Friday, March 4, 2022

Furman women rally, survive and advance

Tate Walters had a career-high 26 points in Furman's 70-63 overtime win over Chattanooga
at the SoCon Women's Tournament Thursday. Photo courtesy of Furman/Jeremy Fleming

Going into the Southern Conference women's basketball tournament, Furman coach Jackie Carson thought if her team "could get past the first one," they could be a dangerous team this week in Asheville, N.C. Even though the third-seeded Paladins were facing a sixth-seeded Chattanooga team that it had won four consecutive games against, including a 21-point win at Chattanooga exactly one week earlier, it's almost as if she knew part of what was coming Thursday.

As Carson feared, the nerves and the hoopla that surround every tournament did seem to rattle her team early on. But then the Paladins did something they had not done all year. After going 0-8 in games in which it trailed at the half in the regular season, Furman rallied from a six-point halftime deficit and pulled out a 70-63 overtime win. The Paladins (18-11) survive and advance to face No. 2 seed Wofford in Friday's semifinals at approximately 1:15 p.m.

"Its crazy, because every week at the end of every practice we practice a five-minute overtime. We knew this tournament was going to be a dogfight. We didn’t want it so much to be the first game, but we knew Chattanooga was going to be ready for us," Carson said in the postgame press conference. "I knew we were going to come out jittery. We always start jittery and finally we cooled down and took it one possession at a time. When you have great leaders like these two to my left (Tierra Hodges and Tate Walters), it makes my job a little easier."

Thursday's game was delayed for about 10 minutes due to a malfunction with the game and shot clocks on each goal. Both teams had to look up to the scoreboards high above each end zone to check the shot clock. Once the game started, Furman must have felt like the scoreboard was also malfunctioning. Chattanooga, which had not scored more than 50 points during Furman's four-game winning streak in the series, raced out to an 18-4 lead less than six minutes into the game.

The Mocs (7-23) led 28-14 with less than five minutes left in the first half when Hodges knocked down a 3-pointer. That ignited a 10-0 Furman run in which the SoCon Player of the Year accounted for the first eight points of.

Furman trailed 30-24 at the break, but the momentum didn't carry over immediately in the second half. Chattanooga pushed its lead back to double digits at 36-26 before Greyson Boone hit her only three-pointer. That started a 10-2 Furman run capped by Sydney James' lone three-pointer. The Paladins still trailed by five entering the fourth quarter.

Furman finally came all the way back to take its first lead at 48-47 on a pair of Grace van Rij free throws when she drew a foul after grabbing an offensive rebound with 7:38 left. The Mocs didn't go away though. There were two ties and two lead changes over the next five minutes and it appeared the Paladins were on the ropes trailing 60-56 with just over a minute left.

That's when Walters simply took over.

Walters made a beautiful pass from just beyond midcourt to van Rij for a layup to cut the lead to 60-58 with 1:04 left. After Chattanooga got an offensive rebound on its ensuing possession, Walters made a deflection that led to a loose ball tie up. The arrow gave the ball to Furman with 25 seconds remaining. With 14 seconds left, Walters hit a turnaround jumper from just inside the foul stripe to tie the game. The Mocs ensuing possession ended on a Walters steal with five seconds left to help send the game to overtime.

Walters scored the first points of overtime when she drained her fifth three-pointer and Furman never relinquished the lead. Hodges' long jumper with 51.6 seconds left was a backbreaker for Chattanooga as it pushed the lead to 66-62. Walters went 4-for-4 from the foul line the rest of the way to seal the win and give her a career-high 26 points. As a team, Furman made 16-of-18 free throws for the game.

On a night when she started 0-for-6 from the field, Hodges finished with 20 points on 6-of-16 shooting from the floor. The all-time leading rebounder in school history also pulled down a career-high 20 boards. Half of those rebounds came on offense as Furman collected 20 offensive rebounds as a team.

"I knew I had to step up because my shot wasn’t falling," Hodges said. "I knew that meant rebounding and offensive rebounding, and I said to myself, 'let that be what you provide to the team,' and it worked out in the end."

The 20 offensive rebounds helped Furman have a 19-9 advantage in second-chance points, while 21 Chattanooga turnovers led to a 24-9 Paladins edge in points off those.

"They know rebounding is my love language," Carson said. "It’s won us some games before and it won us the game tonight."

In addition to her 26 points, Walters had four rebounds and a team-high four assists. She and Hodges, who both played all 45 minutes, also had two steals apiece. The only other Paladin in double figures was van Rij, who finished with 14 points and six rebounds in her 41 minutes of action.

In the postgame celebration, Carson pointed to the stands behind the Furman bench. Two nights before its first game in Asheville, the Furman men's team along with head coach Bob Richey and his staff were seated there to cheer on the women.

"I'm just proud of our team, proud of their grit and fight. We train really hard, and we’ll be ready to go again against Wofford tomorrow," Carson said. "We have 17 players and 1-17 were incredible. Our crowd was incredible with the men’s team was here supporting us. It was just a great Furman University women’s basketball effort tonight."

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