Mocs Big Dance Bid Falls Short as They Lose 88-79 to Furman in SoCon Finals
(gomocs.com) ASHEVILLE—The Chattanooga Mocs run in the Southern Conference Championships presented by Ingles ended in heart-breaking fashion Monday night in Harrah’s Cherokee Center. The Mocs ended up on the wrong side of an 88-79 decision to regular season co-champ Furman.
Jake Stephens led the way with 25 points and eight rebounds. Jamal Johnson added 17 with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists from A.J. Caldwell. Jalen Slawson placed the Paladins with 20.
The Mocs complete the season at 18-17. It was a special final run as the seven seed to the title game defeating VMI, co-champ Samford and Wofford along the way.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The Mocs came out early and scoring on their first two possessions and looked like a see-saw game was ahead. With the good guys ahead 7-5, Furman methodically went on a 25-4 run to take a 30-11 lead with 7:26 left in the first half.
Chattanooga answered and answered fast. Khristion Courseault ignited a 15-0 spurt slicing the deficit to four, 30-26 on a Caldwell layup. The tally was cut to three twice before Furman took a 38-33 lead into the break.
“I’m super proud of our guys, they continued to battle throughout,” Coach Dan Earl shared. “We could have easily caved in. That shows a lot about their character, they came out swinging and made it an interesting game.”
The Mocs got it to within one early in the second half on a Demetrius Davis three from in front of his bench as it got tight, 39-38, with 17:51 on the clock. The Paladins managed to build the lead back to double digits, but they would not be able to run away.
Caldwell’s reverse layup pictured above made it a 69-65 game with 5:02 left. That led to a final five minutes where the Paladins thought the game would be done, but the Mocs would battle back with a key basket or stop. In the end, it was not enough.
“We try to recruit guys with high character and ones that will battle and listen,” Earl added. “At different points this year, I was tough on them. I wanted to be better quicker and that was tough for them. It was hard. I appreciate all these guys. It’s great experience for our younger guys. It showed at the end of the day, through the ups and downs, we stuck together, and we fought. I’m proud of them.”
“Six, seven weeks ago, I hurt my thumb and the next day the doctors told me in so many words that I probably won’t be able to play again this season. If you would have told me then this is where we would end up, I wouldn’t believe you. I’m super proud of the guys. I love being around these people and I couldn’t ask for a better way to fight. We gave ourselves a chance and that’s all you can ask for.” – Jake Stephens on being able to return for the SoCon Tournament & excel after injury
“It was a special, special time. I’ve been really blessed to be here for the past five years. My first year in college didn’t go as planned and being able to come over and walk-on and end up being here for the past five years, it’s been the best times of my life. I want to thank Coach Earl for coming in and keeping me on for another year and coaching me the way he did. He made me a better player and a better person. It could have been really easy to roll over and die on the court as a seven seed. We fought until the end and it was a really special season. I’ll remember it forever.” – A.J. Caldwell on the past five years at UTC and the end to this season
“Coming here, Coach Earl and the staff believed in me, and I believed in them. I came here and fought with them and my teammates. We became a family. I came here and wanted to play hard in my last year. I wish it would have ended differently, but I just wanted to come here and give it my all. Coach Earl and the staff did a great job of making me reach my full potential.” – Jamal Johnson on playing his final year at Chattanooga
Chattanooga (18-17) | Furman (27-7)
Series: Chattanooga leads 57-40 all-time / Chattanooga leads 6-5 in SoCon Tournament Meetings
NOTES TO KNOW
- Stephens 92 points is a new Mocs record for total points in a SoCon Tournament. It tops the 76 first scored by Willie White in the 1983 title run and matched for the 1994 champions by Chad Copeland.
- 1197…Jamal Johnson fell three points shy of 1,200 for his career with 485 of those coming as a Moc. He hit 253 3pt (93 at UTC).
- Stephens’ three straight games with 25 points is a first by a Moc in the SoCon Tournament. Only White ’84 had three total games with 25 points or better for a career in the event.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
- A.J. Caldwell came close to a triple-double missing by just three assists. It’s the closest he’s come since 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in the Jan. 6, 2021 win over Samford. He averaged 10.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in the tournament.
- The turnover margin was just -2 (10/8) but a key for the Paladins was +7 in points off turnovers (6/13).
- Despite the 9-point loss, the Mocs were +3 on the scoreboard in Johnson’s 32:16 of playing time and tied during Stephens’ 36:03.