The plan was simple on paper, yet not easy to realistically pull it off.
Samford head coach Bucky McMillan wore his team down during the non-conference schedule so that they would be fresh for Southern Conference play. That plan included full-speed, two-hour practices the day before a game day. Keeping legs fresh, at that time, wasn't the goal.
"I grind them really hard, up until Christmas," McMillon said. "Really hard. And then we kind of tone it down a little bit. You can tell we're fresh right now. That's what it looks like. It looks like we've got a fresh team right now. I told those guys when we were grinding, and we were working really hard, the day before these games, 'Hey look, I can promise you this will pay off in the end.' It was great to see us stay the course. We got to keep staying that course."
Samford carried a seven-game losing streak and a 6-7 overall record into SoCon play. The Bulldogs carry a five-game SoCon winning streak and sole possession of first place in the conference into Saturday's matchup against a Chattanooga team that was considered one of the favorites heading into conference play. Tip-off for the game is 5 p.m. at the Pete Hanna Center.
Perhaps one of the best measures of fresh legs is outside shooting success. Samford set a season-high in 3-pointers in each of the past three games. The Bulldogs had 14 3-pointers in a win over VMI, 15 against UNC Greensboro and 16 against Wofford. During that span, the Bulldogs are shooting 45 percent from outside the 3-point arc. Those numbers don't include the SoCon opener against Mercer, when the Bulldogs hit a season-high 56.5 percent (13 of 23) on 3-pointers.
In non-conference play, the Bulldogs averaged 8.5 3-pointers a game while shooting 33 percent from long range.
Obviously, being fresh has something to do with that, but McMillan also points to the willingness to share the basketball. Samford's two best assist games of the season came in the past three games. The Bulldogs had a season-high 20 assists against VMI and 18 assists against Wofford.
Samford did this without point guard Ques Glover, who has been out of the lineup with a knee injury. Glover, who played in eight early season games, could possibly be back in the lineup on Saturday but might not another week.
Chattanooga is led by 7-foot, 275-pound graduate student Jake Stephens, who leads the SoCon in points (22.1) and rebounds (10.5) per game. He scored at least 20 points in 10 of the Mocs' 18 games and finished with more than 30 in four. He has double-digit rebounds in 11 games, with a high of 20 rebounds against Belmont. Stephens was the SoCon Player of the Week six times in the nine weeks the award was selected.
Stephens started 120 games while playing four seasons with VMI. This is his only season at Chattanooga.
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