Thursday, November 17, 2022

Paladins set for SoCon reunion in Charleston

Jalen Slawson blocks a shot during Furman's 89-74 win
over Belmont last Friday. Photo courtesy of Furman

For about the past eight years, the Furman men's basketball program has transformed from woeful to wonderful. On Thursday, one of the fruits of that labor arrives as the Paladins are set to participate in a big-time in-season tournament for the first time.

Furman (2-0) faces Penn State (3-0) at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the opening game of the Children's Charleston Classic at TD Arena, the College of Charleston's home court. The eight-team tournament, which continues Friday and concludes Sunday, will feature some familiar faces to the Paladins. The winner of Furman-Penn State, which will be broadcast by ESPNU, will face the winner of Virginia Tech-Old Dominion at noon Friday.

"This is going to be fun. We've never been in an ESPN event before. This is part of what we're trying to do - continue to build firsts," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We're going to play some really good teams, starting with Penn State. I've got a lot of respect for (Penn State coach) Micah (Shrewsberry).

"There's a lot of good food in Charleston and there's going to be some good basketball down there too."

Thursday's leadoff game looks to be the best matchup of the opening round, according to Sagarin ratings. The Paladins are currently 62nd in Sagarin, while the Nittany Lions are 29th. Penn State is led by preseason All-Big Ten selection Jalen Pickett, who's averaging 14.3 points, nine assists and six rebounds per game thus far. In the Nittany Lions 68-62 win over Butler Monday, Pickett had the second triple-double in school history with 15 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. He also had two steals, a block and no turnovers.

Furman is led by preseason All-Southern Conference picks and fifth-year seniors Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson. Bothwell had 25 points, while Slawson had 17 points and 12 rebounds in the Paladins' big 89-74 win over Belmont last Friday. That victory vaulted Furman up to No. 3 in this week's College Insider Mid-Major Top 25, behind top-ranked Gonzaga and No. 2 St. Mary's.

Slawson, who grew up not too far from TD Arena in Summerville, is 18 points away from becoming the 50th Paladin in school history to score 1,000 career points.

The rest of the field will make for a little SoCon reunion. Other matchups Thursday:

Virginia Tech (3-0, No. 40 in Sagarin) vs. Old Dominion (2-1, No. 204), 2 p.m., ESPN2: Virginia Tech is coached by Wofford legend Mike Young. Young, a four-time SoCon coach of the year, has guided the Hokies to the NCAA Tournament each of his first two full seasons in Blacksburg, including an automatic bid last season as ACC Tournament champions. This will be a rare game where Young (369 career wins) has fewer wins than his counterpart as the Monarchs' Jeff Jones is 540-401 in his 33 years as a head coach.

Colorado State (3-0, No. 75) vs. South Carolina (2-0, No. 112), 5 p.m., ESPNU: Well, the tie-ins here are pretty obvious. Colorado State coach Niko Medved is the one who began steering the Furman program out of the grave 10 years ago. Medved, the 2017 SoCon coach of the year, guided the Rams to the NCAA Tournament last season. USC is coached by reigning SoCon coach of the year Lamont Paris, who led Chattanooga to the big dance last season. The Gamecocks are led by freshman sensation G.G. Jackson and former Citadel and Byrnes High standout Hayden Brown. Both are averaging 15 points per game.

Davidson (3-0, No. 90) at College of Charleston (2-1, No. 133), 7 p.m., ESPNU: Davidson is coached by Matt McKillop, son of legendary coach Bob McKillop. After 33 seasons as Davidson head coach, Bob McKillop announced his retirement in June. McKillop, a nine-time SoCon coach of the year, guided the Wildcats to seven SoCon Tournament championships in his career. College of Charleston was a member of the SoCon from 1998 to 2013. In 1999, the Cougars won the SoCon championship after going 16-0 in league play that regular season.

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