Friday, December 17, 2021

Paladins go cold after halftime in loss at UNC

Playing near his Raleigh home, Alex Hunter scored a game-high 21 points in
Furman's 74-61 loss at North Carolina Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Furman took on North Carolina for the first time in 35 years with its first trip to Chapel Hill, N.C. in 50 on Tuesday and stood toe-to-toe with the Tar Heels in the first half. Well not really toe-to-toe, seeing as how UNC dominated inside. More like point-to-point, as most of Furman's toes were behind the three-point line. The Paladins hit 8-of-15 threes in the first half to go into halftime all tied at 39-39.

Playing against an elite blueblood of college basketball, there had to be a feeling that Furman would cool off a bit in the second half. However, the rate at which it did was rather stunning given how well the Paladins typically shoot. Furman made just 2-of-18 three-point attempts in the second half to fall, 74-61, before a crowd of 14,342 at the Dean Dome.

"For whatever reason, certain guys just didn't have good shooting nights and everybody's going to go through those at times. ... Nobody wants to hear this, but it's always going to be a make or miss game," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "You can have great action and a great scheme, but when the shot's there you've got to step up. You don't have to make them all, but you can't go 2-for-18. Give (UNC) credit. Their length and pressure definitely rattled us.

"We're going through finals (exams) and our guys have had a very challenging schedule. We knew the task was going to be a tall one up here, but we came in expecting to play well and be in the game. I think you saw that in the first half with just the fight that we played with. Unfortunately, it just wasn't consistent enough."

Furman trailed 7-0 just more than two minutes in and 13-5 just more than four minutes in, but clawed it's way back into it. When Mike Bothwell knocked down a 3-pointer with 1:51 left in the first half, the Paladins (7-4) held a 39-37 lead and were 15-of-25 from the floor.

After that bucket, Furman made just five of its next 30 field goal attempts. After the last of those 30 shots, UNC got a three-pointer to push its lead to 74-52 with 2:57 left.

While the missed shots certainly sealed the Paladins' fate, getting annihilated inside made their fate quite sealable. Furman was outscored 44-26 in the paint and 19-0 on second-chance points. Even with 23 missed shots in the second half, the Paladins only had three offensive rebounds after halftime and four for the game. The Tar Heels won the rebounding battle 44-25. UNC had a 21-10 edge on rebounds in the first half, including nine offensive boards. If Furman could've just grabbed a few of those nine, it most assuredly would've taken a lead into halftime.

"I thought we had a good presence to us once we endured that rough start to the game. I thought we really competed and didn't seem like we were in a pressure cooker. ... We looked a little bit tight in the second half and a little unsure," Richey said. "You've got to give North Carolina credit there with it's pressure and length. They really got out and smothered Alex (Hunter) in the second half.

"As for rebounding, they're 6-11 and 6-11. I wish we would've kept the margin closer than we did. I don't think that's something that we should necessarily accept. We've got to look and see our positioning, our technique and our fundamentals on those box outs. Was it just that we got overpowered and outmatched, or did we give ourselves a chance? ... We've just got to be tougher."

While shooting and rebounding were obviously issues, Furman had a pretty clean night otherwise. The Paladins had 18 assists on their 24 made field goals and suffered just seven turnovers. Hunter scored a game-high 21 points to lead Furman. Of those 21, 17 came in the first half for the Raleigh native. The lone other Paladin in double figures was Jalen Slawson, who finished with 12 points, seven assists, six rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot.

"Watching it live, it seemed like some of those (18 three-pointers in the second half) were pretty good looks. We've got to be able to step into those with confidence. ... Out of 16 misses (from three) in the second half, if four or five go down then all of a sudden you've got a ballgame," Richey said. "I am proud of the way we kept fighting, giving up that much length and size. The environment was the best we've played in all year as well. We've just got to see what we can learn from this and how we can grow from it."

Furman will wrap up the road portion of its non-conference schedule Friday at Mississippi State. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.

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