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Samford looks to build off strong ending to last season

Bucky McMillan is creating a winning culture with the Bulldogs

Jermaine Marshall
Jermaine Marshall posted 13.0 points and 8.2 rebounds per game for Samford last season.
The Southern Conference

2021-2022 season recap:

Samford’s rise up the Southern Conference ladder might be a surprise to many, and it should be. It’s often much different when you’re inside the program, however.

Down the stretch during the 2021-22 basketball season, the Bulldogs caught fire and headed into the conference tournament with the type of supreme confidence to not only make a mark in the tournament, but to cut down the nets when the tournament was all said and done.

Samford’s basketball success has been fleeting since entering the Southern Conference hoops scene back in 2008. The Bulldogs have been under the direction of coaches Jimmy Tillette, Bennie Seltzer, Scott Padgett, and now, Bucky McMillan, during their membership in the Southern Conference.

The Bulldogs have never advanced further than the semifinals of the SoCon Tournament, but are looking to change that narrative in the very immediate future under McMillan.

The seeds of last season’s 21-win campaign were sewn in the off-season by bringing in the likes of Ques Glover (Florida), Jermaine Marshall (Akron) and Cooper Kaifes (Loyola-Chicago) from the transfer portal, as well as four-star recruit Wesley Cardet on the heels of a 2020-21 season that saw the Bulldogs blitzed by COVID-19 as much as any team in college basketball.

The Bulldogs finished off the final month of the season by winning nine of their final 11 games, which included wins over eventual SoCon champion Chattanooga, Furman and UNC Greensboro.

The Bulldogs finished with a 10-8 record in league play, which was good for third. At the Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville, N.C., the Bulldogs would see their mettle tested in quarterfinal game against No. 6 and defending champion UNC Greensboro.

UNCG was a team that had been a thorn in the side of the Bulldogs over the past few seasons, with the Bulldogs only having just snapped what had been a 12-game losing streak to the Bulldogs a couple of weeks earlier with a hard-fought 55-49 win at the Hanna Center.

After the Bulldogs held a comfortable halftime lead, the Spartans opened the second half throwing haymakers, and went on a 22-3 run out of the locker room to trim Samford’s lead to three. The Bulldogs survived as Kobe Langley’s 3-pointer at the buzzer missed to hang on for the 66-64 win.

In the semifinals, with Glover and Marshall leading the way, Samford took as much as a 15-point lead (28-13) in the opening half against second-seeded Furman before taking an eight-point lead (35-27) lead into the break.

The Paladins overtook Samford in the second half, and a late blocked shot by Furman’s SoCon Defensive Player of the Year Jalen Slawson against Glover helped the Paladins eventually seal the 71-68 semifinal win.

The 21-win regular-season marked the most wins by Samford since the 1998-99 campaign and is the third-most since joining the Division I ranks in 1973.

Reasons For Optimism:

In addition to being the only team in the SoCon to return its starting five, the Bulldogs will also welcome back five of their top six scorers, while adding at least one dynamic scorer from the transfer portal into the mix.

Glover (19.2 points per game, 4.4 assists per game last season) highlights those top returnees for the Bulldogs and enters the 2022-23 season as candidate for league Player of the Year honors. He is the league’s top returning scorer.

The supporting cast around Glover includes a trio of all-conference caliber players: Marshall (13.0 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game), Logan Dye (12.7 ppg,5.3 rpg) and Jaden Campbell (10.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg).

Cooper Kaifes (6.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg) will also return as one of the team’s top 3-point specialist as he knocked down 49 triples last season, second-most on the team.

In terms of key additions, look no further than Bubba Parham. He could immediately give the Bulldogs one of the top scoring backcourts in the SoCon upon his arrival. At Georgia Tech and VMI, Parham has scored 1,452 points and has knocked down 231 3-pointers.

While at VMI in the 2018-19 season, Parham led the SoCon in scoring at 21.4 points per game. He then spent two seasons at Georgia Tech, where he averaged 5.2 points in his first season as a Yellow Jacket and 6.7 points in year two.

Interview with Samford head coach Bucky McMillan:

Hooper: What makes Jermaine Marshall so special to this team as a player?

McMillan: “First of all, I think it’s about who he is as a person...That’s where you have to start I think...Jermaine Marshall is the most competitive player I’ve ever been around...He’s got a little bit of that Michael Jordan personality in him...He could play ‘gotcha’ with a group of second-grade campers, and he’s going to be upset if he doesn’t win...I feel like and felt like last year that he was an all-conference player...He was second in the league in double-doubles.”

Hooper: Talk about what your newcomers bring to the table?

McMillan: “They’ve all been here all summer...Nate Johnson...Bubba Parham...Achor Achor, who is going to be a really good player by the way, and obviously we know Bubba is going to be a great player...Achor is Sudanese and Australian that came over here four years ago, and he’s just getting better and better and I mean he’s gotten better just since we got him... Then our other newcomers are Brody Boyer, as well as Britt Jones...Brody is from Florida and Britt is Alabama...I coached Britt in high school.”

Hooper: Talk about your trip to the Dominican Republic coming up and how you can use the momentum gained from the late-season run?

McMillan: “It’s always good when you can do this type of thing with a lot of returners...It wouldn’t have made a whole lot of sense coming in last year with so many new guys, but this year we have a lot of veterans, and it acts as kind of a reward for the season we did have...It’s not really whether you win it or lose it which is the deal, but you get to try different lineups and try different guys in different spots...Some guys in crunch time that might not normally be there in crunch that you can get them experience within different areas so that if you have an injury during the can adjust easier to that...What you learn is that some players that think they should be in a certain spots and you put them in those spots that they learn ‘well maybe I shouldn’t be in this during this spots’ or maybe you should be in this position and we look at it and see ‘oh you went 1-for-23 from 3-point range.’”

Hooper: Talk about how you will use last season and the close loss to Furman to end the season going forward into 2022-23?

McMillan: “When I coached in high school, and when we were really good, you’d find some teams that would be happy at the end just to play you close...That really wasn’t like the feeling that I felt and our team felt at all...We felt like we should have won...You know what I mean? I mean...Furman is a great team, but that’s how we felt...At Samford the feeling in the program before has been ‘well, we played a power program or a really good team in league pretty close,’ but this year we won at Ole Miss and we won at Oregon State...The difference is...Ques Glover, Jermaine Marshall, and Logan Dye...They believe they can play against anybody...We’re not satisfied with close losses to good teams....We want to win and win now.”

Hooper: How has the evolution of style play changed with experience?

McMillan: “One thing I think is I’ve seen our play get a little bit cleaner and a little bit tighter to where we aren’t making so many mistakes, and guys are seemingly understanding their roles more when the lights come on now that they have had a full year to play with one another...As we play more games together, we get more and more comfortable in the way we play.”