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Southern Conference wrapup: Furman takes control of first place, Wofford wins a classic

It was another wild night in the SoCon

NCAA Basketball: Furman at Connecticut
Furman Junior Guard Devin Sibley
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It was just your regular night in Southern Conference basketball, which involved the game of the season, as well as a game for the top spot in the league.

Furman 60, Chattanooga 56

Furman claimed its 15th-consecutive Southern Conference home win, and took over sole possession of the top spot in the league.

The win marked the seventh-straight overall for the Paladins, as Furman improved to 17-8 and 10-2 in the SoCon. The Paladins avenged an earlier loss to Chattanooga, which was their only setback by double-digits this season. The loss dropped Chattanooga to 17-7 overall and 8-4 in the SoCon.

With the win, Furman now holds a slim one-game lead over East Tennessee State (19-6, 9-3 SoCon), who was idle Thursday night and returns to action Saturday, hosting Mercer at Freedom Hall.

Furman used maybe its best defensive performance of the year to come up with one of its biggest Southern Conference wins of the Niko Medved era, as the Paladins limited the Mocs to a meager 17 points in the second half on just 35.3 percent shooting (6-for-17).

The Paladins were powered by three players in double figures, with league player of the year candidate Devin Sibley leading the way with 13 points. But it was his defense that truly powered Furman to the win.

With the game tied at 56 and just 36 seconds remaining, Chattanooga senior guard Johnathan Burroughs-Cook drove into the lane and pivoted, trying to lose the tenacious Sibley, but Sibley adjusted perfectly to Burroughs-Cook’s hesitation move, and blocked the shot.

Following the block, Sibley forced the jump ball after snatching it out of the air and fell to the ground in a tie-up with Burroughs-Cook. The possession arrow favored the Paladins.

With the ball back in their possession and a three-second differential between the shot-clock and game clock, the Paladins ran 26 seconds off the shot clock before senior forward Kris Acox spun right and then buried a hook shot perfectly over the out-stretched arms of league-leading shot blocker Justin Tuoyo with seven seconds left.

Chattanooga in-bounded the ball quickly to senior point guard and 2016 Southern Conference Tournament MVP Greg Pryor, who was fouled by Sibley with just three-tenths of a second left, putting Pryor at the line for two charity shots.

After a loud, boisterous crowd of 2,223 affected Pryor’s first free throw attempt, which rimmed out, the veteran point guard was be forced to miss the second and hope the Mocs could get a tip-in at the buzzer to force overtime.

Following a timeout, Tuoyo fouled redshirt freshman Jalen Williams on the rebound attempt with one-tenth of a second remaining. Williams calmly stepped the line and canned both foul shots to settle the final score. The Paladins were able to overcome a 39-33 halftime deficit to come up with the win.

Star of the Game:

Sibley scored a team-high 13 points to go with six rebounds and was one of three Paladins in double figures. John Davis III added 12 points, three assists and a pair of steals, while Daniel Fowler added 10 points to round out the double-figure scorers.

Stat of the Game:

Furman’s perimeter defense has been excellent all season, but the Mocs shot the ball well from long-range in the opening half, hitting 6-of-13 from long-range. However in the second half, Furman showed why it has had one of the top perimeter defenses in the nation all season, and the Paladins limited the Mocs to just 0-for-6 from three in the second half.

What We Learned:

Furman is a team that has just found ways to win in league play this season. It’s a team that defensively seems to have that “it” factor when things aren’t going according to plan on offensive, as was the case in several junctures of the game last night. But Furman found a way to do it. The question is: Can Furman maintain this physical and mental toughness throughout the remainder of the regular-season and into the tournament in Asheville? Time will tell.

Quotables:

On the physicality of the game

It was the most physical game we have been a part of this year, and my bumps and bruises prove that.” —Devin Sibley

On Devin Sibley’s key defensive play and improvement

You think of a key play in the game tonight and the game’s on the line, and when Burroughs-Cook drives it in the lane and Devin [Sibley] does a great job of staying in front and stays down, stays down, stays down, and he pivots and tries to shoot him over and he’s the second guy to leave the floor, blocks the shot, comes up with it and forces the jump ball and we get possession of it.” —-Niko Medved

Wofford 131, Samford 127 (4OT):

Wofford improved to 10-1 at the Benjamin-Johnson Arena by getting a quadruple overtime, 131-127, win over visiting Samford. The 258 points marks one of the highest-scoring regular-season league games in conference history, even surpassing the 1996 game between Marshall and Western Carolina, which saw the Catamounts post a 125-104 win in regulation.

The Terriers were led by two players finishing with 30-or-more points, as Fletcher Magee cashed in 36, while senior point guard Eric Garcia poured in 31. It marked the first quadruple overtime game for the Terriers since 1976.

Other Scores:

Mercer 81, VMI 51
ETSU 80, The Citadel 69

Southern Conference Power Rankings:

  1. Furman (17-8, 10-2 SoCon)
  2. East Tennessee State (19-6, 9-3 SoCon)
  3. Chattanooga (17-7, 8-4 SoCon)
  4. Wofford (13-13, 8-5 SoCon)
  5. UNC Greensboro (17-8, 8-4 SoCon)
  6. Samford (15-10, 6-6 SoCon)
  7. Mercer (12-14, 6-7 SoCon)
  8. VMI (5-17, 2-9 SoCon)
  9. The Citadel (9-17, 2-11 SoCon)
  10. Western Carolina (7-18, 2-10 SoCon)