Monday, December 6, 2021

Anderson keys stunning Furman comeback

Joe Anderson had five steals in 17 minutes off the bench to key Furman's
comeback win over the College of Charleston. Photo courtesy of Furman

Mike Bothwell hit a last-second shot to force overtime, again.

Jalen Slawson was a warrior all over the court, again.

Alex Hunter made a shot to just keep Furman above water, again and again and again.

But the Paladin who keyed an unbelievable comeback win over College of Charleston Friday night finished with just two points off the bench in his first game since Furman topped Louisville on Nov. 12. Joe Anderson made five steals and the Paladins outscored the Cougars by 18 points during his 17 minutes on the court as Furman rallied for a 91-88 overtime win.

"In my opinion, we've lost a lot of focus in college sports of what this is about. This is about teaching people how to respond in life. It's not instant gratification. It's not that you've got to wait to feel good to do good. In this life, you've got to do good to feel good," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "What Joe's been able to do in the past couple of weeks is have a direct shift in his attitude. He started coming in this building every day and was deliberate in how he was getting better. He hasn't missed a day of extra work. When I say 'extra work,' I'm talking about in the mornings, with a position coach or on his own. I go down there, he's down there.

"Instead of worrying about his circumstance, he lives on vision. It's one of 'when I get my opportunity, I will be ready. I don't feel good right now not playing, but I'm going to do the right thing.' ... We knew we had to make a personnel adjustment (in the second half) and we were confident he was ready. He'd earned this.

"He played desperate. He basically said, 'I'm going to let all 3,000 people in here see that I've got my opportunity and I'm not letting go of it.' ... It's a beautiful moment for him. It's one he will never forget for the rest of his life ... because he changed the game tonight. I could go on and on about what he's done in the dark. And what you do in the dark will always come out in the light."

Furman (6-2) jumped out to a 14-7 lead four minutes into the game after a 3-pointer by Hunter. It was all Charleston (5-3) for about the next 25 minutes of game time though. The Cougars led by as many as 11 in the first half before Hunter drained a three with 10 seconds left to cut the deficit to 42-34 at the half.

In the second half, Charleston pushed its lead to 15 three different times. The last time came on a 3-pointer by Reyne Smith with 12:33 left that made it 61-46. After a Furman turnover, Anderson returned to the court for the first time in 21 days. Twenty seconds later he made a steal that led to a Garrett Hien layup. Thirty seconds later another Anderson steal led to a Slawson layup. The Paladins got the lead down to single digits on a Hunter jumper off a steal by Conley Garrison.

The Paladins could not get any closer over the next few minutes and trailed 72-62 with 5:09 left when Hunter hit a jumper. Following another Anderson steal, Hunter made another jumper to cut the lead to 72-66 with 4:50 left.

"I'm so proud of Joe Anderson. He's been working so hard. ... With the depth of our team, he just hasn't had a crack at playing as much," Bothwell said. "In our program, everyone has to wait their turn but be ready if it gets called one night. Joe's performance tonight is the epitome of our program."

Anderson made his only made shot count on a turnaround jumper in the paint to get Charleston's lead down to six again with 1:50 left. The Cougars led 78-72 when Hunter buried a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left off an assist from Anderson. Furman pressed Charleston and the inbounds pass was intercepted by Anderson. He found Hunter for another three that bounced off no good. Charleston's Dimitrius Underwood grabbed the rebound but tumbled to the ground with it and was called for traveling with 10 seconds left.

After hitting last-second layups to force overtime and then double overtime in Furman's win at High Point on Tuesday, Bothwell got the ball near the top of the key. He twisted, turned and went under his defender to fire up a 3-pointer that banked in with one second left to tie the game and send Timmons Arena into a frenzy.

"When I pivoted, I kind of got open even though I was off balance. I honestly shot it trying to go chase the rebound and kick it out real quick. ... It just happened to hit the backboard and go in," Bothwell said. "These past two games, it's just about never giving up. In basketball or off the court, if you just have the attitude that you'll never quit, you'll be shocked by what can happen.

"This is going to be one of my favorite wins because of just how hard we played and how much we came together."

Slawson scored Furman's first five points in overtime and then hit a jumper to give the Paladins an 87-84 lead with 47 seconds left in overtime. After Smith nailed his sixth 3-pointer with 14 seconds left to cut Furman's lead to 89-88, Hunter hit a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left. Everyone held their breath as Charleston's Fah'Mir Ali launched a 3-pointer as time expired, then exhaled as it bounced away no good and the Paladins celebrated their third overtime win this season.

"I just couldn't be more proud of our group to be as relentless as we were in a game where we just weren't very sharp offensively," Richey said. "We were at about a 36 percent offensive efficiency rating of quality of possession for most of the game, but we finished the game at 50 which is the mark for us. That's just shows how over the last 14 minutes of the game and overtime, the change we were able to create based on playing for one another.

"That's what our program is built on - being great teammates, being willing to move the ball and fly around on defense. We've got to make sure we do that consistently. When we do, this group will have a chance to be special."

Slawson, still playing with a very swollen knee from a scary collision and spill at USC Upstate on Nov. 27, finished with a career-high 33 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. The Summerville native made 13-of-18 free throws after drawing 13 fouls in the game. He earned Southern Conference Player of the Week honors on Monday.

Hunter finished with 25 points, 19 of which came after halftime. Bothwell scored 19.

Smith had 24 points for Charleston, while Underwood scored 15. The Cougars' leading scorer this season, John Meeks, had 14 points. All of those came in the first nine minutes of the game and he fouled out with 1:27 left in the second half. He was one of three Charleston players who fouled out as Furman went 27-of-39 from the foul line.

"Honestly, (drawing fouls) wasn't something I was thinking about. Our coaches are wizards and some of the smartest people I know, so I'm sure they could've been thinking about," Slawson said. "We recognized early on that (Meeks) had half of their points, so we buckled down and tried to take him out of the equation.

"The amount of space that playing around four guards lets me have is a really nice luxury. I love passing, so if you want to double (team) me, I'm completely fine with that. But you have to realize that you're leaving a really elite shooter somewhere on the perimeter wide open. My 33 (points) were because of those guys."

Furman faces another mid-major test on Tuesday when it plays at Winthrop at 7 p.m.

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