|Tierra Hodges had 14 points and 13 rebounds to help Furman beat Chattanooga|
73-67 Friday in the SoCon Tournament semifinals. Photo courtesy of Furman
The victory advances Furman (19-12) into Sunday's championship game at noon against top-seeded Mercer, which defeated Wofford 69-51 in Friday's other semifinal. The title game appearance is Furman's first since 2000. Paladin coach Jackie Carson was a star on that 2000 team, which was also the last Furman one to reach the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm just proud of this team, the grit they've shown - the last two games in particular," Carson said in the postgame press conference. "We've had a lot of ups and downs and I think a lot of people counted us out, but we never stopped believing.
"This team is special. I think a lot of people are seeing that. Hopefully, we can continue this on Sunday."
Furman got off to a blazing start Friday to take early command. The Paladins shot 70.6 percent from the floor in the first quarter, including 4-of-6 on 3-pointers, to take a 29-17 lead. Le'Jzae Davidson scored half of her game-high 18 points in the opening quarter.
Chattanooga (14-17) began chipping away at the lead over the next three quarters before Abbey Cornelius' three-point play tied the game 61-61 with 4:31 left. Less than a minute later, another layup by Cornelius gave the Mocs their first lead since a 1-0 advantage 33 seconds in.
After Manojlovic's 3-pointer, the Paladins were unstoppable over the next two minutes. On Furman's next possession, Tierra Hodges had a putback and was fouled. She made the layup to push the advantage to four. After a blocked shot and rebound by Hodges, Manojlovic hit a pair of free throws to make it 69-63 with 50 seconds left. Kaitlyn Duncan closed out the Paladins' scoring with four consecutive free throws.
Furman went 19-of-20 at the foul line for the game, including 15-for-15 in the second half. Hodges powered the Paladins to a 44-32 rebounding advantage, and finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench. Celina Taborn had 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, while Manojlovic finished with 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Taylor Petty gave Furman five double figure scorers as she tallied 11 points and three assists.
"They (Furman coaches) constantly say in practice, 'every rebound is yours,' and they instill that in our heads," Hodges said. "So when I play, I know every rebound is mine and I just go get it."
Now the Paladins have a day to rest before facing a Mercer (24-7) team that has reached the championship game for the fourth year in a row. It's a Bears squad that hasn't lost to a SoCon opponent since March 5, 2017 when they fell 61-59 to Chattanooga in the final.
In the regular season meetings this year, Mercer won 75-60 in Greenville and 66-62 in Macon, Ga. In that game at Mercer on Feb. 28, the Paladins fell behind 22-5 in the second quarter before storming all the way back to tie the game twice in the final minutes before falling.
"It should be pretty fun I think. That's a team with five seniors and little ol' Furman with one senior is going to go up strong against them," Carson said. "Mercer is really good at doing what they want to do. We're excited to face them."