Monday, November 7, 2022

Paladins embrace role as SoCon favorites

Furman's Mike Bothwell Photo courtesy of Furman

The Furman men's basketball team enters the 2022-23 season with no lack of inspiration. The Paladins can be motivated by the heartbreaking way last season ended on Chattanooga's answered prayer at the final horn of the Southern Conference Tournament championship game.

With the team embracing Coach Bob Richey's mantra of "pressure is a privilege," they're also motivated by being the consensus favorites by the SoCon's media and coaches to win the league title this season.

For a more in-depth preview of this season, check out the story I wrote for The Greenville News from SoCon Media Day here:

Starting lineup

Furman, which is ranked No. 6 in the preseason College Insider Mid-Major poll, will be led by preseason All-SoCon selections Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson. In helping the Paladins go 22-12 overall - including a win at Louisville - and 12-6 in the SoCon last season, Bothwell averaged 15.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.1 steals per game last season. Slawson, the reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Year, averaged 7.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.7 blocks and  1.7 steals per game last season.

The Paladins ranked No. 82 in the final NET, led the country in three-pointers (401), ranked second in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.66) and was sixth in assists per game (17.4).

Gone from last year's team is the dynamic backcourt duo of Alex Hunter and Conley Garrison. When Furman opens the season against North Greenville at 7 p.m. Monday night, it's anticipated that the starting lineup will be Bothwell, Slawson, Marcus Foster (8.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals last season), Garrett Hien and J.P. Pegues.

Familiar opponent

For the second consecutive season, Furman will open against Division II North Greenville. In last season's opener, Bothwell and Hunter had 22 points apiece and the Paladins shattered single-game records for three-pointers (22) and assists (34) in a 118-66 victory.

The Furman and North Greenville programs have more in common than their location just 13 miles apart. Richey and his wife, Jessica, each graduated from NGU. Crusaders coach Chad Lister is a 1995 Furman graduate who's in his 21st season as head coach in Tigernville. Lister's son Rett is a senior for Furman this season.

Upcoming tests

Monday's opener is an appetizer for a Mid-Major showdown Friday when the Paladins host Belmont at 7 p.m. Belmont, which is No. 21 in the Mid-Major poll, outlasted Furman 95-89 in overtime last November in Nashville. That wasn't just a showdown last season. It was an absolute clinic of brilliant basketball and one of the best games I've ever seen.

After all the success the Paladins have enjoyed over the past few seasons, they were finally rewarded with a big-time tournament invite this season. Furman will take part in ESPN's Shriners Children's Charleston Classic starting next Thursday. The Paladins will take on Penn State at 11:30 a.m. in the opener of the tournament hosted by the College of Charleston.

The field in that tournament includes ACC champion Virginia Tech - coached by Wofford legend Mike Young, former SoCon powerhouse Davidson, Colorado State - coached by former Furman coach Niko Medved, and South Carolina - coached by former Chattanooga coach Lamont Paris.

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