Despite strong performances from freshman forward Tyler Hood and center Drew Windler, the Samford basketball team fell in its first SoCon tournament game, 75-66 to Furman.
“We did a lot of good work, but we missed some uncharacteristic shots,” head coach Jimmy Tillette said. “We only had six turnovers, though.”
The Bulldogs went into Asheville, N.C. on Friday evening as the fourth seed in the Northern Division, giving them home-court advantage over the Paladins.
The loss came just 13 days after the Bulldogs beat Furman in the final home game of Samford’s basketball season.
“They were able to bounce back because they shot the ball a lot better than the first time,” senior guard Jeffrey Merritt said.
Samford jumped out to an early 6-2 lead with baskets from Windler, the Bulldogs’ redshirt sophomore forward from South Milwaukee, Wisc., and redshirt freshman forward Hood.
Furman fought back and the score was 21-20 in the Paladins’ favor midway through the first half.
After fighting back and forth for the next three minutes, Furman took the lead for good with two free throws made by sophomore guard Charlie Reddick.
Furman’s lead increased to six points by halftime as the teams went to the locker rooms with the score 39-33.
“We played well around the goal in the first half,” Tillette said, “but we missed free throws in the last minute. Then we started the second half slowly.”
The Paladins’ lead increased to as much as 14 in the second half but Samford cut drastically into that lead by the time there was a little more than a minute left in the game.
A team effort by the Bulldogs made the score 68-64 before Hood intentionally fouled Reddick.
Samford made several more clock-stopping foul attempts until the Paladins had a 75-64 lead. Freshman guard Raijon Kelly hit a layup with three seconds left to make the final score 75-66.
“[Furman] played better than we did and got the ball where they wanted it to be effective,” Hood said.
Scoring leaders for the Bulldogs were Windler with 21 points and Hood, who scored 13. Kelly finished with 10 points in his SoCon tournament debut.
“I felt good in warm-ups and looked to get into a rhythm early,” Windler said. “My teammates did a great job of finding me, which made some buckets easy for me.”
In his final game with the Bulldogs, Merritt – a native of Oklahoma City, Okla. – scored eight points and added eight rebounds.
“This is definitely not the way I wanted to end my career, but I feel like I had a good career here,” Merritt said. “I’m happy that I chose to go to Samford.”
Merritt leaves the team in good hands. Windler, Hood and Kelly will be among four returning starters for the Bulldogs.
Junior guard Gregg Wooten will also return to the court next year after redshirting this season with a leg injury.
“Next year, thanks to gained experience, we should come out with a chip on our shoulders and understand how to get things started early in the season,” Hood said.