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.

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