Thursday, December 9, 2021

Slawson's triple-double not enough for Furman

Jalen Slawson had the first triple-double in Furman history Tuesday,
but the Paladins fell at Winthrop, 85-80. Photo courtesy of Furman

ROCK HILL - The first triple-double in school history was not enough to overcome what's become a troubling trend for the Furman men's basketball team this season. Winthrop shot 56.1 percent from the floor, including 61.5 percent in the second half, to outrace the Paladins, 86-81, Tuesday night. While the mid-major battle lived up to the hype as the lead changed 24 times and there were 10 ties, the defensive performance didn't live up to the standard that Furman has set for itself. 

While Furman (6-3) has played five overtime periods and faced a rugged schedule thus far, it's allowing 77.1 points per game. That's better than the last two opponents (Winthrop has allowed 79 points per game and College of Charleston 79.9), but not better than many others as it ranks 316th in the country. The last time the Paladins allowed more than 68.9 points per game in a season was eight years ago when they gave up 72.4 per game.

The Paladins' field-goal defense of 46.2 percent ranks 305th nationally. The last time Furman allowed opponents to shoot at that clip was the 2012-13 team that went 6-24.

"If you score 80 points on the road, you've got to win that game. ... We're just not consistent in our defensive approach right now. Give Winthrop credit. They played very well offensively and put us in some very stressful situations," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "To have 12 deflections in an entire basketball game and to have one time all night where we got three consecutive stops, that's not going to get it done on the road. It's not going to get it done at home to be honest with you.

"Failure and losing is never catastrophic unless you refuse to learn from it. ... To get to a championship caliber level, we're going to have to be more complete, especially on that (defensive) end of the floor."

The defensive struggles overshadowed what's been a much better trend for Furman this season - another phenomenal performance by Jalen Slawson. When the reigning Southern Conference Player of the Week grabbed his 10th rebound with 5:40 left in the game it marked Furman's first triple-double ever.

Coming off a career-high 33-point performance in the win over Charleston, Slawson had a career-high 12 assists Tuesday. He also had 15 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals.

"I'm always going to be hard on Jalen just because I have such a high expectation for what he can be, but his growth is evident. He played a complete game tonight," Richey said. "There's going to be a couple at the rim that he's going to want back that I thought he could probably finish, but that's just going to continue to be part of his progression.

"For him to be able to distribute the ball, rebound the ball and score the ball like that, it makes us hard to defend."

After Slawson broke a 76-76 tie on a turnaround jumper in the paint with 4:40 left, the only scoring over the next two-plus minutes was a pair of free throws by former Presbyterian and Western Carolina guard Cory Hightower to tie it up. Slawson had a pair of turnovers and Marcus Foster missed the front end of a one-and-one at the foul line over that stretch 

Slawson's final minute of action kind of summed up the game in general. He made a steal on one end and nine seconds later on the other, had a beautiful feed to Alex Hunter for a layup. That put Furman up 80-78 with 2:19 left. Winthrop's 6-foot-9. 275-pound forward D.J. Burns missed a jumper, but Hightower ran down the loose ball rebound and found Michael Anumba for a 3-pointer with 1:47 left.

On the other end, Slawson faked a three to get around Burns and drove to the basket but former ETSU guard Patrick Good drew a charge. It was Slawson's sixth turnover and fifth foul sending him to the bench for the final 1:32. Conley Garrison made a steal to get Furman the ball back, but Foster couldn't get a layup to fall.

Winthrop's Drew Buggs drove for a layup to push the lead to 83-80 with 36 seconds left. After making a tying shot in the final seconds to force an overtime session three times over the last two games, Mike Bothwell's 3-pointer with 17 seconds left didn't make it in this time. Good made a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left to seal the win for the Eagles (5-4).

"This game probably came down to a loose ball. We're up two, get this miss, the ball's loose and we're not first to the deck. They get the ball and shot to go up one and the place goes crazy," Richey said. "You get the possession there and our offensive efficiency was pretty high most of the night. You probably have a chance to score if you get that loose ball."

A key moment in Tuesday's game came early in the second half. After Slawson drew a foul from Burns, he was walking back from the sideline as Burns was leaving the court and made contact with him. Burns proceeded to shove Slawson off with his left forearm and the official nearby called a double technical. That obviously was a key factor late for Slawson, but not as much for Burns who finished with three fouls.

"I was told that he walked into Burns, Burns pushed him and that they were chirping all night," Richey said of the official's explanation. "That's why it was a double tech."

While Furman swept all six games from Prosser's Western Carolina teams over the past three seasons, things weren't always the most sportsmanlike. That continued with Prosser's new team on Tuesday.

"I think there's enough in the game in terms of how we need to play, how we need to guard and how we need to move the ball that the focus should be on us," Richey said. "We shouldn't be talking to referees. We shouldn't be talking to the other team. We've got to control what we control. When you engage in that and start going down that road, now your mind is on that.

"This is our fifth one-possession game. Three have gone our way and two haven't. When you're in those games, all your focus is required on the job at hand. The job at hand is to get stops and make shots. That's where our mentality has to be."

Hunter finished with a game-high 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-6 from three. Bothwell was the other Paladin with 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting. After averaging 22.5 points per game and shooting 52.8 percent from the floor over the first four games this season, Bothwell is averaging 11.6 and shooting 32.8 percent since.

Furman hosts Appalachian State Friday at 7 p.m.

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