Friday, January 14, 2022

Garrison rallies Paladins to win over ETSU

Conley Garrison's 23-point second half helped Furman rally for
a 78-69 win over ETSU Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Furman didn't have an answer for East Tennessee State's athletic, aggressive drives to the basket for much of Wednesday night. But when it mattered the most, the Paladins did. Conley Garrison scored 23 points in the second half and Furman ended the game on a 15-3 run to pull out a 78-69 win at Timmons Arena.

"That was a great win tonight. I knew it was going to be a challenging game. That's an ETSU team that's won on an SEC court and won by a large margin against Western Carolina on Monday night," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "They were flying up and down the court and we were getting destroyed in transition. We just had to change our spirit and the way that we were competing. ... Give our guys credit for responding the way that they did and getting a quality win."

Richey has often mentioned that whoever wins the final four minutes of the game will probably be the difference in what looks to be another tough Southern Conference season. The Paladins got started with their finishing touches a bit earlier than that on Wednesday. 

After ETSU's David Sloan hit a tough jumper in the paint with 5:53 left, the Bucs led 66-63. At that point, ETSU was shooting 56.5 percent from the floor including 22-of-29 (75.9 percent) on two-point shots. The Bucs went 1-of-10 the rest of the way to finish at 48.2 percent for the game as Furman improved to 10-0 when the opponent shoots less than 50 percent.

That one made shot was a step-back three by Sloan that tied the game 69-69 with 2:59 left. One minute later, Jalen Slawson hit a reverse layup off a great feed from Mike Bothwell to start Furman's 9-0 run to close the game.

"That last eight minutes, we pulled off the ball and picked it up more at the arc. I thought that condensed space a little bit to where just couldn't get in those gaps quite as easily," Richey said. "That helped a little bit. They missed some shots and I thought our flow got better."

A night where "Welcome to Threeville" stickers were given out to celebrate the Paladins' three-point shooting prowess this season got off to an inauspicious start. Furman (12-6, 4-1 Southern Conference) was 1-of-14 from beyond the arc with less than six minutes left in the first half, but made 10-of-21 three-pointers the rest of the way, including 7-of-15 in the second half.

One of those few early three-pointers came from an unlikely source. After Bothwell scored eight consecutive points as part of a 10-0 run to tie the game 32-32, ETSU (10-8, 2-3) answered with a 7-0 run. On the final possession of the half, Garrett Hien shot a three-pointer that took four bounces off the rim before falling through as the horn sounded to cut the Bucs' lead to 39-35 at the break.

Furman's "big three" of Bothwell, Slawson and Alex Hunter have each scored at least 30 points in a game this year. There was a feeling the next in line to have a big night of scoring to lead the Paladins would be Garrison, but nobody felt that at halftime Wednesday. While Garrison had three rebounds, two assists, a blocked shot and no turnovers in the first half, he didn't attempt a shot or a free throw.

"There was a staff discussion (at halftime). ... When you have a shooter that good, there's a coaching responsibility to get him shots," Richey said. "We made some adjustments and started dialing him up (in the second half). ... I don't like to micro-manage the game offensively. I like for guys to be able to be in concepts and read what the defense is doing, but I also have an obligation. We've got to make sure all our shooters get looks.

"One thing about our team, it's an unselfish group. Once they see a guy's hot, they know how to get him the ball. That's one of my favorite things about this team."

Garrison went 8-for-10 in the second half, including 4-of-6 from three. In addition to his Furman career-high of 23 points, he shared the team lead in rebounds as he and Slawson each had seven. ETSU's second possession of the second half ended on a steal by Garrison which led to a three by Garrison. That was the start of eight consecutive points scored by Garrison, including a dunk off a steal by the 6-foot-1 guard.

Perhaps the biggest sequence in the game came with Furman trailing 57-51 with 9:01 left when Garrison had nine consecutive points for the Paladins. His three-pointer, three-point play and three-pointer cut the Bucs lead to 62-60 with 7:33 left. Furman's last field goal was a Garrison three-pointer with 1:10 left that pushed the Paladins lead to 74-69.

"I've been trying to get a dunk all year. It feels like every time I'm about to get one, I get fouled or something like that," Garrison said with a smile. "There was really nothing done (at halftime). I just played within the flow of the game, shots came my way and I knocked them down."

When Furman was getting nothing to fall from outside early on Wednesday, Marcus Foster was keeping the Paladins within shouting distance by making great moves inside. With eight minutes left in the first half, Furman trailed 27-17 and Foster had eight of those 17.

With 13:12 left in the game, Foster was whistled for his fourth foul. He came back in with 8:15 to play and showed no signs of letting up out of fear of fouling out. He got an assist on Hunter's three that cut ETSU's lead to 64-63. On Furman's next two possessions, Foster had a layup and a pair of free throws to give the Paladins the lead 67-66 with 5:20 left. He capped his 14-point night with a pair of free throws with 33 seconds left to seal the win.

"You just have to be really detailed in what your doing defensively. Have your hands out and make sure you don't have any touch fouls and make sure you stay in front of your man," Foster said about playing with four fouls. "It was frustrating getting three quick ones and then that fourth one really hurt. I just tried to play hard without fouling and was glad I was able to finish the game with my guys."

Bothwell finished with 15 points, six assists, four rebounds and two steals. Slawson had 10 points, four assists and a spectacular block from behind that led to a Garrison layup during Furman's game-ending run.

The Paladins next play at Chattanooga Saturday at 3 p.m.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Furman's Richey reflects on emotional week

Furman's Bob Richey celebrates with his team following the Paladins'
81-66 win over Mercer Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Following a victorious return to the Bob Secours Wellness Arena Saturday, there was quite the celebration in the Furman locker room. After the Paladins' 81-66 win over Mercer gave Bob Richey his 100th win as head coach, Richey got the celebratory Gatorade bath in what had to be one of Jalen Slawson's favorite "dunks" ever. Richey then received the game ball from Furman athletic director Jason Donnelly.

Because of COVID issues last season, the Paladins' scheduled games at The Well were shifted to Timmons Arena. Playing for the first time downtown since a thrilling one-point win over Wofford two years ago, Furman improved to 3-1 there. The fact that it became the site of a historic win for Richey is kind of fitting given how much he's pushed for games downtown to help the program grow.

"The 100th win is great, but that's a program milestone," Richey said Saturday in what became an emotional postgame press conference. "It's the crew, not the captain."

It was a perfect end to an special, albeit exhausting week for Richey. Saturday's win came on the 12th birthday of Richey's daughter, Audrey. It also came three days after Furman's victory at UNCG on Wednesday. That was the same day that Richey's wife Jessica gave birth to the couple's third child.

"I don't know if I've ever been this tired, but I don't know if I've ever been this thankful," Richey said. "Just watching my wife go through all that and the gift of bringing another newborn into the world."

Richey's week began the prior Saturday, when the Paladins visited VMI on New Years Day without him. With Jessica's due date looming, Richey didn't want to take any chances on being stuck on Furman's longest Southern Conference road trip when his wife went into labor.

Richey praised the job done by associate head coach Jeremy Growe, who filled in for him and did so without assistant Jimmie Williams, who also missed the game. Richey said his availability for the VMI game was never a decision that needed to be made. He knew he was going to be by Jessica's side. Watching the game from home hit Richey harder that he thought it would though. He said not being there for his players was one of the hardest things he's ever endured professionally.

That's understandable considering where Richey has been for every Furman basketball game for the past decade. That VMI game must have ended what had to be the longest active streak of attending Paladin basketball games for anyone. This season marks Richey's 11th at Furman and fifth as head coach.

On Tuesday, the Richeys arrived at the hospital at 8 p.m. Son Jacks arrived at 3:25 a.m. Wednesday morning. As the day wore on, mom and baby were doing well so it was back to work for dad. The sleep-deprived Richey knew he shouldn't take any chances driving to Greensboro, so he got a ride from assistant Daniel Fowler and was able to catch some sleep along the way.

Without the services of starting guard Conley Garrison, only four Paladins scored but they grinded out a 58-54 win. A four-point road win in a "rock fight" type of game would be emotionally draining already, even without Richey's path to get there.

Jacks birth came four years after the Richeys suffered the heartbreak of a miscarriage.

"We waited a long time for our third child. The whole process has been a faith check. To see it through, is a reminder in life to just keep the faith and keep pressing forward. There's a lot of blessings that sometimes we miss," Richey said Saturday. "Right now, it's a world of negativity. We focus on the losses and the bad things so much. What Jacks has taught us in this short period of time is that there's a lot of good in this life too.

"It's just been an incredible week. One I'll definitely never forget." 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Richey gets win No. 100 as Furman tops Bears

Furman's Joe Anderson had 15 points in the Paladins' 81-66
win over Mercer Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

How good was Furman's opening half against Mercer Saturday at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena? In the second half, the Paladins had a 12-and-a-half minute stretch in which they made just 3-of-18 field goals and still managed to win by 15.

Mike Bothwell had 17 points, five assists and two blocks as Furman downed the Bears, 81-66, at its first game back in The Well in two years. After shooting 53.3 percent in the first half - to take a 44-27 lead into halftime - the Paladins (11-6, 3-1 Southern Conference) shot 30.8 percent in the second half, but took care of business at the foul line. Furman made 23-of-26 free throws (88.5 percent), including 16-of-18 in the second half.

Meanwhile, Furman's defense was locked in from start to finish as Mercer shot 40.7 percent in the first half and 41.2 in the second. The Paladins improved to 9-0 when holding an opponent under 50 percent shooting for the game.

"That was a good complete game by our team. Everybody that played contributed," said Furman coach Bob Richey, who earned career victory No. 100 Saturday. "Our intensity level defensively in the first half really set the tone."

Furman was coming off a 58-54 win at UNC Greensboro in a game in which it was outrebounded 38-23 and only four Paladins scored. While Mercer (8-7, 1-1) plays a different style, it has a similar build as the Spartans. Despite the presence of the Bears' 6-foot-10, 280-pound Shannon Grant, 6-9, 253-pound leading scorer Felipe Haase, and 6-10, 230-pound Victor Bafutto, the Paladins won Saturday's rebounding battle 41-29.

Seven different Paladins also grabbed at least four rebounds, led by 6-4, 210-pound Marcus Foster, who had a game-high eight. After draining four three-pointers at UNCG, Foster went 0-for-2 from beyond the arc Saturday but did go 8-for-8 at the foul line and finished with 12 points.

"Marcus is just a player. He's learned to really compete at a level that's important on a daily basis," Richey said. "Marcus and Jalen (Slawson), your starting (No.) 4 and 5 guys, go 16-for-16 from the free throw line. Marcus has bought into doing the hard things you've got to do so you can do the things you want to do."

Furman also had five different players in the scoring column less than six minutes into Saturday's game. Seven different Paladins finished with at least seven points.

"Greensboro definitely had great size like Mercer, but it played a lot slower. One thing we talked about in this game was trying to push the tempo and set the rules of engagement," Bothwell said. "We were able to win on Wednesday, but we don't really like to play in the 50-possession type of games. I feel like today, it was faster and more in our favor."

Mercer cut Furman's 20-point lead down to 70-61 with 2:48 left, but Slawson made a pair of free throws on the Paladins' ensuing possession. After a turnover by the Bears, Slawson then found Bothwell for a three-pointer that sealed the win with 1:34 left.

Slawson finished with 12 points, five rebounds, three steals and three blocks. Joe Anderson was the other Paladin in double figures as he came off the bench to score 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting for three. It's the third time in the last four games that Anderson has established a new career-high in scoring.

Anderson's minutes and outside shots were vital as Alex Hunter got into a bit of foul trouble. The Paladins didn't miss a beat when Anderson subbed in for Hunter. Hunter finished with nine points and five assists and made 3-of-7 three-pointers to currently rank second nationally with 64 threes.

"Alex has been a great leader and helped me a ton. Every time he's in the gym, he brings me in with him," Anderson said. "He's always making sure that I'm doing what he's doing and he's like the hardest worker I know. So I think coaches have trust that when he goes out, I can go in a do a little bit as good as him."

Furman returns to action at Timmons Arena Wednesday when it hosts East Tennessee State at 7 p.m.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Deflecting Paladins earn gritty victory at UNCG

Marcus Foster had 14 points and eight rebounds in Furman's
58-54 win at UNCG Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Furman traveled to UNC Greensboro Wednesday without one starters and two others due to COVID protocols and with a sleep-deprived head coach. During the game, the Paladins were outrebounded 38-23, shot 40 percent from the floor and had only four players scratch in the scoring column. Furman Furman found a way. It did so by doing what it's done best defensively of the years. Six different Paladins combined for 12 steals as Furman pulled out a 58-54 win over UNCG.

Coach Bob Richey, who missed the Paladins' loss at VMI last Saturday as wife Jessica's due date was looming, was back with the team Wednesday. He was coaching about 15 hours after the birth of the couple's third child, but his team's effort made it worth the exhaustion.

"It was two tough teams playing, making things very disruptive. It was a grind and it was going down to who made some plays after that last media (timeout). The team that can play that last four-minute game the best, usually wins those close games and fortunately tonight it was us," Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "It's good for our group to see that we can win these games, especially on the road and especially against a team that physical.

"It was a 30-deflection game for us, which is huge. Usually when that takes place we're on the victorious side. For the most part, we were able to keep the ball high on the floor and keep those guards out of the paint."

Starter Conley Garrison and reserves Ben Beeker and Robert Swanson didn't make the trip due to protocol, so Marcus Foster rejoined the starting lineup. After stepping in the lineup, Foster stepped up on the court with 13 points and eight rebounds.

For most of the first half, only Furman's three leading scorers - Alex Hunter, Jalen Slawson and Mike Bothwell - had scored. Foster became the fourth Paladin to score on a three-pointer with 1:12 left, which gave the Paladins a 30-28 halftime lead. Foster drained three more threes in the second half to finish 4-for-4 from behind the arc. He entered Wednesday having made just 6-of-26 threes this season. 

"I really challenged (Foster) after (the loss at) VMI because people are playing off him. He's in the gym all the time and makes threes in practice. He catches these balls and on film, people think he can't make shots," Richey said. "They're sloughing him and he won't shoot it, so we're not able to pull that guy out of the paint. I told him, 'man, you're going to have to shoot these balls. You've earned the right.' I was really proud of him tonight."

After Furman (10-6, 2-1 Southern Conference) jumped out to a 7-0 lead just over three minutes in, neither team led by more than five the rest of the way. Hunter's three-pointer with 8:59 left put the Paladins up 45-42 and they never relinquished the lead.

On a night when Slawson wasn't getting much of anything to fall, his confidence never wavered. After missing his first six three-point attempts, Slawson knocked down his final one to push Furman's lead to 52-47 with five minutes remaining. He also made his last field goal attempt, sinking a turnaround jumper with 31 seconds left that gave Furman a four-point lead. Bothwell made a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left to seal the win.

"The confidence that we played with late was good to see," Richey said. "If you watched VMI, it was our presentation and look that was off. Even when we had the lead, we just couldn't create good energy in the second half."

Bothwell finished with a game-high 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and he had three assists and two steals. Hunter finished with 16 points and three steals. Slawson had nine points, three assists, three blocks and two steals.

UNCG's rebounding edge included 14 offensive boards, compared to just six offensive rebounds for Furman. The Paladins didn't let that dictate what happened in the game though, as they were outscored on second-chance points by just four (19-15).

"We got two-and-a-half points every offensive rebound, whereas they got just a little bit over one point (per offensive rebound)," Richey said. "It didn't take long for anyone watching the game to see who the bigger team was. ... It (rebounding) looks worse than what it was, but at the end of the day we made 12 threes and they made five."

Facing a UNCG team that was playing for the first time since Dec. 16 due to COVID, Furman limited the Spartans (8-5, 0-1) to 41.8 percent shooting. The Paladins obviously had a big hand in UNCG's 15 turnovers as well. Furman had just 10 turnovers and only one player had more than one.

Garrison was not suffering any symptoms and was expected to return to practice Friday. The Paladins host Mercer (8-6, 1-0) Saturday at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in downtown Greenville. It will be Furman's first game at the Well since Bothwell's memorable game-winning, spinning layup against Wofford on Feb. 22, 2020.

Prior to the men's game against Mercer at 4 p.m., the Furman women host Western Carolina at 1 p.m.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Late cold snap against VMI costs Furman again

Prior to the 2020-21 men's basketball season, history repeating itself in the Furman-VMI series was a good thing for the Paladins as they had won each of the last 10 meetings. The Keydets have bucked that trend ever since though, and done so in what's becoming an all too familiar way for Furman.

On Saturday in Lexington, Va., the Paladins went more than seven minutes without a basket down the stretch as VMI came back for a 76-67 victory. It's the third consecutive win in the series for the Keydets (9-5, 2-0 Southern Conference), who've rallied from a second-half deficit in each one of those.

Furman (9-6, 1-1) played without head coach Bob Richey, who was with wife Jessica as her due date was looming. Associate head coach Jeremy Growe filled in for Richey.

In the team's lone meeting last regular season at VMI, Furman held an eight-point lead with 16:30 left and was up 60-55 with 7:20 remaining before falling 74-73. In the opening round of the SoCon Tournament in Asheville last season, the Paladins led VMI 77-64 with 6:12 left, but did not score another field goal in regulation and went on to lose 93-92 in overtime.

On Saturday, Furman led by five early in the second half and made six consecutive field goals from the 15:02 mark to the 10:10 mark to take a 53-51 lead. After Joe Anderson hit a three-pointer to cut VMI's lead to 59-58 with 7:43 left, the Paladins missed eight consecutive shots. By the time Furman's Alex Hunter ended that drought on a 3-pointer with 24 seconds left, the Keydets had already built a 13-point lead.

Jalen Slawson had 20 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two blocks and steal for Furman, which led by as many as eight in the first half and 36-30 at the break. Mike Bothwell was the only other Paladin in double figures with 14 points and eight rebounds. Furman's two best three-point shooters, Hunter and Conley Garrison, struggled to get their shots to fall. Hunter went 2-for-10 from beyond the arc, while Garrison hit 1-of-5.

Jake Stephens had 23 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks for VMI, which shot 62.1 percent from the floor in the second half. The Keydets missed more than two consecutive shots just twice. Both times came in the first half and they were stretches of just three and four straight misses, respectively.

Furman will next play at UNC Greensboro Wednesday at 7 p.m. Richey is expected to be back with the team as Jessica gave birth to the couple's third child at 3:25 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Defense helps Furman crush depleted Samford

Conley Garrison had 11 points, four rebounds and three assists in
Furman's 81-49 win over Samford. Photo courtesy of Furman

As Furman went through its non-conference schedule this men's basketball season, there seemed to be two major feelings Paladins coach Bob Richey had. He thought the rugged schedule would prepare Furman for Southern Conference play, and he knew the Paladins would have to shore up and play the kind of defense it's grown accustomed to playing to be successful.

During Wednesday's SoCon opener against a short-handed Samford team, both those thoughts were proven right. The Bulldogs shot 29.5 percent from the floor as Furman rolled to an 81-49 win at Timmons Arena. The Paladins (9-5, 1-0) improved to 7-0 this season when holding opponents below 50 percent shooting. It's the worst shooting day for a Furman opponent since UNC Greensboro shot 29.0 percent in a 68-49 loss at Timmons last season.

After having rebounding issues all season, the Paladins pulled down 50 Wednesday while Samford had 36.

"I thought that was the most consistent we've been on the defensive end all season," Richey said. "I don't know the last time we were plus-14 on the boards in a conference game. That's a really good sign that we've made some ground there.

"I thought we were going to find out in league play if playing a schedule that challenging was going to prepare us, and I think you saw that little bit tonight. Our non-league schedule was a bear and it showed us what we need to get better at."

Samford (10-3, 0-1) was missing a few players, including leading scorer Ques Glover, a Florida transfer who's averaging 19.3 points, 4.2 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game. It was still a dangerous team that was coming off a 75-73 win at Ole Miss and had knocked off Oregon State earlier this season.

Coming back from the Christmas back, both teams weren't very crisp out of the gate. The Paladins led 7-0 nearly three-and-a-half minutes in and 15-12 at the 11:19 mark. That's when Furman had as good of an 11-minute stretch as it has had all season. The Paladins went on a 11-2 run over the next 2:18 capped by Conley Garrison's three-pointer to take a 26-14 lead.

After Samford's Jaden Campbell hit a three with 8:27 left, the Bulldogs' next made field goal didn't come until the 2:19 mark. By then, Furman had built a 42-19 lead and that was Samford's last points of the half as the Paladins led 48-21 at the break. The Bulldogs went 1-of-15 from the floor over the final eight minutes of the first half and shot 22.6 percent (7-of-31) in it overall.

While Samford was without it's leading scorer, Furman had it's back as Alex Hunter was able to play following a nasty fall last time out that landed him in concussion protocol. Hunter, who was leading the country in threes before the injury-shortened game against Presbyterian, knocked down his first try on Wednesday and finished with 10 points after hitting 3-of-9 from beyond the arc.

Hunter also had four assists as he became just the fifth player in school history with 400 career assists. His presence on the floor served as an inspiration to teammates.

"Alex is a huge piece of this team. He's just a great leader in the way he acts and responds. He's always going to go as hard as he can and fight through whatever he's going through," said Mike Bothwell, who led five Paladins in double figures with 18 points and four assists. "That type of anchor on your team is the type of guy who helps you win games in ways that you don't even see.

"Watching him makes me think about how much harder I could be playing. When I saw him jump in early in the game and grab a monster rebound and push it in transition, I thought 'I have to go do that now.' He makes all of us better and nobody on this team doubted that he would somehow be back tonight."

Richey said he thought it was the hardest Bothwell has played all year.

"He had a great focus. He went there to get rebounds, deflections, to sit down in his stance and had a great voice leadership wise," Richey said. "When you focus on that and let your God-given talent take over, you can relax in that. Coming off the Mississippi State game (in which Bothwell didn't score and fouled out), it's been really nice to see his response." 

Furman stretched it's lead to 33 on three different occasions in the second half. The last of those came on a three-pointer by Garrison with 9:37 left that gave the Paladins a 70-37 lead. The teams combined for nine made field goals the rest of the way as Samford had it's lowest scoring output since a 58-48 loss to New Mexico State on Nov. 16, 2016.

Joe Anderson came off the bench to score a new career-high for the second consecutive game. He had 14 points and made 4-of-8 threes. Jalen Slawson had 12 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals, while Garrison finished with 11 points, four rebounds and three assists. Garrett Hien added seven points and seven rebounds off the bench.

"It's amazing what Conley Garrison does, without necessarily scoring the ball. He just plays the game the right way," Richey said. "In my five years, I don't think I've asked a kid to shoot more that won't shoot open shots. ... But I just love watching him play the game."

Garrison is shooting 46.4 percent from three, 83.3 percent from the foul line and is averaging 8.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. He's second on the team in steals (17) and blocked shots (7). After averaging 17.3 points per game at Division II Drury last season, the grad transfer has settled in quickly at Furman.

"I had to find my role after being more of scorer on my last team. I knew being a main playmaker probably wasn't going to be my angle into getting playing time, so I had to find other ways," Garrison said. "I just try to play hard, be a stabilizer and bring toughness to the game."

Furman's first road trip in SoCon play comes this weekend when the Paladins play at VMI Saturday at 1 p.m.