Every Furman fan is out of their seat. With five seconds left to go, the Paladins are down 48-51 and need a miracle to win the Southern Conference championship against the Chattanooga Mocs. Mike Bothwell charges in and, with four seconds left, successfully hits a three-point jumper shot to bring the game into overtime. The Mocs and the Dins go back and forward repeatedly in overtime. With five seconds left in overtime, Bothwell delivers another miracle when a successful layup breaks the tie, securing Furman a lead of 63-64. The Chattanooga Mocs, with four seconds left on the clock, charge in for a hopeless half-court three-pointer shot and... scores. The buzzer sounds, and the Chattanooga Mocs take home a 64-63 win, as well as all hopes of the Furman Paladins breaking a 42-year streak of entering the March Madness Competition on Mar. 7, 2022.
“Never stop believing,” Furman Basketball head coach Bob Richey says. “I promise we will be back.”
For months on end, that buzzer-beater played in the minds of every Paladin fan. For an entire year, Furman fans claimed that 2023 was going to be a “redemption year.” On Mar. 6, 2023, exactly 364 days after Furman’s SoCon Finals defeat to the Chattanooga Mocs, the Furman Paladins faced off yet again against the Chattanooga Mocs for the SoCon title and a shot at the March Madness competition.
The game started with a feeding frenzy of scoring by the Paladins, with notable scorers including JP Pegues, Jalen Slawson, and Carter Whitt. With 11 minutes and 18 seconds left in the first half, Furman scored their highest lead of the game, dominating the Mocs 23-7. The Mocs quickly responded with a running streak of their own thanks to UTC’s Jamal Johnson and Jake Stephens, and the two teams would enter the half-time relatively even, with the Furman Paladins holding a narrow lead of 38-33 over the Chattanooga Mocs.
The beginning of the second half saw UTC narrowing Furman’s lead to as little as one point (39-38) with 18 minutes left in the second half. But Furman quickly regained momentum thanks to multiple shots by Jalen Slawson, Garrett Hien, and Alexander Williams. Commentators began to note that Furman’s star player against the Mocs last year, Mike Bothwell, had not scored a single point. Roughly a minute after the ESPN commentators stated this, Bothwell scored a successful layup and scored a free throw point, adding three points to Furman’s lead. Bothwell was called to the free-throw line numerous times throughout the second half and rained successful throws nearly every time. With roughly three minutes to go, Marcus Foster threw two three-pointer shots that cemented Furman’s lead and removed almost any possibility of the Mocs fighting their way into overtime. With seconds left in the game, Bothwell made one final successful free throw and ended the game 88-79 with a Paladins victory.
The Paladins instantly roared to life in celebration of their redemption victory. Hien could be seen emotional as he embraced his fellow teammates, and Bothwell made snow-angels in the confetti on the court.
This game concludes the Southern Conference championship, and secures the Furman Paladins to join the 32 teams that have won an automatic bid to the March Madness tournament. The victory over the Chattanooga Mocs was Furman’s record-breaking 27th win of the season and the first time since 1980 that Furman would enter the March Madness competition.