Sunday, December 20, 2020

Big first half helps Winthrop roll past Paladins

Freshman Marcus Foster had nine points and three steals off the bench
in Furman's 87-71 loss at Winthrop. Photo courtesy of Furman

ROCK HILL - Over Furman's past few record-breaking seasons, it's not been unusual to look at the scoreboard and see an opponent with about 50 points and around five minutes left on the clock. It's just usually in the second half.

In a battle of top five Mid Major teams on Saturday, it took Winthrop just 15:03 to reach half a hundred against the third-ranked Paladins. After a dominant opening half, the fifth-ranked Eagles rolled to an 87-71 win over third-ranked Furman.

The Paladins had 26 fouls, 23 turnovers and 21 field goals - out of 55 attempts (38.2 percent). It's Furman's highest turnover amount since committing 23 against Louisiana-Monroe on March 15, 2016. It's the second-highest total of fouls in any game over the last four seasons. Furman was called for 27 at Auburn last season.

After the Paladins' devastating three-point loss at Alabama on Tuesday, it has to be wondered if Saturday's opening half performance was a hangover. Furman outperformed the Crimson Tide in nearly all phases, but a negative-21 rebounding margin proved too much to overcome.

"I'd hate for that loss to be an excuse today, but it definitely looked like it. The funny thing is, we did outrebound (Winthrop). So we fixed that, but you've got to go play good offense and go play good defense," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "And then you've got to finish possessions. ... I didn't anticipate us coming in here and coughing it up 23 times. That's uncharacteristic of us.

"They (Winthrop) brought a ton of energy today. They defended extremely well and played very aggressively offensively. We didn't answer the bell."

In the opening 100 seconds Saturday, Furman's Noah Gurley had a turnover, a 3-pointer and two fouls. While the turnover and foul were a sign of things to come for Furman, the three was not. After Gurley hit the Paladins' first attempt, they hit just one of their next 16 tries.

While Gurley sat for 10 minutes after that second foul, freshman Garrett Hien came in an performed admirably. Hien's jumper cut the Winthrop lead to 18-14 with 12:36 left in the first half. A pair of Jalen Slawson free throws cut the Eagles' lead to 27-20 with 9:55 left.

Over the next 4:58, Winthrop went on a 23-9 run and took a 56-36 lead into halftime. The Eagles shot 65.5 percent from the floor in the first half.

It was eerily similar to the Furman-Winthrop game at Timmons Arena three years ago. That was the last time the Paladins had trailed by at least 20 in the first half as Winthrop led 52-32 at the break that day before going on to a 93-74 win. The 56 points allowed was the most given up in a half by Furman since The Citadel scored 60 in the second half on Feb. 2, 2013.

"I thought we played hard in the second half, but you just can't have a first half like that," Richey said. "I'm hopeful this was just a bad day for us. We need to close out well Monday, then we all need a break."

Any hopes of a miraculous comeback were hampered by Furman making just 9-of-17 free throws in the second half. The Paladins had a chance to cut the lead to 10 with four-and-a-half minutes left, but Mike Bothwell's tough shot on a drive was blocked. The Eagles (5-0) soared down the court and Charles Falden converted a three-point play seven seconds later to push the lead to 78-63. Falden had 18 points to lead a balanced attack as seven Winthrop players scored at least seven points apiece.

Bothwell had 16 points and eight rebounds to lead Furman (5-3), while Gurley had 14 points and seven rebounds before fouling out. Alex Hunter and Hien each scored 12 points. For the second consecutive game, Clay Mounce fouled out with more than eight minutes left although Saturday's whistles seemed more authentic than Tuesday's. After scoring 21 points in 16 minutes Tuesday, Mounce was held scoreless in 16 minutes Saturday.

"People are just watching the film and saying 'drive on them.' If we're going to continue to swipe at the ball and foul with our hands and have poor verticality plays, we're going to be in foul trouble," Richey said. "We've got be able to figure this thing out and we will. We've had four of five on the road. I think there's an element of fatigue, but that's no excuse.

"If we want to be what we want to be, when we step on the court, we've got to play to a standard. We didn't today."

Furman was missing a key member of its reserve rotation after Jaylon Pugh had surgery this week on a broken finger suffered at Alabama. The junior is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. Along with Hien, fellow freshman Marcus Foster stepped up off the bench Saturday. He had nine points, four rebounds and three steals in 14 minutes off the bench, although he also found foul trouble with four.

"Marcus played with a ton of confidence. ... I wish he wouldn't have had the preseason injury, but you can't control that. He's having to catch up on the fly a little bit," Richey said. "As our depth gets to playing more and starts to figure things out, they're going to be better and better."

Furman next hosts South Carolina State at 4 p.m. Monday.

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