Chattanooga 73, Western Carolina 69
This was a really difficult game for the Mocs. They jumped out to an early lead, watched Western Carolina fight back and retake the lead, then rebuilt a lead, then watched the Catamounts make run after run in the second half, only to withstand all of them.
Western Carolina dominated the boards, 39-27. That was one of the main reasons that the Catamounts were able to stay in the game. Justin Browning scored 14 points and had 11 rebounds. Torrion Brummitt had 23 points and 9 rebounds. They thoroughly dominated that side of the ball.
The Mocs relied heavily on Greg Pryor and Chuck Ester in the semifinals. Ester had 13, including two threes. Pryor had 16 points, including a three at the buzzer of the first half that tied the game going into the locker room. Those two were the reason the Mocs won in the end. But it was a team effort, as Tre McLean scored 12, as did Eric Robertson.
The Mocs improved to 28-5 and are now just one win away from the NCAA Tournament.
Where does Western Carolina go from here?
The Catamounts have four seniors, three of them starting on Sunday. Mike Brown, Torrion Brummitt, Justin Browning and Rhett Harrelson have played their last game as Catamounts. While the Catamounts went on a great run to end the year and played well in the SoCon Tournament, they are replacing a ton. Devin Peterson will need to become the next star for this team. More than likely, this team takes a major step back next year. They may contend for a bye, but they probably are a team that should be playing on Friday in next year's SoCon Tournament.
ETSU 84, Furman 76
The Bucs are playing really well right now, and they played like it on Sunday night. They shot 54% from the floor, 53% from three and 89% from the free throw line. That is incredible shooting. That is why they were able to overcome just coming up with three offensive rebounds for the game. Ge'Lawn Guyn scored 22 points and Desonta Bradford got 11. Peter Jurkin played well in the first half, and that helped provide the early separation.
The story of the night was Stephen Croone's struggles. He did not score for the first thirty minutes of the game. He wound up with nine points on 2 of 10 shooting from the field. He made just 5 of 10 from the free throw line. He did have five assists. Croone was off his game and the SoCon Player of the Year finished his final SoCon Tournament game disappointed.
Still, ETSU tore up Furman's solid defense. They played very well. They were never able to completely put away the Paladins, but they basically won the game relatively easily. They advance to Monday's championship game with an RPI of 83 and can get to the NCAA Tournament and be in the Top 80 at least. This Bucs team is really playing great basketball right now.
Where does Furman go from here?
To a postseason tournament that does not begin with a letter "N"? It's possible. It's unclear if they will go or not, but they will likely get a postseason invite somewhere, I think. Stephen Croone, Kendrec Ferrara and Larry Wideman are seniors. Croone will be a huge loss for the team, but there are solid pieces already in place. The Paladins will probably get a bye, and they can possibly make a run towards a SoCon title next year, even without Croone. Matt Rafferty and Devin Sibley will be a solid duo. This team is probably a hair short of winning a title next year, but they are going to be team near the top of the standings.
QUICK CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW
ETSU vs. Chattanooga (9:00, ESPN2)- The Bucs are playing the best of anyone right now, it would appear. But the Mocs swept the Bucs during the regular season. The Mocs size advantage with Justin Tuoyo, Chuck Ester and Duke Etheridge is massive and is the main reason the Bucs have difficulty with the Mocs. The thing that got the Mocs in trouble against Western Carolina was all the offensive rebounds they gave up. ETSU will not get a lot of offensive rebounds, getting just three against Furman in the semifinals. The Bucs have a ton of athleticism, but the Mocs are one of the few SoCon teams that can come close to matching them in that department. This is a good match-up for the Mocs. But the Bucs are motivated to beat their archrivals in the championship game and are playing great right now. This is a very compelling championship match-up between the teams that finished at the top of the SoCon standings. Should be very entertaining.
Gut Feeling Pick: I had Chattanooga before the tournament. Might as well stick with them now. In a very close one, the Mocs pull it out and go to the NCAA Tournament.