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.

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