|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.