Saturday, November 12, 2022

Bothwell, Slawson help Paladins top Belmont

Mike Bothwell dunks during Furman's 89-74 win
over Belmont Friday. Photo courtesy of Furman

As most sequels go, Furman-Belmont part two Friday wasn't quite as scintillating as the masterpiece of basketball these teams performed against each other last year. But for the Paladins, it had a much happier ending. While it was a team effort in every sense of the word, Furman's two leading men powered their team to an 89-74 win before a raucous crowd of 2,092 at Timmons Arena.

When Belmont rallied from an early 11-point deficit to forge a 37-37 tie at the half, it appeared we might be in for another barnburner like last season's 95-89 overtime win for the Bruins. But after missing most of Monday's second half with a scary thumb injury, Jalen Slawson had a double-double in Friday's second half with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Mike Bothwell also scored 13 of his game-high 25 in the second half as the Paladins (2-0) pulled away for the win.

"I want to thank the students, fans and administration. Everybody that put in work to get the energy like it was out there tonight. ... That certainly had an effect in our performance. It really energized us in the second half," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "The beautiful thing about tonight was that we only had nine that could play and all nine of them contributed to that win."

There was some concern about Slawson's availability for Friday's game after clearly being in severe pain on Friday. X-rays revealed no fracture or sprain, but a badly bruised right thumb. Slawson credited men's basketball athletic trainer Justin Games with helping him get ready to go. Slawson practiced with it taped up on Wednesday and Thursday. He tested his shooting without tape on Friday and was able to play unencumbered Friday night. 

"If someone can find me a better athletic trainer please do so, because I've not seen one better in my life. ... He texted me every morning asking how I felt and what could he do for me," said Slawson, who finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and three steals. "He knew once it wasn't broken that I wasn't going to let myself miss this game. So as soon as we got the X-ray back and saw that, it was all gas, no brakes."

Luckily for the fans in attendance and those watching at home, including undoubtedly many in the mid-major universe, Slawson was able to go because he put on a show. Timmons was rocking less than five minutes into the game after Slawson had a no-look pass to Garrett Hien for a dunk followed by a Bothwell steal and slam that gave Furman a 10-5 lead at the first media timeout.

As of that timeout, which came at the 15:14 mark, the Paladins were 5-of-6 from the field with no three-point attempts. I can't recall the last time Furman, which led the country in three-pointers made last season, did not attempt one in the first five minutes of a game. The Paladins ended up shooting 42.1 percent from three after hitting 8-of-19, but nearly all of those came organically rather than forced.

Back to Slawson's showtime. Near the end of the first half he pulled off the greatest Furman dunk I've ever seen, supplanting Stephen Croone's baseline drive jam at The Citadel nine seasons ago.

After a Marcus Foster block on one end, the ball got to Bothwell on the other. Bothwell drove inside the left arc before pulling up and lobbing a pass. As the ball sailed toward the basket I wondered what exactly Bothwell had done as there was no Paladin in sight. Suddenly, Slawson soared in with his back to the basket and threw home the reverse dunk. Replay revealed that Slawson was somehow alone in the right corner and started creeping to the bucket when he gave a quick right hand up to signal for the lob.

"Honestly, that's just God-given ability (for Slawson). I tried to throw an ordinary lob that was a little off-target, but he went and got it," Bothwell said. "That should be on SportsCenter for sure."

The biggest sequence of the game came with less than eight minutes left and Furman leading 59-53. After Hien was whistled for his third foul on what looked to be a bad call, he didn't exit and didn't hang his head. Over the next 52 seconds of game play, Hien rebounded the front end of the 1-and-1 free throw, drove for a layup, blocked a shot and buried a three-pointer that forced a Belmont timeout with the lead stretched to 64-53.

Belmont never got closer than nine points the rest of the way. Hien finished with 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting, five rebounds, three assists and no turnovers in 20 minutes of action.

"Garrett played his behind off tonight. ... Garrett's really coming along. As the year goes on, he's going to continue to get more physical," Slawson said. "He actually told me at halftime, 'they've got too many points in the paint. ... Let's go cut the paint off.' That's inspiring when you've got a guy younger than you coming up and telling you what we need to do."

Foster was the other Paladin in double figures with 11 points. Joe Anderson led the team with a plus-minus of plus-16 as he had nine points on three threes in 16:26 off the bench. Wake Forest transfer Carter Whitt added eight points, five assists and five rebounds in 22:11 off the bench. Furman outrebounded Belmont, 42-22.

"Slaw's stat stuffing all over the place. Mike was incredible, but Joe made some huge plays. Carter Whitt made some huge plays," Richey said. "(New starting point guard) J.P. (Pegues) played better tonight and he's going to get there. I'm just telling you, he's really, really good. ... I thought we came together as a team tonight."

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