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SoCon Weekend Recap: League Play Defined By A Pair of Heavyweight Clashes

The 2015-16 season continues to provides plenty of storylines and we have just ended three weeks of Southern Conference basketball. With East Tennessee State's 94-84 loss at Chattanooga on Saturday, every team in the league now has at least one loss.

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Big Games Highlight SoCon Another Saturday in Basketball

Weekend Wrap-up:

Chattanooga 94, East Tennessee State 84 (Jan. 16)

The 2015-16 season continues to provides plenty of storylines and we have just ended three weeks of Southern Conference basketball. With East Tennessee State's 94-84 loss at Chattanooga on Saturday, every team in the league now has at least one loss.

The Mocs, which came into the season as pretty much the consensus league favorites, were humbled by Furman, 70-55, at Furman last Saturday, but this weekend, it was Chattanooga doing the humbling, handing the Bucs their first Southern Conference loss Saturday, as ETSU dropped to 4-1 in the SoCon and 11-7 overall, while the win improved the Mocs to 16-3 overall and 5-1 in league play.

The Bucs dropped into a tie for second in the league standings, with Mercer. The two former Atlantic Sun members face off against each other on Thursday night in Johnson City. The Mocs would get a combined 49 points from Tre McLean and Justin Tuoyo, as McLean scored a career-high 29 points, while Tuoyo added 20 in the win.

The Mocs and Bucs, which is one of the most heated Southern Conference hardwood rivalries, was a game that was a battle throughout between two of the league's premier programs, and two that will be in the running for a regular-season league crown throughout the campaign.

Tuoyo now has back-to-back 20 point games and posted a season-high six blocks. ETSU was led by Ge'Lawn Guyn, who posted 21 points.

Key Moment:

Holding a narrow 45-43 lead at the break, Chattanooga used an 11-0 run to take control of the basketball game, as a McLean three-pointer would conclude the run at the 16:25 mark of the second half, giving the Mocs a 56-43 lead. The Bucs would get as close as seven points, at 64-57, a little over midway through the second half after Desonta Bradford connected on a three-pointer, however, the Mocs would stretch their lead back out to 11 a couple of minutes later following a big-time jam from Tuoyo.

Game of the Weekend:

Mercer 70, Wofford 69 (OT)

Mercer would improve to 14-4 overall and 4-1 in SoCon play with a thrilling 70-69 win over defending SoCon champion Wofford. The loss dropped the Terriers to 7-11 overall and 4-2 in SoCon play.

Key Moment:

The game played out just like most would have expected between two SoCon heavyweights. It appeared the Terriers were going to escape from Hawkins Arena with Arena responsible for the second of just 10 losses since the beginning of the 2011-12 season that the Bears have suffered at home, leading the game 64-62 following a C.J. Neumann made foul shot with just 18 seconds remaining.

But South Carolina transfer Desmond Ringer showed why he has been the league's most efficient shooter, at 62.2% and, scoring his four most important of his team-leading 21 points in the waning seconds of both regulation and overtime to get their first win over Wofford as a SoCon member. Those two shots that helped force overtime and eventually win the game in front of a record crowd of 4,502 fans. Ringer had a near-perfect night for the Bears, connecting on 10-of-11 shots from the field to finish with a team-high 21 points. Ringer was a perfect 8-for-8 in the second half and overtime, and his 10-of-11 performance allowed him to shoot 90.9% from the field for the night.

With Wofford holding a narrow 64-62 lead, Mercer would respond with the first of Ringer's two decisive shots, as his layup with eight seconds remaining tied the game at 64 apiece. Justin Gordon had an excellent shot to win the game at the buzzer, but his floater from about 12 feet in the paint came off the back rim as time expired, as the Bears dodged the first of two Terrier chances to win the game at the buzzer.

In overtime and with the Terriers holding a 69-68 lead with 48 seconds left, Wofford's Spencer Collins missed a triple that would have given the Terriers the lead a four-point lead. Despite scoring a game and career-high 30 points, Collins' triple came off the back iron giving Mercer another lifeline. The Bears and Ringer would make Wofford pay, as Ringer's made jumper with 17 seconds left helped the Bears take a 70-69 lead.

Collins would have one more chance to deliver the win for the Terriers, but once again, his shot came off the back iron and for the second time in the game, Mercer had survived a buzzer-beating effort from the Terriers. Collins surpassed his previous career high of 26 points, which he established last season in a narrow win at Mercer and helped the Terriers clinch a share of the SoCon crown.

Samford 84, Western Carolina 68

Western Carolina had played well in the opening half of play, leading by as many as nine points, however, the Catamounts would fall victim to a hot-shooting Samford club in the second at the Pete Hanna Center, as the Bulldogs picked up their second league win of the year with an 84-68 win on Saturday night.

The Catamounts would be led by Mike Brown, who was one of three Western players in double figures, posting 21 points and in the process, became the 46th player in the history of the program to go over 1,000 points. The Bulldogs shot a blistering 62.9% from the field in the win.

Key Moment:

After the Catamounts jumped out to an early  14-5 lead, but the Bulldogs would fight their way to a narrow two-point lead, at 40-38, at the break. Samford exploded, much like it had to start the game against The Citadel to start the game last week, except this time that strong start came from the outset of the second half, going on a 15-0 run to take command on the basketball game, with a 55-38 lead.

The Catamounts were able to cut the Samford lead to 10 once more with eight minutes remaining, but would get no closer, as the Bulldogs would get a career night from freshman Wyatt Walker, who posted 26 points and 12 boards to help the Bulldogs to improve to 11-8 overall and 2-4 in league play. Western dropped to 7-11 overall and 2-3 in SoCon play.

The Citadel 89, Furman 86

Derrick Henry and Brian White posted 16 points apiece, and The Citadel held off a furious rally in the final half minute of play from Furman, surviving a last-second three that could have forced overtime on All-SoCon guard Stephen Croone's 35-footer as time expired, allowing the Bulldogs to pick up their first Southern Conference win of the season, 89-86, over the Paladins Saturday afternoon at McAlister Field House.

The win saw the Bulldogs snap what was a six-game losing skid, improving to 8-10 overall and 1-4 in SoCon play. Meanwhile, the Paladins fell for the eighth-straight time on on the road, including the third in SoCon play, falling to 9-10 overall and 3-3 in SoCon action. Furman has now lost its last four road games by a combined 10 points.

Key Moment:

It appeared it was going to be a much more fashionable win for the Bulldogs, who led 82-70 with 2:57 left and led by 10 points, at 87-77, with just 37 seconds remaining. However, just as it did at Mercer, the Paladins did not back down and almost did the unthinkable, using a relentless full-court press in the final 30 seconds to nearly complete a miraculous comeback.

The Paladins forced three Bulldog turnovers in quick succession to get back into the contest, with Daniel Fowler posting three points on a layup and a free throw, while Sibley had four points, which came on a layup and a pair of foul shots, and Croone had a driving a layup in the wild flurry by the Paladins, who cut a 10-point Citadel lead (87-77) to a mere point (87-86) in a 32-second span.

The Bulldogs did eventually get the ball in-bounds without the ball being stolen or committing an unforced error, and freshman guard P.J. Boutte was fouled with 3.9 seconds remaining. Boutte, who had been 0-for-4 in the contest, connected on both foul shots to give the Bulldogs a three-point lead. Furman's press, however, had at least given the Paladins a chance to tie the game on the game's final shot, as Sibley got the ball to the midde of the floor to Croone, who took a couple of dribbles and launched a three-pointer from about 35-feet a time expired and the ball hit the front of the rim, as the Paladins dropped their fourth road game in heartbreaking fashion on the road, and fell to 0-5 in games decided by six points or less this season, with three of those losses coming in league play.

High School Teammates Shine:

Newton High School (Covington, GA) teammates and Derrick Henry and Stephen Croone were in good form for their respective teams, with Croone netting a team-high 22 points for the Paladins, while Henry, who also starred for Newton High School in Covington, GA, is a fifth-year senior and transfer from Winthrop, and he helped lead the Bulldogs with his first double-double of the campaign, finishing with 16 points and 10 boards. Stephen Croone's 22 points marked his fourth 20-point effort in six SoCon games, and his 21.0 PPG ranks second in the SoCon in scoring average since the start of SoCon play.

Freshman Francis Alonso scored 24 points and dished out seven assists in the Spartans' victory over VMI.

UNCG 84, VMI 68

UNC Greensboro played its Southern Conference game on Sunday afternoon, and it claimed its 10th win out of the last 12 games against VMI, including the third straight by double figures, claiming an 84-68 win at the Greensboro Coliseum.

The Spartans improved to 6-12 overall and 2-3 in league play, while VMI remained the lone win-less team in the league, falling for the fifth-straight game and is now 5-11 overall and 0-5 in SoCon play.

The story of the game was UNCG placing five players in double figures, including freshman Francis Alonso, who posted 24 points, as the Spartans shot a season-high 58% from the field in getting their sixth home win of the campaign. The 24 points were just one shy of his career-high 25 points earlier this season against North Carolina A&T. VMI was led by QJ Peterson's 14 points, however, he did that on just 4-of-17 shooting from the field.

Key Moment:

VMI would play well early, racing out to an early 21-11 lead, as the Keydets hit their first five triples to open the game, including a perfect 3-of-3 from Julian Eleby, and it appeared VMI might be on their to helping head coach Dan Earl to his first Southern Conference win as the head coach of the Keydets.

However, things would start to sizzle for the Spartans and went ice-cold for VMI. UNCG connected on 12 of its final 18 shots of the half, while the Keydets scored just four points over the final 12:01 of the opening frame, as the Spartans took a 43-25 lead into the halftime locker room. The Keydets shot just 7.1% going 1-of-14 from the field in the final 12:01 of the opening frame.

After the Spartans held as much as a 19-point lead in the second half, at 55-36, with 15:10 left, VMI responded with a 14-5 run to slice the UNCG lead to 8:42 remaining, however,  would get no closer as the Spartans closed the game by scoring 11-straight points to take a 77-55 lead to put an end to any comeback aspirations the Keydets might have entertained.

SoCon Standings
1. Chattanooga 16-3, 5-1 SoCon
2. Mercer 14-4, 4-1 SoCon
3. East Tennessee State 11-7, 4-1 SoCon
4. Wofford 7-11, 4-2 SoCon
5. Furman 9-10, 3-3 SoCon
6. Western Carolina 7-11, 2-3 SoCon
7. UNCG 6-12, 2-3 SoCon
8. Samford 11-8, 2-4 SoCon
9. The Citadel 8-10, 1-4 SoCon
10. VMI 5-11, 0-5 SoCon

Players of the Weekend:

Desmond Ringer, Mercer--21 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the field

Wyatt Walker, Samford--26 points and 12 boards in SoCon win over Western Carolina