Saturday, November 28, 2020

Paladins overcome turnovers, rip USC Upstate

Alex Hunter had 22 points, six rebounds and four assists in Furman's
91-63 win over USC Upstate Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Over the previous four seasons, the Furman men's basketball team had at least 20 turnovers in a game just two times - a 10-point loss at UNC Greensboro on Jan. 12, 2019 and a six-point home loss to UNC Asheville on Nov. 22, 2016. On Saturday, it happened again with a very different result.

Mike Bothwell and Alex Hunter combined for 46 points as Furman whipped USC Upstate, 91-63, at Timmons Arena. The Paladins (2-0) overcame 20 turnovers by doing a whole lot of other things very well. Their defense forced 21 turnovers and limited the Spartans (0-2) to 37.9 percent shooting. Meanwhile, Furman shot 53.8 percent from the floor and made 27-of-34 (79.4 percent) free throws.

"I think we had 10 turnovers in the first 10 minutes. Fortunately, our saving grace we were really sitting down and making it really hard for them to score," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We could've been down by a really big margin had we not been defending. Once we settled in and started valuing the ball more, we had 10 turnovers over the last 30 minutes. That was much better.

"I'm proud of our defensive effort and we got a lot sharper offensively in the second half. This team can shoot the ball, but the best thing right now is they're driving the ball. We're taking great threes and I'm hoping we can keep that balance ... but we can't turn it over 20 times and expect to play well."

The teams combined for six points over the first six-plus minutes of game time Saturday. It was 7-7 with 12:02 left in the first half when Clay Mounce's jumper started a 14-0 run over the next 4:12 as the Paladins took a commanding 21-7 lead. Upstate never got within 11 the rest of the way.

Hunter helped seal the win when he hit a 3-pointer and four throws over a stretch of 22 seconds to push Furman's lead to 78-59 with 4:09 left. A couple of minutes earlier, the senior point guard helped with something that can't be found in a boxscore. It came after an unhappy Richey called timeout once Upstate cut the lead to 69-55.

"That was one of Alex Hunter's best games of his career. He played aggressive, shot the ball great ... and I loved his temperament and how he handled the full-court pressure," Richey said. "But the best thing he did was when I took that last timeout, he got the team together before I could get to them. I didn't even step in (the huddle). I trusted him and I knew he knew what we needed to do. I let him fix it and we go from a 14-point margin to a 28-point margin. That's a proud moment as a coach."

Hunter was 6-of-8 from the floor, including 4-of-6 on 3-pointers, and 6-of-6 from the foul line to finish with 22 points. He also had six rebounds and four assists. Two games into this season, the Paladins have used an aggressive, driving approach on offense that has led to more free throws and more open shots from the perimeter.

"This whole summer we've been talking about playing with force, getting to the rim and not settling for shots like we have in the past," Hunter said. "I think it's starting to translate. We've done it a lot in drills, practice and live scrimmages. We're looking to work inside-out with paint touches. We want kick-out threes, not just settling for threes."

Bothwell led the Paladins with a game-high 24 points. He was 7-of-12 from the floor and made 9-of-9 free throws. The junior also had five assists and four steals.

Coming off a career-high seven assists in Wednesday's opener, Jalen Slawson picked up where he left off Saturday. He was the other Paladin in double figures with 10 points, to go along with three assists, two blocked shots and two steals.

The passing ability of Furman's big men was on display to end the first half and start the second. Slawson hit Mounce for a dunk that sent the Paladins into halftime with a 43-25 lead. On the first possession of the second half, Noah Gurley made a perfect bounce pass to Hunter for a layup to give Furman its first 20-point lead of the game.

"They're both doing great with their decision making from the high post. ... It's gotten to a point where we've been able to let those guys go in transition just because of the job they're doing," Richey said. "Slawson's been doing this all fall. In terms of just creating offense and action via the dribble on the perimeter and through space. We knew his comfort in the offense was really going to show up and take form."

Mounce finished with nine points and five rebounds, as did freshman Garrett Hien. After making the first 11 shots of his collegiate career, Hien missed for the first time late Saturday and then promptly got the offensive rebound and scored on a putback.

Furman is next scheduled to host Southern Wesleyan on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Freshmen could be pivotal for Furman women

Furman women's basketball coach Jackie Carson expects
freshmen to make an impact this season. Photo courtesy of Furman

Furman women's basketball coach Jackie Carson said this offseason has been one like no other. Preparing for the season during a pandemic has made for a very different looking practice. When the 2020-21 season begins next week, the Paladins could look quite different as well.

While this year's team features a pair of seniors who will be four-year starters, freshmen make up half of the roster. The eight new Paladins hail from as far away as Greece and from as nearby as Greenville High. Carson said during a typical summer, her team would have the opportunity to build body strength, take a class and mesh together as a team. Not having those opportunities has been a challenge.

"Thinking back over the last six months of being on Zooms (meetings) with this group, not even realizing until they got here that half of them had never met in person," Carson said. "Some had never met me or my staff (in person). We literally recruited them via Zoom, so when they arrived in August it was the first time they'd ever been on campus.

"It's been a lot of getting to know each other and trying to recognize everyone's strengths. We didn't have that summer to not only gel as a team - knowing half your team is brand new, but we also didn't have that summer of team bonding. And bonding looks a lot different right now at six feet apart with masks on."

While the challenges have been different, Carson is excited about watching the newcomers contribute. Following the graduation of Le'Jzae Davidson (14.2 points per game) and Taylor Petty (8.8 ppg), and the transfer departures of Milica Manojlovic (7.2 ppg, 5.0 assists per game) and Lindsey Taylor (6.6 ppg), some freshmen will likely have to step up quickly.

"Our freshmen class is pretty special and they're going to be an immediate impact class," Carson said. "I think people are going to be very surprised by them. They've been phenomenal so far."

Carson said her four seniors this year provide great leadership. That group includes returning starters Tierra Hodges (11.9 ppg, 10.4 rebounds per game) and Celena Taborn (8.7 ppg).

Hodges is one of 25 players, and the only one from the Southern Conference, named to the preseason watch list for the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year award. Hodges, who led the SoCon in rebounding last season, is a preseason All-SoCon pick. She enters this season ranked 10th in school history with 655 career rebounds.

Taborn overcame injuries to shatter her own single-season school record for field goal percentage last season, making 67.1 percent of her shots. That topped her previous record of 64.2 percent set as a sophomore. Taborn, who's tied with Carson for ninth in school history in career blocked shots (99), is the only Paladin ever to shoot above 60 percent for her career at 63.1.

"Tierra is a special young lady. She's a tremendous leader, both vocally and by her actions on the court. If you thought she was good last year, wait until you see her now. She really took the offseason serious and improved her game," Carson said.

"Last year was really hard for Celena, injury-wise. So much to the point where a lot of people told her, 'you probably need to retire.' She was like, 'I can do it. I can push through.' This (year) is probably the best that we could see of her."

Furman is set to open the season at Clemson on Wednesday at 2 p.m. before hosting Presbyterian on Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. For college basketball teams this season though, "fluid" will be the keyword when it comes to the schedule. Carson said that can be used as a motivational tool.

"We don't who our opponent could be day-to-day or week-to-week. We could add a game on two days notice, or lose a game with no notice," Carson said. "So for us, it's been focusing on what our principles are and what our program is all about. We might not know who we're going to play, but we do know what Furman women's basketball is all about.

"It's helped us focus on what makes our program go. We haven't talked about our core values ever as much as we have talked about them this year."

Friday, November 13, 2020

Greenville News: Here's how Furman is developing into SoCon's top program

This is the first in what will hopefully be quite a few Furman stories I'll be writing for The Greenville News moving forward. Rest assured, this will not impact the Furman Sports Report. I'll link to those News' stories here, but space on those is limited. When you have your own blog, space is not an issue. Therefore, there will be plenty of other stories for the FSR - once we actually have some games to write about. Thanks as always for reading!