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SoCon Final Preview: Top two seeds square off

Chattanooga, Furman set to do battle Monday night for SoCon supremacy

NCAA Basketball: Furman at North Carolina
Furman’s Jalen Slawson was the SoCon Defensive Player of the Year, as named by the league’s coaches.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

How to watch:

Matchup: No. 2 Furman vs. No. 1 Chattanooga

When: Monday, 7 p.m. ET

Where: Asheville, N.C.

TV: ESPN

DraftKings Spread: Chattanooga -2.5, O/U 137

How they got to the title game:

Chattanooga won both matchups in the regular season, which proved to be the difference between them in the standings, as the Mocs finished two games ahead of Furman. They won at home by two in the first meeting and by six on the road in mid-February.

As for the conference tournament, the two team reached the title game by very different ways. Chattanooga dominated fourth-seeded Wofford 79-56, while the Paladins pulled off a come-from-behind victory over No. 3 Samford 71-68.

The Mocs shot a season-best 58.3% in that semifinal victory. They closed the first half on a 17-3 run to seize control of the game and expanded the lead to 23 midway through the second half.

Four Chattanooga players registered double figures. Malachi Smith posted a 25-point, 11-rebound double-double. Darius Banks scored 17 points. David Jean-Baptiste posted 14 points, and Silvio De Sousa added 12.

In Furman’s semifinal, the Paladins trailed 28-13 with six minutes left in the first half after the Bulldogs had separate spurts of nine straight and 10 straight points. But Furman answered with an 8-0 run left in the first half to pull closer. It used a 10-0 run in the second half to surge in front 51-50. The two teams went back and forth the rest of the way.

Jalen Slawson notched 17 points and seven rebounds. Mike Bothwell also scored 17 points. Conley Garrison chipped in 10 points and a season-high five steals.

In the quarterfinals, Chattanooga edged No. 9 The Citadel 71-66, and Furman beat No. 7 Mercer 80-66.

The championship game features three of the conference’s individual award winners, as picked by the coaches. Smith was the SoCon Player of the Year, and his coach, Lamont Paris, received the Coach of the Year distinction. Slawson was named the Defensive Player of the Year.

Prediction:

It’s Furman’s time. The Paladins are in the SoCon title game for the first time since 1980. They needed to claw their way to the title game with the comeback against Samford, so they have already played for their postseason lives. Since they lost to Chattanooga at home in mid-February, which was their third straight setback, the Paladins have won five of six. Tonight will be the crowning achievement for Bob Richey as Furman punches its ticket to the Big Dance in more than four decades.