On a week that fittingly has a movie titled Cinderella released, the Southern Conference's Cinderella finally had the clock strike midnight. But it wasn't before they nearly pulled off one of the great upsets in college basketball tournament history.
Having already vanquished the 2-seed Chattanooga and the 3-seed Mercer, Furman went to battle with the 1-seed and reigning conference champ, Wofford, on Monday night. No team since 1939 had won four games in four days to win the SoCon Tournament, and no team had ever advanced to the NCAA Tournament with 21 losses. Furman was trying to do both.
But less than 10 minutes into the game, Kris Acox, possibly the Paladins MVP so far in this tournament, went down with an ankle injury. He did not return.
The odds were stacked against them, but Furman continued to hang around, even leading late in the game. Down three with just 12 seconds remaining, Stephen Croone, the Paladins best overall player, fouled out of the game.
The Paladins were able to get a shot from Devin Sibley to try to tie the game with 10 seconds remaining, but he missed. However, Lee Skinner missed the front end of the one and one on the other end, and John Davis III got off one more look at a three to tie it as time expired. It came up short, as did the Paladins' Cinderella dreams.
The Terriers advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in six years and the second consecutive season. It really has been a remarkable season for the Terriers -- one that could end with them getting as high as an 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament. More than likely, they are a 12- or 13-seed, but one that will scare any team they see across from them on Selection Sunday.
The Terriers probably do not want to face a team with extraordinary size, because of their own lack of height. But this team still has the potential to pull it off. Skinner and SoCon MVP Karl Cochran are both seniors and the clear leaders of this team. This is the sort of team that pulls off an upset in the NCAA Tournament and the sort of team no big conference team wants to play.
The Paladins will return four freshman who played a ton of minutes, along with Acox and Croone. This team should be much better next year no matter how this SoCon Tournament went down. I have been saying for months that Furman and Samford are two teams on the rise in the SoCon. This weekend does nothing but give the young Paladins more confidence heading into the offseason.
In the mean time, the Terriers will be in the NCAA Tournament hoping to finally go on the sort of run that they have dreamed about. This week Wofford was one of the ugly step sisters hoping the glass slipper wouldn't fit Cinderella. Next week, they'll be back to their more familiar role of hoping the clock doesn't strike midnight on them.