Friday, December 24, 2021

Paladins earn complete win over Presbyterian

Mike Bothwell had 21 points in Furman's 75-61 win over
Presbyterian Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Furman closed out the non-conference portion of its schedule Tuesday with one of its most complete wins of the season. The Paladins shot 59.6 percent from the floor, including 55.6 percent on 3-pointers (10-of-18) in a 75-61 win over Presbyterian.

The hot shooting didn't really register during Furman coach Bob Richey's postgame press conference. He was more focused on the Paladins' defensive effort, which resulted in the Blue Hose shooting 44.8 percent. The first half may have been Furman's best this season as PC shot 38.5 percent, while the Paladins shot 65.4 percent to take a 42-22 lead into halftime.

That was a perfect remedy following a heartbreaking three-point loss at Mississippi State the last time out.

"That was a good win and good effort by our team, especially in the first half to set the tone defensively. I thought we did a good job flying around," Richey said. "Their guard (Rayshon) Harrison is really good and we did a good job on him in the first half. We let him loose a little in the second half.

"The team responded how you'd like to see them respond (to the Mississippi State loss). Don't come into the next game with your head down. Come in with some energy and resolve about you and I thought we did that. I don't know how many times we've held a team in the 30s (shooting) percentage-wise. That was definitely one of our better defensive halves of the season."

Some of the defensive problems Furman (8-5) has had this season were on display early on Tuesday. A Blue Hose team that currently ranks 16th nationally in offensive rebounds per game grabbed four offensive boards in the first five minutes against Furman. That led to six second-chance points for Presbyterian (7-7) and the game was tied 8-8 at the 14:57 mark.

That's when a pair of backups sparked the Paladins. Joe Anderson entered after the first media timeout along with freshman Tyrese Hughey, who made his debut as Furman had planned on redshirting this season. After an offensive rebound by Jalen Slawson, Hughey's first collegiate shot was a dunk off a feed from Anderson.

PC's ensuing possession ended on a charge drawn by Anderson. That led to a what appeared to be a 3-pointer by Hughey, but his foot was on the line. Anderson then had a steal and rebounded his own miss before Mike Bothwell knocked down a jumper. Anderson hit a three the next time down off a feed from Bothwell after an offensive rebound by Marcus Foster.

Hughey checked out at the under-12 media timeout. During his first nearly four minutes in a college game, Furman outscored the Blue Hose 9-2 and had three offensive rebounds.

"I fell in love with Tyrese when we recruited him. If you go back and watch his high school highlights, he just plays the game so hard," Richey said. "We wanted to try to redshirt him, more so offensively to help him grasp our concepts and give him more confidence on that end of the floor."

Richey said the decision to take Hughey's redshirt off came after seeing the same things too often this season. Specifically, Furman allowing too many offensive rebounds, too high of a shooting percentage at the rim and allowing the ball to enter the paint too much.

"At some point as a coach, you've got to say, 'we've got to figure this out.' You can't keep doing the same things over and over and expect a different result. We've got to be able to protect the rim" Richey said. "I just went with my gut. I practiced him Sunday with the ones and the twos. I told him I had not totally made my decision, we'd just see how this goes. And he had a great practice. He was in the top two or three in toughness stats for us and he did the same thing Monday."

That energy that Hughey helped create continued after he left. The Paladins followed that 9-2 run with a 12-0 run to take a 29-10 lead with 7:36 left in the first half. After pushing the lead to 20 at the break, Furman's advantage was never seriously threatened in the second half as the Blue Hose never got closer than 12.

"For lack of a better term, Tyrese is a junkyard dog. He's one of the hardest rocking dudes I've ever played with. Not scared of anything and strong as an ox," said Slawson, who finished with 18 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks, two steals and seven fouls drawn. "At this point, he doesn't understand all of our concepts yet, but he's worked his tail off to get where he is.

"The toughness and grittiness he plays with could be a difference maker when conference play gets here."

There was still a moment of drama in the second half when Alex Hunter appeared to suffer a serious injury with 9:24 left. After a PC shooter got Hunter off his feet in drawing a foul, Hunter appeared to land on his left shoulder and head. The fifth-year senior was on his back motionless for a few minutes before slowly walking off with help from trainers. He's now in concussion protocol.

"He became the all-time winningest player in Furman history, so I'm really proud of him and he's going to be okay," Richey said. "It was a scary sight though. ... He was able to come to and enjoy some time with the team (after the game)."

The injury cost Hunter more chances of extending his national lead in 3-pointers as he did not get one to fall for the first time this season. Bothwell, who didn't get anything to fall at Mississippi State in being shut out as a starter for the first time ever, bounced back against the Blue Hose with a game-high 21 points and six rebounds. Bothwell was 7-of-9 from the floor, 5-of-6 from the foul line and made 2-of-3 threes.

"It was just refocus on what matters. I had not been playing with the same joy and belief," Bothwell said. "I just worried about the right things - picking up others, defense and winning. When you do that, you kind of forget about the pressures of offense."

Anderson was the lone other Paladin in double figures with 12 points, four assists and four rebounds. Foster had six points and seven rebounds, while Hughey finished with six points. Freshman Alex Williams, who's made an impact off the bench this season, didn't dress out Tuesday due to a coaches' decision.

Harrison led PC with 15 points on 7-of-20 shooting and three assists. He went 2-for-7 in the first half as the Blue Hose had no player with more than four points at the break. 

Furman will open Southern Conference play by hosting Samford Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Bulldogs (10-2) finished off non-conference play with a 75-73 win at Ole Miss Tuesday.

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