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SoCon Power Rankings and Recap: The race continues to tighten amid upsets

A major upset and a SoCon classic highlighted Wednesday night’s action

NCAA Basketball: VMI at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Things have heated up in the Southern Conference as February nears. Wednesday night had everything from high drama in Birmingham, to a major blowout in Greenville.

There were also two upsets on Wednesday night, with VMI pulling one of the biggest upsets in mid-major basketball so far this season, knocking off league favorite Chattanooga on its home floor. Here’s that and more:

GAME OF THE NIGHT:

East Tennessee State 96, Samford 86 (2OT)

East Tennessee State and Samford engaged in a Southern Conference classic, as the game featured 12 ties and 21 lead changes before the Bucs escaped with a 96-86 overtime win.

Samford’s Christen Cunningham hit a buzzer-beating triple to send the game into a second overtime, but the Bucs would explode for 18 points in the second overtime period. On the whole, they out-scored the hometown Bulldogs 18-8 in the second overtime to garner the 10-point win and move into a three-way tie for second place.

After Wednesday night’s wild action, ETSU (6-2), Furman (6-2) and Chattanooga (6-2) sit tied in the loss column with league-leading UNCG (7-2).

The Bucs will battle Volunteer State rival Chattanooga on Saturday in Johnson City. Chattanooga has claimed five-straight victories over the Bucs, including winning all three meetings last season. The game is a rematch of last year’s SoCon tournament championship.

Star of the Game:

ETSU’s TJ Cromer posted a game-high 27 points to lead all scorers. He was one of five Bucs in double figures, connecting on 10-of-20 shots from the field and going 3-for-10 from three-point range. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from the line, and had four assists, three boards, a steal and a block. ETSU junior guard Desonta Bradford added his first-career double-double, with 21 points and 10 boards. Samford’s Demetrius Denzel-Dyson contributed 26 points in the losing effort.

Stat of the Game:

In a match up between two teams who love to press, it was ETSU’s 31-14 advantage on points off turnovers that proved vital. The Bucs forced 20 Bulldog turnovers, while committing 19 miscues of their own.

What We Learned:

Two teams with similar styles produced a SoCon classic in Birmingham. Samford and ETSU have struggled to shoot the basketball from long-range of late, and reliance on the perimeter shots to win basketball games for either club is not a recipe for victory. The teams combined to go just 11-for-41 from three Wednesday night.

Upset City:

The biggest upset of the SoCon season took place in Chattanooga, as VMI posted an 80-64 win over the Mocs Wednesday night.

It was the QJ Peterson show, as the senior guard scored half of VMI’s 80 points, helping VMI claim its first-ever win at McKenzie Arena. Peterson’s 40 points came on 15-of-19 shooting, including 7-for-9 from three. Peterson scored 28 of his points in the second half.

This tied a school-record for most points in a half, and Peterson joined Reggie Williams as only the second player in program history to score 40 points on multiple occasions. Peterson’s last 40-point outburst came in a 46-point outing against Mercer last season.

The Keydets started the second half with an 18-3 run to overcome a 32-30 halftime deficit and converted that into a 50-35 lead. They would never look back en route to a 16-point win.

Albeit not as surprising, there was another upset, as Wofford got a 93-74 win over league-leading UNC Greensboro. It was UNCG’s first road conference loss of the season, as the Spartans dropped to 16-6 overall and 7-2 in the SoCon, while Wofford was able to improve to 9-12 overall and 4-4 in SoCon play.

Five players finished in double figures for the Terriers, with Eric Garcia leading the way with 20 points, including 12-for-12 from the free throw line in the 19-point home win. Garcia is shooting an astounding 94.3 percent from the charity stripe so far this season.

Lopsided:

Furman got its second-largest win over a league opponent in school history by beating Western Carolina by 48 points. Furman’s previous biggest win over a league foe came during the Frank Selvy era, as the Paladins downed The Citadel 154-67 on Jan. 8, 1955.

The 37 points allowed is the lowest mark ever allowed by the Paladins at Timmons Arena against a Division I opponent since the facility opened in December of 1997. The only lower totals came against non-Div. I foes, limiting Methodist to just 29 points in 2002 and Virginia Intermont to just 33 points in 2004. The Paladins got a game-high 25 points from leading scorer Devin Sibley.

SoCon Power Rankings:

  1. UNC Greensboro (16-6, 7-2 SoCon)
  2. Furman (13-8, 6-2 SoCon)
  3. East Tennessee State (16-5, 6-2 SoCon)
  4. Chattanooga (15-5, 6-2 SoCon)
  5. Wofford (9-12, 4-4 SoCon)
  6. Samford (13-8, 4-4 SoCon)
  7. Mercer (9-12, 3-5 SoCon)
  8. VMI (5-14, 2-6 SoCon)
  9. The Citadel (9-13, 2-7 SoCon)
  10. Western Carolina (6-15, 1-7 SoCon)