Saturday, January 30, 2021

Balanced attack gets Furman on track

Furman point guard Alex Hunter had 16 points, five assists, four rebounds and no
turnovers in the Paladins' 75-69 win at Western Carolina. Photo courtesy of Furman

All five Furman starters - well, usual starters - scored at least 12 points Saturday afternoon as the Paladins avoided its first three-game losing streak in five years with a 75-69 win at Western Carolina.

After suffering its first two Southern Conference losses last week, Furman (11-5, 5-2) seemed destined to have to stew on those for awhile because of COVID issues within the program. But after negative tests on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Furman was able to make up its game at Western Carolina. Saturday's game was originally postponed from Jan. 6 because of COVID issues with the Catamounts.

The Paladins looked a team that was savoring the chance to play as they jumped out to a 14-3 lead eight minutes in. While that was Furman's biggest lead of the day, Western Carolina (7-9, 0-7) could never get closer than two the rest of the way as Furman ran its streak in the series to 10 consecutive wins.

"Our connection on both ends was improved and we played with good energy. We had strong faces. We didn't get flustered by calls, we just played the game," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "It was a good old Furman basketball game with our top five guys in double figures. ... Everybody made plays today - critical plays on both ends to get the win."

Coming off a rough game at East Tennessee State last Saturday, Jalen Slawson was replaced in the starting lineup by freshman guard Joe Anderson. At the first game stop 32 seconds in though, Slawson replaced Anderson and quickly sparked the Paladins.

Slawson was a big part of perhaps the game's biggest sequence just 90 seconds in. After a Slawson turnover led to what appeared to be a breakaway dunk for Western's Xavier Cork, Slawson raced down Cork and blocked his shot from behind. Clay Mounce gathered the rebound and found Alex Hunter for a 3-pointer to tie the game 3-3 as the Catamounts' lone lead lasted all of 25 seconds.

"We call those TGHT plays - the game honors toughness. We have a bad turnover and he could've easily said 'aw shucks, they're going to go lay it in,' but man he stayed with it and blocked that ball," Richey said. "And the game usually honors it. We go down and hit that three and never trail again."

That block was a sign of things to come defensively for Furman as Western had only two fast break points and was held to 41 percent shooting for the game. Slawson finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, four assists, a steal and only the one block officially, but it felt like more as he altered plenty of the Cats' shots. Perhaps in a sign of trying to do too much, the only negative on Slawson's stat line was six turnovers.

"It looked like a message, but this was a conversation all week. Ironically enough, Slawson and I had adjoining rooms last night. I knocked on his door, came in and we talked for an hour," Richey said. "He's got so many God-given abilities, not just in basketball, but in his ability to lead and motivate people is really incredible.

"He's got to do it in the hard moments, when things aren't going well for him or for our team. He led from tip to buzzer today and it was tremendous. ... I told him he had half our turnovers, but I still love him. He just played a beautiful game today."

Much like Furman could never seemingly stretch a nine-point lead into a comfortable double-digit margin, Western could never seemingly get the lead under five. On the rare times it did, the Paladins always answered.

Western's Tyler McGhie cut the lead to 38-36 on a 3-pointer with 16:44 left before Noah Gurley hit a 3-pointer for Furman 23 seconds later. On consecutive Catamount possessions around the 10-minute mark, they cut the lead to four twice and three once. Those were answered on jumpers by Hunter and Mounce before a three-point play by Gurley.

The Cats cut the lead to 62-57 with 5:56 left when Mounce got a layup 24 seconds later. Western cut the lead to 71-67 on a Mason Faulkner 3-pointer with 1:26 left before Gurley hit a jumper 19 seconds later.

"We answered bells with different guys all day long," Richey said. "To go on the road after dealing with some of the adversity and get our spirit right was big. Even in those tight times, we had a good control about us."

Gurley led Furman with 17 points, three assists, two blocked shots and two steals. Hunter had 16 points, five assists, four rebounds and no turnovers in 35 minutes, while Mounce and Mike Bothwell each scored 13. After shooting just 41.9 percent in the first half, the Paladins shot 68 percent (17-of-25) in the second half including 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. Saturday marked the first time this season that Furman shot 40 percent from three in a SoCon game as it was 9-of-21 (42.9 percent).

Faulkner, who was averaging 15.9 points per game entering Saturday had 14 on 4-of-12 shooting. Western's Matt Halvorsen, who was averaging 14.9 points per game, was held to five. Halvorsen, who has the 13th most career 3-pointers in SoCon history, was shooting 42.8 percent from beyond the arc this season before going 1-of-5 Saturday. Cork, who was averaging 14.3 points per game and a SoCon-best 65.9 field goal percentage, had two points on 1-of-3 shooting with three turnovers and four fouls in 17 minutes.

Unless another game is added, Furman is scheduled for another week off. The Paladins are scheduled to return to action next Saturday, hosting Wofford at 6 p.m.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Droughts cost Paladins in loss at ETSU

Clay Mounce had 21 points and 12 rebounds in Furman's
71-62 loss at ETSU Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

One stretch of atrocious offense would make winning at a place like East Tennessee State hard enough. One stretch in each half proved too much for Furman on Saturday. After shooting 2-of-13 over the first nine minutes of the game, the Paladins went nearly nine minutes without a bucket in the second half.

Those two stretches helped the Buccaneers secure a 71-62 win. ETSU (9-5, 5-1 Southern Conference) becomes the first team this season to hold the Paladins (10-5, 4-2), who were averaging 84.9 points per game, under 71 points.

"We don't have the look of a team that for 40 minutes is going to be willing to do the tough things that it takes to win a game like this," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Sports Network's postgame show. "I'm a little torn right now because there were some guys that played really hard today. There are guys who took our message the last few days of being tougher on defense and playing harder and did that.

"If you look at the plus-minus (game point totals while on the floor), Noah Gurley was plus-six today. Clay Mounce was plus-two and played 35-and-a-half minutes. Unfortunately, we had a starter that was minus-20. That's a lot in a nine-point game. ... But you win as a team and lose as a team, and we're all hurting."

Richey added that Friday's practice was kind of an omen.

"We had a couple of guys who didn't practice well yesterday and didn't play well today. The guys that did practice well, played well," Richey said. "We've just got to get the whole group there and that's my job. I'm obviously not doing a good job right now and we've got to figure it out."

Saturday's start for Furman seemed like a carryover from the loss at VMI Wednesday night. From the 6:02 mark of the first half at VMI to the 10:47 mark of the first half Saturday, the Paladins made just 15-of-58 field goals (25.9 percent). Furman was 9-of-34 (26.5 percent) on 3-pointers in that 35-minute stretch.

The slow start Saturday put Furman in a 16-6 hole. Then the Paladins suddenly found those paths to the basket they used so well in last Saturday's win over ETSU - when they scored 40 points in the paint.

Gurley's layup with 10:46 left in the first half started a stretch where Furman made 16 of 24 field goals over the next 16 minutes of game time. Those made field goals included 12 layups and were highlighted by two thunderous dunks by Mounce. The Paladins were 2-of-6 from three in that stretch. That run ended on a Mike Bothwell layup as Furman turned that early 10-point deficit into a 40-37 lead with 14:58 left.

That Bothwell layup forced an ETSU timeout. Coming out of it, the Bucs aggressively drove on offense and scored on each of their next four possessions. Meanwhile, the Paladins reverted back to that offense that just seems to settle for the first open three. Furman missed each of its next nine field goals - the last six of which were 3-pointers - as its three-point lead turned into a 52-42 deficit with six minutes left in the game.

Mounce and Bothwell hit back-to-back threes to end the drought and cut the ETSU lead to four, but the Paladins got no closer the rest of the way. The Bucs answered with an 11-2 run to take their biggest lead at 63-50 with 2:27 left.

On a day when Furman made 8-of-31 (25.8 percent) shots from three, ETSU's Damari Monsanto made 6-of-8 from beyond the arc to finish with a game-high 22 points and eight rebounds. Bucs' leading scorer Ledarrius Brewer, who missed last Saturday's game, added 17 points and four assists. Center Silas Adheke, who had five points combined over his previous three games - including one point last Saturday, had 14 points and nine rebounds.

After a 1-for-13 shooting night at VMI, Mounce bounced back with 21 points and 12 rebounds Saturday. Bothwell scored 17 points and Gurley had 13 before fouling out. Only two other Paladins scored as Alex Hunter had seven and Garrett Hien had four. After posting career highs in points (18), rebounds (14) and steals (5) at VMI, Jalen Slawson had no points, two rebounds and no steals in 24 minutes.

Another factor in Saturday's loss and lack of transition offense, was a lack of one particular aspect of defense - steals. Entering Saturday, Furman ranked 10th in the country with 9.4 steals per game. The Paladins had just four on Saturday and none in a second half in which ETSU shot 52 percent (13-of-25).

"We've got an older group and our old guys have got to be old guys. That's what we need. Some of them have looks in these tough moments like they're young guys," Richey said. "We've got enough young guys on the bench right now that are trying to figure this thing out.

"There are always ebbs and flows to a season and this is a little bit of a valley for us, but sometimes there's strength in the struggle. We've not been a finished product at any point in the year and hopefully we can get this thing figured out."

There's no time to pout for Furman, as the Paladins host UNC Greensboro (10-5, 5-2) on Monday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and it will be televised by ESPNU.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

VMI rallies to hand Furman first SoCon loss

Jalen Slawson had career highs in points (18), rebounds (14)
and steals (5) Wednesday, but Furman lost at VMI, 74-73.

Furman grabbed 18 offensive rebounds, nabbed 11 steals, committed just seven turnovers and fired up 73 field goals Wednesday night at VMI. The Paladins' Jalen Slawson had a career-high night in points, rebounds and steals.

And somehow Furman found a way to lose.

Greg Parham scored 22 of his 24 points in the second half as the Keydets rallied for a 74-73 win. In losing for the first time in Southern Conference play, the Paladins (10-4, 4-1) missed nearly as many shots (46) as VMI attempted (51). Furman shot just 37 percent for the game (27-of-73). The Paladins were 12-of-39 (30.8 percent) on three-pointers and made just 10-of-22 layups.

"I told y'all (on the pregame) how good Parham's playing right now and we had a great view of it tonight. ... Tip your hat to VMI on a heck of a win," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "We had a poor shooting night but then defensively, we couldn't keep the ball in front or out of the paint. We let them get a lot of uncontested threes."

While the Paladins couldn't get much to fall offensively all night, especially in the second half (11-of-34), it's defense softened at the worst possible time. After shooting just 40.7 percent in the first half, the Keydets (8-7, 3-3) shot 54.2 percent (13-of-24) in the second.

VMI trailed 60-55 with 7:19 left before it made seven of its final eight shots. That included three 3-pointers.

"We've been playing with fire defensively. We've been talking about it until we're blue in the face and it got us tonight," Richey said. "We've got to decide how badly we want to be a defensive ball club or if just want to be a collection of talent that wants to go out and play offense.

"We get to the eight-minute media timeout of the first half with a good lead. We had 11 deflections and three kills (three consecutive defensive stops). The rest of the game, we had 11 deflections and one kill."

On a pretty frustrating night all the way around for Furman, powers beyond its control also proved frustrating. On a night when the Paladins faced a full-court press defense, grabbed a ton of offensive rebounds and had plenty of those 22 layups challenged, they drew only 10 fouls. Furman, which was averaging 20 free throw attempts per game entering Wednesday, was 7-of-9 at the foul line, while the Keydets were 15-of-22.

The last of those 10 fouls drawn was by Alex Hunter on a 3-point attempt with nine seconds left. Hunter made all three free throws to tie the game at 73. That set the stage for the most horrific call of the night. VMI's Trey Bonham drove to the basket and appeared to travel before appearing to have his shot cleanly rejected by Mike Bothwell. But when the whistle blew with 2.9 seconds left, it was a foul on Bothwell.

Bonham made one of two free throws. Slawson grabbed the rebound on the second shot, but Furman was out of timeouts. Slawson dribbled to midcourt and fired up a prayer that bounced away no good as time expired and the Keydets snapped their 10-game losing streak in the series.

The game-winning "foul"

While the officiating was lousy, Furman had plenty of chances to make that a non-factor. Every time the Paladins had a chance of turning a decent lead into a comfortable one, they never could.

Furman led 34-26 with 6:03 left in the first half following Clay Mounce's only made field goal, but hit just one of its next 10 shots before Mike Bothwell's three-pointer with three seconds left made it 40-34 at the break.

Back-to-back buckets by Jaylon Pugh gave the Paladins a 53-46 lead with 12:50 left. Over the next 9:09, Furman went 2-for-15 from the floor to fall behind 60-55.

Slawson finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds, five steals and no turnovers to lead Furman. Bothwell had 14 points and three steals, while Noah Gurley had 12 points, seven rebounds, four assists and no turnovers. Alex Hunter had nine points, seven assists and no turnovers. Mounce, who scored 70 points on 26-of-38 shooting over the previous three game, had two points on 1-of-13 shooting.

"I didn't think we were connected with our offensive rebounding offense tonight. We really forced some tough twos at the rim. We only got 20 points off those offensive rebounds. ... But offense was completely secondary tonight. We've won plenty of games shooting 30 percent from three," Richey said. "Defensive identity has got to be where it starts. It can't be a supplement. We've never struggled to get deflections like we are right now.

"This could be a good thing for us. There's no championships given out tonight. This could be a great lesson for us because we have not been where we need to be defensively. Maybe this gets our attention."

Furman next plays at ETSU on Saturday at 4 p.m.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Paladins top ETSU, sit alone atop SoCon

Mike Bothwell scored a career-high 32 points in Furman's
78-66 win over ETSU Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

The spotlight has never been too big for Mike Bothwell. The Furman junior proved that last season with multiple final-second, game-winning shots. He proved it again on Saturday. Playing in a rare nationally televised game at Timmons Arena via ESPNU, Bothwell scored a career-high 32 points to lead Furman to a 78-66 win over East Tennessee State.

The victory leaves Furman as the only Southern Conference team without a league loss this season. The Paladins (10-3, 4-0) have now won 19 straight games at Timmons Arena and have gone 70-11 there since the start of the 2015-16 season. That includes a 40-5 mark in conference games.

"That was a great defensive effort in the last 12 minutes of the game particularly. ... We had zero kills (three consecutive defensive stops) for the first 28 minutes of this game, then we had three in the last 12," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We did a good job on the backboard, which we knew we had to and won that by five (35-30 rebounding advantage).

"Mike Bothwell was just phenomenal all day. Jalen Slawson's energy was incredible. Noah Gurley didn't have the scoring game that we know he's capable of, but he fought to stay in the game mentally and made some great plays in the second half. ... It was a good team win and a great atmosphere at Timmons."

It was ETSU's first game in two weeks following a positive COVID-19 case, and it played without leading scorer Ledarrius Brewer (16.3 points per game). Despite all that, it was a typical back-and-forth battle you'd expect from the two winningest teams in the Southern Conference over the last six seasons. The Buccaneers have 73 league wins since the start of the 2015-16 season, while Saturday was Furman's 70th SoCon win since then.

There were nine ties in the first half and no team led by more than four points until ETSU (6-5, 2-1) popped off an 8-0 run to take a 52-47 lead with 12:17 left. The Paladins only made three 3-pointers in the second half, but each one was huge starting with Clay Mounce's answer to that run 14 seconds later.

Mounce's three started a flurry of scoring, including seven consecutive points from Bothwell that gave Furman a 61-58 lead with 8:47 left. One of Richey's best moves came seconds later when he gave Bothwell a breather. That's when Marcus Foster came in and made the kind of contribution that won't wow anyone who only saw the boxscore, but was a big factor in the game.

Foster had his shot blocked, but went up between two ETSU defenders to grab the rebound and draw the foul. He hit one free throw, but next time down he again grabbed the rebound of his own miss. That led to a Jalen Slawson layup that pushed Furman's lead to 64-60 with 6:52 left.

"We've challenged those (bench) guys a little bit and shown them some things that outside sources have said about them just because we want them to understand to be ready to play and come with an edge about them," Richey said. "They're good players and Marcus Foster is a redshirt freshman who's going to be really good. He's just getting started. He missed a month of (preseason) practice, then had another little injury recently. The neat thing I like about him is that he always answers the bell."

Alex Hunter replaced Foster with 5:23 left and that move also immediately paid off. On a day when Furman big men Noah Gurley and Slawson led the team in assists, Gurley found Hunter for a jumper before Slawson found Hunter for a 3-pointer on the next possession to push the lead to 71-64 with 3:49 left. Bothwell provided the dagger with 1:26 left when his 3-pointer made it a double-digit lead at 76-66.

"The key was just stringing those kills late. We like to get three stops in a row because we feel like we can go on runs off those," Bothwell said. "Not trading baskets just shifted the game late.

"Since we got back from Citadel (Wednesday), Coach Richey was telling us this game wasn't for us. This game was to show everybody watching us on ESPNU for the first time what our brand of basketball is about. This game was for Jordan Lyons, Matt Rafferty, Daniel Fowler and all those guys that came before us. I think we showed a great brand of Furman basketball."

In addition to Bothwell's 32 points, Hunter finished with 15 and Mounce had 14 along with nine rebounds. Slawson had 11 points, three assists and two blocks. Gurley, who entered averaging 15.3 points per game, didn't scratch in the points column but finished with a career-best six assists and two steals.

The Paladins shot 62.5 percent from the floor in the second half, including a 12-of-15 showing on shots inside the arc. Furman outscored ETSU 40-28 in the paint and 18-8 on second-chance points, despite having one fewer offensive rebound (12 to ETSU's 13).

"It felt like the lid was on the basket in the first half. We couldn't make some wide open threes," Richey said. "As soon as we started playing the game at the level we needed to effort-wise and from a defensive connection standpoint, ironically enough, we started making some shots including some big threes down the stretch.

"I'm really proud of Noah. He didn't force it. We all know how good Noah is. This is actually a positive for him to go out and show that decision making. ... They were really digging hard on his dribble. A lot of teams are going to play him like that just to get the ball out. When he gets performances like that passing on film, it's going to make people second-guess that a little bit." 

Furman is scheduled to play at VMI on Wednesday before a rematch with the Bucs next Saturday at ETSU.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Mounce powers Paladins past Citadel

Furman's Clay Mounce had a career-high 29 points in 26 minutes in the
Paladins' 94-88 win at Citadel Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Furman returned to the basketball court Wednesday for the first time in 11 days after having a pair of games postponed by COVID concerns within its opponents' programs. While it was a lengthy break for the Paladins, Clay Mounce picked up right where he left off.

Mounce set a career-high for scoring for the second consecutive game as he poured in 29 points in the Paladins' 94-88 win at previously undefeated Citadel. Mounce, who scored 27 in Furman's win over Mercer on Jan. 2, was 10-of-12 from the floor Wednesday, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers.

"Clay's working really hard and playing like a fifth-year senior," Coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "He's playing with a lot of confidence. ... I'm really proud of him and how aggressive he's playing.

"Offensively, we were really efficient which has kind of been the story for us. Defensively, we're getting better but we're fouling too much and having these critical breakdowns in the last 10 seconds of the shot clock. We've got to continue to work towards complete possessions."

It didn't appear that another career-best night would be possible for Mounce when he headed to the bench with two fouls less than three minutes into the game. Mounce didn't return until seven minutes later, just after Furman (9-3, 3-0 Southern Conference) had snapped a 15-15 tie with an 8-0 run. After Mounce returned, the Paladins went on a 15-4 run to stretch its lead to 39-24 with 6:08 left in the half.

As often seems to be the case when these rivals meet in Charleston, the Bulldogs (8-1, 1-1) never went away. After Joe Anderson's 3-pointer pushed the lead to 15, Furman missed its next four shots - all 3-pointers. That helped Citadel cut the lead to 39-32 before Mounce made back-to-back layups to end the Paladins' drought.

Furman was 13-of-22 on two-pointers and 5-of-17 on threes in the first half to take a 48-41 lead into the break. After halftime, it seemed the Paladins were committed to getting the ball inside. After a turnover and four missed layups to open the second half, Furman made six of its next eight shots. All of the makes were layups except for the sixth - a dunk by Garrett Hien that gave the Paladins a 60-52 lead.

Furman led 65-59 with 11:15 left before the Paladins went on an 11-0 run to take its biggest lead of the game at 17 with 8:38 left. Citadel whittled that lead down to five three different times but could never get closer.

It was 81-76 with 4:56 left when Mounce and Noah Gurley hit back-to-back layups. It was 85-80 with 3:21 left when Mounce hit 1-of-2 free throws, then made a layup before Mike Bothwell got a steal and a layup to make it 90-80 with 2:09 left. It was 90-85 with 22 seconds left before Furman made each of its last four free throws to seal the win.

"We had the margin for most of the game. We kept getting it from seven to 10 to 15, but they wouldn't stop," Richey said. "They still kept coming, so give them a lot of credit but I'm proud of our guys for coming in here against another undefeated team on the road and getting the stops at the end."

Furman shot 57.6 percent from the floor in the second half, including making 16 of its final 22 attempts from inside the arc. That helped the Paladins collect 58 points in the paint, the most against a Division I opponent in at least 10 years (the available boxscores don't go back further). It's the fourth time this season that Furman has put up at least 50 points in the paint. Quite a few of those 58 were the 30 points the Paladins scored off 20 Citadel turnovers. Entering Wednesday, the Bulldogs had the fewest turnovers in the SoCon with 100 over their first eight games.

"We had a great last four minutes again. We sat down and got some key turnovers," Richey said. "Our guys did a good job of protecting the paint and having active hands. ... Deflections are point erasers and that's why we value them so much here."

In addition to Mounce's 29 points in 26 minutes, Gurley had 18 points, while Bothwell finished with 17 after scoring two in the first half. Bothwell also had eight rebounds, five assists, four steals and one turnover. Alex Hunter had 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals, while Jalen Slawson posted nine points, eight rebounds and four assists.

Furman is next scheduled to host ETSU Saturday at Timmons Arena, not Bon Secours Wellness Arena as originally planned. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. and it will be televised on ESPNU.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Mounce, Gurley help Furman hold off Mercer

Noah Gurley had 23 points in Furman's 83-80 win
over Mercer Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

It's not how you start, it's how you finish.

Well, usually.

Furman did a whole lot right for the first 35 minutes of its game against Mercer Saturday afternoon at Timmons Arena. So much so that it withstood being on the wrong end of a 20-7 run to end the game. Clay Mounce and Noah Gurley combined for 50 points as the Paladins held on for an 83-80 victory.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy. I think we thought there for a second that it was going to get easy, but a team that well coached and with that much age isn't just going to quit," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "I thought up until the last five or six minutes, we played pretty well. Noah Gurley was phenomenal and Clay Mounce was incredible.

"Our defensive energy, particularly in that main chunk of the game was excellent. We had 27 deflections - 17 in the first half."

Mounce's layup with 5:48 left pushed Furman's lead to 76-60. That lead was whittled to four before Mounce hit a pair of free throws with 29 seconds to make it 83-77. Furman (8-3, 2-0 Southern Conference) then played its best defensive set in quite some time as the Bears could not get an open look before a bail out foul call with eight seconds left.

Mercer's Felipe Haase made the first free throw and missed the second, but the Bears' James Glisson III got the rebound and laid it in with seven seconds left to cut the lead to 83-80. Less than a second later, Furman's Mike Bothwell missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw. Haase grabbed the rebound, dribbled down and fired up a last-second three-point prayer. It bounced off no good as the Paladins breathed a sigh of relief.

"Overall, I'm happy but not real satisfied with the finish," Richey said. "We just had a lot of details start to unravel. ... It just got a little frantic there. Fortunately, we closed it out. There are times when that stuff can cost you a game. We've got to continue to work for a 40-minute performance and I know we'll get there."

A thoroughly entertaining first half featured quick spurts by both teams. Mercer (7-3, 0-2) reeled off a 10-0 run in 1:51 to take a 16-9 lead and force a Furman timeout. Out of the timeout, the Paladins responded with a 7-0 run in 2:01. The game remained tight throughout the first half until Furman ended it with a 7-0 run over the final 57 seconds to take a 44-34 lead into the break.

The energetic opening half was highlighted by a pair of excellent defensive plays by Bothwell. After Mounce hit a tough, turn-around shot, Bothwell deflected the inbounds pass and got to it along the sideline. Bothwell passed to Colin Kenney, who found Mounce for a layup to push Furman's lead to 26-19 and force a Mercer timeout. Later in the half, Bothwell bounced the inbounds pass off the leg of a Bear. The ball sailed out of bounds giving Bothwell one of his five steals in the first half. Bothwell's previous career high for an entire game was four steals.

"That (end of the first half run) was huge. ... It was just based off defensive activity," Richey said. "We're more than capable. We know we can sit down and guard. It's a matter of us just buying into doing it every single possession of the game.

"Mike's defense has improved a lot. ... I think the defense that Mike Bothwell and Alex Hunter are playing on the perimeter is exceptional. I'm thankful for Mike wanting to be a defensive stopper because he's causing some problems (for opponents) out on the perimeter."

Getting that double-digit lead before half gave the Paladins momentum and it carried over into the second half. Bothwell turned his sixth steal of the game into a dunk to push the lead to 15 at the 17:58 mark. Even though he was knocked to the ground with no foul called, Jalen Slawson converted a dunk with 12:03 left to give Furman its biggest lead at 64-46.

Mounce finished with a career-high 27 points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks with no turnover and one foul. Gurley had 23 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals, while Bothwell finished with 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and the six steals. Furman had 14 steals as a team, it's most since getting 14 in a win against UNC Asheville three years ago.

"I definitely feel like this was my most complete game of the season. It's conference play, so it's a different type of season now," said Gurley, who had two fouls Saturday after fouling out at Chattanooga Wednesday. "Staying out of foul trouble was a big deal for me. That can throw my flow off sometimes. Coach just told me to play disciplined defense the whole game and that's what I tried to do."

Richey added, "I've noticed a difference since Noah got back from Christmas. My strength coach said he had three extra sessions last week. He was working on his balance, ankle mobility and his base. I got a text last night that he was in the gym at nine o'clock getting shots up."

With Wednesday's scheduled game at Western Carolina postponed by COVID issues with the Catamounts, Furman will next play at home next Saturday against VMI.

"Our motto is 'whenever, wherever.' This is a crazy year," Gurley said. "We can let things we can't control affect us. So we're going to work this week and the coaches are going to come up with a good plan to make sure we're getting better."