HOMEWOOD – Samford lost its chance at winning an outright Southern Conference men’s basketball title on Saturday. More accurately, though, Furman won a share of the SoCon title on Saturday.

There is a difference in those two things.

While Samford was far from perfect in what is perhaps the biggest game ever at the Pete Hanna Center, the outcome was more about what Furman did that made the difference. The Paladins sizzled from outside the 3-point line and made enough key defensive plays to walk with a 93-79 victory and the top seed in the upcoming SoCon Tournament.  

“You have to say this: Furman deserved to win today,” said Samford head coach Bucky McMillan. “They played outstanding. They shot the ball well, 50% from the 3 in that game, almost 90% from the line. (Mike) Bothwell was phenomenal.”

When the day started, Samford (21-10 overall, 15-3 conference) had sole possession of first place in the SoCon standings with Furman (24-7 overall, 15-3 conference) and UNC Greensboro a game back. Samford and UNC Greensboro each lost on Saturday, which means the Bulldogs and Furman share the regular season title.

There was definitely a championship game feel around the Pete Hanna Center with a standing room only crowd and a jam-packed student section that began arriving well over an hour before tip. Furman did what they could to steal away that atmosphere.

Boswell scored the first 18 Furman points. At one point, he hit four consecutive 3-pointers and then was fouled while shooting another 3-pointer. When he was finished, at least at that point, Samford was in an 18-7 hole.

The Bulldogs were hurt by early foul trouble with Jermaine Marshall picking up his second foul with 15:56 left in the half.

“It’s never good when you get in trouble,” McMillan said, “but they got Bothwell in foul trouble, too. When Bothwell got three, I felt pretty good in that situation.”

Bothwell’s second and third fouls came on charging calls after running over Bubba Parham. His third foul came with 7:56 left in the half and the Paladins holding a 24-18 lead. With Bothwell out, the Paladins had no one who could stop Samford’s Ques Glover from getting to the basket and he scored nine of the next 11 points for the Bulldogs.

The problem for Samford was it wasn’t getting stops on the other end. Furman simply shrugged off the absence of Bothwell and outscored Samford, 26-15, while Bothwell was on the bench. The halftime lead was 50-33 and Furman was 10 of 17 on 3-pointers.

Samford crawled back into the game at several points in the second half. Early energy led to a 8-0 run that cut the deficit to 55-44 with 16:30 left. Back-to-back buckets by Logan Dye and Jermaine Marshall cut the deficit to eight points with 9:08. There were other moments, as well, but every time Furman had an answer.

“As far away as it felt, there were key moments in that game, around the 10-12 minute mark, where we needed to make some plays and we didn’t,” McMillan said. “Their players just made some championship level, game-winning plays. You watch college basketball, NBA basketball, college football, usually at the end of the game, you go back and think about it and you think about what plays stick out to you. They had about eight or nine plays that stick out, whether it’s 3, a blocked shot, whatever. They just made it happen.”

Bothwell finished with 35 points and five 3-pointers. For Samford, Glover had 27 points and four assists, Marshall had 19 points and eight rebounds and Dye had 13 points.

“Incredible season by our guys,” McMillan said. “Co-conference champions, 15-3, 15 conference wins. It’s a remarkable feat. I want to congratulate our players and our program in general for having an awesome regular season. If you told us before the season we’d get 15 conference wins and get a share of the (SoCon) championship for the first time in Samford history, you’d say that’s a great season. Sometimes it leave a bad taste in your mouth, when the last game of the season isn’t your best game.”

McMillan will make sure that bad taste turns into a learning experience for next week’s SoCon Tournament.

“We played off a little too much emotion at time, I felt,” McMillan said. “I’m glad that would happen in a game where your season is not on the line. We can move on to the conference tournament and learn from some of the mistakes we made and have a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament because of that.”

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