Friday, November 11, 2022

Get your popcorn ready for Furman-Belmont II

Furman coach Bob Richey coaches during the Paladins' win
over North Greenville Monday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Mid-major college basketball fans rejoice. Furman and Belmont - the sequel - is set for Friday night at Timmons Arena. It's kind of fitting that the Paladins and Bruins are squaring off on a night typically associated with movie premieres. If there ever was an Oscar given for game of the year, last year's matchup between these mid-major powers would've surely been nominated.

Last year's game could've been compared to the first Rocky. From a Furman point of view, that goes right down to the protagonist losing in the end. Sorry if that's a spoiler for anyone, but it has been 46 years.

Furman fell at Belmont in overtime, 95-89, three days after toppling Louisville in overtime last season. It was a tough loss and the Paladins made mistakes, including a rare 20-turnover game. However from a fan's perspective, it was hard to be all that upset by it simply because of the entertainment value that game provided. The turnovers, which Belmont had 16 of as well, were basically due to tenacious defense by teams that take pride in deflections. The Bruins, who were ranked No. 2 behind Gonzaga in the Mid-Major poll at the time, had a lineup filled with seniors.

The Paladins (1-0) enter as the higher-ranked team this season at No. 6, while a younger Belmont squad is No. 21. Furman is coming off a business-like 91-55 win over North Greenville Monday. Later that night, the Bruins pulled out a thrilling 70-69 win over Ohio. After Ohio took its first lead since it was 15-13 on a three-pointer with 1.4 seconds left, reigning North Carolina Mr. Basketball Cade Tyson buried a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.

"We came out on the wrong end of it last year, but that was a heck of a game and I expect the same thing Friday night," Furman coach Bob Richey said Monday. "We had Loyola (Illinois) in here a couple of years ago and the Wichita State NIT game. We want competitive mid-major matchups in Timmons Arena. I think those games are fun and it's great for the city and the school. You find out who you are by getting tested in games like these.
"That was a key last year. This is about winning the war, not the battle. At the mid-major level, you've got to be your best come conference play and specifically in those last four days at the tournament."

In last year's meeting in Nashville, Mike Bothwell had a game-high 23 points, along with seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. Jalen Slawson added 14 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots.

Slawson will obviously be a key player Friday, if he's able to go. Slawson injured his right hand Monday with 17 minutes left in the game and never returned. Richey said it was kind of a wait and see situation following Monday's game and could not be reached for an update this week.

"You grow up dreaming about playing in meaningful games and It's a big opportunity we have Friday. ... Last year, we came up short and we feel like it's one we should've won so there's a lot to play for," Bothwell said. "Their crowd was amazing last year and we know our fans are going to show up and reciprocate that for us. ... It's going to be a lot of fun."

Belmont lost seven of its top eight scorers from last season, but this is a program used to reloading rather than rebuilding. The Bruins, who are in their first season in the Missouri Valley Conference after dominating the Ohio Valley Conference, have won at least 20 games in 15 of the past 17 seasons.

Belmont senior Ben Sheppard is a contender for MVC Player of the Year after averaging 16.2 points per game last season. He and Tyson had 18 points apiece to lead the Bruins Monday night. Sheppard also had seven assists, five rebounds and two steals.

"We all have programs that we watch as assistants growing up in the game and developing your philosophy. (Longtime coach) Rick Byrd would be a top five for me in what he was able to do at Belmont," Richey said. "We took a lot of that when we were trying to figure out how to build this here.
"My respect for their program is very high. I consider (fourth-year Belmont head coach) Casey (Alexander) a friend and I've got a lot of respect for what he's done. Following a legend isn't an easy spot to be in."

Selvy to be honored

Also in the spotlight at Timmons Arena Friday will be Furman legend Frank Selvy, who is scheduled to be on hand for "Frank Selvy Night." Furman will celebrate Selvy's upcoming induction into the  National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Mo. on Nov. 20. He will be honored at halftime of Friday's game and will sign autographs prior to it.

Selvy led the Division I in scoring as a junior with 29.5 points per game and as a senior with 41.7. Friday's "Frank Selvy Night" comes 69 seasons after the first one. On Feb. 13, 1954, the Paladins honored Selvy by feeding him the ball against Newberry. He made 41-of-66 field goals that night and finished with 100 points, an NCAA single-game record that still stands.

A two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and United Press National Player of the Year in 1954, Selvy was a first-round pick in the 1954 NBA Draft by the Baltimore Bullets. Selvy was a two-time NBA All-Star over a nine-year career that was interrupted by three years of military service.

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