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.

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