|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.