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.

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