Friday, February 28, 2020

Lineup tweak pays off for Paladins

Furman junior point guard Alex Hunter ranks fourth in the country in
assist-to-turnover ratio this season at 3.31. Photo courtesy of Furman
Furman was one of three teams in the country to have the same starting five for every men's basketball game this season until a scorebook snafu inserted Mike Bothwell into the lineup in last Saturday's win over Wofford. In Wednesday's victory at UNC Greensboro, Bothwell made career start number two and everyone was fully aware of that being the plan.

The sophomore point guard didn't start in place of junior starting point guard Alex Hunter though. Instead it was Clay Mounce who came off the bench. The move benefited all parties involved and for the team as the Paladins rolled to an 81-67 win to lock down the No. 2 seed at next week's Southern Conference Tournament.

"I had one of the hardest decisions of my early three-year career this week. I knew that we had to start Mike. I knew he deserved it and it was just his time," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "You can't argue that he's not a top five guy for us. You just can't. We decided to put him in and then we had to decide how we're going to rotate them and who goes to the bench.
"To be able to go double point guard versus the press, I thought that was something we had to do."

The lineup change paid off immediately as Furman got off to a 12-4 lead less than four minutes in Wednesday. During that stretch, Hunter had a 3-pointer, three assists, two rebounds and a steal while Bothwell had an assist. On the last two buckets during that stretch, Mounce - who checked in at the 17:08 mark - had a 3-pointer and assisted on Hunter's three.

"I told him to go lose himself in the game, play as hard as you can, focus on deflections and rebounds and you'll make your shots. He made some shots," Richey said of Mounce. "I credit Clay a whole lot for how he responded. He took it great and knew his minutes weren't going to change a whole lot and knew he was still a big part of the game plan.
"Everybody knows that we need Clay. He's a big-time player."

Richey has maintained that Furman "has seven starters" all season, so not starting hasn't equated to a lack of minutes for any of those magnificent seven all year. That didn't change Wednesday, especially without the services of one of those in Tre Clark (concussion protocol).

Mounce was one point shy of there being six Paladins in double figures as he finished with nine points and six rebounds in 20 minutes. A little bit of foul trouble cost Mounce a chance at more minutes. Meanwhile, Bothwell finished with 13 points and led the team with plus-26 points, which was Furman's total advantage over UNCG during his 34 minutes on the court.

Having another point guard on the floor seemed to only help Hunter. Facing a Spartans team that has given him hard times in the past, Hunter excelled Wednesday. He finished with 11 points, six assists, two steals and one turnover. Hunter currently ranks fourth in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.31.

"This past week, Coach (Richey) has been telling us to play confident and be the aggressor. Once we started attacking them, their pressure let up a little bit. I don't think they're used to people attacking that," Hunter said following the game. "That opened up driving lanes for me to get guys the ball and even get my own shots.
"Having two point guards out there being able to maneuver throughout and even dribble out of some situations that some other guys might not be used to doing helped out. Mike's been playing well, so he's deserving anyway."

The highlight of Hunter's night happened after he got a steal halfway between the Furman bench and midcourt. Hunter was right up against the out of bounds line when he grabbed the loose ball and was immediately double teamed by the Spartans from behind. He somehow made a perfect no-look flip of the ball over his head and down the court to Bothwell for a layup that pushed Furman's lead to 20-9 midway through the first half.

"I remember him running by me, but couldn't see him. I caught it right there by Coach and he said, 'just throw it,' so I just threw it and we got the bucket," Hunter said. "I credit Coach for that one."

Richey estimated that he and his staff dialed up only four offensive plays the entire night against UNCG. Instead, it was more of trusting his players to sticks with the concepts of Furman's offensive style.

"Alex took that challenge of 'if Coach is going to trust me with the ball in my hands to go get in the paint and make plays, I can't go out here and play conservative. We've got to unleash and go,' " Richey said.

Men's game caps busy Saturday
Saturday will be one of the busiest of the year on Furman's campus. The men's tennis team hosts College of Charleston at 11 a.m. The football team's annual Purple-White spring scrimmage is set for noon. The baseball team hosts Fordham at 1 p.m. The basketball teams close out their respective regular seasons with a doubleheader starting at 2 p.m. when the women host Wofford. The men take on Citadel at approximately 4:30.

It will be Senior Day for basketball as the women's team seniors, Le'Jzae Davidson and Taylor Petty, and the lone men's team senior, Jordan Lyons, will be honored. The men's team will also be looking to break the school's single season record for overall wins and SoCon wins, both of which were established last season.

SoCon Tournament pairings set
While all the seeds have not been decided just yet, all of the first round and quarterfinal matchups are set for the SoCon Tournament. The men's tournament begins at 5 p.m. next Friday in Asheville when No. 7 seed Wofford faces 10th-seeded Citadel. That will be followed by VMI against Samford in the 8/9 game. That seeding will be determined Saturday when the teams face off in Alabama.

The quarterfinals feature a stacked lineup. It begins with top-seeded ETSU facing the 8/9 winner at noon, followed by Mercer vs. Western Carolina in the 4/5 matchup. Those seeds will be finalized Saturday. The night session begins with Furman against the 7/10 winner at 6 p.m., followed by No. 3 seed UNCG vs. No. 6 Chattanooga.

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