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.

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