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."

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