Bubba Parham, Samford’s smallest player on the floor in the waning moments of an improbable and memorable 75-74 Southern Conference victory over defending SoCon champion Chattanooga, found a way to come up with perhaps the two biggest rebounds of the game.
On a day that unexpected turned into storybook, that shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
“Our guys played with a lot of heart in here,” said Samford coach Bucky McMillan, whose SoCon-leading team trailed by 19 points with 14:48 remaining. “It’s hard to not give in when you’re not shooting the ball well and you’re not scoring. I told the guys in the locker room, that if you’re high character person, when things don’t go your way, you still have the ability to preserve don’t ever quit.”
That approach came to life in the final seconds when both teams were trying to scratch out a win. The teams were tied at 72 with less than a minute left when Chattanooga’s Jamal Johnson beat the shot clock with a 3-pointer from the corner. His shot missed and 6-foot-5, 215-pound Randy Brady appeared to secure a rebound. But, the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Parham ripped the ball out of his hands and Brady fouled him.
Parham hit the first of two free throws to give Samford a 73-72 lead with 37.5 seconds left. Chattanooga (11-8 overall, 3-3 C-USA) answered with a dunk by Brady with 17 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs hustled the ball up the court and Jermaine Marshall missed an off-balanced contested shot that was long. Parham, who was in the opposite corner, again hustled into the paint and got the rebound while being knocked out of bounds. He hit two free throws to give Samford the lead with 4.9 seconds left.
“Bubba will do whatever you need to win,” said McMillan, whose team improved to 12-7 overall and 6-0 in conference. “He’s not an attention seeker. If I told Bubba, I need you to be a great defender the rest of the season, don’t shoot a shot, he would do it. We need him to shoot because he’s a great player. But, that’s who he is.”
Samford still needed a stop to secure the win. Chattanooga’s Dalvin White, a speedy point guard, took the inbounds pass and raced up the court. A.J. Staton-McCray met him near midcourt, taking some time off the clock, but White still got the ball at the top of the key to Jake Stephens, who is the leading scorer in the conference. Stephens was able to get a contested 3-pointer away but it didn’t fall and Samford held on.
There was nothing that happened in the first 25 minutes of the game that would suggest that particular ending. Chattanooga sizzled its way through the first half – hitting 57% from the field and 7 of 17 on 3-pointers. Samford fizzled its way to 34% from the field and 4 of 14 on 3-pointers. Chattanooga led, 45-31, at halftime and extended the lead to 55-36 with 14:48 left.
But a funny thing happened on what appeared to be Samford’s first loss of SoCon play.
“We told our guys, don’t look at the scoreboard, just keep playing,” McMillan said. “We’ll win this game if it’s a single digit game under five minutes on the clock.”
It didn’t take that long. Logan Dye, who played a sensational game on both ends of the floor against the 7-foot Stephens, began the comeback with a 3-pointer from the top of the key. It was within single digits for good when Marshall hit a second chance 3-pointer with 10:21 remaining to cut the deficit to 60-53. Staton-McCray made a 3-pointer with 7:08 remaining, trimming the deficit to 64-63, made it a one-possession game for the remainder of the game.
Samford’s first lead came when Marshall’s layup gave the Bulldogs a 68-67 advantage with 4:29 remaining. From that point, there were seven lead changes and two ties. When it was over, Samford had the victory.
“Our mindset, always, when things aren’t going our way, is this is our chance and a tremendous opportunity to do something really special,” McMillan said. “That’s how you kind of have to look at it. You can’t look at it as poor me, poor us. You got to look at it, that this is tremendous opportunity, in the face of adversity, to do something really special. The things you remember are not when everything goes your way. They’ll probably remember that comeback forever.”
Dye had 23 points, six rebounds five assists and two steals and Marshall added 15 points and nine rebounds. Parham (12 points, four assists), Staton-McCray (12 points, eight rebounds) and Jaron Rillie (11 points) also reached double digits in points.
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