Monday, March 7, 2022

Steals over shots key Furman's semifinal win

Jalen Slawson blocks Ques Glover's potential go-ahead shot with 17 seconds left
during Furman's 71-68 win over Samford Sunday. Photo courtesy of Furman

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - At the Southern Conference Men's Tournament semifinals Sunday night, quantity over quality turned out to be a winning formula for Furman. It wasn't pretty, and the first half was downright ugly, but Furman found a way to rally from a 15-point deficit to defeat Samford, 71-68, and advance to Monday's championship game. The second-seeded Paladins (22-11) will take on top-seeded Chattanooga at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

"A lot of different situations came up and not everything went our way," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We missed the front end (of a 1-and-1 free throw). We missed a free throw boxout to get the rebound to secure the game. But we just kept responding.

"In life, you don't get to pick what happens to you. You only get to pick your response. That's what got us a win tonight."

A look at the halftime boxscore might leave you wondering how a Furman team that shot 37 percent, allowed Samford to shoot 60.9 percent, and got outrebounded 21-9 was only down by eight at the break. A look at the final boxscore might leave you wondering how Furman won at all.

For the game, Samford shot 55 percent and Furman shot 42.9 percent. Well, it must have been three-pointers? Nope. A Samford team that ranks ninth in the SoCon in shooting threes made 9-of-18, while a Furman team that ranks No. 1 made 9-of-32. Well, how about free throws? Nope. The Bulldogs made 15-of-22 and the Paladins hit 14-of-20.

The difference was quantity. Furman took 16 more shots than Samford did thanks to forcing 20 turnovers and coming up with 15 steals. Conley Garrison led the way with five steals, while Mike Bothwell had three. All three of Bothwell's came early in the second half as he aggressively fueled the comeback coming out of the locker room from halftime.

Read more about Bothwell's night here:

"Getting 16 more shots than they did is the only way you can win a game with that kind of shot-making discrepancy. We had a higher volume because we turned them over," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "When they beat us at their place, we weren't able to turn them over and that was a huge part of the game plan tonight."

Slawson closes it out

While Bothwell got the comeback really going out of halftime, fellow All-SoCon first team player Jalen Slawson finished it off. After playing only 10:49 in the first half with a couple of personal fouls, Slawson played 18:50 in the second half and scored 14 points and grabbed all seven of his rebounds.

"Jalen didn't have the first half he wanted. We challenged him, and boy did he have a second half," Richey said. "He did some unbelievable things, but it was a team effort. We needed it against the hottest team in the league."

After Bothwell fouled out with 2:30 left and the game tied 62-62, Slawson scored each of Furman's next eight points. His biggest play down the stretch may have been the biggest blocked shot of the SoCon Defensive Player of the Year's career. After Slawson missed the front end of a 1-and-1 trip to the foul line with 27 seconds left, Furman was still clinging to a 66-65 lead.

Samford grabbed the rebound and got the ball to All-SoCon first team player Ques Glover. Glover drove to the lane and had his shot blocked by Slawson, who did so with enough grace that he was able to also grab the rebound and draw a foul. An inadvertent elbow from Slawson as he came down with the rebound unfortunately resulted in an injured, bloody nose for Glover that forced him out of the rest of the game.

"I just saw a really elite guard attacking downhill. Ques is really good and he had a great game tonight," Slawson said of the play. "We talked in film about flowing heavy to all their guys, not specifically just him. I just came over to try to make a play and happened to get my hands on the ball."

Slawson made both of those free throws with 16 seconds left and two more with six seconds left to help seal the win. He and Bothwell led Furman with 17 points apiece.

Lean on Hien

It was a bizarre game, but there were many different contributions from Paladins. Tyrese Hughey gave Furman a lift off the bench in the first half grabbing three of those nine Furman rebounds before also committing three fouls. Marcus Foster had a couple of drives for layups when Furman was in need of a bucket. Garrison's energy throughout the wretched first half kept Furman from getting blown out.

After a scoreless first half, Alex Hunter made key scores in the second half including eight consecutive points for the Paladins. He hit back-to-back threes, the second of which finally made it a one-score game, as it cut the lead to 50-49 with 10:17 left.

And then there was Garrett Hien, who went 4-for-4 off the bench including 3-for-3 in the second half. He also made a couple of big plays late that won't show up in the boxscore. With Furman clinging to a 68-67 lead and 8.6 seconds left, Samford set up a full-court defense on the Paladins' possession. It took Garrison a few seconds to find someone on the inbounds pass before the 6-foot-9 Hien provided a big target near midcourt. After jumping to catch the pass, Hien fired another pass to Slawson while he was still in mid-air and Slawson drew the foul.

After Samford missed a second free throw on purpose with 2.4 seconds left, the plan worked as the loose ball hit off Slawson out of bounds. The Bulldogs inbounded the ball to Jermaine Marshall down low. Hien bodied up Marshall with hands extended forcing Marshall to try a wild shot from behind the backboard. Officials blew the whistle and Marshall thought they called a foul on Hien, but it was actually an illegal shot for going over the top of the backboard.

"Sorry to get emotional, but man Garrett's fought through it. He had 17 (points in the early season win) at Louisville, but he hasn't had the easiest of years," Richey said. "His minutes went all the way down, but he's worked himself back up. There's zero percent chance we win that game tonight without him.

"He's such an unbelievable person and teammate. He's just a guy that you constantly pull for because he's always in a good mood. Just the guts he's showed. There's 300 kids that go through his deal and transfer, but he loves Furman and he just kept working."

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