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March Madness: Furman earns first NCAA tournament bid in 43 years with SoCon win over Chattanooga

Furman avenged last season's buzzer-beating loss and beat Chattanooga in the SoCon title game on Monday night.

Furman avenged last season's buzzer-beating loss and beat Chattanooga in the SoCon title game on Monday night. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)
Furman avenged last season's buzzer-beating loss and beat Chattanooga in the SoCon title game on Monday night. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

For the first time since 1980, more than four decades ago, Furman is headed to the NCAA tournament.

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The Paladins held on to beat Chattanooga 88-79 and claim the Southern Conference tournament championship in Asheville, North Carolina on Monday night. That ended a 43-year drought in the NCAA tournament, and avenged their loss to Chattanooga in last year’s conference title game.

The Paladins, after opening the game on a 23-7 run, held on to take the nine-point win behind 20 points and five rebounds from Jalen Slawson. JP Pegues added 17 points and six rebounds, and Mike Bothwell dropped 16 points.

Center Jake Stephens led the Mocs with 25 points and eight rebounds, and Jamal Johnson finished with 17 points.

Furman went 15-3 in SoCon play this season, and took the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament after winning a share of the regular season title with Samford. Chattanooga snuck past Samford by three points in the quarterfinals, and then earned its place in the championship game with a win over Wofford.

The last time Furman made it to the tournament was in the 1979-80 season. The Paladins, under then-coach Eddie Holbrook, went 23-7 that season and earned a No. 10 seed in tournament — which only had 48 teams. They fell in the opening round to Tennessee.

That was six coaches ago. Current coach Bob Richey, 39, wasn’t even alive the last time the Paladins were in the tournament.

Richey has been right there for several years now. The Paladins have won at least 20 games in all but one season under Richey's six-season tenure in Greenville, South Carolina. They were briefly ranked in the Associated Press poll during the 2018-19 season, too, and nearly won last year's SoCon championship. Chattanooga, however, spoiled that bid after a wild buzzer-beater in overtime.

On Monday night, though, Richey finally got them there.