Saturday, December 5, 2020

Red-hot Paladins wallop College of Charleston

Jalen Slawson had 16 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and three blocks in Furman's
81-57 win over College of Charleston Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

What slow starts?

While Furman entered its hastily scheduled game at College of Charleston Saturday with a 3-0 record and an average winning margin of 34 points per game, everything wasn't perfect. The Paladins had overcome some sluggish starts, below average perimeter shooting and a few too many turnovers. In its first road test this season, those problems were fixed in a big way.

Mike Bothwell scored 26 points and Jalen Slawson just missed Furman's first ever triple-double as the Paladins crushed the Cougars, 81-57. Furman shot 51.7 percent from the floor, including 47.1 (16-of-34) on 3-pointers. It limited Charleston to 36.5 percent shooting, including 5-of-23 (21.7 percent) 3-pointers.

"I just thought we played complete. It started with our defense. We did a really good job of sticking with the game plan," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "Offensively, we just played clean. The ball moved and we didn't turn it over or try to do too much.

"We shot the ball incredibly especially in the first half, but we earned that right in terms of how we played, moved it and defended. ... I know we've had some people wondering how good a shooting team we are, but I think they found out today that we've got some guys that can shoot it."

Another thing that quickly changed for Furman was Noah Gurley's stroke. The all-Southern Conference junior was averaging just more than nine points per game this season and was one of 1-of-9 on 3-pointers, but came out firing. The Paladins, who had seven points over the first eight minutes last time out against Southern Wesleyan, took a 12-6 lead just 3:28 into Saturday's game on Gurley's second three-pointer.

Gurley had eight of those first 12 points, along with a block and a steal in that stretch. By the halfway point of the first half, Slawson had six assists and Furman led 28-10. The Cougars (1-2) had the lead down to 14 before the Paladins ended the half on a 12-2 run to take a 47-23 lead into halftime.

Furman had just two turnovers, while forcing nine, in the first half and enjoyed a 22-2 edge in points off those. Bothwell had 17 points in the first half and has reached double figures by halftime in every game this season. Slawson had nine points, eight rebounds and seven assists in the first half.

The Paladins didn't let up in the second half. They outscored Charleston 16-6 over the first eight minutes after halftime to take their biggest lead at 63-29.

"I thought those four minutes after halftime were going to be critical," Richey said. "If they were going to come out in their house and make a run, it was going to be at that point. We had to be ready to go and fortunately, we were."

Gurley made 4-of-8 shots from beyond the arc and finished with 18 points, three blocked shots and two steals. Slawson was one point shy of his career-high scoring day with 16 points. The Summerville native matched his career-highs in rebounds (10) and blocks (3) and set a new career mark in assists with nine. 

"I left him in there trying to get him that triple-double. It kind of messed up our offense, but it's hard to get those. For him to be able to come home, we gave it a try," Richey said. "He played magnificent. ... Rebounding-wise, he's starting to become a guy that we feel like can go get 10 a game. If he can rebound like that and play with the assists in the offense he's creating out of the five-spot, it makes him a really unique player."

The game was finalized just 48 hours earlier after Furman's scheduled game Saturday at No. 19 Richmond was postponed due to COVID concerns within the Spiders' program. Earlier this week, those concerns also wiped out Charleston's scheduled game against Richmond.

Richey has pushed for schools that have had schedules altered this season to look to play each other if at all possible. After receiving word that Richmond was shutting down basketball operations for a few days, Richey and his staff immediately began working to find a possible replacement. Each of his assistants were assigned to develop a scouting report for potential opponents this weekend, including Richmond, Charleston and a Stanford team that can't return home for a few days after playing in the Maui Invitational in Asheville.

Richey said the last thing the team wanted this weekend was to be sitting at home with no game at all. So he was thrilled to reach an agreement with Charleston and that feeling seemed to permeate throughout the team. Furman is scheduled to play at Cincinnati Wednesday at 5 p.m.

"We had a really good practice yesterday and we wanted a challenge. To get to play in a beautiful arena against a great mid-major program, that's what we do this for. You want to go play in big games," Richey said. "I told the team this morning that in this climate and world right now, the team that's the most excited to play is going to have a big advantage.

"Having joy in the journey along with all this, without letting it be negative is key. Do your job, be responsible, hopefully continue to test right and let's be excited to practice and play."

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