling out to the current narrative of portal identity like some programs around the SoCon and mid-major basketball seemingly have done.

It’s my opinion that Noah Gurley’s transfer to the University of Alabama changed that. Not that Furman would be a program that tries to bring in transfers from the portal by the boatload, but rather that Furman would be willing to take some chances on guys that might be able to fit their system.

Conley Garrison was one of those players that fit in nicely last season, and the Paladins were no doubt a tougher team and a more together unit as a result of the former Drury University transfer’s presence.

Despite the gut-wrenching loss in what was a classic SoCon title game in Asheville, Richey returns as head coach of the program that at least on paper, should be the odds-on favorites to claim the SoCon regular-season and tournament titles if the 2022-23 season started tomorrow.

Furman lost guard Colin Kenney, forward Ben Beeker, and guard Jaylon Pugh to the portal. That freed up two scholarships. The Paladins signed a pair of players last November, with the additions of 6-7 forwards Ben VanderWal and Davis Molnar.

VanderWal was ranked as eighth and No. 21 best recruit in the state of Illinois by two different publications, while Molnar comes to the Paladins’ basketball program from Fayetteville, N.C. where he was a 3A All-American as a junior. Former Furman assistant coach Tyler Lewis, who now writes and covers prep hoops for Phenom Hoops Report, had this to say of Molnar.

“He is able to impact the game in a variety of ways.  He has an exceptional basketball IQ and sees plays before they happen.  He has great court vision in which he is able to make the game easier for his teammates.  At his size, he is able to push the ball in transition off the defensive rebound. The most important attribute about Davis that stands out is his toughness.  He plays with a lot of energy and passion.  He will be a great attribute to the program in his four years with the Paladins.”

Furman will lose both Garrison and Alex Hunter from its starting backcourt to graduation, but have the potential to return a pair of all-conference performers, in both guard Mike Bothwell and forward and SoCon Defensive Player of the Year Jalen Slawson to the fold next season should both decide to exercise their option to utilize their COVID-19 season.

Marcus Foster is a key returning starter, as he really started to come on towards the latter half of the season.

Additionally, one of the things Furman was able to do more in Richey’s fifth season than previous ones was get younger players more minutes. Joe Anderson , Tyrese Hughey, Garrett Hien, Alex Williams and J.P. Pegues.

It’s anyone’s guess where Furman might look to when it comes to the portal, but odds are there are some players that would certainly fit the mold both academically and athletically at Furman.


It’s been widely reported that Jacobi Wood (Belmont) is among Wood’s top six programs to transfer to, and there’s some good reason the 6-3 guard might consider Greenville. Wood is a player that was heavily recruited by both Furman and Wofford during the recruiting process, and like Furman, the Terriers are also a part of his final six programs to decide between.

While Wood remains a target the Paladins have officially contacted according to the above tweet, it certainly isn’t the lone player the Paladins have been in contact with since the season ended.

Dan Earl set to take the reins at Chattanooga

With Lamont Paris now long gone to South Carolina, Dan Earl takes over a program now suddenly in transition. The good news is that Earl, who becomes the second-straight Mocs coach with Big Ten ties, will face a similar situation to that of Paris when he took over the mess left by Matt McCall when he bolted to become the head coach of the UMass Minutemen some six years ago.

McCall was recently replaced by recently ousted South Carolina coach Frank Martin, which made it a case of musical coaches of sorts between Chattanooga, South Carolina and UMass.

Fortunately for Chattanooga fans, Paris didn’t leave seemingly overnight like his predecessor did, and he also left the Scenic City on much better terms than did Matt McCall.

Still, with the transfer portal being the hottest passageway from one place to another since the construction of the New Jersey Turnpike, there are plenty of unknowns for the 27-win Southern Conference champions going forward.

Earl will be charged with replacing some significant personnel from that team that completed the sweep of regular-season and tournament titles in the SoCon.

However, the “Earl Effect” was in full force just a day after he took the job in the Scenic City, with four Keydets immediately jumping in the transfer portal: Jake Stephens, Trey Bonham, Kamdyn Curfman and Honor Huff all jumping in the transfer portal. We know at least one of those players–Stephens.

Former VMI guard Bubba Parham

Another name to keep an eye on in the portal is former Keydet standout performer Bubba Parham, who last played in the SoCon back in the 2018-19 season, leading the league in scoring, averaging 21.4 PPG in his final season playing in the league back during the 2018-19 campaign.

With the potential addition of Parham, he could off-set the potential scoring loss off of a player like Smith.

As many of those former players that Earl coached in Lexington that he is able to persuade to come to the Scenic City could be crucial for the new look Mocs. That’s because the UTC team that most recently dropped that heartbreaking 54-53 decision to Illinois in the NCAA Tournament will look vastly different in the 2022-23 season.

Those losses include the likes of David Jean-Baptiste, Silvio De Sousa, Josh Ayeni, Avery Diggs, Jaden Frazier (transfer portal), and Darius Banks all having exercised their eligibility for the Mocs, the future remains uncertain.

As far Malachi Smith–the 2021-22 SoCon Player of the Year–he announced back on April 5 that he would first not be returning to UTC to focus on the NBA Draft, however, just a little less than a week later, Smith retracted his original statement to say that he would not retain an agent with the option to return to college basketball.

Should there be a future destination on the college basketball hardwood, it would likely be at a power five program since he has accomplished about all he has been able to accomplish in a Mocs uniform during his three seasons in the Scenic City.

As for Earl, his ability to coach can’t be questioned, and his overall record can’t be looked at as a determining factor on how things will go in the Scenic City. After all, he was the 2020-21 SoCon Coach of the Year after leading the Keydets to a 13-12 mark and the program’s first appearance in the semifinal round of the league tournament since the 2003 season.

Earl posted a record of 73-139 during his seven seasons at the helm in Lexington.

His overall record is more of a testament of just how hard the job is traditionally in Lexington.

It’s happened before

In fact, going back as far as former VMI head coach Joe Cantafio, who coached the Keydets from 1982-94 and is probably most noted for nearly landing David Robinson during his time as the head coach in Lexington, eventually ended up as the head coach of Furman for three years from 1994-97 before retiring.

Most recently, Duggar Baucom left the shadows of the Shenandoah Valley for the low country of South Carolina following a 10-year (2005-15) stint as head coach of the Keydets to become the head coach of bitter military and SoCon rival, The Citadel.

Baucom would spend seven years in the low country before eventually not having his contract renewed following the 2021-22 campaign.

Earl’s mentor is from across enemy lines

But there’s something unique about Earl coming to the Scenic City. His mentor–Ed DeChellis–is widely considered the top coach in the Patriot League where he currently leads the Naval Academy. DeChellis was Earl’s mentor as a young coach after Earl had returned to his alma mater in the early-mid 2000s.

Earl was a sharp-shooting guard in Happy Valley from 1996-99 during arguably one of the best periods in the history of the program.

When Earl got into coaching following a at his alma mater following brief professional career in Germany, Portugal and Poland, he was given a coaching opportunity by Ed DeChellis.

DeChellis was no stranger to the SoCon when he arrived to Happy Valley to become the Nittany Lions head coach in 2004.

He been honing his skills at UTC’s arch-rival ETSU to back-to-back SoCon titles and subsequent NCAA Tournament appearances in 2003 and ’04, respectively.

Earl is rightfully considered one of the top coaches in all of mid-major basketball taking into the account the constraints that are natural challenges to a program such as VMI.

Earl’s announcement as the 22nd men’s basketball coach of the Chattanooga basketball program is slated to take place either Thursday or Friday, as no official announcement has been made at the time of this article.

He comes from a VMI program that probably regarded recruiting the transfer portal like ordering a tutorial on a foreign language from Rosetta Stone.

A new system isn’t a bad thing and an in-league comparison

Chattanooga fans can expect to see plenty of differences then they have been used to in the past.

While there will likely be some notable transfers to continue to ply their trade in Scenic City, Mocs fans can expect some significant changes in style of play, but shouldn’t expect any drop-off in player talent.

In fact, Mocs fans might have cringed when facing teams that shot the ball well, especially VMI, who took a late-season, 83-77, win at McKenzie Arena, and that win came despite VMI’s all-league center Jake Stephens going down with a pretty severe ankle sprain, which kept him out the remainder of the game.

Despite that, the Keydets claimed arguably their best win of the season. Earl led the Keydets to back-to-back break even or above seasons for the first time in two decades.

One of Earl’s early signature wins as the head coach of VMI came in the Scenic City back in 2017. The following paragraph is taking from Ken Pomeroy’s site, highlighting just how big a win the Keydets’ 80-68 win over Chattanooga back on Jan. 25, 2017.

1. January 25: #334 VMI 80, #68 Chattanooga 64 (1.2%) Who likes a 16-point win for the upset of the month? *Raises hand* VMI started the second half on an 18-4 run, giving them a cushion that would stand up for the second half thanks to QJ Peterson’s 40-point effort. This was one of those games where if it was all you knew about these two teams, you’d have to swear the VMI was the better team. The Keydets are currently 5-15 (2-7) and the Mocs are 15-6 (6-3) so it’s safe to say that this result be damned, Chattanooga will be a significant favorite when the teams meet up in Lexington on February 15.

The upset remained as the biggest upset in the college basketball regular-season according to the metrics until Texas Southern 69-54 on Dec. 6, 2021. It marked the first win of the season for the eventually SWAC tournament champions.

The Mocs can expect to see a team highly-skilled that runs a Princeton version of the motion offense, which is centered around five players that are perimeter threats, and constant cutting to create spacing. In terms of a similar offense in the league, Mocs fans should look no further than the team they played in the championship game–the Furman Paladins.

In terms of team makeup, the similarities are glaring in two players from this past season, in Furman’s big man Jalen Slawson and VMI’s Jake Stephens. Both were the fulcrum of the offense, thanks in large part to their overall skill level and passing skills.

With Stephens having recently announced his intentions on being in the Scenic City for his final season as a Moc, Chattanooga fans will be in for a treat to see how Earl uses him in VMI’s motion offense up close and personal, rather than sweating out trying to stop such a typical system twice a year.

Furman or VMI rarely beat themselves, and the two teams have been among the nation’s top three-point shooting teams each of the past couple of seasons, with the Paladins completing the campaign ranking first nationally in three-pointers made (401), while the Keydets were right behind in second (400).

The two also led the country in three-pointers attempted, with Furman leading the nation with 1,054 long-range attempts, while the Keydets were right behind in second with 1,050 treys launched. The two clubs also ranked second and third, respectively, in three-point field goal percentage with the Keydets ranking 12th nationally in three-point percentage (38.1%), while Furman ranked 13th (38.0%).

In Earl’s offense, as well as Furman’s, sharing the basketball is a must. Furman ranked sixth nationally, dishing out 17.4 assists-per-game, while VMI wasn’t all that far behind once again, posting 16.0 helpers-per-contest to rank 22nd nationally.

The one area in which Earl’s Keydets have been performing at a high level as well is on the defensive end of the floor. That’s something Mocs fans were accustomed to over the past couple of campaigns, so that won’t be such a drastic change.

Mostly it’s a change of offensive philosophy. Paris’ offenses were always efficient, and had good shot selection with a focus on physical play in the paint. A little like the SoCon’s own version of a Big Ten program. By comparison, Earl’s offensive philosophy will seem cleaner, with a premium placed on having five shooters on the floor at all times. When it works in perfect concert, Earl’s motion offense can be a thing of beauty.

I would expect a slight uptick in scoring in future seasons, while Chattanooga’s numbers might take a little bit of a dip on the glass, but that’s just a guess. If they should dip, it wouldn’t be too drastic.

My personal opinion tells me this is an outstanding hire. The question is will Mocs fans be as patient as VMI was in Earl’s first couple of seasons, or better yet, as patient as they were with Paris. Time will tell, but I like this hire a lot.

Same great player, but new zip code

VMI center Jake Stephens/photo courtesy VMI athletics

Though Earl isn’t all too familiar with the transfer portal, he is in fact familiar with the first player he has been able to procure from it–Jake Stephens.

Stephens, who once called the 540 of Lexington, VA, his home zip code, is now proudly repping the “C” in the 423 as a member of the Chattanooga Mocs.

During his time in the VMI red and gold clad uniforms, he developed into one of the most dominant big men in mid-major basketball, and was in the running for league player of the year honors, as he comes off a 2021-22 season, which saw him finish his final season in Lexington as the primary challenger to former Moc Malachi Smith for SoCon Player of the Year honors after finishing the season averaging 19.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG, and dished out an impressive 98 assists.

He was a 49.0% (74-of-151) shooter from three-point range last season, which not only led the Keydets, but also led the Southern Conference in three-point field goal percentage.

He’ll have an immediate impact for the Mocs, and will soften the blow left by the Mocs big men De Sousa, Ayeni and Diggs. He will already be more of a significant scoring threat in the post for the Mocs.

The first-team All-SoCon selection is the first player that I have been able to find in my research that has been a first-team all-league player to transfer from one school to another within the league.

The Citadel hires a familiar face

Following the dismissal of Duggar Baucom after his contract was not renewed following the 2021-22 campaign, The Citadel’s athletic administration sought out a familiar face to usher in the future. That name carries clout in the low country, and that name is “Conroy” and Ed Conroy to be specific.

The last time Conroy made his home as the head coach in Charleston, he was busy doing something few have–building a consistent winner that had to accounted for.

If you thought KenPom highlighting that win by VMI over Chattanooga was something back in 2017 in terms of magnitude of upset, I am curious as to where the Bulldogs’ win

The Bulldogs have lost its two top scorers to the transfer portal, as 2021 SoCon Player of the Year Hayden Brown, and 2022 SoCon Freshman of the Year Jason Roche.

It was announced recently that Brown has named South Carolina–Paris’ new destination–as one of his top choices to continue his career. He took an official visit last week.

Conroy led the Bulldogs to one of their greatest finishes in program history, leading The Citadel to a 20-13 overall mark and a 15-5 league ledger, which was good enough to see the Bulldogs to qualify for the CollegeInsider.com (CIT) Tournament.

Baucom won 77 games in seven seasons as the Bulldogs’ head coach. The Bulldogs have never made the NCAA Tournament.

Wofford’s sudden portal problems

Wofford center B.J. Mack

When Chevez Goodwin arrived in Greenville to suit up for the Southern California Trojans three years removed from Wofford’s remarkable 30-win season and run through the SoCon, most of the media around the league reminisced about that team and just how good the Terriers might have been even in the post-Fletcher Magee era.

With both Storm Murphy and Keve Aluma both plying their trade for Mike Young at Virginia Tech, where the duo helped the Hokies cut down the nets in Brooklyn at the ACC Tournament, there was little if any evidence that the Terriers might be in for even more departures to the portal following the season.

After all, McAuley’s Terriers posted a solid fourth-place finish in the league standings posted what was a solid 19-13 campaign, which accounts for the win threshold in two out of the three seasons in which McAuley has been in charge of the Terrier basketball program following Young’s departure for Blacksburg.

After plans to take part in the the CollegeInsider.com Tournament under a new moniker–The Basketball Classic–after the plans kept falling through or changing concerning potential opposition.

A week after the NCAA Tournament had left Greenville, things settled down for Wofford basketball, or at least it seemed that way.

Then came a trio of portal departures that left plenty of question marks for the Terriers going forward in the recruiting process, transitioning to going after some immediate portal prospects.

Wofford saw some significant statistical departures in terms of scoring production, with the most notable of those being, of course, all-league performer Max Klesmit, who was Wofford’s second leading scorer for the season, averaging 14.9 PPG to go along with being one of the league’s leading defenders.

Sam Godwin, which battled COVID and other issues seemingly throughout his career with the Terriers, and saw his minutes-per-game take a dip this season, also entered the transfer portal decreasing the overall depth the Terriers

A day after Klesmit and Godwin entered the portal, both made it official, the Terriers were delivered one final shock, as Morgan Safford, which was yet another member of that dynamic sophomore class, announced he, too, would be continuing his college basketball career elsewhere.

Godwin recently announced he will return to his home state of Oklahoma and be a walk-on with Porter Moser’s Oklahoma Sooners. Larson has announced his final season will be spent playing for Pat Kelsey as a member of the College of Charleston’s basketball program.

Most recently, freshman wing Luke Turner is the latest Terrier to announce his intentions to enter the portal earlier this week.

There is some good news for Wofford heading into next season, which is the fact that the Terriers, at least for now, are set to potentially return two of the best big men in the SoCon for the 2021-22 season, in both Messiah Jones and B.J.Mack.

Mack is going to explore his professional options, but will not retain an agent, giving the Terriers’ 2021-22 leading score the option to return for the 2022-23 campaign.

Jones missed a majority of the season following a torn achilles tendon, which he suffered against Georgia Southern in an early-season battle. Mack ended the campaign by being Wofford’s leading scorer, averaging 16.5 PPG.

The Terriers have been able to add one player via the transfer portal, in Jackson Sivillis from Murray State–a player originally recruited by McAuley and staff out of high school. The 6-6 wing will be an immediate impact player for the Terriers, especially with Turner announcing he will be entering the portal as of yesterday.

Stay tuned for more updates as they become available, including a look at the new VMI head coach, Andrew Wilson, coming in the very near future.

NCAA Tournament 2022: A unique look at mid-major March Madness in Greenville amid the ‘K’haos

Setting the scene for college hoops final game of a thrilling 2021-22 season

Following Saturday night’s epic 81-77 win by North Carolina over Duke in what was the first-ever meeting between the two rivals in the NCAA Tournament, the Tar Heels move on to Monday night’s national title game against Kansas, which defeated Villanova, 81-65, in the other national semifinal.

Tip-off between Kansas and North Carolina is set for 9:20 EST.

The win by North Carolina in college basketball’s biggest rivalry clash, and perhaps the biggest rivalry in domestic sport, also closed the chapter on a stellar career for a college basketball coach, in Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, which transcended all levels and genders of the game, whether it be collegiately, professionally or internationally.

Coacn K who won a college basketball record 1,202 career games in 42 years and won five national titles.

The national title game between the Tar Heels and Jayhawks will pit two of the top three winningest basketball programs of all time, with Kansas having overtaken Kentucky as NCAA Division I college basketball’s all-time winningest program, as the Jayhawks have now won 2,356 games in 1n 123 seasons.

National title and a couple of local notes:

–From a local perspective, Furman, Clemson, College of Charleston,

Greenville’s time to shine in the national spotlight

For the second time in five years, I got the experience of a lifetime—to experience college basketball’s Big Dance in person in my hometown of Greenville, S.C.

There’s a special kind of pride when the tournament comes to the town you were born and raised in. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the big-time. Stories abounded of the ‘big’ variety. The obvious lazy storyline was the legendary coaches on-hand in Greenville looking to survive and advance in the west and south regions, respectively.

One of the treats of it being Coach K’s last tournament was it is more than enough to draw the big time broadcast crew from CBS, who of course are Jim Nantz, Duke legend Grant Hill, and the man who made phrases ‘onions’, ‘man-to-man’ and ‘send it in Jerome’ legendary phrases, Bill Raftery, as well as maybe the best sideline reporter at any level of hoops—Tracy Wolfson, the weekend was setting up to be a pretty epic one for my one last shining moment covering a game live for the 2021-22 campaign.

If I might add one thing about that broadcast crew, their delivery is great on-camera. You see that and you know how good that quartet is on-camera, but I have to say, Nantz, Hill and Rafferty are amazing people. They truly exhibit the kind of humility that makes heart happy.

They signed every autograph with kindness and smiles and were never put off by any request to do so. I don’t mean to leave Mrs. Wolfson out either, because I am sure she is the same, however, I didn’t get to see her interact with fans due to me being on the other side of the court,

While Coach K understandably saturated the headlines, Tom Izzo, Jim Larrananga, and Bruce Pearl were all in town too—and had a lot of talent to boot and were worthy of stories written about them, too.

While Coach K and Izzo and Larranaga and Pearl are all great and first-class coaches, I gladly big-timed them to write about three mid-majors on hand in my city, which included a pair of 15 seeds, in Jacksonville State (midwest) and Cal-State Fullerton (west), as well as No. 10 seed (west) Davidson

Football Schools from the same state due battle in the Palmetto State

If you know anything state of Alabama, you know it’s about as important to the state is the sport of soccer is to Brazil.

When Ray Harper’s Jacksonville State Gamecocks arrived in Greenville for the NCAA Tournament, most who follow the program probably could tell you about how JSU’s first NCAA Division I-AA playoff appearance (2004) went in the same city than it could tell you about any single game of the 2021-22 basketball season, or that the Gamecocks didn’t;’t even win their conference tourney.

That football trip 18 years ago was memorable for all the wrong reasons, as the Gamecocks were trounced by Furman and Florida transfer QB Ingle Martin, 49-7

Things wouldn’t be much different unfortunately for Harper and the Gamecocks come 18 years later on the basketball hardwood.

The Gamecocks had lost all 13 previous meetings to the big, bad Tigers. For the better part of the opening eight minutes, the Gamecocks didn’t back down playing fearless basketball. But as it so often does, the it happened. What’s the ‘it’ you might ask. It’s thing that happens to Cinderella more often than not in March in matchups with such seed disparity. The Tigers literally left the Gamecocks breathless.

The Gamecocks held a 21-18 lead with 7:33 remaining in the opening half, however, a 21-6 run by the Tigers to close the half gave the No. 2 seed a 39-27 lead at the break. They would never threaten Pearl’s Tigers again, losing a 15-point contest, 78-63.

The season ended with an impressive 21-10 mark in the Gamecocks’ layover in the Atlantic Sun before moving on to Conference USA. That move will also see the football program transition to the FBS level.

Fullerton’s Fight

Mark Wiliams (Duke) dunks home the first points vs Cal State Fullerton

The first game of the night session saw a rarity in March. When Coach K and the Blue Devils arrived, the crowd might as well have been in the Roman Coliseum ready for the slaughter.

Yet in most venues, the underdogs get a lot of love, and sometimes, even more than the higher seed. That was never the case on the 18th of March in the first evening contest at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

In a strange peculiarity, the crowd was a late-arriving one, with the internet causing the scanning systems issues, leaving most of the Blue Devil fans mad as hell by the time they settled in their seats with over half the first half already having been played. That coupled with the price of some of the seats was enough to make a fan nauseous at the mere thought.

Fullerton was overwhelmed by Duke, In awe of that devilish athleticism which saw a major swat by Mark Williams on one end and a two-handed rim-bender on the other, offering Williams’ best effort to cause intense intimidation for the Titans.

The way those two emphatic plays unfolded must have seemed like a grand slam in the opening inning for the decorated college baseball program, which has won an impressive four national titles in that particular sport.

Fullerton collected itself and settled down and into March. They started to enjoy the game rather than fear mistakes. At that point, Duke’s advantages were sliced to size and overall talent, as the Titans showed heart and some scrappiness.

At the end of the night, Paolo Bancaro, Mark Williams and Theo John had been too much for the undersized Titans, winning a 78-63 decision.

Davidson and Michigan State battle to the wire in physical contest

Davidson guard Foster Loyer

The game I was most anticipating was the final game of the opening night of basketball in Greenville.

The main reason being is the fact that the game represented a full-circle moment for me. The Bon Secours Wellness Arena, which was known as the BI-LO Center two decades ago, hosted the 2000 and ‘01 Southern Conference Tournaments, as well as hosting the ‘01 first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament for the first time.

Davidson’s Bob McKillop was not long into his tenure as Davidson head coach the first time he coached his Wildcats in the facility came in the 2000 SoCon Tournament. He also been around long enough to hope to forget it.

Wofford’s Ian Chadwick sunk Wildcat hearts and perhaps a few yachts on Lake Norman with his 16-footer with 2.8 seconds remaining to help the Terriers bring an abrupt end to Davidson’s millennial season, with a 65-64 loss.

McKillop’s memories of the place would get no better a year later. They say the penultimate game of any tournament in any sport is usually the toughest. For McKillop in 2001, it was tough for more reasons than one.

Fran McCaffery’s UNCG Spartans, which came to Greenville as the favorites to win the tournament and would go on to do so, used a physical front court tandem of Nathan Popp, Air Force transfer David Schuck, while sharp-shooting freshman Jay Joseph and heady point guard Courtney Eldredge helped the feisty Spartans overcome a very physical Davidson team that featured the likes of Wayne Bernard and the rare Irish seven-footer, Martin Ides, 73-68, in a heated battle.

It was my first SoCon tournament as a media member, and the heated exchange afterwards between a particular coach from one team and a player from the other, I won’t soon forget and out of respect to both, I will leave that story there. That was one heck of a tournament but yet another forgettable experience for McKillop and his Wildcats.

Now McKillop and the Wildcats did give the SoCon Steph Curry and an ‘08 NCAA Tournament run to Elite Eight before eventually losing to national champion Kansas. Some five years later, McKillop and the Cats were off to an elite conference, in the Atlantic 10.

As fate would have it, the 2022 tournament saw the Wildcats to an arena where, as Tim Brando might say, the iron had been all too unkind.

Fittingly, the official hosts of the Greenville regional was the Southern Conference and Furman.

For pros like Furman Sports Information Director Hunter Reid, former Appalachian State SID Kelby Siler, who coordinated the official stats from site, and former SoCon media relations director Steve Shutt, who was the NCAA’s media liaison, it was a reunion. Shutt, Reid and Siler all were good storytellers and in expected tournament form all weekend, and at least one of those stories involved that very Davidson-UNCG semifinal game back in 2001.

That aside, McKillop’s Wildcats had a game to win, and it wouldn’t be an easy one against Izzo’s Spartans, who had improved seemingly with the progression of the season.

Izzo’s Spartans are perennially tough and built for March. It’s a rarity see them lose the first or even the second game of the opening weekend.

When Davidson was in the SoCon, they were bullies and they were physical. The Wildcats were Michigan State’s mini-me when they called the SoCon home under McKillop.

I am pretty sure McKillop also owns the computer game Carmen San Diego. If he doesn’t, he should because at least tied in world travel. McKillop was no gumshoe when it came to coaching in March, however.

There were international players I remember from Davidson’s days in the SoCon—I recall guys like Ali Ton (Turkey), Narcisse Ewodo and Ray Mineland (Yaounde, Cameroon), Detlef Musch (Germany), and even when they weren’t Internationally recruited, like domestically-born George Spain, somehow the shrewd tactician McKillop managed to sign a player with a country in his literal name.

I’ll admit I hadn’t followed Davidson all that much since the Wildcats left the SoCon, however, one glance at the roster I felt home again—Hyunjung Lee (Yongin City, South Korea), Sam Mennenga (Auckland, New Zealand), and Luka Brajkovic (Feldkirch, Austria) were just three of the five international players that Davidson brought to Greenville.

The game was the best of the day, living up to everyone’s expectations. It took a Spartan effort from Izzo’s men, and in particular Joey Hauser, who went for a career-high 27 points to help the Spartans hold off the Wildcats, 74-73, in another thriller in Greenville.

McKillop’s first appearance in downtown Greenville in a postseason tournament produced the same result as his very first some 21 years ago—a one-point loss. That’s the nature of March.

It was bittersweet weekend for me, and it was joy missed with a tinge of sadness knowing my season covering games on site had come to a close. However, it was great to see friends and that far outweighed the fact that the season was drawing to a close.

I look forward to getting back to getting busy back on the SoCon beat all summer with a variety of feature stories and creative topics on the immediate horizon. Stay tuned!

There were smorgasbord of sidebars and features and tie-ins for the five power programs in Greenville even not including the all-time winningest college basketball coach on his retirement tour. But I still maintain March is made by the mid-majors.

SoCon Hoops 2021-22: Looking back at the ‘March Magic’ in Asheville

Furman sophomore guard Marcus Foster

The Mocs won a SoCon Tournament that will go down as one of the best ever

“Grow old and stay old” were the words that rang true from ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Frischilla’s speech at the SoCon’s preseason media outing at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville. The two teams that have been able to make that claim in recent in the SoCon in recent seasons—Chattanooga and Furman—would make Frischilla’s words seem prophetic.

Players on both sides were by now familiar faces—guys like UTC’s Malachi Smith, David Jean-Baptiste and A.J. Caldwell, while Furman’s Alex Hunter, Jalen Slawson and Mike Bothwell also held true to the above adage. 

Then there were the newer, old faces we didn’t know as well, but brought big-game experience and maturity on each side, like UTC’s Silvio De Sousa and Furman’s Conley Garrison. The title game had everything, but so did the entire tournament.

Over the course of nine games during four days of basketball, seven of them were decided by a combined 21 points, meaning an average 3.5 PPG. That’s getting your money’s worth. The only blowouts in the tournament came in the opening round, with Mercer’s 28-point win over No. 10 Western Carolina (W, 81-53), while No. 2 Furman bounced Mercer in the quarterfinals with a 14-point (W, 80-66) victory. The final double-digit win of the weekend would be reserved for the semifinals, which saw the No. 1 Mocs trounce No. 4 Wofford by a 23-point (W, 79-56) margin.

For the past four or five seasons, the microscope of college basketball has sharpened its focus on the Southern Conference, and while the top of the league isn’t as strong as it was say in the 2018-19 season, when could have made a legitimate argument to include at least three teams, the league’s a whole reputation and power nationally has risen to historic levels. 

Last weekend, I witnessed perhaps one the greatest tournaments the league If the SoCon’s championship game is  any indication of the future, then should we expect to see the league given serious consideration for a second bid to the NCAA Tournament. 

The SoCon has hosted and witnessed in recent memory. The quality if basketball rose to a crescendo in the title game, as No. 1 Chattanooga (27-7) faced off against No. 2 Furman (22-12) in what was an epic title game that will go down as one of the greatest in the 102-year history of college basketball’s oldest tournament. 

Fittingly, it would be college basketball’s oldest team, Chattanooga, which would connect on the most crucial shot of the tournament just in time, as David Jean-Baptiste’s triple from about 36-feet over the outstretched arms of Furman’s Marcus Foster would swish through the hoop with the buzzer sounding, as Chattanooga gave us Mocs Madness in Asheville, with a 64-63 win.

Jean-Baptiste and the Mocs are the kind of joy you expect in March. It is the one moment in life in which beauty is captured in one complete bipolar moment. Only March can produce the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in such a poetic and beautiful fashion.

Jean-Baptiste was the only player from head coach Lamont Paris’ first team in the Scenic City, which remained loyal to the cause. 

It then comes with some irony that during the 2020-21 season, which produced a program-record 9-0 start, that Jean-Baptiste decided to enter the transfer portal just prior to tip-off in an easy win over North Georgia. However, after a couple of weeks to examine his decision more closely.

Following Mocs wins over UNC Asheville (W, 69-66), Tennessee State (W, 66-63), and UAB (69-66) before heading into their SoCon opener against Furman with a 9-0 record, Baptiste decided to return to the Mocs and he Chattanooga come up with 18 wins in what was a COVID-compromised 2020-21 season. In the return against Furman on that particular contest, Jean-Baptiste led the Mocs with 18 points inside an empty McKenzie Arena, as the Paladins picked up what was a 77-73 win. 

Chattanooga entered the SoCon Tournament last March as the No. 4 seed, but were without two key performers due to contact tracing due to COVID-19, which saw them have to play without Malachi Smith and Darius Banks. The Mocs, who had swept No. 5 East Tennessee State during the regular-season, would end up falling in their first game in the tournament, dropping a 63-53 decision to the Bucs. 

Now a year-and-two-months from his return, Jean-Baptiste and the Mocs have just managed to pull off one of the most thrilling wins in Southern Conference championship game history and now await Sunday’s NCAA selection show to find out where the Mocs will be headed for the postseason.

Alex Hunter’s story was the one that ended with the agony on the other end of Jean-Baptiste’s thrilling game-winner. It might have been the final game for Hunter, who decided to return for a fifth season for the Paladins in 2021-22, as the Paladins await their postseason fate on Sunday to see whether or not they will be part of the NIT this March.

For Hunter, he established himself as perhaps the greatest point guard in Furman basketball history, and the numbers would also back up that claim. He became the only Paladin in program history to record top 300 career made three-pointers, becoming the school’s record-holder in a Feb. 5 loss to UNCG. He became just the fifth player in program history to eclipse 400 assists in his Furman career. His 109-career wins as a player are the most by any player to ever suit up in a game for Furman. 

If it was Hunter’s final game for the Paladins, he has left quite the shoes to fill and has set the bar high for all future Paladins on the floor, but more off the floor in terms of what he’s about as a person and leader. 

“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,” point guard Alex Hunter said.

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,” Hunter added.

A recent trend for the Mocs and Paladins:

When these two have met on the court over the past three seasons, it’s traditionally been a close matchup that goes down to the wire. So when Jean-Baptiste knocked down his long-range effort to help the Mocs defeat the Paladins for a third-straight time this season, 64-63, in overtime, the loss was part of a recurring theme of close matchups between the three. 

In fact, Chattanooga’s three wins over Furman this season came by a combined nine points. If you go back to the start of the 2019-20 season, the Mocs and Paladins have split the series 3-3, with those six contests having been decided by a combined 25 points, which converts to an average of 4.16 PPG. 

In nearly all six, Furman senior guard Mike Bothwell has had a big scoring night. In fact, it was the Jan. 8, 2020, clash at McKenzie Arena in which Bothwell broke through to have one of his first major scoring outings as a Paladin. Bothwell would go for a then career-high 27 points on 12-of-16 shooting performance, which also included a 3-for-6 performance from three-point land. Bothwell posted 12 points in Chattanooga’s visit to Furman a month later during that particular season, as the Paladins gutted out the 58-53 win at Timmons Arena. 

In the lone meeting between the two during the 2020-21 season, it would be Bothwell that would come through for the Paladins once again, posting a game-high 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field. 

The three meetings this season have seen Bothwell finish of three respective performances with 15, 11 and 24 points in the three contests this season. Bothwell’s lowest scoring total came in that 11-point effort last month, as the Mocs came to Greenville and all but clinched the SoCon crown with a 64-58 win to claim the regular-season title. Bothwell has scored a total of 111 points against the Mocs in the past six matchups vs. Chattanooga, Bothwell is averaging an impressive 18.5 PPG.

All told, the past six matchups between the Mocs and Paladins have seen Bothwell connect on an impressive 57.3% (43-of-75) from the field, which includes a 40% (8-of-20) shooting effort from three-point range.  

At season’s end following the 2020-21 campaign, it certainly would have been easy for the league to lose some of its overall momentum due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, a 30-win East Tennessee State team, which was led by current ACC Coach of the Year Steve Forbes, was robbed of showing what could do for an encore in the NCAA Tournament following up on Wofford’s win over Seton Hall and near upset of Kentucky in the 2019 Tournament. 

 The SoCon’s recent narrative 

If the SoCon’s championship game is any indication of the future, then should we expect to see the league given serious consideration for a second bid to the NCAA Tournament. 

As David Jean-Baptiste 36-footer swished through the hoop as the buzzer sounded at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center, there was an immediate bipolar effect to the result. The Mocs understandable exhilaration and thrill of the win, but also the pain of the gut-wrenching effect of such a defeat for Furman,

which hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1980. It’s almost ridiculous to fathom that Furman might not even be selected to the NIT when the Paladins were literally a shot away from ending a 42-year drought to the Big Dance. 

This the dark corner of college basketball most casual fans aren’t aware of, however, for those of us that cover this league year-in and year-out as scribes, and we’ve been shine a light in that corner for the past four seasons. That was the season things really took off, starting with Furman’s big early wins over Villanova and Loyola Chicago to garner national attention before eventually starting the season 12-0 and finding its way into the AP Top 25 for the first time in school history. 

Furman would spend three weeks in the polls and then Wofford would capture lighting in a bottle in league play by going wire-to-wire unbeaten in the SoCon regular-season and tournament and would enter the NCAA Tournament as a ranked team. UNCG, the SoCon’s defending champion, won 29 games, while East Tennessee State claimed 24 wins. Only one to the NCAA Tournament, however, with Wofford gaining automatic entry. The Paladins and Spartans got the usual consolation for a mid-major as good as those two were, with invites to the NIT. 

If you remove the 2020-21 COVID compromised season, the SoCon has been performing at a high level. In fact, the league has had three 20-game winners in five out of the last six seasons, dating back to the 2016-17, with an opportunity for more with Wofford (Eracism Tournament), which has 19 wins, needing only a win in its opening round tournament game, which it will host Thursday night against an opponent to be announced at a later date. 

Perhaps that narrative is one that sticks with me and other media that is still processing what was one of the most thrilling tournament’s of March Madness as a whole.

The question was posed to Furman head coach Bob Richey during the postgame press conference that broached the subject of the painful defeat for the Paladins, and did that magnify the league’s profile at all for a potential second bid to the NCAA Tournament at all.

“That’s part of a larger conversation. I see it,” Furman head coach Bob Richey said. 

“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,” Richey added.

Despite the fact that the tournament delivered in a major way last week, it probably still is not enough to move the needle in terms of the metrics, but it sure has people from a national audience perspective tuned in to see. If Chattanooga makes noise in the tournament, it will only highlight the fact even more. If Furman were to make the NIT and did well, that would be an added bonus.

Maintaining the high level, which saw the SoCon finish as the No. 9 conference in the final NET rankings at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, and one that currently ranks as the No. 12 league according to the NET nationally.

Only time will tell on the national picture. As a media member I can say I remain patient and hopeful.

SoCon Tournament 2022 Awards and Salutes:

Best Team: Obviously it was the Chattanooga Mocs (27-7), which used a complete team effort to claim its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2016, and won an unprecedented 12th SoCon Tournament in its 45th season in the league. The Mocs and Paladins separated themselves in early in league play as the two best teams, and though Chattanooga proved the best team all season by winning three games against the ‘Dins, the separation in overall strength was close, as the Mocs won the three contests against the Paladins by a combined nine points.

Best Player: Malachi Smith (Chattanooga)—It was close, and I really felt like the best player on the floor in the championship game was Mike Bothwell hands down, but Smith is the best player on the best team.

Surprise Team: The Samford Bulldogs (22-11) The Bulldogs, led by dynamic guard Ques Glover and wing Jermaine Marshall made noise in Asheville, playing with a chip on their shoulder for much of the weekend. After nearly blowing a 22-point halftime lead vs defending champion UNC Greensboro before holding on for a 66-64 win, the Bulldogs put a huge scare into the Furman Paladins before seeing Furman overcome a 15-point first-half deficit, as the Paladins held off the Bulldogs for a 71-68 win.

Best Game: Did you watch the championship game? (Chattanooga 64, Furman 63)

Biggest Shot: David Jean-Baptiste vs. Furman.Though he had struggled much of the game, having gone just 2-for-9 from three-point range, Jean-Baptiste came through with the game-winner for the Mocs when they absolutely had to have it.

Transfer Portal Clash? The opening game of the 2022 Southern Conference featured another classic between No. 9 The Citadel (13-18) and No. 8 East Tennessee State (15-17), with both of the two teams featuring two of the best the SoCon has to offer for the transfer portal, with Bulldog big man and SoCon preseason SoCon Player of the Year Hayden Brown posting 27 points and 17 rebounds.LeDarrius Brewer, who also entered the transfer portal along his brother Ty Brewer, combined to give the Bucs 28 points and 14 boards in the 84-76 overtime loss. It marked ETSU’s earliest exit from the conference tournament. Both Brewers scored 14 points apiece, while Ty Brewer made it a double-double by adding 10 rebounds. 

Best Impact Player: Silvio De Sousa (Chattanooga). His 17 points and 14 rebounds were huge in helping the Mocs cut down the nets and lead to UTC living up to preseason expectations. 

Best Dunk: Jalen Slawson vs. Mercer. The senior from Summerville, S.C. caught a perfectly thrown pass from Alex Hunter for the big-time slam and was fouled in the process by Felipe Haase. 

Best Quote: Nicholas Robinson (Western Carolina): Graduate guard Nicholas Robinson on leadership—

“I’ve been raised to be a leader. Just from my mentors throughout my life, they just taught me how to carry myself through adversity. This year we had a lot of adversity and that’s how you judge the true character of a man. Not when things are going well, but when things aren’t going well. For me, it was trying to be an uplifting voice every day. Trying to show the guys the right things to do. And eventually if you keep doing the right things, you’ll get the results that you want. We didn’t always get the results that we wanted this year but just be sure to know that in the future the results will come. I’m 100 percent confident in my guys next year it’ll be a different story. The year after that, it’ll be a different story.”

Best Moment Coaching Moment: Bucky McMillan’s press conference after the win over Furman, encouraging his young wing, Jermaine Marshall, and emphasizing the atmosphere and the trend upwards heading into next year.

Player’s that left their mark on the league that we’ll miss: For me, it’s Jake Stephens (VMI) and Felipe Haase (Mercer)

Best Hair: Jordan King (ETSU)

Who Wins in 2023: The Transfer Portal lol…But it really is too early to tell

Other Notes: 

—ETSU’s opening round exit was the first time it has lost in the opening round of the tournament since the dropping a 57-47 contest to Georgia Southern in Greensboro.

—Chattanooga became the fifth-straight No. 1 seed to win the SoCon Tournament.

—UNCG was the first defending champion to lose their first game of the conference tournament since Wofford was defeated, 88-83, in the quarterfinals back in 2016.

—The one-point decision in the championship game marked the first time since 2001 that the title game was decided by just a single point. It comes with a little bit of irony that Chattanooga was beaten on that occasion, 67-66, by a David Schuck jumper with 0.4 seconds remaining, as UNCG won the SoCon Tournament at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C.

Top Scorers in the tournament: Malachi Smith, Chattanooga (56 pts)/Mike Bothwel, Furmanl (55 pts)

2022 SoCon All-Tournament Teams:

First Team:

Ques Glover, Samford

Mike Bothwell, Furman

Jalen Slawson, Furman

David Jean-Baptiste, Chattanooga

Malachi Smith, Chattanooga

Second Team:

Silvio De Sousa, Chattanooga

Conley Garrison, Furman

B.J. Mack, Wofford

Conley Garrison, Furman

Jake Stephens, VMI

Most Outstanding Player:

Malachi Smith, Chattanooga

Pinnacle Award (Highest GPA on winning team)

Grant Ledford, Chattanooga

Tournament scoreboard:

First Round (Friday, Mar. 4, 2022)

No. 9 The Citadel 84, East Tennessee State 76 (OT)

No. 7 Mercer 81, No. 10 Western Carolina 53

Quarterfinals (Saturday Mar. 5, 2022)

No. 1 Chattanooga 71, No. 9 The Citadel 66

No. 4 Wofford 68, No. 5 VMI 66

No. 2 Furman 80, No. 7 Mercer 66

No. 3 Samford 66, No. 6 UNCG 64

Semifinals (Sunday, Mar. 6, 2022)

No. 1 Chattanooga 79, No. 4 Wofford 56

No. 2 Furman 71, No. 3 Samford 68

SoCon Championship (Monday, Mar. 7, 2022)

No. 1 Chattanooga 64, No.2 Furman 63 (OT)

Saluting Duggar Baucom:

–Finally, I wanted to extend best wishes to The Citadel head coach Duggar Baucom at The Citadel, as he will not be returning to coach the Bulldogs next season. Baucom has coached as an assistant or head coach at Western Carolina, Davidson, VMI and The Citadel, serving the league with honor and class. I appreciate him and I hope we can catch up again in the very near future.

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


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. 


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.”

Furman closes out the regular-season at The Citadel

The Citadel is 54-49 all-time against Furman in Charleston.

Furman (19-11, 11-6 SoCon) will close out the 2021-22 regular-season Saturday afternoon with a trip to the low country of the Palmetto State to take on The Citadel (12-16, 6-11 SoCon) in a key league battle.

Furman, which has already locked up a top three seed in the SoCon Tournament for a seventh-straight season, will look to garner the No. 2 seed with a win at McAlister Field House in a game slated for a 1 p.m. tip-off Saturday afternoon.

It will mark the 217th all-time meeting between the two bitter rivals, with Furman holding a 129-87 all-time series edge, which includes a 102-83 win in Greenville back on Feb. 2. The 102-83 win by the Paladins is one of the three games in which the Paladins have eclipsed the 100-point plateau this season.

The other two times include wins over North Greenville (122) and Western Carolina (103). Furman super senior Alex Hunter comes in having eclipsed the 300 threshold for three-pointers in his career last time out in the loss at Samford, as part of a 16-point effort in the 83-75 setback.

Saturday will also mark the final time before the home crowd for four Bulldogs, including preseason SoCon Player of the Year and Greer, S.C., native Hayden Brown. Brown has 46 rebounds in his last three games, as the Bulldogs have played some of their best basketball at times this season, despite having lost three of their last four games.

His 46 boards puts him over at over 700 in his career, posting 18 in a loss to ETSU and 19 in a road setback to Samford. It’s the first time a Bulldog has ever posted 18 or more rebounds in back-to-back games.

Brown currently ranks 11th in school history in scoring, with 1,341-career points. The Citadel is locked into the No.8-No.9 game in the SoCon Tournament, with the winner of that contest set to face Chattanooga in the first quarterfinal Saturday. Depending on Saturday’s results, the Bulldogs could finish as the No. 8 or No. 9 seed. The Bulldogs will face East Tennessee State in the opening game of the SoCon Tournament Friday night.

Last time out for the Paladins:

Samford 83, Furman 75 (Pete Hanna Center)

Samford shot 60% (31-of-52) for the game and claimed its ninth win in 10 games, downing Furman 83-75 on senior night inside the Pete Hanna Center. With the win, Samford became the second team in the Southern Conference to win 20 games this season, improving to 20-9 overall and 10-7 in league play, while the Paladins drop to 19-11 overall and 11-6 in SoCon play. 

With the win, Samford ensured it would not be swept by any team in the league this season. It also marks just the third time in its Division I history that the Bulldogs have won 20 or more games in a regular-season. The win snapped a streak of five-straight wins in the series by the Paladins, and it also avenged an 81-49 loss by the Bulldogs at Timmons Arena earlier this season.

The Paladins need a win or a Samford loss Saturday to secure the No. 2 seed for the upcoming Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville. The Bulldogs are holding strong with the No. 3 seed, and with a win at Chattanooga Saturday and a Furman loss at The Citadel, would claim the No. 2 seed, while Furman would fall to the No. 3 seed. 

The Bulldogs closed out the season with an impressive 13-2 record on their home floor, including an 8-1 mark against SoCon foes on their home hardwood. The lone SoCon team to win inside the Pete Hanna Center this season was East Tennessee State back on Jan. 15, downing the Bulldogs, 88-85. The only other team to win inside the Pete Hanna Center this season was Belmont, which claimed an 85-73 win in Homewood back on Dec. 5. 

Ques Glover, who didn’t play in the first meeting between Furman and Samford this season, led all scorers with a game-high 22 points and was one of four Bulldogs in double figures in the win. He connected on 8-of-16 shots from the field, which included going 2-for-4 from three-point range, as well as posting a 4-for-7 effort from the free throw line. Glover also dished out six assists, posted four rebounds and added a steal to finish out a solid night on both ends of the floor.

Glover was joined in double figures scoring-wise by Logan Dye, who posted 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field, including a 1-of-2 effort from long-range, while grabbing six rebounds, and posting one assist and one steal. Jermaine Marshall just missed a double-double effort with 16 points and nine boards, which saw him go 4-for-8 from the field and 8-for-10 from the line. Jaden Campbell closed out the double-figure scorers with 12 points. 

Furman also had four in double figures, which included Mike Bothwell, who led the way for the Paladins with 21 points on 8-of-18 shooting from the field and 3-for-9 from three-point range. Bothwell also went 2-for-3 from the free throw line. He added six rebounds and dished out five assists. 

Also in double figures for the Paladins in the contest were Alex Hunter, who added 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field and was 4-for-7 from three-point range, while adding three assists, two rebounds and a steal. Marcus Foster turned in another strong performance, posting his fourth double figures scoring performance in his last five outings, as he finished with 12 points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field, including going 2-of-3 from three-point land. Foster was also a perfect 4-for-4 at the charity stripe. 

Jalen Slawson rounded out the Paladins in double figures in the contest, as he added 10 points, eight boards, six assists and a steal in what was another stat-stuffing effort. He finished 5-of-9 from the floor. 

The Bulldogs finished the night holding advantages in points in the paint (44-30) and fast-break points (12-4). The Paladins ended the night holding advantages in bench points (11-7), total assists (19-11), second-chance points (23-6), and both teams were tied with 11 points from turnovers, as well as total rebounds (29-29). Furman also held an 11-6 advantage in offensive rebounds. 

Furman finished the contest by connecting on 43.8% (28-of-64), including 34.3% (12-of-35) from three-point range. The Bulldogs finished the contest connecting on 46.7% (7-of-15) from three-point range. The Bulldogs finished by connecting on 73.7% (14-of-19) from the line, while Furman went 77.8% (7-of-9) from the charity stripe. 

How It Happened:

Samford led by as many as 11 points (76-65) in the second half before Furman mounted a furious rally before the Bulldogs were able to close out the win at the charity stripe en route to an eight-point, 83-75, win to close out their home slate with a 13-2 overall home record. 

The Bulldogs started out the game strong, scoring the first four points before Furman responded with an 8-0 run, capped by an Alex Hunter triple to take an 8-4 lead with 15:35. Samford came back with a 7-0 run of its own to take the lead back, 11-8, with 13:38 remaining in the opening half following a layup by Logan Dye. The game continued to see-saw back-and-forth midway through the opening half of play. With Samford leading 16-14, Furman would  respond with another mini-run of its own, using  a 7-2 run to assume what was a 21-18 lead following a Hunter layup with just under nine minutes remanning in the opening half of play. 

Samford fought back to take back the lead, 22-21, following another layup by Dye with exactly seven minutes remaining in the opening half of play. The Bulldogs then built a bit of a cushion, increasing their lead to as much as five, at 27-22, following a three-pointer by Ques Glover. Four-straight points on buckets by a Garrett Hien layup and a vicious two-handed slam dunk down the middle of the lane by Tyrese Hughey saw the Paladins close to within a point, at 27-26, with 5:15 remaining in the first half. 

Samford would push its lead back to five on a pair of consecutive buckets of its own, using a three-pointer by Dye and a made free throw by Glover with 3:52 left in the opening half, making it 31-26 game. Hunter answered with a three on the ensuing possession to get the Paladins back to within two. Samford got a three from Jaden Campbell to extend its lead back to five, at 34-29, before Marcus Foster answered for Furman with a pair of free throws to get Furman back within three points with 2:16 left. 

Following a Glover three with 1:38 to play in the half, which made it a 36-31 Bulldogs lead, Furman closed the half with a Conley Garrison triple to get within 36-34 with just under a minute left in the half, and that’s how the two teams would enter the halftime locker room. 

Furman assumed an early in the second half, taking a 42-40 lead following a layup by Garrison with 17:23 left in the game. After Cooper Kaifes tied the game on a jumper, Mike Bothwell answered with a one-handed tomahawk slam down the middle of the lane with 15:49 left in the game to give the Paladins a 46-44 lead. A Jermaine Marshall layup tied the game on Samford’s next possession tied the game, 46-46, before a Foster three-pointer gave the Paladins a three-point lead, 49-46, with 15:14 remaining. Glover made a layup and was fouled in the process by Furman’s Foster, and his ensuing foul shot tied the game once again, 49-49, with 15:06 left.

Glover’s layup commenced a 9-0 run by the Bulldogs, which saw them assume a 55-49 lead following a couple of free throws by Marshall. The Bulldogs would eventually increase their lead to eight with just under 12 minutes remaining following a layup by Jacob Tryon, 60-52. 

The Paladins would keep it close after seeing Samford’s lead grow to nine (64-55) following a pair of Marshall free throws with 9:53 left. Furman chipped away over the next five minutes, cutting the Samford lead to three, at 68-65, following a triple by Bothwell with 4:38 left. From there, Samford launched a run which would prove to be decisive, using an 8-0 run, which was capped by a pair of foul shots from Campbell to give Samford its biggest lead of the game, at 76-65, with 2:17 remaining.

A furious rally by the Paladins, which saw Furman get to within two on a 10-1 run, making it a 77-75 with 33 seconds left on a pair of Foster foul shots. Samford was able to get its lead back to six, using four foul shots and a missed three-pointer by Hunter to make it an 81-75 game with 22 seconds left and were able to withstand a final flurry by the Paladins. 

Up Next:

Furman will close out the regular-season with a trip to take on arch-rival The Citadel Saturday on Senior Day at McAlister Field House. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. in Charleston. 

Furman sweeps Wofford for the first time in 16 years

Furman and Wofford met for the second time in a three-year span at Bon Secours Wellness Arena

It’s true that Furman’s 25-point earlier this season at Wofford might have been a bit of an aberration, and Saturday’s 70-69 win by the Paladins was more an indicator of how close the games have been in recent memory.

It was a game that finished similar to the last time the two met at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in a late February contest nearly two years ago to the day, with the Paladins winning a 67-66 contest surviving a shot at the buzzer by Nathan Hoover on that occasion.

On Saturday, the Paladins had to sweat out a pair of misses by Wofford’s big man B.J. Mack to escape with another one-point win before a similar crowd as the one a couple of years go, with a gathering of 5,332 partisan to the purple and white witnessing another thriller. 

The Paladins, who have now won two-straight after enduring a first three-game losing streak, and have even managed to see the gap close between them and first-place Chattanooga, which suffered its second-straight setback, falling 80-75 to VMI at McKenzie Arena.

Furman’s win saw it improve to 19-10 overall and 11-5 in SoCon play, while Chattanooga’s home loss saw the Mocs fall to 22-6 and 12-4 in league action. Wofford’s loss saw its hopes of landing a top six seed for the upcoming SoCon Tournament take a bit of a hit, as the Terriers fell to 16-12 overall and 8-8 in Southern Conference action. 

The one-point win for the Paladins marked Furman’s first season sweep of its I-85 neighbor’s for the first time since the 2005-06 season. Furman had to get non-traditional scorers to step up to snap a 16-year streak of not being able to do more break even in the series, and with seniors Mike Bothwell and Alex Hunter held to a combined six points, it was up to others step up. 

On senior day, that stage would be set for graduate senior and Drury transfer Conley Garrison, who provided a near-flawless shooting day and was one of three Paladins in double figures, as he led the way with 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field, including going 5-for-6 from three-point land. He also dished out three assists, ripped down a pair of rebounds and recorded a steal.

Joining Garrison in double figures in Saturday’s win over Wofford was Jalen Slawson, who finished with a double-double of 16 points and 10 boards, delivering what was another all-around solid performance. For Slawson, it was sixth double-double performance of the season and his 24th double-figure scoring effort in 29 games so far in the 2021-22 season. In addition to his 16 and 10, the senior from Summerville, S.C., also added three assists, two steals and blocked a shot. Slawson connected on 4-of-13 shots from the field, including 1-for-5 from three-point land, and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the line. 

Furman sophomore guard Marcus Foster II completed the double-figure scorers for the Paladins, adding 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field and a 2-for-3 effort at the charity stripe. For Foster, it marked his 11th double-figure effort of the season, including his sixth in his last seven outings. J.P. Pegues was big off the bench for the Paladins, as he posted eight points, three boards, two assists and a block.

Wofford was led by 6-8 forward B.J. Mack, as he posted 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field, which included a 2-for-6 effort from three-point land. Additionally, Mack added seven boards, two blocks and an assist to close out a solid afternoon. 

Mack was joined in double figures by Ryan Larson, who added 12 points, while Max Klesmit finished with 11 after scoring a season-low three points in the first meeting this season between the Paladins and Terriers. Isaiah Bigelow rounded out the double-figure scorers for the Terriers, as he posted his seventh double-figure scoring effort of the season.

Furman finished the contest connecting on 47.2% (25-of-53) shots from the field, which included a 38.5% (10-of-26) shooting effort from three-point land. Wofford concluded the contest by connecting on 45.8% (22-of-48) from the field, and finished the day connecting on 39.1% (9-of-23) from three-point land. 

With its 10 three-pointers in Saturday’s win, Furman now has 345 three-pointers this season, which is a new single-season school record, which was previously set at 338 triples during the 2017-18 season. 

The Paladins finished the contest with advantages in total assists (17-14), points in the paint (30-26), fast-break points (6-2), and bench scoring (32-16). Wofford finished the game holding advantages in total rebounds (30-29) and second-chance points (10-7).

Wofford finished the contest connecting on 66.7% (16-of-24) from the charity stripe, while Furman connected on 90.9% (10-of-11) of its free throws on the afternoon.

How It Happened:

Wofford got out of the gates quickly against the Paladins, scoring the first 10 points of the contest, as the Terriers used a pair of Morgan Safford free throws, a B.J. Mack jumper and three-pointers by Max Klesmit and Ryan Larson to assume the early double-digit lead and force an early Furman timeout. 

Out of the timeout, Furman turned up its defensive pressure and made life difficult for the Terriers, using a 19-2 run of its own to take control of the game, with Conley Garrison’s three-pointer following a Terrier turnover giving the Paladins their first lead of the day, at 12-10, with 12:26 left in the opening half of play.

Safford briefly calmed things for Wofford on the other end, as his layup off the right side with 11:55 left in the half tied the game briefly, however, Garrison answered with a three on the other end to give the Paladins the lead for good for the remainder of the opening frame, as Furman assumed a 15-12 lead with 11:37 remaining in the opening half.

Furman made scoring tough the remainder of the opening half for Wofford, with the Paladins eventually extending its lead to double digits prior to the halftime break.

After an Isaiah Bigelow three-pointer got Wofford to within 24-20 with 5:18 remaining in the half, the Paladins would close the half strong, using an 11-3 run to take a 35-23 lead into the halftime break. In the opening half of play, Furman’s defense was especially stellar, holding the Terriers to just a 31.8% (7-of-22) shooting effort from the field. 

Wofford closed down the margin quickly in the second half, using a 13-5 spurt out of the locker room in the second half, cutting the Furman lead to 40-36 with 15:46 remaining in the game following a three-point play the old-fashioned way by Mack. 

The Terriers would never let the game get out of reach again, with Furman assuming no more than a six-point lead for the remainder of the game.

The Terriers would cut the Furman lead to one on a pair of occasions in the second half before eventually taking their first lead since early in the opening half of play.

A three-pointer by Mack with 11:29 left cut the Paladin lead to 47-46 before J.P. Pegues answered with a jumper in the lane to extend the Furman lead back to three on the ensuing possession.

With 9:27 left, a Safford layup in the lane would once again cut the Paladin lead to one, at 49-48, however, Pegues was primed for the challenge once again for the Paladins, as his three-pointer on the other end put Furman back up four, at 52-48, with 9:13 left. 

After Marcus Foster gave Furman a 57-52 lead on a three-point platy the old-fashioned way with 7:13 left, Wofford would reel off six-straight points on three foul shots from Austin Patterson, and following a Safford steal, a three-pointer from Larson, which gave the Terriers a 58-57 lead with 6:24 remaining.

The Terriers weren’t finished, increasing the lead to as much as five,, with Larson going 1-of-2 from the line on a one-and-one bonus following a Mike Bothwell foul to give the Terriers a 62-57 lead with 5:08 left. It capped a 10-0 run for Wofford, which saw the Terriers seemingly seize control of the game. 

However, the Paladins would show their mettle down the stretch. A corner by Garrison sliced the Terrier lead to just two, at 62-60, with just under five minutes remaining, and following a 1-of-2 performance from Safford at the charity stripe to increase Wofford’s lead back to three on the other end, Jalen Slawson took an alley-oop pass from Garrett Hien and laid it in off the glass, bringing the Paladins back to within one, at 63-62, with 4:07 remaining.

After Garrison picked up Furman’s ninth infraction of the half, Klesmit went to the line for the Terriers for a one-and-one bonus with 3:51 remaining, however, he missed the front end, and the ball was rebounded by Bothwell, and it was Bothwell who drove to the basket on the other end for a layup, drawing a foul from Klesmit in the process. Bothwell converted the three-point play the old-fashioned way, giving the Paladins a 65-63 lead with 3:28 remaining.

It would be Bothwell’s lone three points of the game, however, the senior’s play and sense of the moment was pivotal, as his three-point play gave the Paladins the momentum they needed to finish the job.

A Klesmit layup tied the game, 65-65, on the other end, however, Slawson responded with his only made triple of the game with 2:35 remaining on the other end, giving Furman a 68-65 lead, and it would be one Furman would not relinquish the rest of the way. 

Following a Klesmit missed three and a Mack missed layup following an offensive rebound, Slawson got the ball with just under two minutes left and was fouled by Bigelow. Slawson would go to the line for a one-and-one opportunity with 1:56 remaining as a result of Wofford’s eighth team foul of the half, and he knocked down both ends, giving the Paladins a 70-65 lead.

Mack missed a three on Wofford’s ensuing possession, however, Slawson, who was trying to put the game out of reach, missed a three on the other for the Paladins,  and Wofford got the rebound, as Bigelow would get fouled with 1:08 remaining, and he went to the line for a two-shot foul following the 10th team foul by Furman’s Garrett Hien. Bigelow made both, cutting Furman’s lead to three, at 70-67.

Furman senior guard Alex Hunter, who will finish his career as one of the best caretakers of the basketball in Furman hoops history, committed a rare turnover with just over a minute remaining, and Wofford’s Larson came with a steal before going to the floor, and called a timeout. A bizarre incident ensued, as Furman’s Hien was whistled for a technical foul for failing to fully step over Larson en route to his team bench, and Larson went back to the floor. After a lengthy review, Hien picked up a technical foul, meaning Wofford would get two shots and the basketball.

Larson made both foul shots with 53 seconds remaining to cut Furman’s lead to one, at 70-69. After running the shot clock all the way down, Mack’s jumper just inside the three-point line was missed with 22 seconds remaining was off the mark, but Klesmit ran down the offensive rebound for Wofford with 19 ticks remaining, and instead of calling a timeout, the Terriers opted to play it out, and Mack’s second shot inside the final minute—this time on a right elbow three-point attempt—was also off the mark and Garrison rebounded the ball as time expired, and Furman was able sweat another one-point win over Wofford at The Well.

Postgame Press Conference:

Conley Garrison (left) and Jalen Slawson (right)
Furman head coach Bob Richey

Up Next: 

Furman will be on the road next Wednesday night at the Pete Hanna Center to face the Samford Bulldogs (18-9, 8-7 SoCon), as the Paladins push for a top two spot for the upcoming SoCon Tournament and a fifth 20-win season in the past six campaigns. Tip-off for that contest is set for 8 p.m. EST.

SoCon Hoops 2021-22: League race heating up down the stretch

Just when it seemed the league race seemed easy to figure out following Saturday’s results, it is now harder to figure out although even with its 73-70 hiccup at home to UNC Greensboro, Chattanooga still seems primed for a regular-season title and the No. 1 overall seed in the Southern Conference Tournament, which commences March 4 at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville.

Both games Thursday night went down to the wire, with Chattanooga falling at home for just the second time this season and first time in league play, while Samford remained red-hot on its home floor this season, as the Bulldogs improved to 10-2 on their home floor with a thrilling 100-99 overtime win over VMI at the Pete Hanna Center Thursday night. Following Wednesday and Thursday night’s results in league play, the standings are below as follows.

The race from No. 2-No.9 is going to be interesting over the final stretch of games as we head towards the eventual end and tournament in Asheville.

Chattanooga has three games left, needing just to win one. However, while it may seem easy, the road to a regular-season title could have some snags. The Mocs face a tough VMI squad in a suddenly huge game for both the Mocs and Keydets now, with tip-off set for 4 p.m. inside McKenzie Arena.

The Mocs were able to claim a close, 78-74, win at Cameron Hall back in late January. A win in that game, or a Furman loss to Wofford would be enough to see the Mocs clinch the No. 1 overall seed heading towards Asheville in a couple of weeks.

Chattanooga also has a tricky road game at East Tennessee State (Feb. 23)–a team it beat by 30 to open conference play–but is a fierce rival, and then will close out league play against one of the hottest teams in the Southern Conference at the moment, in the Samford Bulldogs.

UNCG 73, Chattanooga 70

The Spartans remain locked in a battle for positioning for the upcoming Southern Conference Tournament, and following their three-point win in the Scenic City, now sit locked in a four-way tie for third in the league standings after improving to 16-11 overall and 8-7 in conference play.

With the win, head coach Mike Jones’ Spartans now have wins over the top two teams in the league standings on the road this season, having claimed a 58-56 win over Furman back on Feb. 5.

So many times in conference play this season, its been either Keyshaun or Kobe Langley that have had a major say in some clutch wins for UNCG. Tonight, that man was Kobe Langley, as his triple with three seconds remaining saw the Spartans assume a 73-70 lead over the Mocs, and it would prove to be the all-important points in helping the Spartans to another huge road win.

Then with 1.2 seconds remaining, Langley would steal UTC’s ensuing inbounds pass to help the Spartans hold on for the win. The win also marked UNCG’s third-straight road win, and it came despite a furious rally late in the game by the Mocs, who trailed by 12 points, 65-53, following a De’Monte Buckingham three-pointer with 4:10 remaining.

However, the Spartans used what was a 17-5 run down the stretch, as the Mocs tied the game, 70-70, on a David Jean-Baptiste triple with 32.5 seconds remaining. However, with ice in his veins, Kobe Langley’s long three-pointer helped the Spartans hold on for the win.

The win by UNCG was eerily similar to the Spartans win at Bon Secours Wellness Arena back on Feb. 5 against Furman, as UNCG was able to survive an 18-3 run over the final 6:25 of the game to emerge with a 58-56 win over the Paladins.

With wins in four of its last five games, the Spartans are now starting to look much the part of the defending champion and also look the part of a basketball team that is not only dangerous in Asheville, but one that could very well repeat as tournament champions once again in March.

Let’s not forget, there’s still plenty of championship experience and know-how on first-year head coach Mike Jones’ roster. Players like Mohammed Abdul-Salam, Bas Leyte, Kaleb Hunter, and Keyshaun and Kobe Langley were all important pieces on the UNCG championship team of a year ago.

In Thursday night’s win at Chattanooga, the Spartans got a career-high 23 points from Leyte, as he was one of two Spartans in double figures, with Miles Jones adding 10.

Keying the UNCG win was its work on the glass, boasting a +13 on the backboards in a matchup between the two top rebounding teams in the SoCon. The Spartans also shot the ball at a 55.1% (27-of-49) clip, while holding the Mocs to just 44.6% (25-56) shooting for the game.

Neither team shot the ball particularly well from beyond the three-point arc, with the Mocs connecting on just 8-of-22 (36.4%) from long-range, while UNCG went just 6-of-19 (31.6%) from long-range.

Kobe Langley finished with nine points, connecting on 3-of-8 from the field, and prior to his game-winning triple, had been 0-for-5 on the night from long-range up until that huge game-winning triple.

UNCG now holds the tiebreaker for third place in the Southern Conference standings by virtue of its season series split with the Mocs. Chattanooga swept Furman, Mercer and Wofford in the season series, which would give the Spartans the upper hand in any tiebreaker scenarios with Wofford, Mercer, or VMI.

UNCG will now head on the road for the final time this season, traveling to Samford on Feb. 19 to face Samford before closing out the regular-season slate with games against both Western Carolina (Feb. 23) and East Tennessee State (Feb. 27).

Samford 100, VMI 99 (OT)

Samford guard Ques Glover/photo courtesy of Samford Athletics

In what was a thriller in Southern Conference action Thursday night, Samford was able to come up with a 100-99 win over VMI, as point guard Ques Glover knocked down a jumper with 1.2 seconds remaining, as Samford went on to pick up a hugely important Southern Conference win Thursday night at the Pete Hanna Center.

The win saw the Bulldogs improve to 17-9 overall and 7-7 in league play, while the Keydets dropped to 15-12 overall and 8-7 in SoCon play. The win by the Bulldogs helps Samford forge a season split with the Keydets, avenging what was a 99-80 loss at VMI back on Jan. 20.

Coupled with a win over Chattanooga earlier this month, it allows Samford to gain an edge in the race for the No. 3 seed for the upcoming Southern Conference Tournament by virtue of an earlier win this month over league-leading Chattanooga.

Glover helped pace the Bulldogs in Thursday night’s win, as he finished with 26 points on 10-of-24 shooting from the field, while going 1-of-6 from three-point land. He completed a double-double performance by also dishing out 10 helpers in the win for the Bulldogs. He also added four rebounds and a pair of steals in the win.

Jermaine Marshall added 22 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field and 12-of-15 from the line, adding six rebounds and a steal. Logan Dye finished with 17, while Cooper Kaifes rounded out the double-figure scorers for Samford with 14.

In the losing effort, VMI was able to get 70 of its 99 points from center Jake Stephens, who posted 39 points, 10 rebounds, dished out five assists, blocked three shots and recorded a steal, while sophomore guard Tre Bonham added 31 points, five rebounds, three assists and a block in the losing effort.

Stephens connected on 12-of-19 shots from the field, including an impressive 7-of-8 effort from three-point range and was 8-for-11 from the charity stripe. Bonham went 9-of-13 from the field, including 2-of-3 from long-range and was a near-perfect 11-of-12 from the charity stripe. Honor Huff rounded out the Keydets in double figures by adding 10 points for VMI.

The two teams shot the ball extremely well from beyond the arc, connecting on a combined 28-of-58 from three-point range, which computes to a blistering 48.2% from long-range for the evening.

Stephens’ 39 points represented a career-high, while Bonham’s 31 points was also a career-high.

The epic contest saw 14 ties and 14 lead changes, with the two teams heading to the extra session tied, 88-88. It was Samford’s second-straight overtime win on its home floor and second in its past three games. VMI fell to 0-3 in overtime games this season.

The Bulldogs finished the night shooting an impressive 51.6% (32-of-62) from the field, including an impressive 50% (12-of-24) clip from three-point land. Meanwhile, VMI finished the contest connecting on 48.4% (31-of-64) from the field and 47.1% (16-of-34) from three-point land in the contest.

Wednesday night’s recap:

Conley Garrison went over 2,000 points in his career in Furman’s win over Western Carolina Wednesday night

Furman, Wofford and Mercer were all able to pick up wins on Wednesday night to help complete the five-game slate, which covered Wednesday and Thursday night to close out the mid-week schedule.

Furman got 25 points from Mike Bothwell, while Alex Hunter added 23, and Conley Garrison posted 13 points and six rebounds, crossing the 2,000-point threshold for his career, and freshman guard J.P. Pegues added 15 off the bench, as the Paladins snapped a three-game losing streak with a 103-85 win over Western Carolina at the Liston B. Ramsey Activities Center.

The win saw the Paladins improve to 18-10 overall and 10-5 in Southern Conference action, as Furman strengthened its hold on second place in the league standings heading down the stretch. Furman now owns a two-game lead in the league standings for the No. 2 seed heading towards the tournament in Asheville early next month.

The loss saw the Catamounts drop their fifth-straight contest, as Western Carolina fell to 9-19 overall and 3-12 in league play.

Meanwhile, in Charleston Wofford was able to post the season sweep over The Citadel by getting a hard-fought 65-58 win at McAlister Field House Wednesday night, as the Terriers moved to 16-11 overall and 8-7 in league play. The Citadel fell to 11-14 overall and 5-9 in league action.

Max Klesmit led three Wofford players in double figures, finishing with 17 points, while B.J. Mack added 15 and Austin Patterson finished up with 11, in what was a well-rounded effort from the Terriers. It was also an impressive effort on the defensive end of the floor for Wofford, as the Terriers held the Bulldogs to just 34.1% shooting for the game.

In picking up the road win Wednesday night, it also marked Wofford head coach Jay McAuley’s 50th win in just his third season at the helm in Spartanburg.

Tyler Moffe led the Bulldogs in the losing effort, posting a game-high 20 points and dished out four assists, while preseason SoCon Player of the Year Hayden Brown added 13 points and 11 boards to mark his eighth double-double of the season, which included his fifth in SoCon play. Jason Roche rounded out the double-figure scorers for the Bulldogs, with 11 points.

ETSU’s Ledarrius Brewer guards Mercer’s Jalen Johnson (photo courtesy of Mercer athletics)

Finally, maybe the biggest game of the night saw East Tennessee State in Macon for a battle with the Mercer Bears. Mercer picked up a 65-56 win over the Bucs, handing ETSU its seventh loss in its past eight games, as the Bears garnered the season split with the Bucs.

The win saw the Bears improve to 15-13 overall and 8-7 in league play, while ETSU dropped to 13-15 overall and 5-10 in league action.

The Bears’ stingy defense in the second half was strong, holding the Bucs to just 14 points allowing Mercer to overcome what was nine-point halftime deficit to garner the all-important win, as the Bears continue to chase one of the top six spots for a bye in the opening round of the Southern Conference Tournament.

The Bears went to the locker room trailing 42-33, however, were able to out-score the Bucs 32-14 in the second half to come up with the win. ETSU was held without points over a 9:24 stretch in the second half, allowing the Bears to take their first lead of the night when Felipe Haase knocked down a triple with 11:25 remaining, giving Mercer the 46-44 lead.

LeDarrius Brewer was able to give the Bucs a brief spark, scoring four-straight points to give ETSU a brief 48-46 lead with 9:30 remaining, however, Jovan Tucker’s triple on the ensuing possession helped the Bears regain the lead for good.

Mercer finished the contest with three in double figures, as Felipe Haase led the way with 17 points, while Jalen Johnson added 16, and Shannon Grant finished with 13 points and six boards to round out the double-figure scorers.

ETSU finished with 36 of its 56 points coming from guards Ledarrius Brewer and Jordan King. Brewer led all scorers with 19 points, while King chipped in with 17. The Bucs connected on just 22.7% (5-of-22) from three-point range in the contest, and following a solid 5-of-12 performance in the opening half of play, the Bucs faltered in the second, going 0-for-10 from downtown.

Briefly previewing the weekend’s slate

Furman and Wofford meet at the Well for the first time since the 2019-20 season

Maybe the top game in league play will take place in downtown Greenville at high noon Saturday, with Furman hosting Wofford at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, as it will be the Paladins’ final home game of the 2021-22 regular-season.

The Paladins haven’t swept Wofford on the hardwood in a regular-season since the 2005-06 campaign, when the Paladins were able to post an 83-52 win in Spartanburg, which was followed up by a 67-59 victory in Greenville.

Furman was able to hand Wofford its largest margin of defeat in five seasons of operation at the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium earlier this season, posting a 75-50 win in Spartanburg. It not only marked Furman’s first win in Spartanburg since January of 2011, but was also the Paladins’ first win at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium. Wofford swept Furman last season, with a 75-67 win in Greenville and a 74-73 victory in Spartanburg to close out the regular-season.

The Paladins are 3-2 in their downtown home since returning with three games at the facility during the 2019-20 season. Both of Furman’s losses in the facility have come against UNCG, including a 58-56 setback to the Spartans a couple of weeks ago. The Paladins also have an 81-66 SoCon win over Mercer early in league play.

The last time the two met at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, it was Mike Bothwell who rescued the Paladins, as his layup with 12 seconds remaining helped the Paladins hold off a good Wofford team, posting a 67-66 at the downtown Greenville venue before over 6,000 in attendance. Tip-off between the Paladins and Terriers is slated for high noon on Saturday afternoon.

UNC Greensboro will be in Birmingham for a battle against Samford in a game that could go a long way in creating some separation in the SoCon standings. The Spartans were able to hold off Samford in the first meeting between the two this season, which took place on Jan. 22 at the Greensboro Coliseum.

The Spartans survived what was a furious rally from the Bulldogs down the stretch, getting some crucial plays from Keyshaun Langley, adding a big driving layup late in the contest to end a long scoring drought for UNCG, and it was part of a 15-point effort in helping the Spartans to one of their eight SoCon wins.

It will mark the 29th all-time meeting between the Spartans and Bulldogs, with UNCG holding a commanding 20-8 lead in the series, including having won 11-straight in the series. The Spartans and Bulldogs will tip things up at 2 p.m. EST at the Pete Hanna Center Saturday, where the Bulldogs are 10-2 this season.

In a battle between two more teams that battling for positioning for the upcoming Southern Conference Tournament, The Citadel will host East Tennessee State in another key league matchup. Both the Bulldogs and Bucs are tied in the league wins column, having both won five games apiece in league play. The Citadel came to Johnson City and was able to secure 75-73 win in Johnson City earlier this season.

If you were wondering the last time the Bulldogs were able to secure a regular-season sweep of the Bucs, The Citadel legend Les Robinson was in his second season as the head coach in Johnson City rebuilding the ETSU basketball program following the mess left by Barry Dowd. That was the 1986-87 season, as The Citadel picked up a 90-80 win in Charleston, as well as an 86-72 win in Johnson City.

The winner of the 1 p.m. contest would mean an outside shot at the No. 6 overall seed, but its likely a battle for the seven seed at this point the way the overall standings are shaping up.

Western Carolina will be looking to snap a six-game skid when it welcomes a Mercer team to Cullowhee for a 2 p.m. contest. The Bears trail the all-time series between the two, 12-11, however, were able to get a hard-fought 72-64 win over the Catamounts earlier this season. Western Carolina is 6-3 all-time against the Bears at the Ramsey Center.

Chattanooga closes out the matchups Saturday, as the Mocs look to get back on the winning streak with a 4 p.m. contest against VMI at the Roundhouse. A win would help the Mocs secure at least a share of the preseason SoCon regular-season title. UTC was able to get a 78-74 win over VMI earlier this season at Cameron Hall in Lexington.