Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Furman gets back to defense, topples App State

Mike Bothwell scored 16 points in Furman's 73-65 win over
Appalachian State Friday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Mike Bothwell made more than 50 percent of his shots for the first time since Nov. 19 Friday. Meanwhile, Furman held an opponent under 50 percent shooting for the second time since Nov. 19. Bothwell and Jalen Slawson scored 16 points apiece and the Paladins limited Appalachian State to a 39.7 percent shooting night to secure a 73-65 win before a raucous crowd of 1,978 at Timmons Arena.

After shooting 32.8 percent from the floor over the previous five games, Bothwell was 6-for-9, including 3-of-6 from three, on Friday. He also became the 49th Paladin to score 1,000 career points. Earlier this season, Alex Hunter became the 48th to join that club.

If you don't think Bothwell's shooting night had anything to with the Furman (7-3) getting back to the level of defense it expects to play, Bothwell says think again.

"I just took the message Coach (Bob) Richey put on our team of focusing on the defensive end. When you have a singular focus and are locked in on that, it kind of just lets you be free everywhere else," Bothwell said. "We've been disappointed in our defense lately especially on Tuesday night (in a loss at Winthrop). When you put your focus on stops, it energizes you and everything else just seems to come to you.

"A big part of the game was making them take tough, contested shots. We tried to bait them into pull-up jumpers or pull-up threes, especially in the second half (when App State shot 34.4 percent)."

Furman's defense this season has seemingly been a home run or a strikeout. Half of it's opponents have shot at least 50 percent (Navy 60.7, Winthrop 56.1, USC Upstate 50.8, College of Charleston 50.8 and Belmont 50.0). The other half haven't shot above 40.9 percent (North Greenville 40.9, App State 39.7, Radford 37.5, High Point 36.8, Louisville 36.2).

What may be most encouraging for the Paladins about Friday's performance was that they had success defensively without the typical amount of deflections they normally get. The Mountaineers (5-5) had just 10 turnovers. Only Louisville (seven) has had fewer against Furman this season.

"We just had to have a better defensive effort than we did on Tuesday. They shot 45 percent in the first half, which isn't necessarily lighting it up defensively but for us, it's an improvement. I challenged the guys at halftime to go defend even better in the second half and they did," Richey said. "That's a credit to the leadership of our players. ... It was a complete team win, but the biggest part of the night was that we got stops when it mattered most.

"Our defense statistically is not where we need it to be, but we're capable. When you're capable of doing something, it comes down to responsibility."

It was a team win in every sense of the term. Nine Paladins scored and eight had at least one assist. Furman finished with 21 assists and 10 turnovers. Over the final 16:30 of the game, the lone Paladin turnover came on a controversial shot clock violation. It was originally ruled that Marcus Foster's 3-pointer had beaten the buzzer with 9:42 left. After a video review, officials said Foster didn't release it in time.

That shot clock violation came less than a minute after Slawson was called for a flagrant foul after planting his forearm in the chest of a Mountaineer away from the ball. That all helped App State go on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 51-51 with 9:14 left.

On Furman's next possession, Garrett Hien grabbed an offensive rebound and the ball was knocked out of bounds. During an injury timeout to clean a Mountaineer that was bleeding, Richey drew up a great play which saw Joe Anderson inbounding from under Furman's basket. Anderson hit a streaking Bothwell for a layup, which started an 8-2 run and gave the Paladins the lead for good.

App State cut the lead to 61-60 on a free throw following Slawson's fourth foul with 4:22 left. After the earlier flagrant foul and that fourth foul with more than four minutes left, Slawson may not have gotten the chance to stay on the court in past seasons. This season, he not only stayed out there, he delivered the knockout punches.

Slawson had a layup on Furman's next possession. Later, he hit back-to-back jumpers to make it an 8-0 run and push the lead to 69-60 with 1:23 left.

"At the finish, Jalen Slawson was huge. He's starting to have a little closer mentality to him," Richey said. "There was good growth on his part tonight. He got the F1 (flagrant) call on him and had some foul trouble early. I brought him out and had a little talk with him. I said, 'let's just catch our wind. Let's figure out how we want to finish this game. Nothing else at this point matters - no call, nothing with the other team. I want you to take a minute and think about it and then go out there and finish.'

"It was like a switch. He wasn't playing bad by any stretch, but he wasn't playing like he's been playing. But those last eight minutes, he really turned it on."

Hunter was the lone other Paladin in double figures with 11 points and he also had a game-high six assists and five rebounds. Foster had eight points and nine rebounds, while Conley Garrison had eight points and seven rebounds. Anderson finished with a career-high five assists in 23 minutes off the bench.

Furman will close out the road portion of its non-conference schedule this week with games at North Carolina on Tuesday and at Mississippi State on Friday. Tip-off in Chapel Hill is set for 7 p.m. in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.

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