Chattanooga, Tenn. – Furman's Jordan Miller tallied 21 points and fellow senior Amu Saaka added 15 points and 10 rebounds as the Paladins held off Chattanooga, 61-52, on Saturday evening at McKenzie Arena to advance to the semifinal round of the 2011 Southern Conference Men's Basketball Championships.
The Paladins (22-9) will face the winner of tonight's College of Charleston versus Elon matchup in the second of two semifinal games on Sunday evening in Chattanooga. Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. and the game will be televised live on SportSouth.
Furman raced out to a 13-0 start and led wire-to-wire to avenge a 75-59 loss to the Mocs at McKenzie Arena on February 21. The triumph marks the first time Furman has won multiple games at the league tournament since 2002 when the Paladins downed Western Carolina, Georgia Southern and College of Charleston to reach the finals before falling to Davidson.
After its quick start, Furman weathered a 10-2 Chattanooga run to take a 30-24 lead into intermission. Saaka and Miller each drained treys as Furman upped its advantage to 38-28 at the 16:55 mark of the second half, but Omar Wattad scored five straight points to key a 7-0 UTC spurt that whittled the margin to 38-35 with 13:35 remaining.
The Furman defense turned up the pressure the rest of the way not allowing the Mocs to make a field goal for a stretch of over nine minutes. Leading just 43-40 after a pair of Chattanooga free throws with under nine minutes to play, the Paladins' senior class finished off the Mocs with its play on the offensive end.
Miller converted a couple of free throw attempts and Saaka buried a jumper off of a pass from Brandon Sebirumbi before Darryl Evans stole the ball from Wattad and scored on the fastbreak to extend the lead to nine at 49-40. Evans connected on 1-of-2 at the line to push the lead into double digits before Amu Saaka drew a charge on one end of the court and drained a three-pointer on the other to give the Paladins a 53-40 lead with 4:13 left.
Keegan Bell ended the Chattanooga drought with a three-pointer, but the Paladins made good on 6-of-8 free throw attempts over the final 2:30 to hold off the Mocs.
"There were times when Chattanooga made runs, but we have a sense of calm out there as a squad," said Saaka. "We have been in these positions before. The crowd and the atmosphere was chaotic, but we knew we just had to remain poised and do our jobs."
Miller was 5-of-8 from the floor and 8-of-11 from the charity stripe to lead the Paladins in scoring for the second straight night. Saaka, who also registered three steals, converted on 6-of-13 shots to score 15 points while Evans added 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the floor and 5-of-6 at the foul line.
The Paladins scored 21 points off of 16 Chattanooga turnovers and outrebounded the Mocs 37-32. Furman's defense limited UTC to 31% shooting from the field and the Mocs compounded their scoring problems by making just 15-of-29 attempts at the foul line.
Bell led Chattanooga with 20 points while Wattad and Ricky Taylor scored 12 points apiece.
The Furman victory marked its 11th triumph away from Timmons Arena this season which equals the Paladins all-time high of 11 away wins set during both the 1973-74 and 1974-75 campaigns.
Paladin fans can follow all the action of Sunday's semifinal showdown with the "Voice of the Paladins" Chuck Hussion on the Furman Sports Network at WGOG-FM 96.3 and WOLT-FM 103.3. Furman basketball can also be heard through Stretch Audio at www.furmanpaladins.com.