Monday, February 7, 2022

Paladins go cold in loss to UNCG

Mike Bothwell had 18 points in Furman's 58-56 loss
to UNCG Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

For the second time in as many Furman games last week, the team that dominated the final six minutes lost Saturday. This time, it didn't work out for the Paladins. The Paladins held UNC Greensboro without a field goal over the final 6:24 of the game and went on an 18-0 run over the nearly the first six minutes of that frame. None of that was enough as the Spartans pulled out a 58-56 win before a crowd of 3,616 at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

Entering Saturday, UNCG (13-10, 5-6 Southern Conference) ranked last in the SoCon in three-point defense during league play allowing opponents to shoot 40 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Furman is the only team in the country with at least 300 made threes. Those numbers simply didn't add up Saturday as the Paladins went 6-of-28 (21.4 percent) from beyond the arc.

Furman (17-8, 9-3) wasn't much better inside the arc as it shot 30.2 percent (19-of-63) from the floor for the game. It was the poorest shooting performance by the Paladins since Feb. 26, 2015 when they shot 28.3 percent in a 53-49 win over Western Carolina.

"I thought the aggressor won the game. ... The most aggressive team that brings the most energy wins most games and I thought that stood true today," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We tried to turn the aggression the last 10 minutes and did a great job, but we had dug ourselves too big of a hole.

"Making shots is a result of great process and how you approach and play the game. We were off today because the process was poor. ... You could see it early defensively. We weren't as sharp as we needed to be."

Furman was coming off a 19-point win over The Citadel Wednesday in which it was outscored 37-13 over the final 12 minutes. That victory was powered by one of the best halves of basketball in school history when the Paladins made 14 three-pointers and put up 63 points in the opening half.

The first half on Saturday was essentially the complete opposite. Furman made 8-of-31 shots, including 3-of-17 threes, and trailed 32-22 at the break. The Spartans had first-half scoring advantages of: 20-6 in the paint, 9-0 off turnovers, 6-0 on fast breaks and 13-0 in bench scoring.

"We missed a ton of wide open threes. We didn't have the proper mentality to step into balls and knock them down. That mentality is why we'd been playing so well," Richey said. "You can't guarantee that you're going to make shots the way we've been making them every single game. But what we've got to understand is, 'why is that affecting my defensive energy,' or 'I don't feel good because I'm not scoring.' You're not going to win championships like that."

A key to Furman winning each of its previous five games by at least 15 points was the Paladins coming out strong to start the second half. That didn't occur Saturday either. UNCG had the first five points after halftime to push its lead to 15. Meanwhile, Furman made just 3-of-12 shots and had four turnovers over the first nine minutes of the second half.

With 6:25 left, Mohammed Abdulsalam's putback gave the Spartans their biggest lead at 55-38. That would turn out to be UNCG's final bucket of the night as Furman began to chip away. During the 18-0 run, Alex Hunter drained the 289th three-pointer of his career breaking Jordan Lyons' school record. That cut the lead to 55-46 with 5:11 left.

Mike Bothwell scored five consecutive points to cut the lead to 55-53 with 2:33 left. He looked to tie it up on Furman's next possession but couldn't get his layup to fall. Bothwell appeared to have the rebound, but with UNCG's 6-10 forward Bas Leyte draped over his back he lost it to Dante Treacy. Bothwell was then called for a reach in foul. It was his fifth, leaving the Paladins to play the final 2:14 without a leader who's made so many clutch shots down the stretch of close games in his career.

"You expect to still win the game. We've won games with key guys fouling out before, but that was tough," Richey said. "He's a guy that's done a great job in those late game moments. ... Getting five fouls in a game like that can't happen. We want to be aggressive, but we want to be disciplined."

Furman came all the way back when Jalen Slawson made a terrific pass from one side of the court to the other for Garrett Hien, who entered after Bothwell fouled out. Hien drained a corner three to give the Paladins a 56-55 lead with 59 seconds left as the crowd erupted.

On UNCG's next possession, Marcus Foster grabbed a rebound but had it tipped away right to Leyte who was fouled with 32 seconds left. Leyte made both free throws to give the Spartans a 57-56 lead. On Furman's ensuing possession, Slawson found Foster who couldn't get his open three to fall.

Slawson appeared to have the offensive rebound, but Leyte tied him up as both fell to the ground. The jump ball gave possession to UNCG and Leyte was fouled with 6.6 seconds left. Leyte made 1-of-2 free throws to push the lead to two. Foster could not get a running jumper to fall as time expired.

"We haven't lost a game yet when we've won the boards. We lost the boards today by six. We had more offensive rebounds than they did, but theirs were more timely. That just made it harder and took us longer to cut into the margin," Richey said. "Give them credit. They came here and brought more energy than we did and got confidence off that. If we want to go where we want to go, that can't happen.

"Our guys did show tremendous resiliency. This doesn't change our goals. We still have games on the schedule that we get to go play, but we've got to learn from it. ... I think we're going to see some things on film that we're going to have to learn from."

 A Furman team that prides itself on defensive deflections, had quite a few down the stretch and forced 16 turnovers. But the Paladins scored just 11 points off those. Meanwhile, the Spartans scored 18 points off of Furman's 10 turnovers.

Bothwell had a game-high 18 points and three steals to lead Furman, while Foster had 10 points and eight rebounds. Slawson had nine points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals, but was just 3-of-14 from the floor. Conley Garrison, who's been so consistently solid all season, had his roughest game as a Paladin as he went 1-for-8, including 0-of-7 from three. Garrison entered Saturday having made 53.2 percent of his threes in league play and 48.6 percent for the season.

There's no time for Furman to sulk about the tough loss. The Paladins travel to ETSU Monday to take on the Buccaneers at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.

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