Men’s basketball beats Furman

Allison Hubbard
Sports Writer

 

The Samford men’s basketball team earned a big conference win when they defeated the Furman Paladins 55-49 on Senior Night.

With the win, the Bulldogs improve to 11-16 on the season and 8-8 in the SoCon, while the Paladins fall to 13-14 overall and 7-9 in conference play.

The Bulldog victory came on a key three-pointer from senior Jeffrey Merritt in the final minutes of the game to pull the Bulldogs ahead 51-49. Several Samford free throws sealed the deal in the last minute to secure the win.

“This was a big win for us, but it felt like a root canal,” Samford head coach Jimmy Tillette said. “Furman came back from 13 points down, and we lost a little bit of our poise there in the second half. Furman plays extremely hard, especially on the defensive end of the court, and they try to make it a grind-it-out game.”

Four seniors were honored at the game including Merritt, Matthew Friday, Kaylin Johnson and John Peterson. Merritt, Friday and Johnson all served as starters for the Bulldogs, while Peterson has been forced so sit out most of the season with an injury.

Merritt said that knowing it was their last game in the Pete Hanna Center had an effect on their play.

“In the first half, I was pressing too much because it was Senior Day and I put too much on my shoulders,” said Merritt. “I slowed down and played much better in the second half and it felt really good to get a victory in my last home game. This was a huge win for us. It was especially big for us seniors, because this was our last game ever here at the Pete Hanna Center. I just came out today and played my hardest and that’s what my teammates did as well.”

Samford’s leading offensive player was sophomore center Drew Windler, who had 18 points and five rebounds on the game. Freshman guard Raijon Kelly had 11 points in the game and had eight rebounds, a career-high for Kelly.

As a team, the Bulldogs shot 46.8 percent from the floor, while the Paladins fell short with 20.7 percent shooting, making only 19-of-55 inside the three-point line. Samford outscored Furman 32-16 in the paint, as well as 32-13 in bench scoring.

The Bulldogs had as much as a 13 point lead on Furman in the second half, but the Paladins fought hard and took the lead once off of a three-point shot to make the score 49-48 which about a minute-and-a-half left in the game.

Then, Merritt stepped up and drained a much needed three-pointer from the top of the key to take the lead and give the Bulldogs momentum to take the win.

“I had an open look and I let it fly,” Merritt said. “As it came off my hands, it felt pretty good so I thought it was going in. I really wanted to make that shot, because against UNCG I missed a wide-open shot from the corner that would have given us the win in that game.”

The win allowed the Bulldogs to move into second spot in the SoCon North Division, which they currently share with Elon. So far, the Bulldogs have swept Elon and also hold the tiebreaker. The second place spot is crucial because the top two seeds in the SoCon tournament get a first-round bye in the SoCon Tournament in March.

“We’re tied for second place with Elon now in the North Division, but we still have to go to Western Carolina and then play at Chattanooga on their Senior Night,” Tillette said. “Those are both going to be difficult games for us, but Elon still has to play at Davidson and then at home against UNCG, so we’ll see how it works out.”

 

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