|Mike Bothwell celebrates following Furman's 67-66 win over|
Wofford at The Well Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
The final bucket was Bothwell's second game-winner this season and gave him an 18-point day before a crowd of 6,096 at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. The sophomore point guard had 15 of those points in the second half. Also in the second half, Bothwell had two assists, two rebounds, two steals, one block, no turnovers and likely plenty of bumps and bruises from all the dives to the floor to make plays.
"It wasn't pretty, but that's a great Paladin win right there with the amount of adversity that we had to deal with. Clay (Mounce) picked up two (fouls) early and we didn't hit the shots from the perimeter that we're accustomed to hitting ... but the fight didn't dissolve," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "These guys battled, pressured and hung in there. ... Then we had the offensive second half that we're used to with 41 points. What a fun night. By no stretch was it easy and we knew it wouldn't be. Wofford played really, really hard and made some big shots. That's what they do.
"It was a great environment in there tonight. Six thousand people in downtown Greenville is just another step of things that people didn't think was possible for this program"
Bothwell's big day came in his first career start - even though that came about by accident. Entering Saturday, Furman (23-6, 13-3) was one of three teams in the country to have the same starting five in each game this season. An incorrect listing in the official scorebook led to Bothwell starting rather than Alex Hunter. While that wasn't a huge deal as Hunter checked in less than 90 seconds into the game, it was just the first of many things to go wrong for the Paladins in the opening half.
From an offensive shooting standpoint, Saturday's opening half was just as lousy as Furman's opening half in Spartanburg earlier this season. Each time, the Paladins made 8-of-25 (32 percent) field goals. After falling behind 15-4 to Chattanooga last Saturday and 13-5 at ETSU Wednesday, Furman trailed 14-7 nine minutes into Saturday's game.
The Paladins went on a 9-0 run to grab the lead with seven minutes left in the half before Wofford answered. The Terriers (16-13, 8-8) took a 33-26 lead into half after an incredible save of a loose ball by Trevor Stumpe. It appeared Wofford would hold for the final shot before Stumpe fired a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left that missed badly. As the ball bounced out of bounds near the corner, Stumpe got it and fired a behind-the-back pass to Messiah Jones for a layup to cap Furman's rough half.
Unlike the first meeting when the Paladins trailed 34-18 at the break, Furman was in shouting distance Saturday. That would not have been possible without Noah Gurley. Gurley scored 13 of his game-high 22 points in a first half in which he also had five rebounds, two steals and a block. After missing his last seven 3-pointers over the past two games, the 6-foot-8 sophomore went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc Saturday. His teammates were a combined 2-of-21.
"I thought Noah was aggressive all game. He had a look to him that said he wasn't going to be passive. That was our team's problem in the first half," Richey said. "We weren't catching it shot-ready and were too worried about if we're making shots or not. ... You just have to go lose yourself in the game and when the ball comes to you, have the confidence to step in there and shoot it. We just had so many dead catches in the first half. It was just bad offense.
"A sophomore post player having impacts like this in these big games is really fun to watch. Noah's got a beautiful shot and I love it when he's playing with that confidence. ... He's a nightmare now and he's going to be an ever bigger one in this league the next two years."
After getting whipped on the boards in the second half Wednesday at ETSU, it appeared that tune was going to repeat itself Saturday. There were nine rebounds in the first four minutes after halftime and Wofford claimed eight of them. Half of those were offensive which helped the Terriers stretch their lead to 11.
After Chevez Goodwin's layup made it 43-32 with 16:46 left, Wofford got two more offensive rebounds on its next possession before Alex Hunter stole the ball away. That started a fast break that ended with a three-point play by Jordan Lyons. That started a game-tying 11-0 run that was capped with a slam by Jalen Slawson, who got that break started with a steal.
While it got back in the game, Furman could never get back in front until Gurley's layup with 3:56 left. Wofford answered with another putback. An incredible steal and dunk by Slawson got Furman back on top and Bothwell followed with a steal and layup to give the Paladins their biggest lead in a game since last Saturday at 65-61 with 1:46 left.
"I picked up on their call," Slawson said of his deflection that led to his dunk. "Kind of like a cornerback in football. I let them think it was open and then jumped the route."
Richey added, "I'm not sure what's going to the the top 10 on SportsCenter, but there's not nine better than that."
That's when the clouds of notorious Paladin heartbreaker Storm Murphy rolled in. Murphy hit a jumper with 1:32 left then drained a 3-pointer 35 seconds later to give Wofford a 66-65 lead. While Furman lost the overall rebounding battle, it got the most important ones. After a missed jumper by Bothwell and a missed layup by Jordan Lyons, the loose balls went off the Terriers out of bounds each time. That set the stage for Bothwell's game-winner.
"If we don't recover those two loose balls ... we have to foul. With only two team fouls, the clock's going to be drained out (by the time you get to seven)," Richey said. "We finished the game on a beautiful pivot, which we practice every day. We drove Jordan left so they wouldn't help. They brought a double from the midline. Mike just kept his pivot alive, both defenders escaped and he turns and lays it up."
Furman, which had 11 steals, dominated points off turnovers by a 20-4 scoring margin. The Paladins made just one turnover over the final 21 minutes and finished with five for the game. In a one-point win, every point counts including Jaylon Pugh's only ones. With Tre Clark (head injury) sidelined, Richey had to go a little deeper on his bench and Pugh answered the bell on a game-tying 3-pointer with 6:16 left. While Pugh entered shooting 46.4 percent (13-of-28) from three, it was his first 3-pointer in Southern Conference play.
Lyons finished with 10 points, while Slawson had nine points and three steals.
"We're great shooters, but we know the game isn't just all threes. Sometimes they're not going to go in for us. We've just got to play on two feet and drive in strong," Bothwell said. "The big message at halftime was to just be confident and aggressive."
After a first-place battle at ETSU last Wednesday, Saturday's win sets up a second-place battle at UNC Greensboro (23-6, 13-3) this Wednesday.