Furman wins Southern Conference Championship rematch, advances to first NCAA Tournament since 1980

Jake Wilson, [email protected], Sports Writer

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The Furman Paladins defeated the Chattanooga Mocs 88-79 on Monday night to advance to their first NCAA tournament in 43 years. 

In last season’s championship game, Chattanooga stunned Furman 64-63 in overtime after guard David Jean-Baptiste hit a half-court shot at the buzzer. This year, the Paladins got their revenge. 

“I sat up here a year ago and told y’all we would be back,” said Furman head men’s basketball coach Bob Richey. “There’s a lot of people who think we wouldn’t do this. That’s really what got us going.” 

Furman opened up as 5.5 point favorites after winning their last two tournament matchups against Mercer and Western Carolina. 

The Paladins started off strong in the opening minutes as senior forward Jalen Slawson and sophomore forward Alex Williams both knocked down a triple. After a crowd erupting and-one by freshman Ben VanderWal, Furman found themselves up 21-7 with 11:40 remaining. 

“Alex Williams made some plays tonight,” Richey said. 

After being down by as much as 19, Chattanooga’s Jake Stephens led a 22-8 run to cut the Paladins lead to five heading into halftime. 

The game was neck and neck in the second half as the Cinderella story Mocs continued to stick around. A Marcus Foster three-pointer with one minute remaining was the game’s turning point and it allowed the Paladins to inevitably pull away with a victory.  

Furman had four players finish with double digits which included Jalen Slawson, JP Pegues, Mike Bothwell and Alex Williams. Slawson scored the most points for the Paladins with 20. 

“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys sitting by me, and also to everybody in that locker room. It’s a credit to everybody that was a part of this,” Richey said. 

This marks Furman’s Bob Richey’s first NCAA Tournament appearance as a head coach. He worked with UNC-Asheville’s Mike Morrell at Charleston Southern in 2011. Morrell also earned his first NCAA Tournament appearance after Sunday’s Big South Championship win. 

“We scrimmage them every year and I knew they were going to be good. They popped us and it was great for us,” Richey said. 

On the other hand, Chattanooga’s improbable run ended after defeating No. 10 seed VMI, No. 2 seed Samford and No. 6 Wofford. Center Jake Stephens scored above 20 points in each of his four games which earned him a spot on the All-Tournament team. 

“I just think it shows the character of our guys. At the end of the day, through the ups and downs and guys getting injured, they stuck together and we fought,” said Chattanooga head men’s basketball coach Dan Earl. 

Furman will find out their NCAA Tournament opponent on Sunday on the CBS March Madness Selection Show. 

“Tonight is about Furman. Tonight is about these players. Tonight these Dins are dancing,” Richey said.