Furman ended Chattanooga's eight-game winning streak and posted the biggest upset in Southern Conference play, and maybe one of the biggest between two mid-majors this season, holding Chattanooga to its lowest shooting percentage of the season and second-lowest point total. The Mocs entered with an RPI of 33.
The Paladins saw their 2015 Southern Conference Freshman of the Year--Devin Sibley--rise to the occassion to post one of his biggest games of his young career and most important 18-point effort of the season, as he led the Paladins' aggressive approach on both ends of the floor. Stephen Croone's 17 points helped him surpass former Paladin great Clyde Mayes for 12th on Furman's all-time scoring ledger, as the Paladins posted one of the biggest wins in the history of the facility. Croone now had 1,591 career points.
The story was Sibley, however, as the Volunteer State native did a number on a Chattanooga squad that time-after-time looked to trap him in the press and create turnovers. The strategy backfired, as Sibley found his game and form from a year ago at the best of possible moments for this Furman basketball team.
The win is certainly one that will go down in the memory banks for Paladin fans, who have been starved for good basketball inside the facility over the past 18 years, as fans can probably count those wins on one hand. Saturday's 15-pointer against a Chattanooga team with an RPI as high as the mid-30s ranks up there as one of the biggest. Certainly in terms of a Southern Conference win, only the 2006 win over preseason league favorites Davidson, which saw the Paladins knock off the league favorites, 70-66, to end a 21-game losing streak to the Wildcats.
Furman also had a win over South Carolina 91-75 in front of a rowdy crowd at Timmons Arena back in the 22-win campaign of 2010, but in terms of beating Southern Conference teams that have been a prohibitive favorite in the preseason, those have been almost non-existent in the history of the program. That win over Davidson in 2006 comes to mind, as one of the biggest statement conference wins inside the facility. A year later, the Paladins went on to defeat eventual North Division champion Appalachian State, 76-72, in overtime in a season in which the Mountaineers had already defeated Virginia, Vanderbilt and Central Florida in the San Juan Shootout.
I can remember being at some non-conference games through the years, where Furman would have huge crowds on to be in for huge letdowns, including a Jim Harrick-led Georgia team that Furman took to overtime before dropping a
But its safe to say these kinds of wins have not come easy in the new on-campus facility. On Saturday, the Paladins made it a statement. Plagued by inconsistent play, chemistry issues and the pressure of trying to recapture the magic one weekend provided last season, Furman's season probably reached a crossroads sometime after the 67-66 loss UNC Greensboro in a game in which Furman would see a six-point lead disappear down the stretch.
Left to pick themselves after such a heartbreaking defeat and facing a Chattanooga team that already had notched wins over Illinois, Dayton and Georgia, with two of the three making the NCAA Tournament last season, and those same Dayton Flyers had beaten Furman by 20 points a week after losing to Chattanooga to snap the Flyers' 26-game home winning streak.
But this Furman team has oddly seemed to respond to such adversity this season. Coming off losses, Furman has played some of its best basketball. In fact, last year it played its best after a 35-point loss at UNCG. The pain still stung from that loss some four nights earlier when the Paladins took the floor for their Southern Conference tilt against Chattanooga. That anger was still present.
Sometimes anger can backfire in sports, but on this night, it was the Paladins that made the most of that motivation of a tough loss facing a Chattanooga team still smarting from Furman stealing the Mocs' Southern Conference dreams a year ago.
After the Paladins fell behind 16-7 following a Duke Etheridge layup, it would appear the Paladins that the Chattanooga Mocs were getting that feeling again and getting ready to put the game on cruise control. It was a 14-2 run and that Mocs had thrown their first major blow.
It appeared the game was ready to be controlled by the Mocs through the opening first half of the half. High-fives and encouragement were all the order of the day on the Chattanooga sideline which sat just beside me, as was on the auxillary press row just under the basket.
But as has been the case with each game this season for Medved's Paladins, each game turns out to be a war and Saturday afternoon's key early Southern Conference tilt would be no different. It was a team riding an eight-game winning streak against one looking for an eighth win, equaling last season's regular-season total for wins.
The opening 10 minutes saw the Paladins play tight and Chattanooga was loose, using experience, talent and defense to gain the early nine-point edge. It had been an 11-0 run for the Mocs. Then something happened. The Paladins would spring to life, and it would fittingly be Sibley, who regained his 2014-15 form to help spark the Paladins, as his layup at the 9:40 mark would start a pair of Sibley layups to make it a four-point deficit. It would be the most crucial point in the basketball game, and it would be a point in the game would in which Furman would turn up the pressure defensively.
Over the final portion of the half, the Paladins reel in the Mocs, and after back-to-back dunks by Kendrec Ferrara, who contributed four points, six blocks and three boards, Furman trailed by just a single point, and then the Paladins would take their first lead since an early 5-2 lead following a John Davis III three.
John Davis III was one of the players that helped key the win for the Paladins. It was his savvy and ball-handling against a tenacious and relentless Chattanooga defense that enabled the Paladins to weather that early onslaught and kept its turnover total to a reasonable 16 for the game. Davis himself, who was not feeling well in the days leading up to the game, had eight points and a steal, but most important of all, did not turn the ball over.
"I thought John showed a lot of toughness out there. We weren't really sure how he would respond after having been sick the past few days and not having really eaten all that much, but to his credit I would say he delivered one of his best performances that he has for us on both ends of the floor today," head coach Niko Medved said.
With the score 21-20 in favor of the Mocs, a tired Justin Tuoyo had his shot swatted away Ferrara in a strange twist of irony, and the ball was corralled by Ferrara as Furman headed the other way. Daniel Fowler pulled up and then went around a Chattanooga defender for a baseline layup to give the Paladins a narrow 22-21 lead with 4:26 remaining in the half. From that point, Furman took the game to the Mocs.
Dee Oldham would give the Mocs a brief 24-22 lead moments later, however, it would be the final time the Mocs would hold a lead in the opening half of play. Croone, who had a relatively quiet half, exploded late in the half. He had made an acrobatic, twisting jumper earlier in the half, but the senior from Covington, GA would save his best for the stretch run in the half. His layup tied the game, 24-24, and then Sibley scored and was fouled on Furman's next possession, but missed the foul shot, leaving the Furman lead, at 26-24.
Croone then stole the ball from Jonathan Burroughs-Cook, and the ball was picked up by Beans, who lobbed ahead to a smiling Croone in-stride and he jammed it home bringing the noise level to its highest decibel level all season, with the Paladins now leading 28-24 with 2:39 remaining in the half.
The Paladins closed the half posting five more points using a Larry Wideman three and a pair of foul shots from Croone, helping Furman take a narrow 33-30 lead to the break. The Mocs helped close the half strong, however, using a triple from point guard Greg Pryor to slice the Paladins' lead in half and take some measure of momentum into the halftime lockeroom.
Early in the second half, a re-energized Tuoyo came out and played motivated basketball. First he got a layup to bring UTC within a point, and then following a Kris Acox layup, Tuoyo would tie the game on a monster dunk and was fouled in the process. He completed the three-point play the old-fashioned way to tie the basketball game, 35-35, with 18:39 left.
Furman would slowly begin to use its defense to affect the outcome of the basketball game from that point. Furman would stretch its lead to five (40-35) after a pair of Croone foul shots to make it a five-point lead, but Tre McLean kept the Mocs well within striking distance with a triple, to make it 40-38 with 15:21 to play.
The Paladins would post their most crucial spurt of the game--a 6-0 run--which gave the homestanding Paladins a 44-38 lead with 14:31 remaining after a strong slam by Acox off of one of the many situations of when defense led to offense in the contest. It was Acox's block that had created the run-out for his dunk on the other end.
After a Burroughs-Cook jumper made it a 44-40 deficit for the Mocs, Furman would put together another mini-spurt, using three-pointers from Sibley and Fowler sandwiched by an Etheridge free throw, as Furman's lead grew to its largest of the day, at 50-41, with 11:50 remaining. A three-pointer at the 10:06 mark by Beans would see Furman take its lead to to double digits, at 53-43, for the first time in the contest. After Beans' triple, the Mocs would trim their deficit to less than double figures only three more times over the final half of the game, never getting the deficit below eight.
Furman would take its largest lead, at 68-52, when Croone did his best George Gervin impersonation on a beautiful finger roll off the right side of the lane with 1:20 left. The Paladins would close out the game with free throws from Beans and Croone to reach 70, while Eric Robertson canned a triple to set the final difference at 15 points.
For Furman, the game was on defense, forcing a season-high 20 UTC turnovers, and held the Mocs to their second-lowest point total of the season. It held the Mocs, the top shooting team in the league coming in, to just 37.5% (9-of-24) from the field and held the Mocs to 42.6% (20-of-47) from the field for the game. From three-point range, the Paladins limited the Mocs to just 31.6% (6-for-19) gor the game.
Coming into Saturday's SoCon clash, the Mocs had been connecting on 47% from the field, which led the league and led the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage at 38.6%. The Mocs ranked second to only The Citadel in scoring, averaging 77.7 PPG coming into Saturday's contest.
The Mocs were led in scoring by Burroughs-Cook, who posted 13 points, while Dee Oldham contributed nine points and six boards, as both transfers led the way for the visitors.
Offensively, Furman connected on a blistering 56.0% (14-of-25) in the opening half of play to take a three-point lead to the break. The Paladins shot 50% (25-of-50) for the game, and 6-for-19 from three-point land for a 31.6% clip.Furman returns to action Monday night hosting Samford at 6 p.m. EST, while Chattanooga will look to regroup in Spartanburg, facing Wofford at 6 p.m at Benjamin Johnson Arena.The game was certainly one of the biggest for the Paladins in the history of Timmons Arena, and the win was summed up by both Paladin seniors--Kendrec Ferrara and Stephen Croone--who put this win in perspective.
"This is a big-time win man. Me and Stephen have been here since this program was struggling, and we really turned this program around, and a win like this is just going to fuel us for more conference games," Ferrara said.
"For me and Kendrec's career and our four years here, outside the conference tournament last year, I don't think we have won a game that we came into, especially in the regular-season, that we weren't favored to win, so this might be the first one," Croone said.
Below is a list of some big wins in Timmons Arena since it opened in Dec. 1997 (Games are listed in no certain order)
1. Dec. 30, 1997 Furman 72, Northeastern Illinois 69 (First game played in Timmons Arena)
2. Feb. 1, 1999 Furman 58, East Tennessee State 55
3. Feb. 5, 2000 Furman 67, Chattanooga 60
4. Jan. 5, 2000 Furman 70, UNC Greensboro 52 (UNCG won SoCon Title)
5. Feb. 18, 2000 Furman 80, Georgia Southern 73
6. Feb. 22, 2000 Furman 80, East Tennessee State 73
7. Jan. 2, 2001 Furman 62, Georgia Southern 59
8. Feb. 9, 2002 Furman 68, Chattanooga 67
9. Jan. 25, 2003 Furman 83, Chattanooga 69 (Chattanooga made SoCon title)
10. Feb. 11, 2003 Furman 77, Georgia Southern 69 (South Division Leader at that point in the season)
11. Jan. 10, 2005 Furman 82, UNC Greensboro 65 (UNCG reached SoCon title game)
12. Jan. 14, 2006 Furman 70, Davidson 66 (Davidson won SoCon title/Furman snapped 21-game losing skid to Wildcats)
13. Jan. 28, 2006 Furman 73, North Dakota State 61 (NDSU had defeated No. 15 Wisconsin the game before and finished 16-12 on the season)
14. Jan. 3, 2006 Furman 76, Chattanooga 71 (Mocs were reigning SoCon champs and made SoCon title in 2006)
15. Feb. 3, 2007 Furman 76, Appalachian State 72 (OT) (Mountaineers won school-record 25 games and made NIT as result of winning regular-season SoCon crown.
16. Nov. 16 2010 Furman 69, UNC Asheville 67 (UNCA won 20 games and went to NCAA Tournament
17. Dec. 22, 2010 Furman 91, South Carolina 75 (Furman's first win over South Carolina since 1980)
18. Feb. 12, 2011 Furman 88, Davidson 79 (Davidson finished 18-15 and just second win over Wildcats since rejoining the SoCon in 1993-94).
19. Jan. 9, 2016 Furman 70, Chattanooga 55 (Chattanooga had won eight straight, preseason SoCon Favorites and had an RPI of 33.