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.

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