Thursday, January 16, 2020

In first-place fight, Furman outslugs Western

Jalen Slawson had 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in Furman's
83-79 win over Western Carolina. Photo courtesy of Furman
Coming off a 13-point loss last Saturday against UNCG, it appeared that Furman had fixed all that had gone wrong early on Wednesday against Western Carolina. But that was the first half. Once the Catamounts quickly erased a double-digit deficit in the second half, the game looked more like a battle for first place in the Southern Conference that it was.

There were four ties and 10 lead changes after halftime. That 10th one came on a Noah Gurley layup with 4:12 left and Furman held on for an 83-79 win. Gurley was one of six players in double figures for the Paladins (15-4, 5-1) as they handed WCU (12-4, 4-1) its first league loss.

"What a game," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "They evaporated our margin quickly and then we got down by five or six ... but we continued to battle and fight. A lot of guys stepped up.
"If you were in Timmons Arena tonight as a spectator, that had to be fun. That was two teams that just battled the whole night."

The Paladins led by as many as 12 points in the first half before taking a 41-33 lead into halftime. Furman had pretty well contained the SoCon's second-leading scorer, Mason Faulkner, and leading rebounder, Carlos Dotson, as they each had two points and Dotson had two rebounds in the first half.

The lead was back in double digits when Alex Hunter drained a 3-pointer 12 seconds into halftime. But then the Paladins went cold, while Dotson went nuts. That 11-point lead disappeared in four minutes as Furman missed its next six shots - all of which were 3-pointers. Meanwhile the Catamounts hit six of their first seven shots in that four-minute stretch. All six were layups, five of which were by Dotson.

Faulkner's 3-pointer with 12:40 gave WCU its biggest lead at 54-48 before Jalen Slawson pulled Furman back to within one following a tip-in and three free throws after being fouled on a 3-pointer on the next possession.

"I really do think the play of the game was his tip-in. That was a hard play. It set the tone for a second there and energized the building," Richey said. "Then he gets fouled on the three. ... How many No. 5 men do you have going out there, getting fouled on threes and sticking all three free throws?
"Jalen's a competitor and he loves the lights. When the lights turn on and this guy's adrenaline gets going, watch out."

Dotson was fouled by Gurley on his eighth layup - out of eight field goal attempts - in the second half. He finished the three-point play to give Western a 64-62 lead with 6:22 left. On Furman's ensuing possession, Gurley returned the favor. He worked his way inside, hit a jumper and was fouled by Dotson. Gurley's three-point play gave the Paladins a 65-64 lead.

While the Catamounts tied it two more times, they never took the lead again and Dotson never got another shot off again. Instead, the former Dorman High standout committed four fouls over the final six minutes and fouled out with 44 seconds left. After Dotson's fifth foul, Clay Mounce hit 1-of-2 free throws to give Furman a 79-71 lead and Hunter made 4-of-6 free throws the rest of the way to wrap up the win.

"I think we were a little bit tighter in our fronts (on Dotson). You've got to do your work early (denying the ball) on him, because he's just too good. Please he's coming back home and he wants to play well here," Richey said. "I'm just proud of our guys for getting the critical stops. I thought we had a stretch there late where we were able to get multiple stops. I thought that was the key part of the game."

Dotson finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds to lead Western. Faulkner hit a 3-pointer with three seconds left to finish with 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting. That's well below his 18.7 points per game average entering Wednesday. Faulkner, who also ranked third in the league in assists and 11th in rebounding, finished with 10 assists and six rebounds but no boards in the second half.

"He's a heck of a point guard, who's really talented and really ignites them," Lyons said. "When you play really good players, it's never a one-on-one mission defensively. You've got to guard them as a unit, but Alex did a great job fighting him hard defensively. ... I think we did a pretty solid job of being locked in on the gameplan against him."

Lyons and Hunter each bounced back from a tough night last Saturday. Lyons had a team-high 20 points and four assists, while Hunter hit 3-of-6 from three and had 13 points, five rebounds and no turnovers.

Mounce finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Gurley had 13 points, five rebounds and four assists. Slawson posted 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, while Mike Bothwell scored 10 off the bench.

After 17 turnovers against UNCG, it was a much more Furman-like seven turnovers and 16 assists Wednesday. The Paladins also made 19-of-25 free throws (76 percent) after hitting 16-of-27 (59.3 percent) on Saturday.

"When everyone's eating, that's the most fun. That's how runs get started too," Mounce said. "It's not just one guy. ... Moving the ball and getting everyone involved, that's our identity."

There's no time to celebrate returning to first place in the SoCon. Furman travels to Wofford on Friday night for a game that was moved from Saturday so that it could be televised by ESPNU.

"It's another opportunity to showcase our brand. It's a credit to the league that now we're starting to get some national attention and hopefully we can continue to pick up more of these national TV games," Richey said. "It's going to be battle ... and it's going to be fun, but we've got to treat it like its the next game. It's important that we make sure our mentality is right.
"We've got to go play to our standard. We can't worry about the externals. We've just got to focus on the job at hand and I trust that our guys will be ready to do that."

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