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.

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