ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Jalen Slawson scored 20 points and Furman beat Chattanooga 88-79 on Monday night to win the Southern Conference Tournament and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1980.
The NCAA field contained 48 teams the last time the top-seeded Paladins made the Big Dance. Furman coach Bob Richey had the Paladins on their way last season as the No. 2 seed until David Jean-Baptiste buried a 35-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to rally top-seeded Chattanooga to a 64-63 victory.
Furman (27-7) took care of business this time around, although adding to the program’s record win total didn’t come easy.
Slawson had three baskets in an 18-0 run to give the Paladins a 23-7 lead nine minutes into the game. Chattanooga (18-17) was trailing 30-11 when A.J. Caldwell scored the final five points in a 13-0 spurt to pull within 30-26. Chattanooga twice cut its deficit to three, but a layup by JP Pegues gave Furman a 38-33 lead at halftime.
Chattanooga made a late run at the Paladins, using back-to-back 3-pointers from Jamal Johnson and Caldwell’s layup to close to within 69-65 at the 5:02 mark — but the Mocs would get no closer.
Slawson made 8 of 12 shots from the floor with two 3-pointers for Furman. Pegues pitched in with 17 points despite missing all seven of his 3-point attempts and Mike Bothwell finished with 16 points, leaving him 10 shy of 2,000 for his career. Bothwell is trying to become the fifth Paladin to reach the 2,000-point plateau.
Jake Stephens paced Chattanooga with 25 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. Johnson totaled 17 points and Caldwell posted his first double-double of the season with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
Furman made all six of its previous NCAA Tournament appearances between 1971-80. Its lone win was a 75-67 victory over South Carolina in 1974. They lost to Pittsburgh 81-78 in the Sweet Sixteen.
Chattanooga and former SoCon member Davidson have made the most NCAA Tournament appearances in conference history with 12.
SUN BELT CHAMPIONSHIP
(2) LOUISIANA 71, (9) SOUTH ALABAMA 66: Themus Fulks scored a career-high 23 points, Jordan Brown had 13 points and 16 rebounds, and the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns beat the South Alabama Jaguars in Pensacola, Florida, to claim the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship.
The fifth NCAA Tournament berth for Louisiana (26-7) will be its first since 2014.
The Ragin’ Cajuns’ first lead of two points or more came with 12:06 remaining in the second half on a put-back by Terence Lewis II for a 49-46 advantage.
Isaiah Moore made two free throws with 17.1 seconds left to get South Alabama (19-16) within 67-66, but Lewis answered with two makes at the other end to regain a three-point advantage.
Jaguars guard Owen White had a long 3-pointer rattle out in the closing seconds and Kentrell Garnett sealed it with two free throws.
(4) MONTANA 83, (5) IDAHO STATE 74: Aanen Moody had 28 points and seven assists as the Montana Grizzles (17-13) beat the Idaho State Bengals (11-21) in Boise, Idaho. Montana State will face ninth-seeded Northern Arizona on Tuesday in the semifinals.
(3) WEBER STATE 70, (6) SACRAMENTO STATE 64: Dillon Jones scored 18 points and the Weber State Wildcats (18-14) beat the Sacramento State Hornets (14-18) in Boise, Idaho. Weber State will face second-seeded Montana State on Tuesday in the semifinals.
(4) UNC WILMINGTON 79, (1) HOFSTRA 73-OT: Trazarien White had 21 points and 11 rebounds to lead the UNC Wilmington Seahawks (24-9) in an upset of the Hofstra Pride (24-9) in Washington, D.C. UNC Wilmington will face Charleston on Tuesday in the championship game.
(2) CHARLSTON 77, (3) TOWSON 72: Reyne Smith scored 20 points, Ante Brzovic added 19 points and nine rebounds, and the Charleston Cougars (30-3) beat the Towson Tigers (21-12) in Washington, D.C. Charleston will face UNC Wilmington on Tuesday in the championship game.
(4) NORTHERN KENTUCKY 75, (1) YOUNGSTOWN STATE 63: Marques Warrick scored 22 points, Chris Brandon grabbed 17 rebounds and the Northern Kentucky Norse (21-12) upset the Youngstown State Penguins (24-9) in Indianapolis, Indiana. Northern Kentucky will face either Cleveland State on Tuesday in the championship game.
(3) CLEVELAND STATE 93, (2) MILWAUKEE 80: Tristan Enaruna had 24 points and eight rebounds to lead the Cleveland State Vikings (21-12) over the Milwaukee Panthers (21-11) in Indianapolis, Indiana. Cleveland State will face Northern Kentucky on Tuesday in the championship game.
(8) MCNEESE STATE 77, (4) NICHOLLS STATE 71: Christian Shumate had 22 points and 14 rebounds, Zach Scott also scored 22 and the McNeese State Cowboys (11-22) upset the Nicholls State Colonels (16-15) in Lake Charles, Louisiana. McNeese State will play top-seeded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Tuesday in the semifinals.in the championship game.
(7) NEW ORLEANS 82, (3) SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA 78: Jordan Johnson had 32 points and the New Orleans Privateers (12-19)beat the Southeastern Louisiana Lions (18-14) in Lake Charles, Louisiana. New Orleans will play second-seeded Northwestern State on Tuesday in the semifinals.
(1) ORAL ROBERTS 70, (5) ST. THOMAS-MN 65: Max Abmas scored 23 points and the Oral Roberts Eagles (29-4) survived the St. Thomas Tommies (19-14) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Abmas had 13 points down the stretch, while make all eight of his free throws. Oral Roberts will play North Dakota State on Tuesday in the championship game.
(6) NORTH DAKOTA STATE 89, (2) SAN DAKOTA STATE 79: Boden Skunberg scored 20 points, Grant Nelson added 20 points and 22 rebounds, and the North Dakota State Bison (16-16) beat the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. North Dakota State will play Oral Roberts on Tuesday in the championship game.
(1) ST. MARY’S-CA 76, (5) BRIGHAM YOUNG 69: Alex Ducas scored 23 points, Aidan Mahaney added 20 and the Saint Mary’s Gaels (26-6) beat the BYU Cougars (19-15) in Las Vegas. St. Mary’s will face either San Francisco or Gonzaga on Tuesday in the championship game.