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SoCon Basketball 2016-17: It’s anyone’s title

February will provide an exciting conclusion to regular season SoCon play

Chattanooga v Indiana
Chattanooga drops consecutive conference games in the regular-season for the first time since 2013-14 campaign
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As January fades into February, the Southern Conference gets more confusing with each passing week.

With its fourth-straight win on Saturday, Furman now sits atop the SoCon standings, tied with East Tennessee State for first place.

The Paladins were 73-67 winners at UNC Greensboro on Saturday, and the Paladins have been able to rise to the top of the league with defense. Coming into the first week of February, the Paladins lead the SoCon in scoring defense (64.4 PPG), rank second in field goal percentage defense (40.6%) and first in three-point field goal percentage defense (29.3%).

The Paladins held Western Carolina to just 37 points last week —the lowest total for a Division I opponent in the 19-year history of Timmons Arena.

In Saturday’s battle with UNCG, Furman got a huge effort from star guard Devin Sibley, who poured in 22 of his 24 points in the second half, helping the Paladins end the first half of conference play in no worse than a tie for first place.

UNCG, for its part, has now lost two straight, which comes on the heels of six game winning streak. The Spartans head to Chattanooga for a monumental clash with the Mocs on Thursday night. The Spartans were the only team to win inside the Roundhouse last season..

Alarm bells seem to be going off in the Scenic City. The Mocs were the prohibitive favorites to claim the league title entering the season. However, they’ve suffered two-straight losses, something that seemed unfathomable prior to the season.

Some even thought the Mocs might get through league play unscathed. However, losses at home to VMI and on the road at ETSU on Saturday afternoon marked the first time the Mocs have lost back-to-back SoCon games since the 2013-14 season.

ETSU has rebounded in a big way since a loss to Furman 11 days ago, as the Bucs have reeled off three-straight wins, including hard-fought victories over Samford in double-overtime and over Chattanooga. This was ETSU’s first win over Chattanooga since re-joining the SoCon prior to the 2014-15 season.

In front of a sellout crowd Saturday —the second time this season the Bucs have sold out their home facility—ETSU was powered by four players in double figures to get the five-point win over arch-rival Chattanooga.

Coming off his first-career double-double, Desonta Bradford is making a strong case for SoCon Player of the Week honors by adding 19 points, five boards and four assists to lead the Bucs to the win. Hanner Mosquera-Perea just missed a double-double, adding 18 points and nine boards. The Bucs will be back in action Thursday night with a game at suddenly-dangerous VMI.

The biggest upset Saturday’ came in Cullowhee, as Western Carolina - fresh off a 48-point drubbing against Furman - posted a 68-62 win over Wofford. The Terriers had just handled SoCon leader UNCG in the middle of the week and came in playing some of their best basketball of the season.

However, three Catamounts scored in double figures, paced by 16 points and a pair of assists from Devin Peterson, as Western Carolina claimed its second SoCon win of the season. Marc Gosselin added 15 points and Haboubacar Mutombo added 11 in the win.

In maybe the best game of the day, VMI fell in its bid to pull off consecutive SoCon upsets, as Samford claimed a 69-67 win over the Keydets.

Peterson, who scored 40 points in a win at Chattanooga Wednesday night, went over 2,000 points in his career as a Keydet, posting 21 points in the loss to the Bulldogs. Samford used another strong performance from Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, who posted 18 points, including 12 of those points off four triples, as the Bulldogs improved to 14-8 overall and 5-4 in the SoCon. The 14th win of the season by the Bulldogs tied their win total of a year ago.

Samford will be back in action on Thursday night, hosting Western Carolina in a key league game.

Mercer was able to garner its fourth SoCon win of the season, as the Bears handed The Citadel its fifth-straight loss, with an 82-66 win at Hawkins Arena. The Bears posted three players in double figures, led by Demetre Rivers’ 23 points.

Mercer then picked up its fifth conference win by beating Western Carolina 62-47 Monday night in early week SoCon action.

The month of February is going to be exciting. Stay tuned for the updated Southern Conference power rankings on Friday.