|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.