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Southern Conference Tournament quarterfinals recap: Samford highlights an exciting day of SoCon action

Two higher seeds went down on quarterfinal Saturday

NCAA Basketball: Samford at Cincinnati David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Day two of the 2017 Southern Conference Tournament produced a pair of upsets, with lower seeds winning back-to-back games. The biggest upset came in the opening game of the night session, as No. 7 seed downed No. 2 Furman, 67-63.

With the win, Samford improves to 19-14 overall and moved into the semifinal round of the Southern Conference Tournament for just the second time since joining the SoCon in 2008.

The Bulldogs have never advanced further than the semifinals, though Samford also made it there in 2009, losing 81-70 to eventual champion Chattanooga on its home floor.

The Bulldogs will face No. 3 East Tennessee State in Sunday evening’s second semifinal matchup, which is set for approximately 7:30 p.m.

Like its opening round win over VMI, the Bulldogs put the clamps on the Paladins defensively, holding Furman to a meager 30.3 percent shooting from the field, which marked the lowest shooting percentage in a game this season for Furman.

The Bulldogs were able to jump out to a 13-point lead within the opening half of play on a made layup by Christen Cunningham with 9:30 remaining.

The Paladins got as close as a bucket late in the opening frame, as Southern Conference Player of the Year Devin Sibley converted a layup of his with 3:04 remaining in the frame. However, with both teams struggling to score, Samford’s Demetrius Denzel-Dyson converted a pair of foul shots with 1:20 remaining in the half to give the Bulldogs a 31-27 lead, and that remained the margin as the two teams entered the locker room.

The Paladins held two brief leads early in the second half, as sophomore guard Andrew Brown connected on a triple to give Furman a 35-34 lead with 15:40 remaining.

Then, SoCon All-Freshman guard Jordan Lyons connected on a triple to give the Paladins a 38-36 lead with 14:30 remaining. However, Samford assumed control of the game from that point, holding the Paladins without a field goal for over five minutes to take a 44-38 lead.

Samford stretched that to as many as 12 points with 1:41 left after a jumper from Cunningham. Furman cut Samford’s lead to three on a long triple from Sibley with 36 ticks remaining, but that’s as close as the Paladins got.

Cunningham led three Samford players in double figures in the win, posting 17 points, while All-SoCon performer Wyatt Walker added a double-double with 15 points and 12 boards. Alex Thompson also had a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards.

Furman was paced by Sibley’s second 30-point effort of his career, on 10-of-20 shooting from the field, including 5-for-10 from three. The only other Paladin in double figures was Andrew Brown, who posted 11 points.

Furman was 12-of-40 from three-point range in the loss. It was the second-most three-pointers ever attempted in a game by a Furman team.

Wofford 79 Chattanooga 67

In the other lower-seeded upset on Saturday, No. 5 Wofford knocked off defending SoCon Tournament champion Chattanooga, 79-67. The Terriers’ win snapped what was a five-game losing skid to the Mocs.

Fletcher Magee led the Terriers with 24 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field, including 5-for-10 from three-point range. Magee was one of three Terriers in double figures, as fellow First Team All-SoCon guard Eric Garcia added 18 points and SoCon All-Freshman guard finished with 17.

Garcia and Magee were also outstanding on the defensive end, pressuring Chattanooga guards Rodney Chatman and Jonathan Burroughs-Cook all afternoon, as the duo combined for five steals. They were also nearly flawless from the charity stripe, combining to go 15-16 from the free throw line, with Garcia going a perfect 10-for-10. For the game, Wofford went 17-of-19 at the charity stripe.

“Our guards have tremendous gap integrity on the defensive end, and I am very proud of the way these guys performed today,” Wofford head coach Mike Young said.

The Mocs were playing without last year’s Southern Conference Tournament MVP Greg Pryor, who missed the game with an injured hand.

In the losing effort for the Mocs, Chattanooga was led by Third Team All-SoCon selection Tre’ McLean, who posted 18 points, while First Team All-SoCon selection and league defensive player of the year Justin Tuoyo finished with 13.

Wofford moves on to face top-seeded UNC Greensboro in Sunday’s first semifinal, slated for 5 p.m.

Rest of the Quarterfinals

In the other two quarterfinal contests, top-seeded UNC Greensboro fought off a mighty scare from No. 9 The Citadel to hold on for a 76-67 win in the first quarterfinal game on Saturday.

It was too much RJ White and too much low-post domination by the Spartans for the Bulldogs to contend with, especially in the second half. Led by White and SoCon All-Freshman pick James Dickey, the Spartans held a huge 40-14 edge in scoring in the paint, and finished the contest with a advantage 51-36 on the boards.

Dickey set a school and Southern Conference Tournament record with 19 rebounds to go with eight points. White added his fifth double-double of the season, going for 21 and 12.

The Citadel actually held a 39-35 lead, but were out-scored 41-28 in the second half as the Spartans flexed their muscles underneath the basket, especially on the offensive glass, where UNCG grabbed 22 offensive rebounds.

Zane Najdawi led the Bulldogs with 18 points, while Matt Frierson and Preston Parks added 15 and 12 points, respectively.

In the final game of the night, No. 3 East Tennessee State took down No. 6 Mercer, 73-66, as the Bucs broke open what had been a close game in the second half. Mercer held as much as a 13-point lead in the opening half and held a 33-21 lead with 4:21 remaining in the opening frame. A 13-2 run to close the half helped ETSU get to within a point of the Bears, as the Bucs trailed 35-34 at the break.

All-SoCon Third Team selection Desonta Bradford was brilliant all night for ETSU, posting a game-high 21 points to lead three Bucs players in double figures. Bradford came up big for the Bucs in the second half when they needed him most. With the game tied, 45-45, with 11:50 left, Bradford put the Bucs on his back, scoring nine of the team’s next 11 points during an 11-0 Bucs surge, and ETSU never looked back.

Tevin Glass added 15 points and First Team All-SoCon guard TJ Cromer finished with 10 points. Mercer was led by guard Demetre Rivers’ 18 points, while Jordan Strawberry and Ria’n Holland added 16 and 14 points, respectively.

The Bucs were stingy on the defensive end after the initial hot start from Mercer, holding the Bears to just 36.1 percent shooting from the field for the game, including a meager 27.6 percent in the second half.

ETSU moves on to the semifinals to face Samford in a game set to tip at approximately 7:30 p.m Sunday night. The Bucs improved to 25-7 this season and a win over Samford Sunday night would give head coach Steve Forbes 50 wins in his two campaigns as head coach.