Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Paladins dominate paint, topple Chattanooga

Jalen Slawson had 16 points in Furman's 77-73 win at
Chattanooga Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

After Furman closed out the non-conference schedule with a 66-point win over winless South Carolina State, it was bound to face a much different challenge in Wednesday's Southern Conference opener at undefeated Chattanooga. The Paladins took on this much different challenge in a much different way, but ended up with the same result - a win.

Furman piled up 50 points in the paint to overcome Chattanooga's prolific three-point shooting and held on for a thrilling 77-73 win at the Roundhouse. After setting school records for made 3-pointers (21) and assists (33) last time out, the Paladins were just 4-of-14 from beyond the arc and had only eight assists Wednesday. But that record-breaking showing could've very well loosened some driving lanes as the Mocs closely guarded the perimeter.

While it was the third time this season that Furman scored half a hundred down low, it was the most against a Division I opponent in a regulation game since putting up 52 in a 94-79 win at Samford on Feb. 17, 2018.

"It's a shame there weren't fans here today because that was a heck of a college basketball game," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "They stayed out on our shooters and we just did a great job of attacking the paint all night. I thought we were patient with our offense and let the ball move.

"They took away the three-point line and we still score 77 on the road. I think that's a credit to our guys of just letting the ball get side to side and not trying to take the first (shot). ... Our preparation the last few days gave us the opportunity to come out here and tough one out."

In addition to facing an unbeaten team on the road to begin conference play, Richey said the Paladins discovered a plot twist on the bus ride to the arena. It was then they learned that Chattanooga leading scorer David Jean-Baptiste was back with the team, 18 days after entering the transfer portal.

Jean-Baptiste didn't start, but didn't stay on the bench long after Furman jumped out to a 9-0 lead. Chattanooga (9-1, 0-1) hit a trio of treys to tie the game at 9-9 five minutes in and that was a sign of things to come. The Mocs were 13-of-26 from three for the game, but made just 1-of-7 over the final nine-plus minutes.

Perhaps the biggest key stretch of the game came in the final five minutes. The Paladins faced their biggest deficit at 66-63 when Clay Mounce hit a layup and Richey immediately called for a timeout with exactly five minutes left. Furman reinserted Noah Gurley with four fouls and immediately went to him. Gurley's putback of his own miss gave Furman a 67-66 lead with 4:36 left.

After Jean-Baptiste gave the Mocs the lead back on a jumper, Gurley was called for an offensive foul as he backed his defender down on the post with 3:30 left. Freshman Garrett Hien replaced Gurley in the lineup, but the offense didn't change. Hien converted layups on back-to-back possessions sandwiched in between three Chattanooga missed shots as Furman led 71-68 with less than a minute to play.

"I told them at that last media (timeout), 'your culture is going to win you this game,' and I really believe it did. We were down and Noah had just fouled out, but we had to go and win anyway," Richey said. "Our bench struggled at times during the game and we couldn't figure out who to go with, but Garrett Hien. What a last eight minutes he had. It's fun to see him grow up and have big, pivotal moments in the game."

The Paladins (7-3, 1-0) had 30 points in the paint in the first half, many of which came on Mike Bothwell drives in which he hit the deck. Yet they only had two free throws after Jalen Slawson drew a foul on a putback. Chattanooga's only other foul in the first half was 80 feet from the basket. In the second half, Furman was 13-of-18 from the foul line including 6-of-8 over the final 48 seconds to seal the win. Chattanooga, which was 8-of-9 from the foul line in the first half, didn't shoot a free throw in the second half.

Bothwell had 22 points and seven rebounds to lead the Paladins, who won the rebounding battle 33-26. Jalen Slawson added 16 points, while Gurley had 13. Alex Hunter hit three of those four 3-pointers to score nine points. Hien also scored nine, while Clay Mounce had eight points and nine rebounds. No Furman starter had more than one turnover as that group combined for four.

Jean-Baptiste led Chattanooga matching his per game average for the season of 18 points. K.C. Hankton, a transfer from Saint Louis who was deemed eligible to play two weeks ago, had 17 also for the Mocs.

"That's the third (consecutive) game we've won on the boards, so our team's really embracing that," Richey said. "Mounce might not be one that jumps out on the stat sheet, but he was phenomenal in doing the things we need him to do. He led us in deflections and really crashed the glass today."

Furman next hosts Mercer on Saturday at 2 p.m.

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