Saturday, January 29, 2022

Fresh Paladins pull away late to put away VMI

Mike Bothwell drives for a layup against VMI. Bothwell had 14 points, eight
rebounds and four assists in Furman's 79-64 win. Photo courtesy of Furman

Furman men's basketball coach Bob Richey has noted all season that typically the team that plays the best in the final segment of the game, wins it. Of late, he's also noted just how effective the Paladins' bench has become. On Wednesday night, each of those thoughts played out and helped Furman snap a three-game losing streak against VMI.

The Paladins outscored the Keydets 18-3 over the final 4:51 to turn a tie game into a 79-64 victory at Timmons Arena. After scoring 34 and 19 points, respectively, in blowout wins over Western Carolina and Wofford last week, Furman's bench had just five points. But its role proved just as significant as the past two games for how fresh Paladin starters were down the stretch. Furman reserves logged 49 minutes and 32 seconds, while VMI's bench - which had no points - played a total of 31 minutes and 26 seconds.

"The reason we've decided to go to our depth is because, first of all, those guys have been practicing and deserve the minutes. Secondly, it's because we were seeing a trend late in games ... where we just didn't play with attention to detail and we looked fatigued," Richey said. "We're 22 games in this season and we've got a lot of close game experience. In every single one of those, the team that's played the best the last four minutes has won. You've got to be conditioned to be able to do that.

"I've been wanting to keep everybody 30 minutes or less. We had a few guys at 32 (minutes played) tonight, but that's a lot better than 35-37. Even if it's 32-35, that three minutes of game clock rest is 10-12 (real time) minutes. That's a long period of time to rest and I thought the game tempo and depth was a big deal tonight."

Furman (15-7, 7-2 Southern Conference) led by as many as 11 in the first half and 39-30 at the break. VMI clawed its way back in it in the second half and took its first lead since the 14:04 mark of the first half when Honor Huff hit a pair of free throws with 6:20 left. The game was tied 61-61 with 4:51 remaining when Conley Garrison's three-pointer started the Paladins game-sealing run.

Garrison's three also ignited the game's biggest sequence. On VMI's ensuing possession, standout center Jake Stephens had his layup blocked by Jalen Slawson. The ball was headed out of bounds and looked to go back to VMI before Mike Bothwell soared in and saved it back to Slawson. An offensive rebound by Garrison on the other end led to a three-point play by Bothwell to make it 67-61. On the Keydets' next possession, Bothwell snatched the ball clean out of Stephens' hands for a steal that led to a free throw by Marcus Foster. Bothwell then had a block on VMI's next shot and appeared to have a jump ball going for an offensive rebound, but was mistakenly called for a foul.

All of that activity came on a night when Bothwell was 6-of-16 from the floor, including 1-of-7 from three, as he had numerous shots go in and out. He finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and four assists. 

"Mike was phenomenal. The best thing about him tonight was that he didn't allow his missed shots to impact his spirit," Richey said. "That play he made on the pick-and-roll coverage on the steal (of Stephens) was incredible. That was a layup that he erased and then put us in transition. Those are game-changing plays.

"We were able to close the game with our best defense of the night. We knew we were going to get tested and we did. For them to take the lead there and for us to respond and finish the game the way we did is a great sign for our group."

After a tough layup made by Garrison, Slawson hit a big three over Stephens to push Furman's lead to 73-64 with 1:35 left. The Paladins hit 6-of-8 free throws the rest of the way to close it out. Over the final 4:31 of the game. the Keydets (11-10, 4-5) went 0-for-9 from the floor - with five shots blocked, and 3-of-6 from the foul line.

Furman's defensive effort down the stretch was all the more impressive considering that VMI entered Wednesday leading the SoCon in scoring (80.6 points per game) and shooting (49.5 field goal percentage) in league play.

"At the beginning of the year, we (starters) were playing upwards of 35 minutes a night. We don't think that's sustainable for our style of play. Our bench guys being able to step up and grow up quickly has been huge," said Slawson, who finished with 21 points, nine rebounds, four steals and three blocks. "I absolutely have felt more fresh at the end of games the past couple of weeks."

In a battle of the only two teams in the country with more than 250 made three-pointers this season, the Paladins hit 14-of-41 while the Keydets made 8-of-23. It was the second-lowest total number of threes in a game for VMI this season. Furman had 19 assists on its 28 field goals to remain second nationally with 392 assists this season, four fewer than Belmont.

Garrison helped Furman's first half push as he scored 14 of his game-high 22 points before halftime. The 6-foot-1 guard was also a key in Furman winning the rebounding battle, 47-32, which included 18 offensive boards for the Paladins. Garrison had eight boards, including six offensive. as well as four assists. Alex Hunter had 10 points and five assists, while Foster had seven points, six rebounds and three blocks also for the Paladins.

"It was huge for us guards to crack down and get those boards, especially the way we were fronting Stephens," Garrison said. "Offensive rebounding is really important to our game. We get a lot of threes up, so there's a lot of long misses. If we can create those extra possessions, we think we're good enough shooters to make a lot of them."

Stephens led VMI with 20 points and eight rebounds, but was held to just five points after halftime. Kamdyn Curfman, who's third in the country in made three-pointers, had half of the Keydets' total as he went 4-of-8 from beyond the arc and finished with 16 points. Trey Bonham, who has been a thorn in Furman's side the last two seasons, had 11 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Furman returns to action Saturday at Mercer at 6 p.m.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Furman rolls to first win at Wofford in 11 years

Jalen Slawson dunks during Furman's 75-50
win at Wofford. Photo courtesy of Furman

SPARTANBURG - The Furman men's basketball team has rewritten the school's record book over the past few seasons, accomplishing plenty of things it had never done before. The one person who's had the longest ticket for the Paladins' ride from the bottom to the top of the Southern Conference has been Bob Richey.

In his 11th season with the Paladins and fifth as head coach, there was one thing left that Richey had never experienced prior to Saturday night. Over the past few seasons, the Furman-Wofford basketball rivalry has evolved into the best in the SoCon. It's been filled with emotion, respectful intensity, electric crowds and talented players and coaches. Some matchups have ended on heartbreaking or thrilling final-second shots, depending on if you're dressed in purple or black. But the one result not seen in more than a decade was a Furman win on Wofford's court.

Until Saturday night.

There were no last-second deciding shots this night though. Hopes of a dramatic finish were pretty much buried under an avalanche of Furman three-pointers less than halfway through the second half. While none of those previous matchups mattered once the ball was tipped off Saturday, it seemed as if the Paladins unleashed 11 years worth of frustration out as they cruised to a 75-50 win.

Months after the Furman football team crushed the Terriers for it's first win in Spartanburg since 2006, it was the basketball team's first win there since Jan. 24, 2011. That 2010-11 season was Richey's final one as an assistant at Charleston Southern before coming to Furman.

"They've obviously played well against us in this series. Coming into this, you want to be good emotionally but you want to be in a mindset where you compete the right way," Richey said. "I know how important this game is, but I wanted our team to be comfortable just being us. We came in here as the No. 1 defense, No. 1 shooting and No. 1 ball movement team in the league. Just trust that.

"I feel like sometimes we've come in here and wanted it too bad or listened to too much of the noise surrounding it. ... I think our guys did a good job tonight of just staying in the present."  

For the second consecutive game, Furman followed up a terrific opening half with an even better second half. After making 9-of-22 three-pointers in the first half to take a 37-27 lead into the break, the Paladins made 9-of-15 in the second half. Furman shot 59.1 percent from the floor overall in the second half, while holding Wofford to 33.3 percent (7-of-21). For the game, the Paladins had more threes (18) than the Terriers had field goals (17-of-45).

It was the lowest point total this season for Wofford, which entered Saturday on a three-game winning streak. The Terriers (12-8, 4-4) scored 87, 84 and 89 points, respectively, in those three games.

"Everybody loves to talk about our offense. Our offense is a lot of fun and I respect that, but we're the top defense in the league right now," Richey said. "A big message to our team this week was that we have to start taking pride in that. This was team defense tonight.

"They've got a tough system to guard. They really space you, move well and pass it well. They've got an interior presence and shooters around it. It's not an easy assignment and I credit our guys for being willing to play as hard as they had to for as long as they had to tonight."

On a few recent trips to Wofford, Furman seemingly came out tight and would have to fight to dig itself out of an early hole. That was not the case Saturday. Each of Furman's "big three" of Jalen Slawson, Alex Hunter and Mike Bothwell knocked down a three-pointer and then reserve Joe Anderson drained one to stake the Paladins to a 12-5 lead five minutes in. Furman had seven rebounds in those first five minutes, four of which were offensive.

Then Slawson produced 27 seconds of thrilling basketball. He poked the ball away on defense, got it back and dribbled to the three-point line. Then it was just two steps inside the arc for liftoff as he soared to the basket for a thunderous dunk. Slawson started down the Wofford student section, turned and yelled something to his teammates on the bench, and still managed to get back and block the Terriers' next shot.

"I didn't know if I was going to dunk it or not. I kind of took off and was in the air when I realized I was high enough to dunk it," Slawson said. "This game's important to us, our university, our faculty and staff, our fellow students.

"We just wanted to come out and put that on display for 40 minutes. ... You can't do something for 40 minutes if you don't start the right way."

That helped Furman push it's lead to 16-9. While it seemed to be a momentous flurry, a media timeout stopped play after the blocked shot landed out of bounds. Coming out of the timeout, Wofford went on a 7-0 run to tie the game. Nineteen seconds later, Marcus Foster answered with a three and Furman never relinquished the lead.

B.J. Mack's putback cut the Paladins lead to 25-22 with 5:43 left, but Slawson hit a three 19 seconds later. That started a 12-3 run over a five-minute stretch as Furman took command.

Max Klesmit, who was coming off a 27-point performance in Wofford's win over Citadel, had his only points of the game Saturday on a three-pointer with 18:24 left that cut the Paladins' lead to 39-32. Furman responded with a 15-0 run over the next six minutes that began with a Bothwell layup and ended with a Bothwell three. The Paladins never led by fewer than 19 the rest of the way.

Slawson put the cherry on top of his performance when he simply held the ball as the shot clock expired before knocking down a step-back three to push Furman's lead to 29.

Eight different Paladins had threes, led by Slawson's 4-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc. Eight also had at least one assist as Furman finished with 18 to up its NCAA-leading total to 373 this season.

"When you've got a group that believes in one another like this, you've just trust that you're all going out for the mission," Richey said. "You could feel the cohesion tonight."

In addition to his 18 points, Slawson had five rebounds and three blocks. Bothwell had 15 points and five rebounds, Foster had 10 points and five rebounds, while Hunter had 10 points and four assists.

After getting 34 points from it's bench in Furman's 88-50 win over Western Carolina last Wednesday, the bench had 19 points on Saturday. Garrett Hien and J.P. Pegues led the reserves with eight points apiece. In last season's 74-73 loss at Wofford, the Paladins had just five bench points.

"Our depth fresh is better than our starters tired. That's a credit to our assistant coaches and strength coaches. We've got to put these guys out there because they're good players," Richey said. "It's allowed us to play faster and harder. From a philosophical view, it's allowed us to play more connected because you have more guys feeling like they're engaged in what's going on."

Mack was the lone double-figure scorer for Wofford as he had 14 points and nine rebounds. It was the Terriers most lopsided home loss since a 79-50 loss to College of Charleston on Jan. 26, 2013.

Furman returns to action Wednesday, hosting VMI at 7 p.m.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Depth and defense help Furman rout Western

Freshman J.P. Pegues hit six three-pointers in Furman's 88-50
win over Western Carolina. Photo courtesy of Furman

At Timmons Arena Wednesday night, Western Carolina's leading scorer this season had twice as many points at Furman's leading scorer. In some places, that could spell doom for the home team. In the Paladins' case though, depth and defense made it merely an afterthought.

Led by J.P. Pegues' career-high 18 points, Furman's bench contributed 34 points as the Paladins crushed the Catamounts, 88-50. Furman held Western to 34 percent shooting from the field, although that stat is a bit misleading. The Catamounts went 6-for-6 from the floor over the final 3:11 after shooting 25.5 percent up to that point. It took Western 30 attempts - and more than 21 game minutes - to make its first six shots Wednesday.

"I thought we played a complete game on both ends of the floor. Everybody that played did a good job of contributing," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "I could go through all nine guys (of the current rotation) and think of key moments they had.

"A lot of people were probably wondering why we continue to give the Pegues the minutes we've been giving him. The reason is tonight. We knew there was a possibility of that happening at any point. I've been here a long time and seen a lot of good guards. I'm telling you right now, he's going to be one of them. He's going to be special."

Furman (13-7, 5-2 Southern Conference) leading scorer Jalen Slawson, who entered averaging 15.6 points per game, had three points on a three-pointer that pushed Furman's lead to 80-38 with 4:06 left. That was just his second - and final - shot of the night. As Slawson often does, he found other ways to make an impact with 10 rebounds, five assists and a plus-minus scoring margin of plus-33 in his 24:58 on the court.

Meanwhile, Catamounts' leading scorer Nicholas Robinson had six points on 2-of-9 shooting, including 0-of-4 from three. The grad transfer from Valparaiso entered Wednesday averaging 15.1 points per game. As a team, Western (8-11, 2-4) went just 4-of-23 (17.4 percent) from beyond the arc.

"I was really proud of Jalen Slawson. There are ways to affect the game other than scoring," Richey said. "When you buy into that and just commit to doing the things that win, you're able to have the performance he had tonight. He had a ton of deflections, was all over the place defensively and was really able to help our tempo."

The Paladins getting to the 88-point mark was fairly amazing considering the fact that they trailed 8-7 at the under-12 media timeout in the first half. With Furman not having any luck in getting threes to fall early on, Mike Bothwell got aggressive out of the timeout. He had a pair of layups to start a 9-0 run that he ended with a three.

It was a 16-10 game before Alex Hunter knocked down a three with 5:36 left in the half. That's when the Catamounts' bad night escalated quickly. On Furman's next possession, Joe Anderson flew down the court and made a perfect no-look pass to Hunter cutting to the basket. Hunter fired a pass to an open Pegues for a corner three. The electrifying sequence brought the crowd to its feet.

"I think the crowd definitely played a part (in my night). All the noise and energy kind of lifts up everybody," Pegues said. "And we stuck to our core of being good teammates. Like Coach Richey always says, 'the ball will find whoever it needs to find if we stick to our principles.' "

After Pegues' first made three, Furman's next three possessions ended with: an Anderson three; an Anderson three; a Pegues three. That 16-10 Paladins lead became a 31-10 lead in a span of 2:11.

Furman took a 33-16 lead into halftime. Western made 5-of-28 shots (17.9 percent) in the opening half. It was the fewest points allowed in a half by the Paladins since Jan. 25, 2017. On that night, Furman led the Catamounts 40-14 at the break and went on to an 85-37 win at Timmons.

"I'm really proud of this group for keeping our defensive intensity when we weren't hitting shots early on," said Bothwell, who celebrated his 22nd birthday with a game-high 26 points. "When it came time for us to start making shots, we didn't have to come from behind because our defensive energy didn't slip."

Slow starts to the second half have been a problem this season for the Paladins, including last Saturday's heartbreaking two-point loss at Chattanooga. That wasn't the case against Western. Conley Garrison opened the second half with back-to-back threes. Hunter and Bothwell hit threes and another Garrison three with 14:48 left capped a 16-6 run that pushed Furman's lead 49-22.

"We've been watching and trying to figure out this problem in those first four minutes after halftime. ... It was neat tonight to keep winning those four-minute battles and continue to push the margin," Richey said. "I thought we played better in the second half overall. It's good to see growth there. When we have all nine of those guys ready to play and they all contribute, we're able to stay fresh and it makes a big impact.

"We ask these guys to run the floor, fly around on defense and cut on offense. It's an exhausting style of play if you're trying to do it really hard, so we've got to continue to trust our depth."

After that initial flurry to open the second half, reserves went back to work and the Paladins didn't miss a beat. Furman took it's biggest lead of the night at 88-44 on Pegues' final shot with 1:13 left. The freshman made 6-of-9 three-pointers, and also had four rebounds, three assists and no turnovers.

Pegues is the eighth different Paladin to score at least 15 points in a game this season. A total of 11 players on Furman's roster have scored 15 in a game. Jonny Lawrence and Colin Kenney, who've each been sidelined by injuries this season, and Jaylon Pugh all had at least 15-point games last season.

"The fun part of this team is that you never know when it's going to be your time like it was for J.P. tonight," Bothwell said. "We know that any night can be your night because of our ball movement and the way teams scheme against other players in other ways. That helps guys keep working to stay ready for their moment."

Garrison also reached double figures as he had 12 points on four threes. Hunter finished with nine points on three threes, five rebounds, five assists and two steals. Anderson had nine points on three threes and three steals off the bench. After starting the night 2-of-13 from three, the Paladins made 19-of-31 the rest of the way.

Furman (13-7, 5-2 Southern Conference) won the rebounding battle 42-32 and 10 different Paladins had at least one assist. Furman finished with 25 assists on its 29 field goals, and also had nine steals and nine turnovers. From the 12:24 mark of the first half to the 2:56 mark of the second, the Paladins had just two turnovers.

Furman will next play at Wofford on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Untimely errors cost Furman at Chattanooga

Jalen Slawson scored a game-high 22 points, but Furman fell
at Chattanooga Saturday, 71-69. Photo courtesy of Furman

When Furman played at Chattanooga on Saturday it was the first game in the Southern Conference's multi-year contract with CBS Sports Network. The SoCon could not have asked for a better first impression to give the national cable network. It was a battle for first place in the league and the Paladins and Mocs looked every bit like the cream of a rich crop.

Furman had a season-low five turnovers and committed just 11 fouls, but some of those few mistakes came at critical times and Chattanooga seized on those opportunities. The Mocs' Malachi Smith capped his 21-point day with two free throws with 7.6 seconds left and Chattanooga held on for a 71-69 win as Furman's Marcus Foster missed a layup at the buzzer.

The loss snaps Furman's eight-game winning streak in the series. Furman coach Bob Richey fell for the first time to the Mocs, while Chattanooga coach Lamont Paris topped the Paladins for the first time.

"I don't think we played poorly by any stretch. That was a high-level game, with a high-level attendance here. It's as good as I've ever seen it here," Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "Unfortunately, we just had a few discipline mistakes late that we've got to be better at. I'm disappointed, but not discouraged. Even without (leading three-point shooter David Jean-) Baptiste, they've got a really good team and played well today."

While both teams provided two hours of terrific basketball, those few mistakes weren't the only thing that cost Furman. Perhaps the Paladins' two biggest issues this season lingered on Saturday. Furman was outrebounded 37-25 for the game and was outscored by 13 points over the first 7:07 of the second half.

"I told the team, 'I don't think we can expect to win these big games losing the boards by 12.' Some days we're decent at it and some days we just don't seem like it's a priority," Richey said. "I know they're bigger than we are, but we can't accept that. ... What would it have been if we had just kept it respectable? If it's 34-29 (rebounding edge for Chattanooga), we probably win the game."

That slow start to the second half may have been abetted by a sour end to a pretty sweet first half for Furman. The Paladins' first turnover of the game came with 3:46 left in the first half and resulted in a steal and layup for Chattanooga's Darius Banks to cut Furman's lead to 29-26.

Consecutive three-pointers by Jalen Slawson, Mike Bothwell and Alex Hunter helped the Paladins take a 38-31 lead. Furman should've taken at least that lead into the break as it had the ball for what should've been the final possession. However, Banks made a another steal with 11 seconds left. That led to a monster dunk by the Mocs' 6-foot-9 Kansas transfer Silvio DeSousa as time expired in the half.

A 19-6 run by Chattanooga to start the second half put Furman in a 52-44 hole.

"I've got to figure this thing out. We're not coming out with the necessary pop after halftime," Richey said. "We've talked about it as a team. Maybe we're talking about it too much. I don't know. We just don't have the same intensity for whatever reason."

The Paladins fought back from the eight-point deficit and recaptured the lead on Bothwell's layup with 4:15 left. Slawson hit a pair of free throws with 2:26 left to push the Paladins' lead to 67-64, but Banks had a three-point play to tie it 26 seconds later.

Slawson made two more free throws with 1:35 left and Banks missed a three-pointer on the Mocs' ensuing possession. But Chattanooga grabbed one of its 13 offensive rebounds and Smith made a layup to tie the game 69-69 with 1:02 left. Hunter had an open jumper near the foul line with 34 seconds left, but couldn't get it to fall.

With a difference of about four seconds on the shot and game clock, the Mocs dribbled out much of the remaining time. Bothwell anticipated a pass to Smith, the SoCon's leading scorer who had 17 points in the second half, out past the top of the key. Bothwell got his right hand on the ball but was whistled for the body contact foul with 7.6 seconds left.

It obviously turned out to be a monumental play once Smith drained both free throws, but given Bothwell's late game heroics this season it's hard to blame him for trying. If he manages to tip the ball away, it's going to at least be a shot clock violation and Furman's ball with 3-4 seconds left. If he manages to tip it and get the steal, he's coasting the other way for a game-winning layup.

Furman had called timeout before Smith's free throws and played on after them. Bothwell dribbled to the paint and dished to Foster in the right corner. Foster easily got around his man and appeared to have a clear path down the baseline for a game-tying layup. However, Smith made a fantastic play to flash in front of Foster with his hand up and then quickly pulled it down to avoid contact. The split-second distraction undoubtedly helped make Foster's layup bounce too hard off the glass as time expired.

"Marcus is going to make that layup more times than not. ... We actually called something different during the timeout. It was one of our simplest plays, but we didn't line up right," Richey said. "There's more mistakes that we've got to be better in. The and-one to Banks was huge to let him go left right down the lane and then the foul up here (on Bothwell). For them to take the lead (on a foul) 30 feet from the basket. You can't go body bump a guy out there.
"This a hard one. The guys are hurt. The most important thing is that we take the pain from this game and turn it into progress."

It was a heartbreaking end, especially for Foster who had been playing so well entering Saturday. After scoring in double figures in each of the previous three games, Foster had five points on 2-of-9 shooting but did lead Furman in rebounds with seven. No other Paladin had more than four boards.

Slawson finished with a game-high 22 points, four assists and two steals. Bothwell had 15 points and four assists, while Hunter scored 13 points for Furman (12-7, 4-2). After making 7-of-12 three-pointers in the first half, the Paladins hit just 2-of-11 in the second half.

In addition to his 21 points, Smith had nine rebounds and two steals for Chattanooga (14-4, 4-1). The Wright State transfer has 12 20-point games this season, 10 shy of the school's single-season record held by Gerald Wilkins. DeSousa finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, while Banks had seven points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals. Grant Ledford, who was 12-of-49 from three (24.5 percent) entering Saturday, made 3-of-4 and had 13 points off the bench also for the Mocs.

Furman returns to action Wednesday hosting Western Carolina at 7 p.m.

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.