The Southern Conference men's basketball championship won't be decided on Wednesday night at 6 when Samford visits Furman. But it does have a championship game feel.

Samford enters with sole possession of first place with an 8-0 conference record. Furman (6-2) is a game behind second-place UNC Greensboro. Today's SoCon games mark the halfway point in the round-robin conference play.  

"In their mind, this is a must-win game for them," said Samford head coach Bucky McMillan. "This is the only team we haven't played (in conference). If we win, we go 9-0, and they go 6-3. We will 100% get their best shot from their fans, their coaches, their players. There is no doubt. We're going to have to go deeper than we've ever gone in terms of inside ourselves. Their back is against the wall. We have to fight like we're that team. They're fighting to win this league. We have to fight like we're fighting for our lives."

It's the first game in a difficult two-game road swing, with the Bulldogs staying in South Carolina until Saturday night's SoCon matchup at Wofford. The focus right now is on Wednesday's game. However, much of the focus during the preparation was on what happened on the practice court in Homewood.

"It's more about all the things I talk about," McMillan said. "How are we going to mentally focus every possession? How are we going to get to loose balls? How are we going to take care of the basketball? How are we going to pass up good shots to get great shots? How are we going to have a level of intensity that we play with all the time that's unmatched?"

Those questions have nothing to do with who is on the other bench.

"All of those things I mentioned, they don't have anything to do with Furman," McMillan said. "It's all about us. So, that's kind of the way we approach it. Really, our success doesn't have that much to do with them and everything to do with us. If everything you're doing is all about them, it seems like they have control. It's about what we can do, then it feels like we have all the control."

McMillan does respect Furman. The Paladins have a host of offensive options, led by 6-foot-3 fifth-year senior Mike Bothwell (19.3 points per game) and 6-foot-7 fifth-year senior Jalen Slawson ((15.2 ppg). Bothwell, a finalist for the Lou Henson Mid-Major Player of the Year last season, has reached double digits in 20 of the 21 games he's played in this season. Slawson, the SoCon Defensive Player of the Year last season, averages 6.9 rebounds per game and is the team leader in steals (32) and blocks (32).  

That is just the start of a deep and talented team. Samford counters with perhaps the deepest team in the conference.

"These are the type of games you want to watch," McMillan said.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.