Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Foster boosts Paladins past Upstate

Making his first collegiate start, Marcus Foster had 15 points and 10 rebounds in
Furman's 87-77 win at USC Upstate on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

SPARTANBURG - After a pair of slow starts and a woeful defensive showing last time out in a home loss to Navy, the Furman men's basketball team had a change in the starting lineup at USC Upstate on Saturday. Marcus Foster made his first collegiate start and the sophomore made the most of it.

Foster had career-highs in points (15) and rebounds (10), and Alex Hunter also had a career-high scoring output with 24 points as the Paladins downed the Spartans, 87-77.

"I guess that's bad coaching not (previously) starting a kid who's going to come out and give you a double-double. I couldn't be more proud of him," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "He's just been getting better by the day.

"It really wasn't a decision where we wanted to play him more than G (Garrett Hien). The problem was that one of my biggest regrets in the Navy game was only playing Marcus 12 minutes. This change made it a cleaner rotation. ... It gave us a chance to have a little more harmony in our substitutions, which I think we saw in the first half."

The lineup switch seemed to spark a much-needed fast start for Furman. In each of the previous two games, it took the Paladins over 10 game minutes to reach 15 points. On Saturday, it took less than four as Foster made a great, hustling play to collect a loose ball and fired to Hunter for a 3-pointer that gave Furman a 15-4 lead at the 16:08 mark. That was part of a 20-4 run over the game's opening 5:43.

After Upstate (3-3) cut the lead to 29-23 with 9:35 left in the half, Furman (4-2) responded with a 16-4 run capped by Jalen Slawson's 3-pointer with 3:26. The Paladins took their biggest lead of the first half into halftime after Slawson hit a turnaround jumper as time expired to push the advantage to 52-32 at the break.

Hunter had 20 points and went 6-of-7 from beyond the arc in the opening half, while Slawson scored 16 of his 18 points by halftime.

"I was super excited about (making his first start) and I just wanted to come out with a ton of energy," Foster said. "This was also the first game my parents attended this season, so I was just glad to play well today.

"With Alex shooting the ball well and Slaw playing like he plays, I really didn't have to do much except for my role. It was a good team effort."

Everything was still rolling along smoothly for Furman in the second half until the 9:38 mark with disaster struck. Slawson got the ball near the top of the key and found a path to the basket. As he took off for a dunk, the Spartans' Quentin Hodge defended and the two collided. While Slawson drew the blocking foul, he crumpled to the ground holding his knee.

After a few minutes down, Slawson was able to walk off slowly under his own power but never returned. Hien came on an hit both free throws to give Furman its biggest lead of the day at 25.

While the big lead always felt safe, life without Slawson wasn't pretty as Furman scored just nine points the rest of the way. The Paladins were outscored 18-4 over the final 6:43.

"It's always tough to see a player go down, especially a Jalen Slawson. He's our anchor, I'd say," Foster said. "I think it slowed us down a little bit. ... I'm glad we were still able to win by double digits though.."

In addition to his 18 points, Slawson also had four rebounds, three assists and three steals. He had a plus-minus of plus 27. Mike Bothwell also reached double figures with 11. While Hien struggled shooting 1-for-8 from the floor, he did draw five fouls, had six points and a game-high five assists off the bench.

While Richey wasn't thrilled by the ending, he said he's not going to complain about any 10-point road win.

"When you get it to 25, you always feel like you should keep at 25 or push it to 30. But the injury to Jalen definitely had an impact. Some of it was emotionally, but some of it was rotationally," Richey said. "I thought we subbed as clean as we have all year in the first half. When he got hurt, we should've just inserted James (Repass) in for his minutes. Instead, we decided to ride those guys and we shouldn't have. It was the wrong play. ... We didn't rest those guys enough down the stretch.

"But overall, I'm very pleased with how we played for 32 minutes tonight."

The good news received after the game that there was evidently no ligament damage suffered by Slawson. The injury appeared to be more of a quad strain then. As of Tuesday afternoon, Slawson's status for a Tuesday night's game at High Point is a game-time decision.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Hot-shooting Navy sinks Paladins

Jalen Slawson had 20 points in Furman's 77-66 loss
to Navy Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Coming into its game at Furman Sunday, the Navy men's basketball team was shooting 42.5 percent for the season. After hitting 58.6 percent of its shots in the opening half against the Paladins, there had to be a thought that the Midshipmen couldn't possibly do that again in the second half.

And they didn't, sort of. Instead, they shot 63 percent and lay-upped Furman to death in pulling away for a 77-66 win. Navy (3-2) ended up shooting 60.7 percent for the game. That's the highest shooting percentage by a Furman opponent since Duke made 60.9 percent of its shots in the Blue Devils' 92-63 win on Nov. 20, 2017.

Navy became just the second non-conference visitor to leave with Furman with a victory in Bob Richey's tenure as head coach of the Paladins. The other was Winthrop, which defeated the Paladins 93-74, nine days after that Duke loss in 2017.

"When you go into a game against a very good opponent that's well-coached and well-disciplined and you're not able to match that, then you're going to put yourself in a situation where you be disappointed," Richey said. "Unfortunately, that was the case tonight. We had moments and we kept pushing the door a little bit, but were just chasing the game from the jump.

"We had 21 assists and 10 turnovers ... and gave ourselves a chance. To give up 63 percent from the floor in the second half, you're not going to beat good teams doing that. ... We didn't defend well enough to earn the right to win the game."

Furman led for just a total of 1:34 as the Paladins got off to a slow start for the second consecutive game. Furman didn't reach double digits until a Jalen Slawson layup cut Navy's lead to 19-10 with 11:20 left in the first half. That was one of eight layups and dunks the Paladins made out of 15 attempts. Meanwhile, Navy made 11-of-13 of those and added 11 other made shots in the paint.

The Paladins got the deficit down to seven at the half and cut it to four on Garrett Hien's jumper with 11:19 left. But over the final 11 minutes, the Midshipmen made 12-of-14 field goals. The only two misses were blocked shots by Slawson. Nine of those 12 made shots were eight layups and a dunk.

"(Low post defense) has been an issue, so we've got to spend some time figuring that out," Richey said. "The biggest thing for us is to keep it out of there and man, Navy was persistent on getting it in there tonight."

Furman made just 26-of-59 field goals (44.1 percent) and managed to grab only four offensive rebounds as it lost the rebounding battle for the third consecutive game, 34-25.

Slawson finished with 20 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four blocks to lead the Paladins (3-2). Alex Hunter had 11 points, seven assists and three steals, while Alex Williams came off the bench to scored 10 points also for Furman. Leading scorer Mike Bothwell had seven points on 3-of-12 shooting. Bothwell was 0-for-5 on threes and went 1-of-4 at the foul line.

"We're not going to overreact by a loss to a team that won the Patriot League last year. But we do see that we've got some consistency issues to address," Richey said. "If you want to be a championship-level ball club, you can't have inconsistencies in effort and discipline. There must have been 15 plays tonight that were just a lack of discipline."

Furman will look to right the ship Saturday at USC Upstate. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Paladins overcome slow start to down Radford

Jalen Slawson dunks during Furman's 81-64 win over Radford
Friday at Timmons Arena. Photo courtesy of Furman

Coming off a heartbreaking overtime loss in a classic at Belmont, Furman returned home Friday and got off to an 0-for-8 start from the floor against Radford. Jalen Slawson was the first starter to score on a layup with 13:04 left in the first half. Later in the half, the Paladins had a three-minute stretch in which they went 0-for-6 on field goals.

But a strong defensive effort, a big contribution from what was a three-man bench Friday, and outstanding free throw shooting helped overcome those early woes. Furman ended up shooting 48.1 percent (26-of-54) from the floor in an 81-64 win.

"I think this team is more mature this year. We've really put an emphasis on guarding the ball, being long and athletic," Slawson said. "We went into that first media timeout down 3-0 and that's not common for us. All six halves this year we've started well. ... Marcus (Foster) and Alex (Williams) came off the bench and gave us a huge boost."

Slawson led a balanced Furman attack with 16 points,10 rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots. He also finished with a Furman version of a triple-double.

"He had 16 (points), 10 (rebounds) and 12 deflections, which is incredible in a game like that. And Conley (Garrison) had eight (deflections). It's been an area of emphasis for us all offseason. We've got to get back to our hand activity and sitting down defensively," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Last year, we had many games with 20-22 deflections and those two guys get 20 combined tonight.

"That's what we want and we've got to continue to tighten some bolts on that end of the floor."

While the Paladins (3-1) missed their first eight shots, they hung around as the Highlanders made just one of their first nine field goals. When Furman finally got on the board after a Slawson rejection led to a Foster layup at the 15:25 mark, Radford only led 3-2.

One minute later, Williams' first collegiate bucket was a 3-pointer off a feed from Foster. On the Paladins next possession, Williams made it back-to-back threes off an assist from fellow freshman reserve James Repass. A Repass rebound led to Slawson's layup that gave Furman a 10-8 lead. Repass pulled down three rebounds during the three-minute flurry.

"Alex is a big time three-point threat with size. He's a confident player. ... We were in here earlier today and I told him, 'Just relax when you go out there. Try to not throw the first one up. Let's see if we can get a drive, an offensive rebound, get fouled and get to the free throw line.' He goes, 'Coach, you know what? You're right. I just need to settle in a little bit.' And man, they came right out and swung that thing to the corner and he fired it up there and hit it," Richey said with a laugh. "That's just who he is. He's a big shot maker. We've seen it all summer and fall. He did a lot of good things out there tonight."

Richey added that the hardest challenge this year is finding minutes for everyone to play.

"Joe Anderson, Jaylon Pugh, Ben Beeker (none of whom played Friday) - all those guys can help us," Richey said. "What it comes down to is you've only got so many guys you can put in the game rotationally and give quality minutes to a point where they're going to develop.

"We're going to have us a good bench as we continue to develop. Seventeen points from the bench tonight and historically that's a good night for us."

In the second half, Williams had a sequence that highlighted Furman's defensive effort. It started with him lunging out of bounds and bouncing a loose ball off a Radford player to keep possession with the Paladins. After Radford's Chyree Walker stole a pass, he appeared to be headed for a dunk before Williams soared in and made enough of a distraction to force a miss. The Highlanders (1-3) got the offensive rebound and got it back to Walker, who bulled his way to the basket but Williams drew a charge.

Earlier in the half, Garrison got a steal off of one of those deflections. Garrison, who's 13-of-26 on three-pointers this season, made the scoop-and-score with a layup off the strip. The second two-pointer for him this season pushed Furman's lead to 43-35.

"I think because of my build, I get that (three-point specialist) stereotype, but I just go out and play hard," Garrison said. "I pride myself on getting some 50/50 balls like that. ... I love doing that for a team because in that moment in can change the momentum of a game.

"We could've been down 12-0 if we weren't guarding tonight, and that's a whole different ballgame."

Radford cut the Paladins lead down to four at 54-50 with 10:08 left, but Slawson's putback started a 19-6 Furman run. A Garrison three-pointer capped the run, which gave Furman a commanding 73-56 lead with 3:29 left.

Mike Bothwell had 15 points, six assists and drew seven fouls for Furman, which went 20-for-22 from the foul line. Garrison finished with 14 points and four steals, while Garrett Hien had 11 points and five assists. Foster matched his career-high with nine points and had two steals.

"We were just in a tractor pull for a little bit, but fortunately our defense held up and I thought we continued to play hard," Richey said. "To go almost six minutes without scoring to start the game and still with 81 points, I'm definitely proud of those guys.

"This group is just learning how to respond. ... They didn't panic or get tight. They had great team talks in the timeouts."

Furman returns to action Sunday when it hosts Navy at 3 p.m. The Midshipmen (2-2) opened the season with a victory at Virginia. Navy's other win this season came Saturday at Timmons Arena. The Midshipmen jumped out to a 27-8 halftime lead and defeated Radford 47-33. Navy's two losses this season were to Virginia Tech and Louisville.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Mistakes cost Furman in classic at Belmont

Mike Bothwell had 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals
in Furman's 95-89 overtime loss at Belmont. Photo courtesy of Furman

November basketball isn't supposed to be this exhilarating and ultimately, this exhausting. It may have been 10 days before Thanksgiving Monday night, but it sure felt like March in Nashville. Furman's trip to Belmont didn't need the qualifier of a "mid-major" showdown. It was quite simply a classic that will be hard to top on any level of college basketball the rest of the season.

On the Furman Radio Network postgame show, Paladins coach Bob Richey said it felt like he'd never been a part of five better games. It was so thrilling, it wasn't really spoiled by 36 combined turnovers. Those had plenty to do with defense and the overall high level of intensity. Ultimately though, mistakes proved costly for the Paladins as Belmont rallied for a 95-89 overtime win.

"Our group is hurting right now. They came in expecting to win," Richey said on the postgame show. "We knew (Belmont) was the No. 2 mid-major team in the country behind Gonzaga and had these five super seniors back. We knew it was going to be a hard challenge, but our group has an expectation to compete. I thought we did that, but we made too many critical mistakes."

Furman (2-1) finished with 20 turnovers, marking just the fourth time in the past five seasons it's committed that many. The Paladins were also whistled for 18 fouls, while Belmont had 11. The Bruins (2-1) made exactly 5-of-6 free throws in the first half, in the second half and in overtime, while Furman made 5-of-6 for the entire game. Four of those free throws for the Paladins took place in the first six minutes of the second half and the last two came late in regulation when the Bruins "had to foul."

"If you turn it over on one end and foul a little too much on the other end, then you're letting a team that good basically get some easy ones," Richey said. "When we sat down in the half court and made them run their offense, I thought we did a pretty good job. They've just got players and shooters everywhere.

"We had 19 assists, which is great, but 20 turnovers is really inexcusable on our part."

Jalen Slawson had 14 points and eight rebounds for Furman, but had a tough night handling the ball with his back to the basket near the top of the key. Belmont's pesky guards tipped the ball out of Slawson's hands from behind a few times. Seemingly every time Slawson's pocked got picked though, he responded by flying down the court and pinning a Belmont layup against the backboard in spectacular fashion. He finished with a career-high five blocked shots.

By overtime, the Bruins had learned that lesson. Slawson's last turnover came on steal by fifth-year senior Grayson Murphy with 1:09 left and Belmont leading 89-86. Rather than a run out to the basket, the Bruins ran clock. Murphy's layup with 46 seconds pushed Belmont's lead to five, essentially sealing the win.

At times, Monday's game was eerily similar to Furman's overtime win at Louisville last Friday. At Louisville, the Paladins jumped out to a 12-point lead in the first half, but trailed by four at the half. At Belmont, Furman led by as many as eight in the first half and was up 32-25 with 6:36 left. The Paladins went 0-for-6 from the floor with five turnovers the rest of the half to trail 36-32 at the break.

After each were held to two points in the first half, Furman's Mike Bothwell and Belmont's Luke Smith took over after halftime. The Paladins trailed 44-39 with 15:30 left with Bothwell and Slawson powered a 12-0 run that was capped by a Conley Garrison three-pointer.

The Bruins came back to tie the game at 62-62 before Furman had a 7-0 run capped by a Bothwell 3-pointer that made it 69-62 with five minutes left. When Alex Hunter drained a 3-pointer with 2:07 left, the Paladins led 76-70 and there was a sense that that might do it. But Belmont got a second-chance 3-pointer and then a second-chance layup to cut the lead to 76-75 with 15 seconds left.

Bothwell was fouled and made both free throws to push the lead to three with 13 seconds left. Smith launched a 3-pointer with 7.6 seconds left that missed, but Bothwell grazed him and was called for a foul. Smith sank all three free throws to tie the game. Bothwell drove to the basket for a layup but was blocked from behind on a fantastic play by Murphy with 1.3 seconds left. Bothwell's contested shot as time expired in regulation nicked the side of the backboard to fall away no good.

"There's the argument, do you foul there (up by three) or not. We wanted it to get seven (seconds) or below we would foul," Richey said. "Unfortunately, we were a little late on the (guarding) assignment and made the critical mistake of fouling the shooter.

"Give them credit. They made some big plays. Luke makes all three of those free throws, which is not easy to do. I thought they carried that momentum into OT."

Much like Furman did at Louisville, Belmont quickly took the lead in overtime and never relinquished it. After the Bruins' 6-foot-11, 245-pound fifth-year senior Nick Muszynski controlled the overtime tip, Smith nailed a 3-pointer 11 seconds into the extra five minutes.

Smith, a sixth-year senior, had 14 of his team-high 20 points in the final 1:40 of regulation and overtime. He was one of six Bruins in double figures. Murphy and Muszynski each scored 17 points. Murphy also had seven steals and five assists, while Muszynski also had 12 rebounds - including seven offensive - and three blocks.

Bothwell scored a game-high 23 points and had seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block. Hunter had 16 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Garrison connected on 5-of-11 3-pointers to finish with 15 points, and had five rebounds, four assists and three steals. In a tough matchup with Muszynski, Furman sophomore Garrett Hien scored 10 points but did not register a rebound. Hien was coming off an 18-point, eight-rebound night at Louisville.

"This loss will hurt, but it will develop us. It won't define us," Richey said. "In 10 years when we're all talking about this road trip, we're going to talk about beating Louisville." 

Furman returns to action Friday when it hosts Radford at 7 p.m. Radford will turn around and play Navy on Saturday at Timmons Arena, and then the Paladins will host Navy on Sunday at 3 p.m.

"I know fans are disappointed, but please come out Friday night," Richey said. "This was a high-level environment at Belmont and we can replicate it. We can bring this kind of atmosphere to Timmons Arena."

Monday, November 15, 2021

Defense lifted Paladins over Louisville

Mike Bothwell scored 30 points in Furman's 80-72 overtime
win at Louisville Friday. Photo courtesy of Furman

After the Furman men's basketball team posted school records for 3-pointers (22) and assists (34) in its 2021-22 season opener on Tuesday, some might have thought it would take a similar performance to knock off Louisville Friday night.

It did not. Quite simply, the better team won.

Furman overcame a stretch of more than nine-and-a-half game minutes with just one field goal. The Paladins overcame a significant height advantage for the Cardinals, outrebounding Louisville 43-41. And Furman overcame having four starters with four fouls apiece with more than five minutes left in regulation. The Paladins overcame all of that to gut out an 80-72 overtime win.

The victory was Furman's first over an Atlantic Coast Conference foe since a 79-74 overtime win at Florida State on Dec. 4, 2000. It also marked Louisville's first home loss in November since 1972 - a stretch of 59 games.

The Paladins withstood a second half in which they made 5-of-12 shots from three and only 3-of-12 field goals inside the arc with a defensive effort that saw Louisville (1-1) shoot even worse. After shooting 51.6 percent (16-of-31) in the first half, the Cardinals made just 7-of-28 field goals (25 percent) in the second half and only 2-of-10 (20 percent) in overtime.

Every time Louisville had a big play to get the home crowd into it, Furman had an answer. After the Cardinals' Jae'Lyn Withers slammed home an alley oop from Mason Faulkner with 12:37 left in the first half, Alex Hunter drained a 3-pointer 14 seconds later. That pushed Furman's lead to 16-8 and that lead grew to as large as 12 at 24-12 midway through the first half.

That lead faded down the rest of the first half and the Paladins trailed by as many as six points with 17:04 left to play. Joe Anderson's layup at the 2:28 point of the first half tied the game 35-35. Furman had only one other made field goal until the 12:55 mark of the second half, but that Mike Bothwell 3-pointer gave Furman a 47-42 lead. That's how good the Paladins' defense was during that stretch.

After Withers threw down another electrifying dunk that gave Louisville a 49-47 lead with 10:56 left, Bothwell drained a 3-pointer 14 seconds later. Bothwell converted a three-point play 21 seconds later to push Furman's lead to four.

That lead also disappeared and the Paladins trailed 67-62 with 2:43 left, but Louisville was shut out for the rest of regulation. Garrett Hien's three-point play with 1:04 left tied the game at 67-67. Hien's layup on the opening possession of overtime put Furman ahead for good. Hien then provided the dagger on a turnaround fadeaway jumper with 1:41 left that extended the lead to 76-69.

Bothwell finished with 30 points including a career-high 13-of-15 performance at the foul line. After attempting only six free throws in the 118-point performance in the season opener, the Paladins were 20-of-26 free throws at Louisville. Hien finished with a career-high 18 points and eight rebounds, while Hunter had 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists. He also surpassed the 1,000-point career scoring mark.

Jalen Slawson made only one shot - a 3-pointer on the opening possession of the game, but was still a key force with nine rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals. Bothwell, Slawson and Hien each had four fouls with plenty of time left in regulation but no one fouled out.

Faulker, a former standout guard and trash-talker for Western Carolina, fell to 0-5 in his career against Furman.

Bothwell earns national, SoCon honors

Bothwell was named the Southern Conference Player of the Week and also the Lou Henson National Player of the Week by CollegeInsider.com. In addition to his 30-point performance at Louisville, Bothwell scored 22 in the opener last Tuesday.

Paladins face another test Monday

There wasn't a lot of time to celebrate a victory over an ACC team for Furman as the road trip continues at Belmont Monday night. The Bruins, who are ranked No. 2 in the College Insider Mid-Major preseason poll, might be an even stiffer test than a Louisville team that was without its suspended head coach.

Belmont (1-1) rebounded from a season-opening 92-80 loss at Ohio by thumping Evansville, 81-43, Saturday. The Bruins have 97 percent of their offensive production and minutes returning from last season's team that went 26-4 and tied Gonzaga for the most regular season wins in the country. Belmont won its 12th regular season conference title over the last 16 seasons, a stretch in which it made nine trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Hodges back to lead Furman women in 2021-22

Furman's Tierra Hodges averaged 16.2 points and 10.4
rebounds per game last season. Photo courtesy of Furman

The Furman women's basketball team tips off the 2021-22 season Friday by hosting Presbyterian at 7 p.m. Last year at this time, the Paladins were still six days away from announcing their non-conference schedule for 2020-21 season.

After schedule uncertainties and Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting last year, Furman coach Jackie Carson was excited to have a more normal offseason this year. Carson was even more excited by the news that Tierra Hodges would be returning for her final year of eligibility.

"She was ready to turn pro. We had talked about it. At the end of the season, she said 'Coach, I want to come back and help us win the championship. I know we can do it.' That speaks volumes to the type of person and player she is," Carson said. "You know it's a special player when last year's freshmen class were the ones urging her to come back, including players that play her position. Her leadership has been tremendous."

Hodges made 18 starts as a freshman back in the 2016-17 season before missing all of the following year with a knee injury. She enters Friday's opener with 79 starts in a career in which she's basically done everything for the Paladins.

Last season, Hodges led the SoCon in rebounding (10.4 per game), ranked third in the league in scoring (16.2), third in field goal percentage (46.4), third in free throw percentage (79.8) and sixth in three-point percentage (35.4). She also led the league in minutes played (36.6 per game), had a team-high 32 steals and posted 15 double-doubles in just 25 games.

All this production led to Hodges earning first team All-SoCon accolades for the second consecutive season. She's also made the SoCon's Academic Honor Roll each of the past three seasons. Perhaps her most noteworthy accomplishment last season was her outside shooting ability. Hodges connected on 28-of-79 threes last season. The stunning part of that is the first one she attempted last year was the first attempt of her collegiate career.

"She's transformed her game. That COVID summer where everything kind of shut down actually served her perfectly," Carson said. "All she did was shoot threes, expand her game and work on her form in her driveway at home. She has a weight room at home too and put in work there. I think that gave her a tremendous advantage last year.

"Now people know what she's capable of and we have some weapons around her. People can't key in on just her, so it's going to be a fun year for her."

Hodges enters this season ranked 21st in school history in scoring (1,122 points) and fifth in rebounding (914).

Among those surrounding weapons are sophomores Sydney James and Tate Walters, who each made the SoCon All-Freshman team last season. James earned SoCon Freshman of the Year honors after averaging 9.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game coming off the bench last season. Walters averaged 9.3 points per game and had a team-high 90 assists as she tied for the SoCon lead at 4.3 per game.

In addition to Hodges and Walters, senior Greyson Boone is another returning starter. The former Wade Hampton High standout made 33.7 percent of her 3-pointers last season. Also returning is sophomore Paraskevi Koilia, who was likely well on her way to also making the All-Freshman team before a leg injury ended her season 11 games into it. Koilia was the starting point guard for each of those games and still finished second on the team with 52 assists.

After the pandemic protocols of last season, Carson said this is kind of like Freshman 2.0 for the eight freshmen that were on last season's squad.

"We have eight sophomores and five freshman. It's really like 13 kids that have no idea what it's like to go from eight hours (of basketball) a week to 20 a week, to going to class in person and being around their classmates at the university," Carson said. "They didn't even eat in the dining hall last year. They were almost secluded. All of that plays an important part in the mental health of being a college student-athlete.

"That sophomore group has adjusted well to being great leaders on the court and understanding what we're doing. They're bringing those five freshmen along great."

The Paladins are coming off a year in which they went 11-14, but were 9-1 at Timmons Arena. After a 6-8 mark and fifth-place finish in the Southern Conference last season, Furman is predicted to finish fourth (coaches) and fifth (media) in the SoCon this season.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Paladins roll to record-breaking rout in opener

Alex Hunter had 22 points, four assists and no turnovers in Furman's 118-66
 win over North Greenville Tuesday night. Photo courtesy of Furman

For the first time in two college basketball seasons, Timmons Arena felt like Timmons Arena again Tuesday night. After playing in front of limited crowds in the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 limitations, Furman opened the 2021-22 season in front of 1,611 fans Tuesday.

The Paladins rewarded their returning fans on the game's opening possession. The newest Paladin, Conley Garrison, threw an alley oop to Jalen Slawson for a dunk that sent the crowd into a frenzy. The atmosphere stayed that way for much of the night as Furman rolled to a record-breaking 118-66 win over North Greenville.

"We wanted to get the crowd involved and we executed that play very well. It was kind of like a 'we're back' statement," said Furman guard Mike Bothwell. "We're better when our home crowd is here and we had a lot of students that showed up for us. It was great to see for a Tuesday night." 

With 1:22 left in the game, the Paladins broke two school single-game records on the same play. Walk-on Rett Lister, son of North Greenville head coach and Furman alum Chad Lister, found Jaylon Pugh, who knocked down a 3-pointer. That was the Paladins' record 22nd 3-pointer on their record 34th assist. Furman had 21 made threes in a game three times, most recently on Dec. 21, 2020 in a 118-52 win over S.C. State on Dec. 21, 2020. That same game had the previous record of 33 assists.

The Paladins shot 56.1 percent (46-of-82) from the floor, including 50 percent (22-of-44) on threes. The 46 made field goals were Furman's most in a game since making 49-of-70 shots in a 126-33 win over Virginia Intermont on Dec. 29, 2004.

"It was a fun, fun way to start the year. ... We had 22 triples, but even more impressive were the 34 assists. It just shows the commitment to playing for one another and making sure we've got good ball movement," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "The tempo tonight, you could see we're trying to play a little bit faster this year. ... We've been really working in the offseason just to get the ball out and go."

After that electric start to the game, the Paladins raced to a 25-8 lead less than five-and-a-half minutes in. When 6-foot-9 center Garrett Hien drilled a 3-pointer with 11:39 left in the first half, Furman led 31-10 and all five starters had made a three. When Alex Hunter hit a three off a pass from Hien two minutes and four seconds later, Furman led 36-15 and eight different Paladins had combined for 10 assists.

All five starters and two reserves made at least two 3-pointers, led by Hunter who hit 6-of-9. Every starter also had at least three assists, while a total of six different Paladins had at least four. Leading the way there was Garrison with six.

"The game right now is dribble, pass and shoot. Get as much out there as you can, open up the floor and play in space," Richey said. "It's how we always like to play. The biggest challenge in getting the group to buy into it.

"There's nothing harder to guard than great ball movement and great cutting. When you get five guys to really buy into that and play for one another, usually you're going to get some pretty good looks. I thought for the most part, we got great looks tonight."

Hunter and Bothwell led Furman with 22 points apiece and each also had four assists. Bothwell made three steals and Hunter had no turnovers. Slawson flourished in his first game since moving from the No. 5 to No. 4 spot on the floor. He had 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Garrison, a grad transfer from Drury University, had 14 points, six assists and five rebounds in his Paladin debut. True freshman JP Pegues was Furman's other double figure scorer with 10 points, and he also had five assists and four rebounds in 19:18 off the bench. Reserve Marcus Foster had seven points, seven rebounds and two steals. He also drew three fouls in his 18:43 of court time.

The night could not have been scripted more perfectly for Hunter, who was a senior last season but decided to return this year with the extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic.

"I've been happy with that decision since I got back here in the summer," Hunter said. "This team is special. The chemistry we got early on - by July, felt like we'd already been through a lot. ... It's just a blessing to be back. Tonight was just a sample size of what it means to be at Furman."

Former Powdersville High standout Dray Burton led North Greenville with 19 points.

The competition level will step up quite a bit on Friday as Furman heads to Louisville for a 7 p.m. tip-off.