Samford University will be on display today in front of a national television audience at the Pete Hanna Center when the Bulldogs play host to Furman in a game that could determine the No. 1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.
In some ways, though, it will be business as usual for the Samford men's basketball team and a jammed pack student section that has been along every step of the way in a Southern Conference championship season. The difference is, though, CBS Sports Network will be on hand for the game.
"I'm just really happy for our school," said Samford head coach Bucky McMillan. "We've got incredible academics, but it is hard to fit 4,000 people into a math class to observe all the great things that are happening. But, here, you can have everybody fighting together, pulling together for the same cause."
McMillan said this following a win over UNC Greensboro on February 15 when the Bulldogs erased a 12-point second-half deficit in an 83-71 win. However, it could have been said after any game the past two seasons, particularly during SoCon play, when students are in town.
McMillan was purposeful when building student support for his program. It began with the players embracing the opportunity to stand alongside the student body.
"Those fans are such a part of what we do, and they support this program so much," McMillan said. 'I really believe that everyone feels that when we win, we all win together. It's got a feeling of high school to it. I'm a high school coach, I say it proudly. That's some of the most pure times in people's lives. When it's that feeling, just you, your classmates going to the big game, that's some of the best feelings people have in their life. That doesn't happen if you got a bunch of guys on your team no one likes. Or they're these superstars. That's just pro athletes, right? Our players are arm in arm with the students and vice versa before the game and after the game. It's a special thing."
This is a special game for the Samford program. With Wednesday's win at Chattanooga, the Bulldogs clinched at least a share of the SoCon title for the first time. A win tonight would give Samford the outright regular season title and the top seed in the Southern Conference Tournament, which takes place March 3-6 in Asheville, North Carolina.
If Furman wins, the tiebreakers will be in place. It will be a three-way tie if UNC Greensboro wins at ETSU and Furman beats Samford. If UNC Greensboro loses, the Furman-Samford winner gets the No. 1 seed.
For Samford, those scenarios are not important. They're simply preparing to face a Furman team that was the preseason SoCon favorite.
Furman won, 91-84, in overtime when the teams met in Greenville, S.C. on January 25. Samford led by as many as five points in the final two minutes, but Furman forced overtime with a late 3-pointer. In the overtime, Furman scored all but three of its 15 points at the free throw line. Overall, Furman was 27-of-34 from the free throw line, and Samford was 13 of 19 on free throws.
Fifth-year seniors Mike Bothwell (17.4 ppg) and Jalen Slawson (16 ppg, 7.2 rpg) are Furman's leaders. JP Pegues and Marcus Foster have a combined 109 3-pointers entering the game.
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