ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Wofford coach Mike Young knew the Terriers had no room for error when they arrived in Asheville for the Southern Conference championship.
With only one NCAA tournament bid typically given out annually to the conference — that coming with the automatic berth from winning the league tournament — it doesn’t matter if your team goes 16-2 in the regular season like the Terriers did.
“It takes one bad night, or heaven forbid, one injury... and you have a problem,” Young said.
Wofford avoided both on Monday night as Lee Skinner scored 17 points, Eric Garcia added 15, and top-seeded Terriers survived against 10th-seeded Furman 67-64 to capture their fourth Southern Conference tournament championship in the last six seasons.
“For us to have that target on our backside from day one and to take on all comers, it takes high character people” Young said. “You don’t do it with self-absorbed guys. You do it with guys that are about one thing and that’s winning.”
The Terriers (28-6) ended the Paladins’ unlikely run to the championship and won despite Furman shooting 52 percent from the field.
Furman (11-22) was the tournament’s lowest seed, but pulled off three straight upsets over The Citadel, Chattanooga and Mercer to reach the title game.
However, the Paladins didn’t quite have enough to complete what would have been a remarkable run to the NCAAs after falling short in their fourth game in four days.
Geoff Beans had 15 points on five 3-pointers, and Stephen Croone had 14 to lead the Paladins, who don’t have a senior in their rotation.
“I just couldn’t ask one more inch out of these kids,” said Furman coach Niko Medved. “Guys really have come together and I hate it for them. ... The guys just fought and fought. I just hurt so much for these kids and they gave us everything they had.”
Karl Cochran added 11 points, and Spencer Collins had 10 for the Terriers.
Young called this year’s team as fine of a group as he’s ever had in 30 years of coaching.
“I would do anything for this team and if anyone is going to take a hit to the chin or have to go first I want to be that guy,” said Skinner, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
The Terriers couldn’t shake the hot-shooting Paladins in the second half.
Croone gave Furman the lead with 5:30 left when he used his quickness to blow past a defender for an uncontested layup.
But Cochran drained a 25-footer from the top of the key with the shot clock running down to give the Terriers the lead for good.
Still, Furman had chances.
Down 65-62, Croone drove to the lane for the layup to cut the Wofford lead to one. The Paladins fouled Garcia and he made both free throws to push the lead to 67-64 with 12 seconds remaining.
The Terriers had two fouls to give, so Medved called up a final play to get a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer before they got fouled. The play worked, but Devin Sibley’s 3-point attempt from the corner with 10 seconds left came up short.
Skinner grabbed a rebound and was fouled.
After a missed free throw, Furman’s John Davis III attempted a last-minute half court heave that fell short. Terrier fans quickly stormed the floor to celebrate the team’s return to the NCAA tournament.
“It feels great,” Garcia said. “It’s different than last year where we knew we would be a higher seed, a 15 seed. But this year we hope we get a better seed and we are confident going into any game that we can win.”
Young is just happy to be in the NCAAs.
“We had some things going against us — (we were) supposed to win, number one seed. ... and (Furman) have their ears back and firing away,” Young said.
Furman shot 59 percent in the first half, including 6 of 8 from 3-point range, and headed to the locker room tied at 36.
Furman: The Paladins were 9 of 15 on 3-point attempts, led by Beans, who was 5 of 7.
Wofford: The Terriers had defeated the Paladins by 25 points and two points earlier in the season. ... Wofford held a 31-21 rebounding edge.
Furman forward Kris Acox, the team’s leading rebounder this season, started strong with six points and two blocks before leaving six minutes in due to a left foot injury. He didn’t return.
Acox broke his right foot in 2013, forcing him to miss a good portion of the second half of last season. That forced Furman into a seven-man rotation and they had to play the 6-7 Beans at center.