Malachi Smith knocked down a pair of go-ahead free throws with 7.6 seconds left and secured the game-winning defensive stop on the other end to lift the Chattanooga Mocs men's basketball team to a thrilling 71-69 win over Southern Conference leader Furman inside a raucous 'Gold Rush' McKenzie Arena on Saturday afternoon.
Following the win, Chattanooga moves into first place in the league standings behind a 4-1 record while improving its overall record to 14-4.
Furman falls to 12-7 overall and 4-2 in SoCon action.
The Mocs erased a five-point halftime deficit behind a strong defensive performance in the second half, limiting the Paladins to a 38.5% (10-of-26) mark from the floor and a lowly 18.2% (2-of-11) tally from three. Smith scored 17 points in the second half to help aid the team's offensive efforts.
"What a tremendous performance from our guys, just as competitors. I don't think we played great, especially shooting the ball in the first half, but it was just a winning, winning effort," said head coach Lamont Paris after the game.
That's what winning looks like. Making those type of plays at the end. I thought there were some great performances and I'm proud of the guys."
It was all Silvio De Sousa in the early going as the big man accounted for all seven of the team's points ahead of the first media timeout as UTC trailed Furman, 8-7, with 15:43 on the clock. After Furman stretched out to a 17-12 lead, the Mocs answered with a 5-0 run highlighted by a three from Grant Ledford and a coast-to-coast layup from Malachi Smith to tie it 17-17 (10:51).
Furman again would stretch out to a lead after finding its way into the paint on three layups, in addition to knocking down a trey, to help build a 27-20 lead at the 7:47 mark in the opening half. Ledford connected on three threes in four attempts during that stretch to keep Chattanooga within striking distance.
The Mocs defense forced a couple stops which led to baskets from Smith, KC Hankton and Darius Banks to help pull the hosts within three, 29-26, with 3:42 left in the first 20 and forcing the Paladins to call timeout. The Paladins would catch fire from deep to take a 38-31 lead with 11.1 seconds before De Sousa ended the half with a thunderous dunk, sending the teams to the break with a 38-33 Furman advantage.
The visitors connected on seven threes in the first half (58.3%, 7-of-12), forced eight turnovers, and shot an even 50.0% (15-of-30) from the floor. UTC shot 46.7% (14-of-30) from the field, 41.7% (5-of-12) from deep, but did not see a single free throw attempt.
Chattanooga erased a seven-point deficit (40-33, 19:47) in the second half after AJ Caldwell capped off a 13-4 run with a three to give the team a 46-44 lead with 15:18 remaining in the game. The lead stretched to as much as eight, 52-44 (12:53), before Furman cut their deficit to one, 52-51 (10:26), behind a quick 7-0 run.
The two teams would go back-and-forth and remain within a one possession difference over the next several minutes before the Paladins took a 63-62 lead on a layup with 4:15 left in the game. Down 67-64, Banks converted an and-one to tie the game at 67-67 (2:00) ahead of a pair of Furman free throws, which put the visitors back in front 69-67 (1:35).
The two free throws would be the last points of the game for the Paladins as the Mocs held their opposition scoreless over the final 1:35. Smith was successful on a game-tying layup with 1:02 (69-69) before Josh Ayeni hauled in a defensive rebound with just north of 30 seconds left.
With a few seconds between the game clock and shot clock, Smith drew a foul from outside the arc which sent him to the line for a one-and-one opportunity with just 7.6 seconds remaining. He knocked down both free throws, and then came away with a defensive stop at the rim, preventing Furman from tying the game and snapping the Paladins win streak over Chattanooga at eight.
Smith led the team with 21 points while nearly missing a double-double after pulling down nine rebounds. Ledford scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, 3-of-4 from three, to help give the offense a spark. De Sousa ended with 11 points and seven rebounds. Eight different Mocs recorded at least two points in the win.
RECORDS – Chattanooga (14-4, 4-1 SoCon) – Furman (12-7, 4-2 SoCon)
SERIES – Chattanooga snaps an eight-game skid to the Paladins and now leads the all-time series 55-37.
NOTES TO KNOW
- Another 20-point game for Malachi Smith tallying 21 on the day…7-14 shooting (2-4 3pt) and 5-6 at the FT line…21 of 27 (77.8%) at the line this week…added a game-high nine rebounds.
- Smith's 12th 20pt effort of the season…fourth in a row and seven of last eight…12 are most since 13 by Z. Mason in 2013-14…DI era record is 22 for a season by Gerald Wilkins in 1984-85…averaging 25.3 points per game over the last 12 with 10 contests scoring 20 or more during the stretch.
- Key run came with 18:15 to go in the game…trailing 42-38, Chattanooga took advantage of a 14-2 spurt to flip the script leading by eight, 52-44, on Malachi Smith's and-1 with 12:53 remining…the run lasted 6:03 when Jalen Slawson scored to break the Mocs momentum at 12:12.
Check out all the notes at the link above.
"It helps a lot, it helps boost my confidence. Playing a team like Furman, one of the best teams in the SoCon, so having a good game today feels good. I didn't shoot well at Western the other day and to shoot well today, it felt good." – Grant Ledford on a big performance.
"It's just my teammates getting me in the right spot. In the offseason, it's all the hard work and effort that people don't see. In May, June, July, all the hard work. I think it comes in moments like this. I'm blessed that I've been doing it this long, but it's all because of my teammates." – Malachi Smith on this impressive personal scoring stretch.
Check out all the quotes at the link above.
UP NEXT – Chattanooga at UNCG – Thurs., Jan. 20 – 7PM ET – 2021-22 Schedule
VMI 90, at The Citadel 85
at Mercer 58, UNCG 49
Wofford 84, at W. Carolina 64
ETSU 88, at Samford 85