ASHEVILLE, NC — 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.
There have been 48 teams in the NCAA field, the last time the Paladins made the Big Dance. Furman coach Bob Ritchie led the Paladins to a 64-63 win over Chattanooga as the No. 2 seed last season after David Jean-Baptiste hit a 35-foot 3-pointer.
Furman (27-7) took care of business this time, but adding to the program’s record win streak wasn’t easy.
Slawson had three baskets in an 18-0 run that gave the Paladins a 23-7 lead nine minutes into the game. Chattanooga (18-17) fell behind 30-11 when AJ Caldwell scored the final five points on a 13-0 spurt to pull within 30-26. Chattanooga twice cut its deficit to three, but JP Pegus layups gave Furman a 38-33 halftime lead.
Chattanooga made a late run for the Paladins, with back-to-back 3-pointers by Jamal Johnson and Caldwell to pull within 69-65 at the 5:02 mark, but the Mocs couldn’t get any closer.
Slawson made 8 of 12 shots from the floor with two 3-pointers for Furman. Pegus scored 17 points despite missing all seven of his 3-point attempts, and Mike Bothwell finished with 16, 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 Stevens had 25 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks against Chattanooga. Johnson scored 17 points and Caldwell had his first double-double of the season with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists.
Furman made all six NCAA Tournament appearances from 1971-1980. His lone victory came in 1974, a 75-67 win over South Carolina. They lost to Pittsburgh 81-78 in the Sweet Sixteen.
Chattanooga and former SoCon member Davidson have made 12 NCAA Tournament appearances, the most in conference history.