Friday, February 25, 2022

Furman enters finale in need of better defense

Mike Bothwell had 21 points in Furman's 83-75 loss
at Samford Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

When Furman and Samford met to open the Southern Conference schedule a little less than two months ago in Greenville, the Paladins cruised to a 32-point win and allowed just 49 points. When the teams met Wednesday in Alabama in the penultimate game of the SoCon season, Furman allowed 44 points ... in the paint alone.

The Bulldogs shot 60 percent from the floor as they won for the ninth time in their last 10 games with an 83-75 victory. The victory clinches the first winning record in SoCon play for Samford (20-9, 10-7) ever.

Samford's dynamic guard Ques Glover didn't play in that first meeting. The Florida transfer had a big impact Wednesday with a game-high 22 points, including a late four-point play that turned a one-possession lead into a three-possession lead, and six assists. But the real key to the game was the inside combination of Samford post players Logan Dye and Jermaine Marshall, who combined for 35 points and 15 rebounds.

Dye was 9-of-12 from the floor, while Marshall hit 8-of-10 free throws including four in the final 32 seconds to seal the win. One may have wondered why Furman (19-11, 11-6) never put Dye, a 67 percent foul shooter, at the line. For quite of few of those 12 shots, there was simply nobody near Dye to foul him.

"They (Samford) played with a lot of energy and passion. They had this place rocking tonight and feed off that," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "Unfortunately, we didn't do enough to impose our will. They played harder than we did, which is hard to admit but it's the reality.

"Dye and Marshall were the difference. They really beat us up inside. That's why I went with Tyrese Hughey (late in the second half) just to try to see if we could do something to get a little bit more size and physicality in there. Tyrese looked like he wanted to play defense. That's the thing with defense. It's not the natural thing you like most in this game, but it's what gets wins on the road."

While Samford is easily the hottest team in the SoCon at the moment, Wednesday was yet another poor showing by Furman's defense. Outside of a tremendous effort in the final six minutes of the win over Wofford last Saturday, that defense has been particularly poor after halftime recently. In the Paladins' last four games, every opponent has scored at least 44 points in the second half. Those last four opponents have shot a collective 56.1 percent from the floor in the second half.

Early this season, defense was a cause of concern for Furman. Given how the Paladins began to play once league play started, it seemed that much of those issues had been fixed and were perhaps a bigger sign of what was a challenging non-conference schedule. On Feb. 1, Furman ranked No. 1 in the SoCon in field goal percentage defense during league play allowing just 41.3 percent to be made. The Paladins enter Saturday's regular season finale at The Citadel, now ranked sixth in that category at 44.3 percent.

"Tonight wasn't super complicated. Unfortunately, we're not playing well enough defensively right now. It's a frustrating time to be doing that, not really bringing enough intensity to the game on the defensive end of the floor," Richey said. "Ultimately, that's on me. I've got to get it figured out. A couple of weeks ago we were playing really good defense and for whatever reason, it's dropped off."

In an atmosphere Richey said he had never experienced at Samford before, it was a bit of a back-and-forth opening half. The Bulldogs never led by more than five before halftime and Conley Garrison's lone three of the night cut that lead to 36-34 going into halftime.

In the second half, Samford made 10 of its first 11 shots. Furman's offense was hot enough to give the Paladins a lead during part that stretch, but that 10th make for the Bulldogs gave them a 60-52 lead with 11:45 left. Mike Bothwell's three-pointer with 4:38 left cut Samford's lead to 68-65. Furman had a chance to tie the game its next time down, but the Paladins' nine-second, one-pass possession ended when Bothwell missed a three. Glover then converted the four-point play to make it 72-65 with 3:52 left.

That Samford lead grew to 11 with 2:17 left before Furman went on a 10-1 run. After Bothwell converted a three-point play, Alex Hunter had a three-pointer and a layup. Marcus Foster then hit a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 77-75 with 33 seconds left. Rather than try to double team on a press or at least make Samford get the ball across midcourt, Furman fouled Marshall just one second later.

After missing his previous two free throws, Marshall made both this time. After Hunter missed a three, Marshall was fouled with 22 seconds left and again hit both. Now leading by six, the Bulldogs did a good job of making Furman dribble much of the clock on its possession. The Paladins ended up trying a a two-point shot with nine seconds left that missed, which is always a nice dose of salt in losing wound.

"We had one of our worst practices of the year Monday. It was shocking. We haven't had many like that. We just couldn't get through accountability drills that we need to get done and it kind of showed up on the court tonight," Richey said. "Unfortunately, we wanted to get in a shootout tonight and we had 12 total deflections for the game. We're not beating good teams on the road doing that. It's just not going to happen."

Bothwell had 21 points to lead Furman, while Hunter scored 19 and had four assists. Foster was the only other Paladin in double figures with 13 points and two steals. Jalen Slawson had six points, eight rebounds and six assists also for Furman.

When the Paladins tip off at 1 p.m. in Charleston Saturday, they'll need a win - or a Samford loss at SoCon regular season champion Chattanooga - to secure second place in the league. If Furman loses Saturday and Samford wins, the Bulldogs would be the No. 2 seed and Furman would slip to the No. 3 seed for next week's SoCon Tournament.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Garrison helps Paladins sweep Wofford

Conley Garrison (51) scored 19 points and Marcus Foster (5) had 14 in
Furman's 70-69 win over Wofford Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Last Wednesday, Conley Garrison surpassed the 2,000-point mark in his collegiate career as he scored 13 in Furman's win at Western Carolina on his birthday. On Saturday, he helped the Paladins accomplish something they had not done since around his seventh birthday.

Garrison scored a game-high 19 points and Furman held on as Wofford missed two shots in the final 22 seconds of the Paladins' 70-69 win at the Bob Secours Wellness Arena. After dominating the Terriers earlier this season in Spartanburg, Saturday's win gave Furman its first season sweep of Wofford in 16 years.

"I'm really proud of our group to find a way to win. We certainly made it interesting, but found a way," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Both teams competed really hard. You could feel the energy and emotion on both sides. Each team really wanted it."

Garrison's been a proven sharpshooter this season making 44.8 percent of his three-pointers, but he couldn't get a single one to fall in losses to UNC Greensboro and Chattanooga the previous two Saturdays. On the same court in which he went 0-for-7 from three against UNCG two weeks earlier, Garrison made 5-of-6 Saturday before a crowd of 5,332 at The Well. That crowd made for quite a different Senior Day experience this year for Garrison, the graduate transfer who was honored in a pregame ceremony along with fellow departing seniors Alex Hunter, Jaylon Pugh and Robert Swanson.

"Last year (at Drury University) with COVID, we were allowed four tickets per senior, so there were about 16 people in the crowd. I don't know how many were here today, but Furman fans showed out and really helped us get this victory," Garrison said. "In the games where I've struggled, I've just missed shots that I can make. I just tried to shoot without thinking about it because I know I'm a good shooter. That was the approach I took and today, they went in."

Furman (19-10, 11-5 Southern Conference) managed to pull out the win despite not having the ball for much of the final minute. That was thanks in large part to a horrific call by officials. Furman was clinging to a 70-67 lead with 53 seconds left when Wofford's Ryan Larson came up with a steal. In making the athletic swipe, Larson took about three stumbling steps with one dribble before falling to the court and briefly sliding on his right side. He then rolled over to a seated position and signaled for a timeout.

While Larson magically didn't travel and was awarded the timeout, Furman Garrett Hien had bent down to try to tie up the ball. As Hien stood up and walked towards his bench after the play, Larson began to get up before flopping on his back with arms extended despite little if any contact made by Hien. The Terriers' Max Klesmit then got in Hien's face and walked step for step back into the Furman huddle with Hien to the point where Wofford coaches had to rush over and pull him out.

Officials reviewed all of this sequence on video replay for several minutes before only calling a technical on Hien, enraging Richey. Larson made both free throws to cut the lead to one. Furman's defense, which had struggled mightily for much of the second half, nearly forced a shot clock violation on Wofford's ensuing possession as B.J. Mack launched a long prayer. It bounced off no good, but Klesmit grabbed the offensive rebound with 22 seconds left. Furman then forced a long three-point try by Mack in the final seconds. The shot bounced off no good and Hien smacked the ball away as time expired.

"Fans may be like, 'we won by 25 in Spartanburg, so we're going to roll today.' That's not how this stuff works. There's no chance that game was going to be this easy," Richey said. "First, (Wofford coach) Jay (McAuley) has a really good team. Those kids know how to play and they're competitors. There's don't have quitters out there. They had a big lead at Greensboro and lost, lost a tough one at Mercer and lost a very tough one at Samford. They're inches from being right at the top of this league.

"Second, we were all on the bench together five or six years ago. We all have similar beliefs in how the game is supposed to be played and they play it the right way. They have a tough, physical defense. They move and share the ball. They have a guy that can score on the block as well as anybody in the league in B.J. and shooters around him.

"I expected it to be a battle. As the leader of the organization what you want to see is when the battle gets intense that your group has some resolve. That's my biggest takeaway today. We needed a game like this."

Wofford coaches screamed for a foul on Jalen Slawson on the final shot. Perhaps Slawson did make contact, but it wasn't enough contact to prevent Mack's shot from missing long. If you don't believe much harder contact on shot attempts goes uncalled multiple times every game, Mike Bothwell and Slawson would like a word.

There were bad calls against both teams throughout the day, which is sadly kind of what to expect anymore. It was pretty clear who suffered the brunt of those Saturday though. Wofford was 16-of-24 from the foul line, while Furman made 10-of-11. Hien's technical was the Paladins' second of the day following a lengthy video review.

Earlier in the second half during a loose ball, Klesmit and Furman's J.P. Pegues hit the deck going for the ball. The back of Klesmit's elbow landed on Pegues' face driving the back of his head onto the court. As Klesmit lingered with his arm tangled with Pegues' left arm and his hand on Pegues' chest, Pegues used his right hand to shove Klesmit's arm away which had Klesmit flopping backwards.

In an ultimate ball-don't-lie scenario, Klesmit - an 86.7 percent foul shooter entering Saturday - missed both free throws and after Mack missed a 3-pointer, Pegues drained a three on the other end. That was the first part of Pegues scoring all eight of his game points consecutively. His second three-pointer gave Furman a 52-48 lead with 9:13 left. Marcus Foster had Furman's next five points and his three-point play with 7:13 left pushed the lead to 57-52.

That five-point lead turned into a five-point deficit in less than two minutes as the Terriers went on a 10-0 run. A Garrison three-pointer cut the Wofford lead to 62-60 with 4:53 left. After a layup by Slawson cut Wofford's lead to 63-62, Bothwell picked a heck of a time for his only points of the day. Furman's leading scorer drove to the basket, drew a foul by Klesmit, and got his layup to fall. After Bothwell completed the three-point play, Klesmit made an outstanding spinning layup to tie the game. Slawson answered with his lone made 3-pointer to put Furman ahead for good. Slawson closed out Furman's scoring with a pair of free throws to make it 70-65 with 1:56 left.

"The whole comeback was predicated off defensive stops. ... That's our best offense, analytically and that's when we have the most fun," Slawson said. "If there's anybody on our team who needs to have the ball to score us a clutch bucket, it's Mike Bothwell. He's proven that time after time."

As often seems to be the case on emotional senior days, the home team came out a little slow. Wofford jumped out to a 10-0 lead forcing a Furman timeout. Whatever was said during the timeout needs to be preserved somewhere as the Paladins answered the Terriers' opening spurt with 12 consecutive points as part of a 19-2 run. That Furman lead grew to as much as 14 in the first half before the Paladins took a 35-23 lead into halftime.

"They came out and popped us. It was 10-0 before we could blink. If you're going to get down, get down early. I thought our guys did a good job of settling in and creating the margin," Richey said. "After halftime, they came out with more intensity than we did. They came back and took the lead and then after that, it was a really high level, back and forth game. Big plays made on both sides.

"At the seven-minute mark I told our guys 'the rest of this game will define our year in a lot of ways.' We've got to be able to show that we can respond when we're not making shots and things are going against us, and man did we. They (Wofford) had made 14-of-18 buckets in the second half and they finished the game making 1-of-8."

In addition to his 19 points, Garrison had three assists and a steal. Slawson finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. Foster was the lone other Paladin in double figures with 14 points.

Mack had 17 points, seven rebounds and two blocks to lead Wofford (16-12, 8-8).

Next up for Furman is an 8 p.m. tip-off Wednesday at Samford. After a 1-6 start in SoCon play, which began with an 81-49 loss at Furman, the Bulldogs have won eight of their last nine to rise to third in the league standings. Samford's Ques Glover, a Florida transfer who didn't play in the first matchup in Greenville, ranks second in the SoCon averaging 19.3 points per game.

"Samford's good. They've beaten almost everybody in the league that's played down there in Birmingham, including Chattanooga," Richey said. "It's going to be a heck of a ballgame and we're going to have our hands full."

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Bothwell, Hunter push Paladins past Western

Alex Hunter made seven three-pointers in Furman's 103-85 win
at Western Carolina Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

CULLOWHEE, N.C. - When life gets rough, a trip to the mountains can turn out to be therapeutic. On Wednesday night, Furman showed that could apply for basketball teams as well. Mike Bothwell got aggressive and Alex Hunter got his shooting groove back as the Paladins snapped a three-game losing streak with a 103-85 win at Western Carolina.

On a night that Furman hit 20-of-23 free throws, Bothwell connected on 11-of-13 and finished with a game-high 25 points. Meanwhile, Hunter scored 23 points as he made 7-of-14 three-pointers in a building where he's used to stroking the three. That shooting effort gave Hunter 20 threes in 36 attempts in his career at Western's Ramsey Center.

"I don't know what it is about this building, but I always seem to shoot well here," Hunter said. "I'm just glad to get a win."

While Western Carolina is in last place in the Southern Conference and Furman (18-10, 10-5) ran its winning streak in the series to 13, Paladins coach Bob Richey wasn't taking anything for granted Wednesday. All three of the Catamounts' SoCon wins came on Wednesday nights in Cullowhee. Western (9-19, 3-12) was 4-0 in midweek home games this season prior to this week.

"I don't know if there's a rhythm to that, but we did not take this game lightly whatsoever. They beat Chattanooga, ETSU and Citadel in here, so we knew we had to be ready to play," Richey said. "I think our group did a good job of not worrying about all the noise and just focusing on a way to go win this game tonight. We put all our energy on that."

Some of what ailed Furman during the losing skid was a low level of energy, poor rebounding especially on offense, and simply missing open shots. On Wednesday, the Paladins found cures for those right out of the gate.

On Furman's first two offensive possessions, there were three offensive rebounds. After Bothwell got a layup to end the second possession, he drilled a three-pointer off a feed from Marcus Foster the next time down. Western's ensuing possession ended on a block by Jalen Slawson. In transition, Foster hit Slawson, who drew a shooting foul and made both free throws. Slawson found Conley Garrison for an open three which forced a Catamounts' timeout just 3:08 into the game as Furman led 10-0.

That lead grew to 42-15 with 7:15 remaining in the first half. At that point, six different Paladins had threes and they were 8-of-12 from beyond the arc as a team. After making 21 threes against the Catamounts at Timmons Arena earlier this season, Furman finished 15-of-36 (41.7 percent) Wednesday. The Paladins made just 21-of-81 (25.9 percent) over the previous three games. Hunter, Furman's all-time three-point leader, was just 4-of-15 from three in those games.

After shooting a flatter shot it seems lately, Hunter's attempts Wednesday seemed to have more of an arc. The building may have something to do with the makes, but Richey believes Hunter may have simply stopped overthinking things.

"I told him in the pregame, 'you've been in the gym all summer. You've trained for these moments. You've got to quit analyzing and evaluating your shot. You've just got to go trust it. Just go shoot the ball and I promise you're going to make half of them,' " Richey said. "I'm just proud of him. That was a good response and our team needed that. When Alex Hunter's playing well, that's a different gear for us."

Wednesday's game was an odd one at times in different ways. Most lopsided games don't see the teams combine for 44 free throws, but Wednesday's did. Nicholas Robinson, the Catamounts' leader in scoring, rebounding and steals, checked out less than three minutes in and never returned. Western's Vonterius Woolbright, who had been suspended since his last appearance in a game on Jan. 29, had 13 points off the bench.

After starting 6-of-19 from the field, Western made 14 of its next 18 field goals but could never get closer than 11 points the rest of the way. Furman only shot 47.9 percent from the floor, but grabbed offensive rebounds on 20 of its 37 missed shots. The Paladins, who started out with a 19-4 edge in rebounding in building that 27-point lead, won the rebounding battle, 41-28.

"We came out with an element of freedom that was needed and the ball was moving. Defensively, we did a much better job in the first half than the second half, but we were able to push that margin up there pretty quick and got on top of the game," Richey said. "We know we haven't lost a game this year when we've won the glass. So we've got to really emphasize it and I was really disappointed in our offensive crash in the Chattanooga game.

"We watched every single missed shot from that game on Monday and went through each person's job in terms of rebounding. Tonight, we chased balls and got 20 of them."

After scoring 18 points off the bench against Western in the first meeting this season, freshman J.P. Pegues had 15 off the bench Wednesday. Garrison was the other Paladin in double figures with 13 points and six rebounds. On his birthday with his family in attendance, Garrison also had a spectacular putback tip-in that gave him 2,000 points in his collegiate career. Slawson finished with eight points and eight rebounds.

"Pegues is going to be so good. That's why I'm trying to get him more minutes," Richey said. "We've got two fifth-year senior guards we're going to lose and I think the more experience he and Joe (Anderson) can get, the more that they're going to be able to carry a lot of those minutes."

Next up for Furman is the home finale Saturday, when the Paladins face rival Wofford at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Tip-off is set for noon.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Chattanooga hands Furman third straight loss

Jalen Slawson had 24 points and eight rebounds in Furman's 64-58
loss to Chattanooga Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

While Furman's Jalen Slawson and Chattanooga's Malachi Smith spent much of Saturday's game showing why they're two of the elite players in the Southern Conference, it was the Mocs' Darius Banks that ended up stealing the show. Banks scored 20 of his 24 points in the second half as Chattanooga rallied from an 11-point second half deficit to defeat Furman, 64-58, before a sellout crowd of 2,502 at Timmons Arena.

After being held to 20 points and 37 percent shooting in the first half, the Mocs (22-5, 12-2) piled up 44 points and shot 54.8 percent in the second half. That includes going 14-of-20 on two-pointers after halftime.

About eight days prior to Saturday, it appeared like Furman's rematch with Chattanooga would be a battle for first place in the SoCon. But after the Mocs handed the Paladins their third consecutive loss, it appears the best hope for Furman (17-10, 9-5) is to hang on to second place. It's currently one game ahead of third-place VMI with four games left in the regular season.

While Chattanooga was just 3-of-20 on three-pointers, a Furman team that entered Saturday leading the country in threes made only 4-of-23. It's the fewest made threes in a game for the Paladins since they hit 4-of-14 in a 77-73 win at Chattanooga last season.

"You don't always play perfect, but in a game like that you don't see the effort changing. Tonight, the effort dropped (in the second half) and it was pretty visible. That's a responsibility on me," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "It's not the kids' fault if they're out there not playing hard enough. It's my fault for having them out there. That's what we've got to figure out.

"Recurring things keep coming up. I have zero interest in talking about us not making shots. We didn't make shots in the first half either and we were up seven. Newsflash: we're not making shots right now. We're going to have the leadership to go out there and embrace a hard game or we're not. If we're not, we've got to be willing to take the results that we're dealt. We will get this fixed. This is completely on me."

A Chattanooga team playing without two starters, including leading rebounder Silvio DeSousa - a 6-foot-9, 250-pound Kansas transfer, dominated the boards. The Mocs had a 38-25 rebounding edge which led to a 13-5 advantage in second chance points. Even with all those long rebounds on missed three-pointers, the Paladins managed to grab just four offensive boards. In every Furman loss this season, it's also lost the rebounding battle.

"I can handle losing. I don't like it, but this is not the end of the world. If you go out there and play as hard as you can and give everything you have and lose, that's one thing," Richey said. "But when you lose and you did not give everything you had, that's unacceptable."

The first half wasn't exactly smooth for either offense, but seemingly every time Furman had a stagnant moment Slawson made a play. He had 14 points, four rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots, one steal, no turnovers and no fouls in the first half as the Paladins took a 27-20 lead into the break. Smith accounted for half of the Mocs' first half points.

Furman took its biggest lead of the day at 33-22 after Marcus Foster drained a three with 17:12 left. It was still an 11-point lead at 36-25 two minutes later on Slawson's jumper. Then a switch flipped for Chattanooga as it attacked the basket. Three consecutive layups cut Furman's lead to six and then Smith hit a three-pointer on a possession in which the Mocs grabbed two offensive rebounds. The next trip down, Banks hit a three-pointer to tie the game 37-37 with 12:06 left and Furman called timeout.

"That lead evaporated very quickly," Richey said. "We had hands on both of those offensive rebounds and unfortunately, we weren't able to pull the ball." 

It was still tied with 7:18 left when Josh Ayeni, who started in place of DeSousa, made a three-point play giving Chattanooga its first lead at 44-41. With 5:15 left, Furman's Conley Garrison drove in for a layup to tie the game 47-47, but the Mocs responded with an 11-4 run over the next three minutes.

After Mike Bothwell cut the lead to 58-56 with 1:38 left on a layup, Banks answered with a layup 23 seconds later. Foster hit a pair of free throws to slice the lead to 60-58 with 24 seconds left, but David Jean-Baptiste hit two free throws for Chattanooga seven seconds later. The Paladins threw the ball away on their ensuing possession and Banks hit two free throws with seven seconds left to close out the scoring.

Slawson finished with 24 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks, but never really touched the ball after making a dunk with 4:10 left. Bothwell and Foster were the only other Paladins in double figures with 11 points apiece. That trio accounted for 18 of Furman's 25 rebounds. For the second consecutive Saturday, Garrison struggled shooting going 0-for-6 from beyond the arc. Alex Hunter, Furman's all-time leader in three-pointers, also had a tough day as he made 1-of-5. After having 10 assists on 11 made baskets in the first half, Furman had just three on its 12 makes in the second half.

"I think that's just allowing the frustration of the game to elevate internally to where now we just don't move it as much," Richey said. "They say this game is really mental. I think this game is really emotional. You've got to be able to play this game when things aren't going in your favor because the ebbs and flows of the game are fast. You've got to be able to stabilize.

"Tonight, you get frustrated and now we're taking step-back threes with no paint touch. We're taking reversal threes with no paint touch. ... If we go out there and run our offense and don't get it in the paint, we're not going to make shots. This game can be unbelievably complicated but from a principle standpoint, that's pretty fundamental." 

In addition to his 24-point outing, Banks also had nine rebounds for the Mocs. Smith finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

Furman returns to action Wednesday at Western Carolina. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Another big Furman rally falls just short

Conley Garrison had 14 points and six rebounds in Furman's
75-71 loss at ETSU Monday. Photo courtesy of Furman

For the second consecutive game, the Furman men's basketball team managed to dig itself out of a deep hole but was left too drained by the climb to finish the job. The Paladins rallied from an 18-point deficit to take a one-point lead with 5:18 left at East Tennessee State Monday night, but only scored one more time as the Buccaneers pulled out a 75-71 win.

After a five-game winning streak in which Furman steamrolled its competition, the Paladins take back-to-back close losses into Saturday's Southern Conference showdown that's been circled all season. Second-place Furman (17-9, 9-4) hosts first-place Chattanooga (21-5, 11-2) at 2 p.m. at Timmons Arena.

Monday it seemed as if the odds finally caught up in favor of an ETSU team that had lost five straight, but by a combined total of just 15 points. It was a Bucs team that led Furman for most of the night in Greenville earlier this season before the Paladins went on a 9-0 run over the final three minutes for a nine-point win. In Monday's rematch, David Sloan's three-pointer with 5:58 left in the opening half staked ETSU to a 36-18 lead. At that point, the Bucs were 12-of-17 from the floor, including 7-of-10 on three-pointers.

"They have as much raw talent as anyone in this league. It's a make-miss game and they came out and made everything. We had a little bit to do with that, but also the place was packed and it was rocking. Our kids consistently go in these venues where there's more fans watching than they have at their place ... and they've got to learn to deal with it," Furman coach Bob Richey said Thursday. "Give our guys credit for bouncing all the way back, but the energy that had to be put forth to do all that ... you find yourself in that situation again and you come up a little bit short."

After playing Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the league schedule, Monday's game was shifted from an originally scheduled Wednesday to be televised by ESPNU. That turned out to be less than ideal for the Paladins, coming off the heartbreaking 56-54 loss to UNCG two days earlier.

"You go right to Sunday and you have to turn the page quickly, but the residue is still there. As much as you would say 'we don't want to (think about the UNCG loss),' there's still a little bit of that impact," Richey said. "It's not super complicated. Look at the first two games with UNCG and ETSU. The games weren't completely different than these last two. Either game could've gone either way.

"You're not just going to make all those shots we'd been making (during the winning streak). It was a little bit of a shock effect at the Well ... when we start off missing all these shots. We missed 19 uncontested threes. That's hard for us to do."

Furman trailed 52-37 with 16:27 left in Monday's game when it went on a 17-2 run over the next five minutes. Conley Garrison's three-pointer with 11:28 left capped the run and tied the game 54-54. The were two more ties over the next few minutes before Mike Bothwell's layup with 7:46 left gave the Paladins their first lead of the night at 64-63.

With 5:18 left, Jalen Slawson raced down the court and caught a beautiful long pass from Bothwell for a layup to give Furman a 68-67 lead. But the Paladins didn't score again until Alex Hunter's three-pointer with 2.9 seconds left that only cut ETSU's lead in half.

Those final five minutes offered a national television audience a glimpse of what turned out to be a pretty rotten week of officiating in the SoCon. After a questionable foul call on Garrett Hien allowed ETSU to take a 69-68 lead on a free throw with 3:01 left, Slawson was whistled for a horrific charge call on Furman's ensuing possession. That negated Slawson's layup which would've put Furman back in front.

With 1:24 left, it appeared that Hunter had collected a defensive rebound as he jumped to save a loose ball going out of bounds to Marcus Foster. Officials ruled the ball hit out of bounds before Hunter saved it and stuck with the ruling after a video review. After retaining possession, the Bucs got a layup to go up 71-68. On Furman's ensuing possession, another charge call went against Slawson wiping out another layup and the Paladins had more fouls in those last two minutes (three) than ETSU did in the second half (two) at that point.

It was still 71-68 with 26.5 seconds left when Hien grabbed an offensive rebound and signaled for a timeout as he hit the ground. The timeout wasn't granted however and and Hien was called for traveling. There was no video review I suppose because one would assume three officials would be able to see someone with the ball calling a timeout.

Slawson and Bothwell each scored 15 points to lead Furman. Slawson also had six rebounds, three assists and three blocks. Garrison finished with 14 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Foster and Hien each scored 10. The Paladins made 4-of-6 free throws, while ETSU made 19-of-25. 

"The more we look into causation, the more that would take away from solution. We've got to move on to the next," Richey said. "We've got Chattanooga coming to our place. We felt like we had a chance to win up there and we've got to go protect home court. It's going to be nice to be back in Timmons. It's our only league game on a Saturday in Timmons all year.

"Seven days ago, everybody thought we were going to the Final Four. Now all of sudden it sounds like we're finishing last in the Southern Conference, but that's just the nature of it. ... We're not going up to Asheville and making every shot in three games. So for us to have to work through this now, I think it could end up being a positive if we handle it correctly."

Ledarrius Brewer had a game-high 20 points, 19 of which came in the first half, 10 rebounds and four assists to lead the Bucs (13-13, 5-8).

Monday, February 7, 2022

Paladins go cold in loss to UNCG

Mike Bothwell had 18 points in Furman's 58-56 loss
to UNCG Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

For the second time in as many Furman games last week, the team that dominated the final six minutes lost Saturday. This time, it didn't work out for the Paladins. The Paladins held UNC Greensboro without a field goal over the final 6:24 of the game and went on an 18-0 run over the nearly the first six minutes of that frame. None of that was enough as the Spartans pulled out a 58-56 win before a crowd of 3,616 at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

Entering Saturday, UNCG (13-10, 5-6 Southern Conference) ranked last in the SoCon in three-point defense during league play allowing opponents to shoot 40 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Furman is the only team in the country with at least 300 made threes. Those numbers simply didn't add up Saturday as the Paladins went 6-of-28 (21.4 percent) from beyond the arc.

Furman (17-8, 9-3) wasn't much better inside the arc as it shot 30.2 percent (19-of-63) from the floor for the game. It was the poorest shooting performance by the Paladins since Feb. 26, 2015 when they shot 28.3 percent in a 53-49 win over Western Carolina.

"I thought the aggressor won the game. ... The most aggressive team that brings the most energy wins most games and I thought that stood true today," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We tried to turn the aggression the last 10 minutes and did a great job, but we had dug ourselves too big of a hole.

"Making shots is a result of great process and how you approach and play the game. We were off today because the process was poor. ... You could see it early defensively. We weren't as sharp as we needed to be."

Furman was coming off a 19-point win over The Citadel Wednesday in which it was outscored 37-13 over the final 12 minutes. That victory was powered by one of the best halves of basketball in school history when the Paladins made 14 three-pointers and put up 63 points in the opening half.

The first half on Saturday was essentially the complete opposite. Furman made 8-of-31 shots, including 3-of-17 threes, and trailed 32-22 at the break. The Spartans had first-half scoring advantages of: 20-6 in the paint, 9-0 off turnovers, 6-0 on fast breaks and 13-0 in bench scoring.

"We missed a ton of wide open threes. We didn't have the proper mentality to step into balls and knock them down. That mentality is why we'd been playing so well," Richey said. "You can't guarantee that you're going to make shots the way we've been making them every single game. But what we've got to understand is, 'why is that affecting my defensive energy,' or 'I don't feel good because I'm not scoring.' You're not going to win championships like that."

A key to Furman winning each of its previous five games by at least 15 points was the Paladins coming out strong to start the second half. That didn't occur Saturday either. UNCG had the first five points after halftime to push its lead to 15. Meanwhile, Furman made just 3-of-12 shots and had four turnovers over the first nine minutes of the second half.

With 6:25 left, Mohammed Abdulsalam's putback gave the Spartans their biggest lead at 55-38. That would turn out to be UNCG's final bucket of the night as Furman began to chip away. During the 18-0 run, Alex Hunter drained the 289th three-pointer of his career breaking Jordan Lyons' school record. That cut the lead to 55-46 with 5:11 left.

Mike Bothwell scored five consecutive points to cut the lead to 55-53 with 2:33 left. He looked to tie it up on Furman's next possession but couldn't get his layup to fall. Bothwell appeared to have the rebound, but with UNCG's 6-10 forward Bas Leyte draped over his back he lost it to Dante Treacy. Bothwell was then called for a reach in foul. It was his fifth, leaving the Paladins to play the final 2:14 without a leader who's made so many clutch shots down the stretch of close games in his career.

"You expect to still win the game. We've won games with key guys fouling out before, but that was tough," Richey said. "He's a guy that's done a great job in those late game moments. ... Getting five fouls in a game like that can't happen. We want to be aggressive, but we want to be disciplined."

Furman came all the way back when Jalen Slawson made a terrific pass from one side of the court to the other for Garrett Hien, who entered after Bothwell fouled out. Hien drained a corner three to give the Paladins a 56-55 lead with 59 seconds left as the crowd erupted.

On UNCG's next possession, Marcus Foster grabbed a rebound but had it tipped away right to Leyte who was fouled with 32 seconds left. Leyte made both free throws to give the Spartans a 57-56 lead. On Furman's ensuing possession, Slawson found Foster who couldn't get his open three to fall.

Slawson appeared to have the offensive rebound, but Leyte tied him up as both fell to the ground. The jump ball gave possession to UNCG and Leyte was fouled with 6.6 seconds left. Leyte made 1-of-2 free throws to push the lead to two. Foster could not get a running jumper to fall as time expired.

"We haven't lost a game yet when we've won the boards. We lost the boards today by six. We had more offensive rebounds than they did, but theirs were more timely. That just made it harder and took us longer to cut into the margin," Richey said. "Give them credit. They came here and brought more energy than we did and got confidence off that. If we want to go where we want to go, that can't happen.

"Our guys did show tremendous resiliency. This doesn't change our goals. We still have games on the schedule that we get to go play, but we've got to learn from it. ... I think we're going to see some things on film that we're going to have to learn from."

 A Furman team that prides itself on defensive deflections, had quite a few down the stretch and forced 16 turnovers. But the Paladins scored just 11 points off those. Meanwhile, the Spartans scored 18 points off of Furman's 10 turnovers.

Bothwell had a game-high 18 points and three steals to lead Furman, while Foster had 10 points and eight rebounds. Slawson had nine points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals, but was just 3-of-14 from the floor. Conley Garrison, who's been so consistently solid all season, had his roughest game as a Paladin as he went 1-for-8, including 0-of-7 from three. Garrison entered Saturday having made 53.2 percent of his threes in league play and 48.6 percent for the season.

There's no time for Furman to sulk about the tough loss. The Paladins travel to ETSU Monday to take on the Buccaneers at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Incredible first half helps Furman rip Citadel

Alex Hunter had 16 points in Furman's 102-83 win over
 The Citadel Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

There have probably been plenty of basketball games where a team was outscored 37-13 over the final 12 minutes of a game in which the winner was never in doubt. Such was the case Wednesday night at Timmons Arena. But in this particular case, the never-in-doubt winner was the team that barely averaged one point per minute over those final 12.

That's just how phenomenal Furman was over the first 28.

Six Paladins scored in double figures as Furman rolled to a 102-83 victory over rival The Citadel. The Paladins raced out to a 63-31 halftime lead and pushed it to a 43-point lead with 12:16 left in the game. Shortly after Furman (17-7, 9-2) ran its winning streak to five consecutive games Wednesday, Samford upset Chattanooga leaving the Paladins atop the SoCon standings a half-game ahead of the Mocs.

"What a first half. That was incredible. We played with tremendous rhythm and it started with our defensive intensity," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We had 17 assists, two turnovers and 17 deflections in the first half. It was a lot of good activity and we were really locked in.

"It stayed that way for the most part. I probably subbed a little too early tonight, but it's a situation where getting minutes for those (bench) guys is really valuable. ... We've got to understand there's a standard when you go out there, and unfortunately there were of couple of them that I didn't think were ready to play. ... We were outrebounded 23-12 in the second half. That's just not good enough."

So much of what has been seen during the Paladins' winning streak could be summed up in the opening possession Wednesday. Mike Bothwell snatched an offensive rebound out of the hands of a Bulldog and found Conley Garrison for a corner three.

Furman seemed determined to drive the ball from the outset. Bothwell converted a three-point play and made another layup on the Paladins' next possessions. On it's next trip down on offense, Marcus Foster was fouled on his layup attempt. He made both free throws to push Furman's lead to 10-0 before making a layup on the Paladins' next possession.

Then the threes started raining down from Furman and it didn't take long for the Bulldogs to get buried under them. Alex Hunter, who had gotten off to some slow shooting starts since taking a nasty head-first spill against Presbyterian on Dec. 21, drained each of his first four threes Wednesday. The fourth one staked Furman to a 37-12 lead with 9:45 left in the first half.

"Honestly, it's just been in my head a lot how I've been shooting the ball. This team is built on putting our energy in on defense. ... I was playing free of mind back in November and December. I'm just trying to put more emphasis on playing free, flying around on defense and moving the ball. I know it's going to come back to me because this team is so unselfish," Hunter said. "It was nice seeing those go in, but I credit Coach and the team for continuing to believe in me. The ball's going to find who it needs to."

After Citadel went on an 8-0 run late in the first half, Furman's J.P. Pegues knocked down a three-pointer before the horn to cap one of the greatest halves of basketball in school history. The Paladins shot 63.6 percent from the floor in the first half, including 70 percent (14-of-20) from beyond the arc. They had 17 assists on their 21 made baskets and two turnovers. Furman didn't commit its first turnover until there was 4:30 left in the half with the Paladins leading 56-21.

The 63 points were the third most allowed by Citadel in an opening half ever and the most it had ever allowed in the first half of a SoCon game.

"We're locked in. The work that everyone on this team has put in is coming to fruition now. That work was put in in the summer time. I saw young guys like J.P. Pegues in Joe Anderson in the gym just as much as I am. Obviously, our older veterans put in the work too," Hunter said. "To have younger guys pushing me is a new feeling and a big-time experience.

"In the past, I think we've peaked early. ... I feel like we're getting hot at the right time and we will keep trending in that right direction."

The biggest highlight of a first half filled with them came when Bothwell channeled his inner-Jalen Slawson and soared to the basket for a thunderous dunk on a cadet.

"I honestly didn't know if I was going to get there but when I did, I just dunked it," Bothwell said with a smile. "We're just having fun out there in a constructive way. We're having fun playing with each other, having fun guarding and having fun the way we're shooting the ball.

"We're just keeping that positive vibe when we're on the court. It's carrying over from game to game, which is really good to see."

After the dunk, Richey turned back with a wide-eyed look to his bench as if to ask, 'did y'all know he could do that?'

"I didn't know if he could get it there either, but he did. ... That was a high-level play," Richey said. "That's a credit to him and a credit to (basketball strength coach) Matt Aldred. Matt's as important as anybody on our staff. He's got those guys in great shape right now."

There was no let up coming out of halftime for Furman. The Paladins made 12 of their first 14 shots over the first eight minutes of the second half to improve its shooting percentage to 70.2 percent at that point. The last of those was a Joe Anderson three-pointer that made it 89-46 with 12:16 left.

Things got a little sloppy for Furman the rest of the way. The Paladins made just two three-pointers and had five assists and six turnovers after halftime. Furman finished 39-of-71 (54.9 percent) from the floor for its most made field goals against a SoCon opponent since making 40-of-75 in a 94-79 win at Samford on Feb. 17, 2018.

Furman's bench has now evolved to the point of Richey wondering if they were the ones now getting a bit gassed after playing so much more than they ever have before lately. In the blowout win at Mercer Saturday, only one Furman starter played more than 24 minutes. Against Citadel Wednesday, no starter played 20 minutes. Meanwhile, four bench players each logged more than 20.

"Maybe it was a deal where they (bench) just weren't used to those kind of minutes. The amount of exhaustion when you're playing two- and three-minute clips and you're out vs. playing through a media (timeout) is big," Richey said. "You're out there having to run the floor and get in a (defensive) stance. It's those small things. Everything comes down to details and it's hard sometimes to get young guys to understand that.

"Our communication wasn't clean. ... I felt like the spirit got down. That was the biggest thing. Once the spirit gets down, that's when mistakes start to compound. Fortunately, we had a good margin. ... I don't want to lose the focus here. We won by 19 at home and I'm more than thankful for that."

Slawson had 17 points and five rebounds in just 16:27 to lead Furman. Hunter finished with 16 points, while Anderson had 14 and four assists. Foster had 13 points and five rebounds, while Bothwell and Pegues each scored 12. Garrett Hien had seven points and five assists and Garrison had seven points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a plus-minus of +40.

Freshman Jason Roche made 7-of-10 three-pointers to score a game-high 22 points for Citadel, which played without SoCon preseason player of the year Hayden Brown (thigh contusion). Stephen Clark had 16 points, five rebounds and six assists also for the Bulldogs (9-12, 3-7).,

Furman will next host UNC Greensboro Saturday at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for noon.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Balanced Paladins thump Mercer

Tyrese Hughey had 11 points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes
in Furman's 80-50 win at Mercer. Photo courtesy of Furman

How things fared for Furman on its trip to Mercer Saturday could best be summed up like this: Reserve Garrett Hien was its leading scorer with 12 points and the Paladins still ended up with 80. Five Paladins scored in double figures as they crushed the Bears, 80-50, for their 14th consecutive win in the series.

It's the fourth consecutive win for Furman (16-7, 8-2 Southern Conference), which has won those games by a combined 108 points. The last time the Paladins had four straight SoCon wins by at least 15 points apiece was in February of 2018 when they did it five games in a row. 

It's most lopsided Southern Conference loss ever for Mercer (12-10, 5-4), which lost at home in SoCon play for the first time since Furman's visit to Macon last season. The last time the Bears lost any game by more than 30 points was a 99-59 defeat at Vanderbilt on Dec. 21, 2009.

"We had a season-high 37 deflections, 20 assists and 10 turnovers. We had five guys in double figures and our two preseason All-SoCon guards were not," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "Alex Hunter just wants to win. Mike Bothwell just wants to win. If we can have those two playing with the energy they played with and five others around them in double figures, we're going to be tough to beat on those nights.

"It's hard to get a group to really buy in to full connection. Our group is experiencing winning from it and they're loving the winning from it. We've got to continue to be like this."

Mercer actually took a 12-11 lead on Kamar Robertson's layup with 13:29 left in the first half. The Bears' lone lead lasted all of seven seconds. That's how long it took Joe Anderson to find Marcus Foster for a three-pointer, which started a 9-0 Furman run over the next two-and-a-half minutes.

It was a 32-24 lead with 4:31 left before the Paladins scored the next 12 points and took a 44-25 lead into halftime. That flurry consisted of three-pointers by Hunter and Conley Garrison, layups by Bothwell and Hien, and another mesmerizing dunk by Jalen Slawson.

Slawson, who recorded Furman's first triple-double at Winthrop earlier this season, was on quadruple-double watch by halftime. He had nine points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals in the opening half.

There was no let up by Furman after halftime as Garrison and Hunter hits threes and Bothwell had a pair of layups to push the lead to 54-29 with 16:35 left. Slawson had assists on three of those four buckets. Furman was in such a commanding position that it withstood an 0-for-5 stretch from the floor over five-plus minutes to still lead 61-40 with eight-and-a-half minutes left. 

There was not another triple-double for Slawson Saturday simply because it wasn't needed. With another game looming against Wofford two days later and Saturday's verdict obvious, Mercer coach Greg Gary rested his starters for much of the second half and Richey did the same.

"Conley Garrison had 10 points, but was at plus 36 on the court tonight. He's got all the intangibles. When you've got somebody that's willing to put the emphasis of the team first, it's just been a beautiful thing and cool to see how it's transcended in our team," Richey said. "Conley came up to me late in the second half and said, 'Pugh's family is all here. Put him in.' When you can have people that care about their teammates like that, this becomes a lot of fun."

Pugh's family saw the senior from Cartersville, Georgia pop a 3-pointer to cap Furman's scoring with 1:25 left. 

Slawson finished with 11 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, five steals and a block in 24 minutes. Foster had 11 points, four rebounds and four steals in 18 minutes, while reserve Tyrese Hughey had 11 points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes. Garrison finished with 10 points, while Bothwell and Anderson each scored eight.

"Jalen Slawson just continues to impact the game in every single area," Richey said.

Furman outrebounded Mercer 34-29, including 13 offensive boards. The Paladins, who outrebounded opponents only four times in their first 12 games this season, have won the rebounding battle six of the last seven games. During the four-game winning streak, Furman has grabbed 48 offensive rebounds. In SoCon play, the Paladins rank third in rebounding margin at plus 2.9.

Furman finished with 34 points in the paint, 34 bench points and 34 points off Mercer's season-worst 22 turnovers. The Paladins had 20 assists and 16 steals. Furman (412) and Belmont (418) are the only teams in the country with more than 400 assists.

"Our young guys really pushed it there late. They were tremendous in the last eight minutes and got a lot of valuable experience," Richey said. "I've been here awhile, so I can make this comparison. Tyrese Hughey reminds you a lot of Kris Acox in just his body and his ability to get quick off the floor."

Robertson was the lone Bear with more than seven points as he scored a game-high 13. Mercer standout Felipe Haase, who was averaging 16.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game in league play entering Saturday, had six points on 2-of-5 shooting, three rebounds and one assist in 22 minutes.

The Paladins return to action Wednesday when they host Citadel at 7 p.m.