Saturday, March 7, 2020

Paladins can't solve Wofford's riddle again

Mike Bothwell had 18 points and seven rebounds in Furman's 77-68 loss to
Wofford Saturday. Photo courtesy of the Southern Conference/Todd Drexler
ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Coming down the stretch of the Southern Conference basketball regular season, there were many scenarios to decide who would finish where among a dangerous group of four teams in the middle of the standings. Wofford lost seven consecutive games to claim the last spot among those four, finishing seventh in the league.

What a nightmare that turned out to be for Furman, which finished second. After Wofford snapped its losing streak by extending Citadel's skid to 19 in Friday's "play in" portion of the SoCon Tournament, a third game between the rivals was set for Saturday. Given how the first two meetings went - and how the Paladins swept each team that finished fourth through sixth, this didn't feel like an ideal No. 2 vs. 7 matchup for Furman.

It wasn't.

The Paladins followed up their poorest shooting half of the year in the first half (28 percent) by allowing the most points they have in any half (54) in the second half. It all added up to a 77-68 loss to the Terriers and a quick exit from Asheville. Furman still hasn't defeated Wofford outside of Greenville in nine years.

"Give Wofford credit. I thought they played really well after dealing with a ton of adversity down the stretch of the regular season," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "They were the more physical team. They beat us on the boards by 16 and it's hard to win games in the tournament like that. ... We missed a lot of shots tonight and only got two (offensive rebounds).
"Obviously, they've got a lot of tradition and those guys have won at a high level. They didn't have the year they're used to this year, but historically they've been really good. It's just one of those things we've got to get through and I've got to do better."

The Paladins (25-7) came into the tournament confident having won 11 of their last 12 games and with a new school record for regular season and SoCon wins. They also had the confidence of knowing they had at least one win over every other team in the league. But only one of those wins required a game-winning shot in the final seconds and a rally from an 11-point deficit in the second half - the 67-66 win over Wofford at The Well.

In both regular season games against the Terriers, Furman had a putrid offensive showing in the first half and that trend continued Saturday. After an 18-point opening half in Spartanburg and a 26-point first half in Greenville, the Paladins put up 20 in the first half in Asheville. Furman, which led the league in field goal percentage (47.3) in SoCon play this season, was 7-of-25 from the floor in the first half, including 1-of-11 on 3-pointers with three airballs.

"I wish I could answer why. I'm a little perplexed by it myself. I thought our team was loose this week and our practice prep was great," Richey said. "We hit every shot in practice drills and played with a ton of energy. Guys seemed ready to roll ... but we came out and looked a little timid. You could see it by the ball movement."

Despite the futile offensive numbers, Furman was closer at the half than in either of the first two meetings. The stingy defense by the Paladins down the stretch of the season showed up in the first half as they trailed 23-20 at the break.

While there was no scoring over the final 2:40 of the first half, a bad omen came in the final 15 seconds when Furman was called for two fouls - including Jalen Slawson's third foul with 2.1 seconds left.

Jordan Lyons was called for a foul 27 seconds into the second half. One minute and 13 seconds later, Clay Mounce was called for an offensive foul. Twelve seconds later, Noah Gurley was called for a foul. Seven seconds later, Gurley was called for another and headed to the bench with three. Slawson came in for Gurley.

At the 16:16 mark, Mounce was called for a foul. Eleven seconds later, Slawson was called for his fourth foul. After video review showed that Slawson grabbed and pulled the leg of Wofford's Storm Murphy, who was diving for a ball, the foul was changed to a flagrant. Murphy made both free throws and Ryan Larson had a steal and a layup to push Wofford's lead to 38-27.

After the 6-0 head start on fouls to start the second half, the Terriers were called for three fouls in 32 seconds - all drawn by Mike Bothwell. Eleven seconds later, Gurley was called for his fourth foul guarding 28 feet from the basket.

Despite the foul chaos, Furman came back as Mounce, Bothwell and Lyons hit consecutive 3-pointers. Lyons' shot gave the Paladins their first lead of the night and Bothwell's jumper made it an 11-0 run and pushed the lead to 43-40 with 11:24 left.

After Lyons' three-point play cut Wofford's lead to 46-45, the Terriers hit five consecutive shots including four 3-pointers to take a 60-48 lead. Three of those threes came from Trevor Stumpe, who was averaging 7.1 points per game this season, but scored 18 Saturday.

"We just had to decide as a group that there were a lot of things not going our way, but we had to try to win anyway," Richey said. "We've got guys in foul trouble, but it doesn't matter. We've got to go try to figure this out and control what we can control.
"We made a run and got some stops. We got up three with about 11 (minutes) to go and I remember we got three pretty good looks and missed them all. Give Stumpe credit. He got cooking and we lost him a few times. That was when the game was in the balance."

Bothwell's layup with 3:04 left got the lead down to six, but Furman didn't score again until there were 23 seconds left.

"We had another fight and clawed back in again, but just couldn't get over it. It's frustrating," Richey said. "We didn't play our best. We weren't physical enough, but this team didn't quit."

Furman didn't have much luck dealing with Wofford post player Chevez Goodwin in the regular season. With every big man in foul trouble Saturday, that continued. Goodwin had 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting with nine rebounds (five offensive) in 27 minutes. The Terriers outrebounded Furman 40-24.

"It's certainly tough playing with foul trouble. You want to be aggressive. That's our gameplan, to go pressure the ball," said Mounce, who had 13 points and three steals before fouling out. "Playing with fouls, you have to pull off your pressure a little bit. It can get in your head a little bit and get frustrated at the refs, but you've just got to keep playing."

Playing his first major minutes of a SoCon Tournament, Bothwell put Furman on his back for much of the second half. The sophomore finished with 18 points and seven rebounds. Lyons scored 15. Alex Hunter had five of Furman's six assists. It was the fewest assists in a game since the Paladins had five in a loss to ETSU at the SoCon semifinals two years ago.

"We were not as clean as we need to be offensively. Six assists really isn't us ... but I love this team," Richey said. "We're going to be back here and we're going to have a great night in Asheville coming soon with this program.
"We will lose Lyons unfortunately, but we will have everybody else back and should have plenty of motivation to get back here and get over the hump."

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