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."

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