Saturday, December 31, 2022

Foster powers Paladins to win in SoCon opener

Marcus Foster had 23 points and eight rebounds in Furman's
85-62 win over VMI Thursday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Much like basketball teams do, many players go through the ebbs and flows of a season. Furman's Marcus Foster seems to have had an entire season's worth already and we haven't even turned the calendar to 2023 yet. The junior started the first four games this season, came off the bench for the next three, started the next four and has come off the bench for the last three.

In Thursday's Southern Conference opener, Foster showed that it really doesn't matter where you start as long as you do what it takes to reach your desired destination of a victory. Foster knocked down 7-of-12 three-pointers on his way to a career-high 23-point night as the Paladins rolled past VMI, 85-62. Foster also had eight rebounds, two assists, no turnovers and played the kind of defense that's been a staple for him since he arrived at Furman. That defensive effort resonated throughout the team.

"I thought that was our best on-ball defensive performance of the year and man, I'm thankful because we spent a lot of time on it since we got back from Christmas. I just thought we took more pride in keeping the ball in front. (VMI coach) Andrew (Wilson) has done a phenomenal job with that team. I don't know if it's referenced enough how much they lost. ... They've got four freshmen out there and (Sean) Conway," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "They've shot as many threes as anybody in the country. ... They average almost 30 three attempts a game and we held them to 17 attempts (five made) tonight. So we we're able to cut their volume down almost a third and did a great job on Conway.

"I told Marcus today, 'you're gonna you're gonna have a coming out party tonight and it's going to be because of how you prepared these last two days.' Not only did he make threes, but his defensive effort was incredible."

The Paladins (10-4, 1-0) got off to a rough start. By the first media timeout at the 15:56 mark, they were 0-for-4 from three, had two turnovers and trailed 6-3. Coming out of that timeout, Mike Bothwell - a career 82 percent foul shooter - missed a pair of free throws. But also coming out of that timeout, was Foster and Tyrese Hughey entering the game. That duo instantly sparked the offense.

Given Furman's start, the bitterly cold spell that Greenville endured since the last game prior to Christmas must have metaphorically froze the rim. Hughey was wise enough to fire up a three-pointer off the backboard to shake off all that ice as it fell through the net to tie the game at 6-6.

"No, I didn't," Hughey said with a smile when asked if he called "bank."

Hughey followed his three with a steal, but another turnover led to a VMI layup. Foster answered that score with a three. Then Hughey hit another three. Then Foster hit another three. Hughey's jumper in the paint gave Furman a 17-11 lead with 10:51 left in the half. Foster and Hughey accounted 14 of those 17 points.

Another Furman turnover helped the Keydets go on an 8-0 run to take a 19-17 lead with 7:31 left. That's when the Paladins really tightened up the defense and Foster just kept scoring. Foster's fourth three-pointer capped a 13-0 run. After VMI snapped that scoreless streak on a pair of free throws with 20 seconds left, Foster's fifth three-pointer as time expired gave Furman a 33-21 lead at the half.

While the Paladins defense wasn't quite as stingy in the second half, their offense picked up the pace to ensure the lopsided win. After taking that 12-point lead into the break, Furman never led by less than 12 the rest of the way.

"You guys know how much turnovers bother me and frustrate me. We didn't have a great first timeout because of them, but I give our guys credit," Richey said. "We had five to start the game and only had five the rest of the game."

Eight of those 10 turnovers came in the first half. One of those two after halftime came just nine seconds into the second half on an offensive foul. After having assists on all 11 made field goals in the first half, Furman had assists on 14 of 19 makes in the second half for its second consecutive game with at least 25 assists.

Foster's career night for points and threes came after scoring 17 against Anderson in the last game before the Christmas break. He had just 21 points combined in the four games before that. Despite coming off the bench, he played more than any other Paladin Thursday, logging 35 minutes and one second.

"It was fun being out there. It was crazy because I came in and didn't come back out until the very end. I was just appreciative to be out there and for coach to have that trust in me," Foster said. "That (Anderson) game was huge for my confidence coming back into conference play. ... Luckily for me, I was able to get hot tonight and just kept firing it up there and kept making shots."

Perhaps in a sign of the difference between a redshirt junior and a true sophomore, while Foster's defense helped him stay on the court, Hughey's did not. But as soon as Hughey got back on the court in the second half, he stroked another three to give Furman its biggest lead at 27. Hughey finished with 13 points and four rebounds in his 10:16 off the bench.

"Tyrese's ceiling is so high, you can just see it. I get frustrated because there's missed assignments out there that don't get picked up so easily, but his heart is so good and he cares so much," Richey said. "Tyrese was in here yesterday morning early. We've had to give Tyrese a morning time limit. Our strength coaches have had to tell him, 'you can't come in here until this time.' So what's happening is he's got a ton of confidence in it because he's put the work in. He had a few missed assignments ... but he's just going to keep getting better."

In Thursday's opening half, Furman leading scorers Bothwell and Jalen Slawson and VMI leading scorer Conway combined for two points. Slawson was 1-of-6 from the floor, Conway was 0-of-6 and Bothwell didn't attempt a shot. Conway finished with eight points on 2-of-9 shooting and 10 rebounds for the Keydets (5-9, 0-1).

Bothwell ended up with 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting and three steals, while Slawson may have had a triple-double if the game had been closer. He finished with seven points, nine rebounds, eight assists and three blocked shots in less than 30 minutes of playing time. J.P. Pegues had 15 points, six rebounds and no turnovers also for the Paladins.

"Mike had no shots at halftime, but I couldn't tell. He just had a competitor, strong face. ... He's been on the other side of this too. His sophomore year at Chattanooga, they decided to stay out on the other all-conference players and he goes for 26 (points). The open guy is the go-to guy. That's just how we operate," Richey said. "At the end of the day, for him to play a half with no shots is completely on me. We did a better job of getting him shots in the second half.

"Mike's leadership has been consistent all year. It's the best he's ever led. ... This is a bold comment from all the great players that we've had here, but he's rivaled anybody that I've coached in terms of leadership qualities that he's presented our team with this year."

Furman will next play at Western Carolina Saturday at 4 p.m.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Paladins' defense a concern entering SoCon play

Furman coach Bob Richey, right, shakes hands with Anderson coach Jimmie Williams. Williams
was an assistant on Richey's staff for the previous four seasons. Photo courtesy of Furman

Two days after a thrilling last-second win over Stephen F. Austin, Furman came out a little sluggish against Division II Anderson on Dec. 19. A 60-point second half helped the Paladins take command and go on to a 106-79 win. In the final game of the non-conference schedule, five Furman players scored in double figures.

The Paladins (9-4) put up a season-high total of 29 assists on its 35 made field goals in Jimmie Williams' return to Timmons Arena. Williams is in his first season as head coach of the Trojans after working as an assistant to Furman head coach Bob Richey for the past four seasons.

While all those offensive numbers were great, offense hasn't been the concern during non-conference play. Defense has been a lingering issue and that didn't change against the Trojans.

"I'm sure that was fun to watch. You got to see a lot of offense and not much defense, until the second half. ... I wish we would've guarded better in the first half," Richey said in the postgame press conference. "I get that you can come up with all the reasons: It's an emotional, quick turnaround. Everybody's ready to go home. It's the last one before the break, but we have to be better. That's just the bottom line.

"I'm really proud of Jimmie. Turning a program around is a hard deal. I've been a part of it a couple times and it takes time. ... From the situation he took over to right now, you can see they've made some fast progress. Our system is not easy to teach. It's not easy to learn, but they're in a much better rhythm than I anticipated at this point. And he's got some guys that really have bought into it."

Williams' squad came out unintimidated and fighting. Anderson rallied from an early 12-6 deficit to take a 19-14 lead midway through the first half. Marcus Foster hit a three-pointer to ignite a 10-0 run as Furman regained the lead for good.

"They beat us down the court. They beat us off the bounce. They beat us on the backboards," Richey said. "We threw some balls in, but we just didn't come out with the right intensity."

After taking a 10-point lead into halftime, the Paladins (9-4) quickly took command in the second half thanks in large part to Garrett Hien and Ben VanderWal.

On the opening possession of the second half, Jalen Slawson hit a jumper off an assist from Hien. Then Hien had a block, hit 1-of-2 free throws and drained a three-pointer. VanderWal then scored five points in 11 seconds thanks to a three-point play followed by a steal and dunk. Hien followed with a layup on Furman's next possession to stretch the lead to 59-40 just 2:18 into the second half.

"I wasn't really enjoying the processing of this game knowing that (Williams) and I were going to be competing against each other with the friendship that we have. As I got out there and just watched him coaching and watching his guys competing. To be honest with you, watching them play harder than us in the first half, I was just really proud," Richey said. "As frustrated as I was with our group at halftime to see what he's doing there, that's pretty neat.

"To our guys credit, with a little bit of an urgent halftime, they responded well, I thought that four minutes right out of halftime was our best four minutes of the game. We were able to push the game open and score 60 points because we played better defense."

Furman never led by less than 12 the rest of the way as it shot 58.8 percent from the floor in the second half, including 9-of-20 threes.

Foster, who had gone four games without reaching double figures in scoring after doing so in six of the first eight games, had 17 points and six rebounds off the bench.

"Marcus has been doing a really good job doing what we need from him, whether that's starting the game or coming off the bench," said J.P. Pegues, who had a team-high 20 points, six assists, two steals and one turnover. "To have somebody like Marcus who can come off the bench and give us that spark is great. ... The energy on the defensive end is leading to everything for him offensively, where he can just go out and play free."

Slawson had 18 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks. Hien finished with 14 points, five rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes. while VanderWal had 13 points and three steals. Tyrese Hughey had a team-high seven rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench.

Coming off one of the best performances in Furman basketball history when he scored 36 points on 12-of-14 shooting, including the game-winning bucket in the final second against Stephen F. Austin, Mike Bothwell made every field goal he attempted against Anderson.

All both of them.

Two days after Bothwell's career-high scoring night, he went from scorer to distributor. He had a career-high eight assists, along with nine points, five rebounds and no turnovers.

"We had 1.4 (points per possession) on offense, which is incredible, but a 1.03 on defense just isn't where it needs to be. It's something that I've got to take some time over the break and figure it out," Richey said. "I've got to figure out what's scheme, what's technique, what's execution, what's effort and what's attitude.

"Our offense is humming along pretty well ... but we're still a work in progress defensively. We let the game be in transition 42 percent of the time tonight, which is just not good enough."

With the Christmas break behind them, the Paladins turn their focus to the "second season." Furman opens Southern Conference play Thursday when it hosts VMI at 7 p.m. The Paladins will have a quick turnaround to play at Western Carolina Saturday at 4 p.m. After the new year begins, Furman will be on a Wednesday and Saturday/Sunday game schedule for league play the rest of the way.

Monday, December 19, 2022

All's well that ends well for Bothwell at The Well

Mike Bothwell scored a career-high 36 points and hit the game-winning shot
in Furman's 72-70 win over Stephen F. Austin. Photo courtesy of Furman

The Furman basketball team gave its fans about every emotion imaginable in its first game of the season at its downtown home, the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Saturday at the Greenville Winter Invitational. At halftime, the game appeared to be a laugher. With a couple of minutes left, it appeared to be a killer. At the end, Mike Bothwell made it just another thriller.

As he so often has in his career, Bothwell drained a game-winning shot in the final second to lift Furman to a 72-70 win over Stephen F. Austin. Just like he did on the same court three years ago against Wofford. Just like he did the last time Furman played a team from Texas that same season against UT-Arlington.

"We call this (arena) The Well, but I'm going to petition to rename it 'The Bothwell.' What an incredible shot," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Everybody on our sideline and their sideline knew where the ball was going and he still made the play.

"We tried to run the double away to tie up some help and none of those guys bit on that thing. Both of them ran right to him and he turned around and he made it like a winner. That's what he is." 

Don't let another clutch shot by Bothwell distract that his entire game Saturday was one of the best performances by anyone to ever wear the purple and white. And don't let either of those distract that Saturday's game was one of the most gut-churning, ripsnorters ever.

That last-second jumper capped a career-high scoring day as Bothwell poured in 36 points, 21 of which came in Furman's 28-point second half. He made 12-of-14 field goals, 11-of-11 free throws, drew eight fouls and had three assists.

"Bothwell's such a great player. ... To get 36 (points) on 14 shots, I mean, you should be playing in another league versus playing against us today," Stephen F. Austin coach Kyle Keller said. "He should send this tape to every NBA scout and agent around the country. We made him a lot of money tonight."

Bothwell became the first Division I player to score 35 or more points on 85 percent shooting from the field and a 10-of-10 or better night at the foul line in a decade. Bothwell is the first Paladin to score 36 in a game since Jordan Lyons had 40 at VMI on New Year's Day of 2020.

While both coaches talked up Bothwell in the postgame press conference, what he talked about shows why he is a winner. Bothwell didn't speak a lot about having another game-tying or winning shot fall, or about his career-best scoring day. Instead, he reflected on the anniversary of his career-worst day.

"A year ago today, we played at Mississippi State and I had zero points. I got off that plane ride feeling really down about myself," Bothwell said. "All the things I've been through since that moment with Coach Richey, Slaw and all my teammates; they never stopped believing in me.

"A year later to come out and be able to have a game like this, I just can't thank everyone that's helped me do this enough. I wouldn't be here without my teammates."

It didn't appear that any of those heroics would be necessary after Furman put on its best 20 minutes of the season in Saturday's opening half. The Paladins (8-4) trailed 5-3 after the Lumberjacks' A.J. Cajuste hit a three-pointer at the 17:15 mark. That was SFA's second made field goal of the game. Its third came eight minutes and two seconds later. It's fourth came at the 5:49 mark.

Over that stretch of 11 minutes and 25 seconds between the second and fourth made shot, the Lumberjacks were 1-of-20 from the floor. Furman turned that 5-3 deficit into a 29-10 lead during that stretch. By the end of the half, the Paladins had a 44-22 lead and SFA had no timeouts left. Seven seconds into the second half, Ben VanderWal dunked to give Furman its biggest lead at 24 points.

Then everything changed.

The team with the huge lead suddenly got called for fouls left and right. SFA was in the bonus less than five minutes into the second half. Along with the seven fouls, Furman also committed five turnovers in that time span. Meanwhile, the Lumberjacks - who shot 26.5 percent in the first half - suddenly couldn't miss and had that 24-point lead sliced to 46-40 at the 15:04 mark.

"We knew how hard this game was going to be just by watching them through the years and seeing the dominance they've had at this level. ... We knew they were going to come out after halftime and make a run. I didn't expect it to be that fast," Richey said. "The story is going to be you know, they came back and we made a shot. But the margin that we'd built, we needed every single bit of it."

It appeared that Furman had things back in order on Bothwell's bucket that pushed the lead to 53-43 with 12:47 left. He was 10-of-12 at that point, but then SFA really ramped up the defense on him. While Bothwell was drawing fouls and knocking down free throws, his next field goal attempt didn't come until there were only 27 seconds left. By then the Lumberjacks had taken a 69-68 lead. 

That shot with 27 seconds left will forever be overshadowed by his game-winner, but this one was even tougher. Bothwell dribbled to the middle of the paint, twisted back to his right and shot a fadeaway that bounced off the front rim and through as Furman reclaimed the lead.

Then things went to a whole other level of unbelievable. A bounce pass in traffic on the other end landed between the knees of a Lumberjack and Bothwell snatched the ball away as he was falling to the ground. An official blew the whistle and ruled that a Paladin called timeout although it appeared none was called. With Furman out of timeouts, a class B technical foul was assessed. Class B means one shot for the non-offending team, but the Paladins got possession after it.

So with 9.6 seconds left, SFA's Latrell Jossell calmly drained the game-tying free throw. That the Kansas transfer's 21st point of the game, all of which came in the second half.

"To be honest with you, I'd almost had rather them not called it so we could've fouled and maybe got the ball back," Keller said. "It was a really awkward situation."

Bothwell took the inbounds pass and the ball never left his hands until the shot. He dribbled up the middle of the court then to the left, where he paused at the arc. That little pause cause the defender to pause as well and then Bothwell drove hard to the baseline before he pulled up and shot a rainbow fadeaway that hit nothing but net.

"I live for that moment. ... Nothing excites me more than a game-deciding shot so I always want the ball in my hands in moments like that," Bothwell said. "I'm just glad I was able to make the play for us tonight."

After that dunk by VanderWal seven seconds into the second half, the only other Paladin to score besides Bothwell was Slawson. His two second-half buckets were big ones as he had a putback and a three-pointer during the middle of that stretch where Bothwell didn't have a shot.

While things got hairy in the second half, Furman's defense had one of its better nights. Even though SFA shot 62.5 percent after halftime, it shot 41.4 percent for the game. Perhaps the most impressive stat from the Paladins' defense was the fact that the Lumberjacks scored only six second-chance points despite grabbing 14 offensive rebounds.

Furman's offense overcame 19 turnovers by shooting 52.2 percent from the floor and 85.7 percent (18-of-21) from the foul line. Slawson finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, two blocked shots, two steals and no turnovers. J.P. Pegues had a career-high eight assists and four rebounds, and also was able to complete the game after picking up his fourth foul with more than eight minutes remaining.

The Paladins return to action Monday night when they host Division II Anderson at 7 p.m. The Trojans are coached by former Furman assistant Jimmie Williams.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Turnover prone Furman trounced at N.C. State

Mike Bothwell had 14 points in Furman's 92-73 loss
at N.C. State Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Given how well Furman's basketball team has represented itself on power-five stages the past few seasons, there had to be a sense of good hope going into its game at North Carolina State on Tuesday. With a blowout win over South Carolina under its belt this season, the Paladins had a chance to post wins over an ACC and an SEC team for the first time since the 1977-78 season. That team was the last to beat N.C. State and also knocked off North Carolina and Georgia.

That hope was dashed pretty quickly in Raleigh Tuesday as the Paladins fell into a huge hole in the opening half for the fourth time this season. This one felt different and ended differently though as the Wolfpack rolled to a 92-73 win. It's the most lopsided loss for Furman since a 79-56 loss at East Tennessee State on Dec. 29, 2018 and the most points allowed in regulation since Winthrop scored 93 in Greenville on Nov. 29, 2017.

"I didn't think we came out with the right demeanor and that's on me. I didn't have us prepared. I thought we had a pretty good plan for the press and clearly we didn't," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "We'll be okay, but obviously we're not used to many blank tickets like that. They got us pretty good from start to buzzer."

N.C. State (9-3) entered Tuesday leading the ACC in steals averaging plus-nine per game and it looked the part from the start. The Wolfpack's press helped them jump out to a 26-10 lead eight minutes in. The Paladins (7-4) answered with an 11-0 run over a four-minute spurt that cut the lead to five and forced an N.C. State timeout. Garrett Hien made beautiful bounce passes from the top of the key to Mike Bothwell for back-to-back layups to cap the spurt.

Coming out of that timeout, the last eight minutes of the first half were essentially a copy of the first eight minutes of the half as the Wolfpack outscored Furman 22-8 to take a 48-29 lead at the break. The Paladins shot 38 percent from the floor (11-of-29) and had 14 turnovers in the first half. While N.C. State's length had plenty to do with the turnovers, quite a few were just lackadaisical or timid passes by Furman.

In Furman's last trip to Tobacco Road last season, Furman and North Carolina were tied 39-39 at the half before the Tar Heels pulled away for a 13-point win. On that night, the Paladins only had seven turnovers for the game against last season's national runner-up.

"The errors that we were making against the press early, we just weren't sure with the ball," Richey said. "We weren't confident with the ball and they imposed their will on us. They imposed their length on us and in the half-court, we weren't able to get in a concept quick enough. ... We were 6-of-17 from two in the first half and just didn't play a strong enough game."

While Furman rallied from 16-plus point first-half deficits to give itself a chance in those other losses this season, it didn't on Tuesday. The Wolfpack opened the second half with a 17-6 run to build a 30-point lead and that was all she wrote.

The Paladins fought the rest of the way, but never got the lead under 17. Furman shot 43.5 percent, including 9-of-32 from three (28.1 percent), for the game and finished with 20 turnovers. N.C. State piled up a total of 17 steals - the most by a Furman opponent in at least 12 years. The Wolfpack had 19 points off turnovers and 23 fast-break points.

"It's really hard to have transition D against all those turnovers and that's where they got us the most," Richey said. "It was a bad night, but this won't define us. We'll learn from it. ... The good news is we're not going to see a team with that type of length and ability to do what they did tonight."

Bothwell was the lone Paladin in double figures with 14 points and had two steals. Hien had nine points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and no turnovers, while J.P. Pegues had nine points, seven assists and four rebounds. Tyrese Hughey scored nine points and Marcus Foster had eight. Jalen Slawson had six points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. Ben VanderWal had seven points and seven rebounds. Remarkably, Furman outscored the Wolfpack by 15 during VanderWal's 20 minutes off the bench.

Next up for the Paladins is the middle game of a tripleheader Saturday as Furman hosts the Greenville Winter Invitational at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena. After South Carolina plays East Carolina at 2 p.m., Furman will take on Stephen F. Austin at approximately 4:30. Clemson faces Richmond to cap the day at approximately 7 p.m.

"To have ACC and SEC teams and having really quality opponents coming in there, I think it's going to be an exciting day for our city," Richey said. "We're just happy to be a part of it."

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Slawson powers Furman past Winthrop

Jalen Slawson scored 25 points to lead Furman to an 82-67
win over Winthrop Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Jalen Slawson scored 19 of his season-high 25 points in the second half Saturday to help Furman pull away from Winthrop in an 82-67 win at Timmons Arena. Coming off a disappointing 85-82 home loss to High Point Tuesday, Furman coach Bob Richey said that the team "would find out who wants to guard" during practices the rest of the week.

Richey said that while his team still has some things to clean up, he was much more pleased with the defensive effort on Saturday. After shooting 53.8 percent from the floor in the first half, Winthrop (5-6) shot just 43.5 percent in the second half and was just 5-of-21 from three (23.8 percent) for the game. That's the lowest three-point percentage by a Furman opponent all season.

"I thought our aggression was much better. ... It was our first 30-plus deflection game of the year, so I'm really proud of that," Richey said. "I think any time you have a loss, you've got to look at it. ... I think the easiest thing to do is to figure out what the players do wrong. I think the best thing to do is figure out what did I do wrong?

"I took a lot of time on Wednesday, just getting away from it. I just had to spend some time making sure that I was leading correctly. I thought there were two things that I had to do better. Rotationally, I've affected some guys confidence. ... I've given them no consistency. I think what it's done, is have guys going into the game thinking, 'hey, I better make the shot so I can play longer.' "

On Saturday, only eight Paladins took the court. Of those three coming off the bench, two played less than nine minutes. Guards Joe Anderson and Carter Whitt, who had played in every game this season, didn't play Saturday.

"I want all these guys to be happy. I want them to leave the gym smiling and I don't want them to be disappointed that they didn't get to play. But at the end of the day, I had to clean that up," Richey said. "I think that we've got to find some rotational consistency for league play. And I think the guys coming off the bench have to know what to expect."

Richey said the second thing was that he could not expect his team to play more aggressive without a more aggressive game plan.

"I thought we needed to be a little bit more aggressive defensively. And so, we've worked on that last few days. It wasn't perfect, but it fits my personality more. It's what I like to do, and you're gonna give up some things," Richey said. "But it's like a football team that blitzes more than they sit in coverage. Coverage isn't working for us. I'm tired of seeing the ball go in. I mean, we're just given up shot after shot after shot."

No team led Saturday's game by more than four over the first 15 minutes. The Paladins (7-3) led 31-30 with five minutes left in the half before a Ben VanderWal three ignited a 10-0 run over the next two-and-a-half minutes. Tyrese Hughey capped it with a three-point play after he was fouled on a dunk.

The Eagles responded with a 9-0 spurt over the rest of the half, capped by Cory Hightower's three-pointer at the buzzer to cut Furman's lead to 41-39 at the break. It was kind of a "here we go again" moment for Furman's defense that had played relatively well until the final minutes of the half. Richey questioned his own moves about that letdown and commended his team for being unfazed by it.

"We had a little bit of foul trouble and we got up 10, so I decided pull Slaw out. I decided to pull all the guys with two (fouls) and that might have been a mistake. We got completely lost on the backside there and gave up that hammer three to basically go up two in the locker room," Richey said. "But I thought our response in the second half was really good. We had 12 second chance points for the game and they were all in the second half."

Coming out of halftime, Slawson - who was coming off a season-low eight-point and three-rebound performance against High Point - took over. He opened the half with a three and had a dunk for Furman's next bucket two minutes later. Slawson drew a double-team down low on the next possession and kicked it out to J.P. Pegues for a three-pointer. He had a layup on the Paladins' next shot and after a Mike Bothwell layup, Slawson had a putback and was fouled. He completed the three-point play to give Furman a 56-48 lead five minutes into the second half.

"It wasn't anything in particular done at halftime. I was in foul trouble in the first half. ... All these guys have been telling me I'm too good of a player to not have had more against High Point," Slawson said. "I made my first shot tonight and missed my next two, but my teammates did a good job instilling confidence in me. ... So there's really not any magic potion to this. It was just spending a week's worth of working on things."

Furman never led by less than five the rest of the way. It was a 69-63 lead for the Paladins with six minutes left when a Garrett Hien dunk sparked a 9-0 run that put the game away. Slawson capped the run on a three-pointer with 3:30 left.

After shooting 53.6 percent in the first half, the Paladins shot 54.8 percent in the second half. Furman has scored at least 41 points in each of its last six halves, including exactly 41 points in each of the last four. Furman won the rebounding battle, 34-23, and had 12 offensive boards.

Bothwell finished with 16 points, seven assists and two steals, while Pegues had 15 points, a career-high seven rebounds and five assists. Hien finished with 11 points. In 20 minutes off the bench, VanderWal had seven points, five rebounds, three steals, two blocked shots and an unbelievable dunk in which he just kept elevating.

"We were talking last night and I told the staff, 'I know he's (VanderWal's) not making shots, but we're also not giving him normalized minutes. So how's he going to make shots?' " Richey said. "He went in there tonight and played the game the right way. He made huge plays. We've got to reward guys that just compete and respond. ... He hardly played versus High Point, but he came in and practiced his behind off on Thursday."

Next up for Furman is a trip to Raleigh to face N.C. State Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. The game will be televised on the ACC Network.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

High Point a low point for Furman's defense

Mike Bothwell had 29 points and seven rebounds in Furman's
85-82 loss to High Point Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

When Furman played at High Point last season, Mike Bothwell hit a shot at the buzzer of regulation and with four seconds left in the first overtime to power the Paladins to a 74-70 victory. When the teams squared off at Timmons Arena Tuesday night, Bothwell couldn't capture that same late game mojo that he so often has before.

Bothwell's potential game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer Tuesday came up short as Furman fell, 85-82. For a program that supposedly prides itself on defense, it should've never come to that. On a night when the Paladins (6-3) only made 9-of-32 threes (28.1 percent), they still scored 41 points each half and only had five turnovers for the game.

As it has been in every loss this season, Furman's problem was defense. A High Point team that needed two overtimes to reach 70 points as it shot 38 percent against the Paladins last season, shot 59.3 percent from the floor Tuesday, including 64.7 percent (11-of-17) from three.

In was yet another loss in which Furman dug a huge hole for itself in the first half as the Panthers (8-1) shot 63 percent in the opening half, including 70 percent (7-of-10) from three. It's a repeated scenario that's left Furman coach Bob Richey searching for answers.

"We clearly didn't do a good enough job as a staff to play with an intensity level that this game requires. For us to be starting two fifth-years and a fourth-year player, it's pretty disappointing," Richey said in the postgame press conference Tuesday. "All three losses, we've got dang near 20-point deficits in the first half. All three of them, we clawed our way back in only to be disappointed late because we chose to give a mediocre effort on the defensive end of the floor at the start of the game.

"It's crazy. We're at 1.21 (points per possession) tonight offensively, which just shows you how talented we are. But the game don't care about talent. The game cares about toughness and connection."

The game was tied at 21 with 10:54 left in the first half when High Point took over. The Panthers went on a 21-5 run over the next 6:49 to take a 16-point lead. Furman made just one field goal over that stretch.

The Paladins began to fight back before halftime and Bothwell's three-pointer with eight seconds left cut the Panthers' lead to 45-41 at the break. Starters Marcus Foster and Jalen Slawson watched the second half begin from the bench as Richey searched for the right combination to continue the comeback.

"We've got to coach our guys better. I can sit up here and say 'well, they're not doing what we're telling them to do,' but it's ultimately my fault because I've got those guys out there. If I've got them out there doing it in a mediocre fashion, I've got to get them off the court," Richey said. "I hate that it's come to this, but we've got depth and we're going to figure out Thursday and Friday (in practices) who wants to guard." 

Foster and Slawson checked in about five minutes into the second half as High Point had extended its lead to 57-47. Furman went on a 12-0 run capped by a Foster layup that gave the Paladins their first lead with 11:13 left.

The Panthers regained command leading 81-74 before J.P. Pegues hit a three with 1:23 left. Pegues then made a steal and knocked down another three to slice the lead to one with 1:11 left. With all the momentum and a fired-up home crowd behind them, the Paladins then had their biggest lowlight defensively. It took all of seven seconds for High Point to beat the press as Zach Austin made a layup and was fouled.

"When you dabble in mediocrity and then all of a sudden, you've got a window and you cut it to one. Then we have maybe the worst blown assignment all night in the press. In the most critical time of the game, we have the most unbelievable blown assignment and they get an and-one behind us on basically an uncontested layup," Richey said. "That's because we run the trap and we clearly said in the timeout, 'we're not trapping. We're just extending the pressure to keep the ball in front and we're in regular defense.

"At the end of the day, that's on me and we'll get it fixed. ... I'm not a great loser, but ... I just hate losing when you know you didn't give everything you have."

Austin missed the free throw and Pegues made a layup to cut the lead back to 83-82 with 55 seconds left. After a block by Slawson on one end, Bothwell's layup was blocked on the other. Austin made a pair of free throws with six seconds left to extend the lead to 85-82 before Bothwell's three at the end came up short of everything. It was Furman's fifth air-ball from three for the game.

"The play was for J.P. because he was hot, but I don't think we could get the pass to him. I was the second option coming off the screen to the ball. I thought I had a decent look. I thought they were going to try to foul because I could hear them yelling to," said Bothwell. "I just tried to get it up as quick as possible before they did. It was a tough shot and I missed. ... No magic today."

Bothwell finished with 29 points, seven rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. Garrett Hien scored 15 points, while Pegues had 12 points and no turnovers. Slawson had eight points, three rebounds and three blocks for his first game not scoring in double figures this season.

Furman will have another rematch Saturday afternoon when it hosts Winthrop (5-5) at 4 p.m. The Paladins fell to the Eagles, 85-80, last season in Rock Hill despite Slawson recording Furman's first ever triple-double (15 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds).

"We've got to decide if we want to be a mediocre defense and an inconsistent team that has a lot of talent, or if we want to be a consistent team that chases excellence on the defensive end of the floor," Richey said. "One that plays with a certain amount of pride on the defensive end of the floor instead of continuing to let guys just drive us.

"I love our guys. I have a lot of faith in our guys. I'm not discouraged, because it's an obvious deal. ... The good news is we've got time to fix it."

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Furman's season ends in heartbreaking loss

Bryce McCormick (31) had 10 tackles and a fumble recovery in Furman's
41-38 loss at Incarnate Word Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

SAN ANTONIO - Furman's defense did something to Incarnate Ward's offense that had not been done in three years Saturday. After getting pushed around for most of the first half, the 11th-ranked Paladins came up with a critically important fourth-down stop on the fifth-ranked Cardinals' final possession of the first half. That started a run in which the highest-scoring offense in the FCS - averaging 53 points a game - did not find the end zone for eight consecutive drives.

Unfortunately for Furman, it couldn't make it nine.

UIW's star quarterback, Lindsey Scott, fired a 32-yard touchdown pass to Kole Wilson with 1:56 left to give the Cardinals the lead. Elliott Davison then ended the Paladins' last possession with a lunging interception in mid-air as UIW pulled out a 41-38 win in round two of the FCS playoffs. Scott's touchdown was his fifth of the day and 62nd (55 passing, seven rushing) of the season. That broke the FCS record for season touchdown responsibility and broke Furman's heart.

"We're certainly bitterly disappointed that we didn't get a win today, but I'd like to congratulate Incarnate Word. They've got a heck of a football team and I knew that. Nothing surprised me about anything about them today," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "We certainly didn't play our best football, but I don't know if I've ever been prouder of a group for just hanging in there fighting. That's kind of how we've been all year.

"We've got a bunch that fights and competes, but they played better than we did. They made a couple of more plays than we did and that was really the difference in the game."

A Furman (10-3) team going for a school-record sixth consecutive road win could not have asked for a better start when Cally Chizik picked off Scott's pass on the fourth play of the game and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown.

Scott was unfazed, showing the composure and maturity you'd expect from a 24-year-old. After marching the Cardinals to the Furman 21-yard line, Scott made one of the most incredible throws ever. Bryce McCormick got to Scott, forcing him to throw as he was falling back to the ground at at least a 120-degree angle. While it took a little bit to get there, it was a spiral right to Darion Chafin for a touchdown.

That was the first of four touchdown passes in the opening half for Scott, who had 312 yards passing and 76 rushing by halftime. Meanwhile, Furman's offense managed just 139 yards in the opening half. The only thing keeping the Paladins in it was Chizik, who intercepted another Scott pass late in the first quarter and returned it 33 yards to the five-yard line. That led to a one-yard touchdown run by Dominic Roberto.

UIW led 28-17 and was looking for more with a 15-play, 76-yard drive on its last possession of the first half. But on fourth-and-one at the Furman three-yard line, Scott threw to Taylor Grimes who was immediately stopped for no gain by McCormick with 50 seconds left.

After stopping the Cardinals for no points on that drive, the Paladins allowed just two field goals on UIW's first seven possessions of the second half. The last time the Cardinals went eight consecutive drives without a touchdown was in a 31-24 loss at Stephen F. Austin on Nov. 9, 2019.

"It was really a lot of self-inflicted stuff in the first half and we just knew we had to get back to playing our game. After that fourth-down stop right before halftime, we were like 'okay, we can do what we do. We've been doing it all year.' " Furman defensive tackle and captain Matt Sochovka said. "But unfortunately, when we needed a stop at the end we didn't get it."

While Furman's defense played like it had over the second half of the season in the second half Saturday, the offense eventually came to life. It's first three drives after halftime ended on an interception and two punts, but the Paladins finally got a sustained drive for a touchdown late in the third quarter.

Not coincidentally, that happened when quarterback Tyler Huff finally started running. On a third-and-nine play at the UIW 37, Huff scrambled for a 20-yard gain. Huff, whose running ability has been a critical part of Furman's success all season, had just four yards rushing on three attempts prior to that carry. Four plays later, Huff ran for an 11-yard touchdown on fourth down as Furman sliced the lead to 31-24 going to the fourth quarter.

The Cardinals answered with a field goal on their ensuing possession. One of the Paladins' most effective plays Saturday was throwing deep and drawing a flag on UIW's secondary, which evidently had a game plan to foul on every deep throw in hopes that officials surely wouldn't call all of them. It worked a little. Earlier in the game, a flag flew when all-American tight end Ryan Miller clearly had the left shoulder of his jersey grabbed but after an officials' huddle, that flag was waved off.

There was one time when UIW defensive backs didn't make contact. That's when Joshua Harris' man slipped before he could touch him. That allowed Harris to haul in a 50-yard touchdown pass from Huff to cut the lead to 34-31 with 10:18 left. Two plays later, Braden Gilby forced a fumble that Bryce McCormick recovered at the Cardinals' 32-yard line and the visitor stands began shaking.

Huff ran for 12 yards on first down. On third-and-eight, he ran for 13 to the UIW five. Three plays later, he scored from a yard out and somehow, some way, Furman had a 38-34 lead with 6:55 left.

On UIW's ensuing possession, Scott ran for 13 yards on third-and-10. Then on third-and-11, the Cardinals' 1,000-yard rusher Marcus Cooper ran for 21 to the Furman 17. But on their next third down, Cally Chizik broke up Scott's throw to the end zone. On fourth down, Micah Robinson did the same. Furman took over at its 20-yard line and just 2:59 away from an appearance in the FCS quarterfinals.

That feeling that this thing was done only grew when Roberto rumbled for 19 yards on first down. But, there was a flag on the play. Furman All-Southern Conference first team left tackle Anderson Tomlin was flagged for holding. Roberto ran to the right so Tomlin's man turned left away from him in pursuit and flailed his arms in the air, drawing a flag from the umpire. On the offense's first snap with a lead all day, it was the lone holding penalty of the game on the Paladins.

"Brutal penalty on us on the first down. I think we win the game there if we don't get it, so I'll be able interested to see (a replay) of that one," Hendrix said. "I think it's the only call he made all day."

After the holding call backed up Furman to the 10-yard line, a false start penalty then pushed it back to the five. That was the fifth false start Saturday, an unacceptable amount for any Furman team in any game much less one on Dec. 3. Fearing a turnover or safety, the Paladins went ultra-conservative with three handoffs to Roberto. That netted no yards and only made the Cardinals use all three timeouts.

Punting from the back of his end zone, Ryan Leavy's kick was returned eight yards to the Furman 43 with 2:32 left setting the stage for Scott's final touchdown.

After UIW got the 41-38 lead, the Paladins took over at their own 25 with 1:54 left and all three timeouts. Huff hit Miller, who had missed most of the game with an injury, for 15 yards to the Cardinals' 47. He then threw to Harris, who drew UIW's 16th penalty of the game which moved the ball into Ian Williams' field goal range. On first down at the Cardinals' 32, Huff threw deep to Miller but Davison flew in from his safety position for the interception at the nine.

The Paladins still had all three timeouts with 1:17 left, but Scott ran for 15 yards on second-and-10 to seal UIW's win. Scott finished with 394 yards passing and 124 rushing. His 518 yards of total offense are the second-most ever allowed by Furman. The seventh-seeded Cardinals (11-1) finished with 613 yards of total offense on 97 plays.

"We gave up some some deep balls, which we knew we were gonna see. ... I think Scott's ability to elude people and his feet hurt us more than even his arm did. He's obviously a great player," Hendrix said. "We had probably at least three or four times where we could've had a sack, but he was able to get rid of the ball. I think a key for them was avoiding those negative plays.

"But I just couldn't be prouder of our football team and what they stand for on and off the field. Our staff's just done a phenomenal job and it's been a heck of a year. It's just certainly a disappointing way to end it."

Huff threw for 171 yards on 16-of-28 passing and he was the Paladins' leading rusher with 64 yards on nine carries. Harris had four catches for 69 yards, while Roberto - who also missed a good deal of the game with an injury - had 59 yards rushing on 15 carries. Kam Brinson led Furman's defense with 13 tackles, including 3.5 tackles-for-loss. Gilby had 11 tackles and McCormick made 10 stops.

"It was a great year. It was fun," Huff said. "I'm excited for next year, but I hate that this one ended this way."

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Williams sparks Furman past S.C. State

Alex Williams (24) scored 15 points in a span of six minutes and six seconds Saturday
to help Furman pull away for an 88-76 win over S.C. State. Photo courtesy of Furman

After missing the first six games this season due to a violation of Furman's team rules, Alex Williams played just 99 seconds and didn't scratch in any statistical category Tuesday at Appalachian State. If that was merely an appetizer, Williams served up a porterhouse steak in game two of his season Saturday.

That steak nourished a Paladin team that was starving for a spark. Williams had 15 points off the bench at a crucial time midway through the second half to help Furman pull away for an 88-76 win over South Carolina State at Timmons Arena. Williams was 6-of-7 from the field, including 3-of-4 from three, and drew a key charge when things were dicey.

"Alex Williams came in ready to play. I'm really proud of Alex, who's been through adverse moments in his career, but his talent is evident and his growth is evident," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "He had 15 points in nine minutes and that's not the first time we've seen that. We see it in practice.

"To come in ready to play when he did is hard because he didn't play in the first half. The mentality to be able to sit there and stay engaged is big because when you get to that point in the game, you feel like the (warmup) shirt's not coming off. He stayed in there and man are we glad he did."

Facing a S.C. State team that lost 118-52 the last time the teams faced off two years ago, Furman (6-2) could not shake the Bulldogs for much of the game. Coming off its first win of the season at East Carolina, S.C. State (1-8) played inspired basketball but many of the Paladins' issues Saturday were self-inflicted.

Furman jumped out to a 11-1 lead and shot 63 percent from the floor in the first half, including 13-of-15 inside the arc. But the Bulldogs rallied to tie the game with two minutes left in the first half and the Paladins took a 42-38 lead into halftime. It was only a four-point lead thanks in large part to 12 Furman turnovers and S.C. State's six offensive rebounds in the opening half.

"We had three goals tonight: We had to guard the ball. I don't think we did that well. We had to rebound. They came in on top in offensive rebounding, but we end up winning the glass by three which I thought was big. And we had to take care of the ball. We didn't do that worth a flip," Richey said. "Give them (S.C. State) credit but when you've got three objectives and just do one, that's going to put a game in the balance. I give our guys credit for staying in the fight."

The Paladins led 55-54 when Williams entered Saturday's game for the first time with 11:54 left. Seven seconds later, he made a layup. Eighty-five seconds later, he drained a three-pointer to push the lead to 62-56 and forced a Bulldogs' timeout. Coming out of the timeout, Williams drew a charge. Fourteen seconds later, Williams made a layup and drew a foul. He missed the free throw, but got his own offensive rebound which led to a Garrett Hien dunk and Furman led by 10 for the first time since it was 13-3.

Twenty-five seconds later, Williams' three-pointer extended the lead to 13. Furman's next bucket was another three by Williams to make it a 72-56 lead with 7:33 left. Its next was a Williams' layup to push it to 74-58 with 5:41 remaining before Williams got a well-deserved breather a few seconds later. All 15 of his points came in a span of six minutes and six seconds, and the Paladins outscored S.C. State 19-4 during that stretch.

"I just tried to give the team some energy because South Carolina State just wouldn't go away. I feel like we came out and took the game away," Williams said. "I just really did what Coach Richey says to do - 'work while you wait.' Not every time is going to be your time, so you just have to wait until your number's called.

"You want to be out there as a competitor, but you have to get lost in the team. If you're just worried about yourself all the time, you're going to be miserable. It's a team sport. If you just buy into teamwork, I promise you'll be fine."

Mike Bothwell and Marcus Foster scored 16 points apiece to lead Furman. Bothwell also had six assists and two steals, while Foster had four assists and three steals. Jalen Slawson had 11 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks, while Hien finished with 11 points - on 5-of-5 shooting - and six rebounds.

Up next for Furman is a home game Tuesday against High Point at 7 p.m. It will be a matchup of teams on respective four-game winning streaks as the Panthers enter with a record of 7-1. It will also be a rematch of a thriller last season at High Point. Bothwell hit last-second shots to force overtime and double overtime as the Paladins pulled out a 74-70 victory. The Panthers lone loss this season came at UNLV, which is currently one of 12 undefeated teams in the country.

"We've got to continue to understand that we can't be selective. We can't wait for urgent moments and deficits," Richey said. "We've got to find more consistency in our defensive performance. That will be our focus as we prepare to face a good High Point team."

Friday, December 2, 2022

Paladins shooting for historic win in Texas

Furman safety Kam Brinson leads the FCS with four fumble recoveries this season.
The Paladins are second nationally with 26 takeaways. Photo courtesy of Furman

The Furman football team will be trying to do something the program has never done before in a state where it's never played before Saturday. On Friday, the 11th-ranked Paladins (10-2) boarded a plane to San Antonio for their first flight since a blowout win at Colgate in 2017. On Saturday, they will take on No. 7 seed Incarnate Word (10-1) in the second round of the FCS playoffs. After 1,168 games in 117 seasons since 1889, Saturday will mark Furman's first ever in the state of Texas.

A Paladin victory would be a school-record sixth consecutive win on the road. Furman had won five in a row on the road just once before this season, but a loss at Clemson before that streak started in 1989 and a loss at Florida in 1990 left that run at five. More importantly for the Paladins, a win Saturday would advance them to the FCS quarterfinals next weekend. The winner of Furman-UIW will face the winner of Richmond's game at second-seeded Sacramento State.

Furman coach Clay Hendrix doesn't believe a rare plane flight will have any impact on the good mojo his team has developed on road trips this season.

"Between a three-hour plane flight or a four- or five-hour bus ride, what's the difference really," Hendrix said during his weekly press conference Monday. "It will be a different experience for our kids. I'm sure we will have a few that haven't been on an airplane before ... but I don't know that we will change anything in how we prepare."

What the Paladins will have to contend with looks to be the best FCS offense it has faced all season. The No. 5-ranked Cardinals lead the country in total offense (582.4 yards per game), passing offense (383 ypg), and scoring offense (52.9 points per game).

UIW quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. seems to be the leading candidate to win the Walter Payton Award as he is poised to possibly break multiple national FCS records. His 218.2 passer rating would obliterate the current record for a season of 204.6 set by William & Mary's Shawn Knight in 1993. Scott's 11.56 yards per pass attempt would break the current record of 10.28 set by Eastern Washington's Vernon Adams in 2013. Scott has 50 touchdown passes and has carried for seven more, leaving him four shy of the record for touchdown responsibility currently held shared by Mississippi Valley State's Willie Totten and Fordham's Tim DeMorat. Totten's mark of 61 was boosted by the presence of a receiver named Jerry Rice in 1984. DeMorat tied Totten's record this season.

While Scott has passed for 3,791 yards, that's not all the Cardinals do. UIW ground game averages 199.4 rushing yards per game. Marcus Cooper leads the way there with 1,044 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he averages 7.1 yards per carry.

Besides gaudy numbers, Scott also has experience. One week after defeating Elon's 23-year old Matthew McKay, who had previously played quarterback at N.C. State and Montana State, Furman will try to defeat 24-year old Scott. His journey to UIW included stops at LSU, East Mississippi Community College, Missouri and Nicholls State.

"They have a quarterback who was playing college football before I became head coach (in 2017). That's the world we're in now," Hendrix said. "He's an outstanding player and he's surrounded by good players. It will certainly take our very best effort."

While Furman may have not seen an offense quite like UIW's, the Cardinals may not have seen a defense like the Paladins. Last Saturday's 31-6 dismantling of 12th-ranked Elon marked the third time this season that Furman held an opponent out of the end zone. It's a defense that has seemingly gotten better each week.

The Paladins rank 11th nationally in run defense allowing 107.7 rushing yards per game. Over the past five games, Furman opponents have rushed for just 2.0 yards per carry on 147 attempts.

Third downs and turnovers have been keys to the Paladins' defensive success. After allowing opponents to convert 47.7 percent of third downs last season, Furman's allowing just 32.4 percent this season - 10th best in the FCS. The Paladins rank second in the country in takeaways with 26, including 16 interceptions. Safety Kam Brinson leads the country in fumble recoveries with four.

"They're a little bit of a unique attack, but you don't need to reinvent the wheel. We need to be who we are defensively. Offensively, we need to continue to be balanced and mix it up," Hendrix said. "As different as they are from what we largely see, I think maybe we're different from what they see."

In the latest Massey Ratings, Furman is seventh and UIW ninth. In those ratings, the Paladins' strength of schedule is No. 26 in the FCS while the Cardinals is 58th. If Saturday's game is close, Furman certainly has more experience with those. UIW's lone game decided by less than 13 points was it's only loss - a 41-35 loss at Southland co-champ Southeastern Louisiana. Furman went 6-1 in games decided by 13 points or less and 7-1 against teams in the top 57 in Massey.

That 13-point game for UIW was a 55-41 win over a (technically) FBS team in Nevada, which went 2-10 this season. The Cardinals' lone win against a team with a winning record this season with a 31-14 victory over Prairie View, which went 6-5 and ranks 77th in Massey. All three of those UIW games took place in September after the Cardinals opened the season with a 64-29 win over a Southern Illinois team that went 5-6, but is currently 21st in Massey.

"Our league's done a phenomenal job preparing us for this. I felt that way even more so after Saturday," Hendrix said. "We've played really well down the stretch and I think we've stayed in a physical, attacking mindset. I've said this all year: that's how we have to win games here. We have to out-tough people, physically and mentally."

Ten Paladins set for a homecoming

While Furman has never played a game in Texas, plenty of Paladins did in high school. There are 10 Texans on the roster, including four at running back. Wayne Anderson Jr., who was another Texan running back before shifting to receiver this year, is from Prosper - about a four-and-a-half drive to Incarnate Word.

While that would be one of Furman's longest road trips in the Southern Conference, Anderson said it's close enough to have plenty of family and friends in the stands Saturday.

"I'll just say a whole lot of people are coming," Anderson said with a smile Monday. "I've been talking to a lot of my teammates already asking for more tickets."

Furman legend Bob King also hailed from Texas. King, who was the school's first-ever All-SoCon selection in 1936 and was the Paladins head coach from 1958-72, hailed from Ranger.

Hendrix said playing a game in what's become a recruiting pipeline for Furman can only help that grow. He's more excited about this game for another reason though.

"I'm just really thrilled for these kids. They came here with not anticipation of probably ever playing back home as a Furman Paladin," Hendrix said. "Obviously, there's great high school football there and there are a lot of kids that fit our academic profile, which is relatively small in relation to who we compete against." 

Special teams are still special

While Elon snapped Furman's string of consecutive field goals blocked at four with a pair of 50-plus yarders last Saturday, Jack Rhodes partially blocked a punt giving the Paladins a total of 10 blocks (six field goals, two extra points, two punts) this season. Furman has blocked a kick in six consecutive games.

Jack Barton leads that unit with four blocked kicks this season. His four blocked field goals have him a tied for the FCS record for a season with four others.

Furman basketball rallies to pass first road test

Mike Bothwell had 23 points in Furman's 65-61 win at
Appalachian State Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

In a game that felt like three or four different games in one, Furman won the most important one - the one at the end Tuesday night. The Paladins went on a late 11-0 run to escape with a 65-61 win at Appalachian State in their first true road game of the season.

Furman (5-2) found a way to win on a night when it shot 38.9 percent from the floor, saw a 16-point lead disappear and was on the wrong end of a 17-0 run in the second half. App State, which opened the season with a 142-point showing against Division II opponent Warren Wilson before posting wins at Louisville and East Tennessee State, fell to 5-3.

"Road wins are hard, especially when you're going against a good program and a well-coached team," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "We knew at halftime they would respond and man did they. They had some good adjustments.

"The storylines from tonight are we won a game on the road shooting 24 percent from three and we held a team in their home gym to 61 points. We had incredible defense in the first half. ... The other thing is that we responded and that's hard. It got loud in here. ... The third storyline is Mike Bothwell and just the gutsy plays he made."

The first chapter of the game was downright ugly. After the Paladins took a 7-2 lead at the 15:25 mark of the first half, it was a 7-7 game with less than 10 minutes left in the first half. That's when Furman flipped a switch defensively to take command.

Four consecutive App State possessions ended on steals by Garrett Hien, Marcus Foster, Mike Bothwell and Foster again, respectively. Furman turned each one of those turnovers into buckets and forced a Mountaineers timeout after Bothwell's dunk off of Foster's second steal. That 8-0 spurt took all of 95 seconds. After the timeout, a Jalen Slawson blocked shot led to a Bothwell layup to push the lead to 17-7.

Furman pushed the lead to as much as 15 before taking a 32-19 lead into halftime. But after shooting 30.8 percent from the floor in the first half, including 1-of-11 from three, App State shot 56 percent in the second half including 4-of-9 from three.

Slawson's three-pointer 11 seconds into the second half gave Furman its biggest lead of the night at 16 before the Mountaineers began to chip away. App State got the lead down to six, but the Paladins regained control and Bothwell's layup with 10:57 left extended the lead to 52-40.

Then everything changed. Over the next six minutes, Furman missed 10 consecutive shots sandwiched around four turnovers. Meanwhile, App State missed just two shots over that same timeframe and used a 17-0 run to take a 57-52 lead with less than five minutes left.

"We called back-to-back timeouts because we were about to be down 10. I got after our guys a little bit," Richey said. "I told them, 'yeah, you're down, but it's not just that you're down.' Our demeanor and our spirit - we just looked like we were tripping over our feet. We were trying to make home run drives and we were falling. Guys were open and we're forcing shots and looking at refs. We've got to eliminate all that."

The Paladins got the message. An offensive rebound by J.P. Pegues led to a beautiful reverse layup by Slawson that ignited an 11-0 run over the next three minutes. After hitting a pair of free throws with 3:23 left to put Furman back on top for good, Bothwell popped in a three-pointer the next time down. Hien capped the run with a layup to push the lead to 63-57 with 2:03 left.

However, Furman refused to put the game away as it missed a pair of layups and back-to-back front ends of 1-and-1s at the foul line. App State leading scorer Donovan Gregory looked to cut the lead to one with 10 seconds left, but missed his second free throw. Slawson grabbed the rebound and made a behind-the-back pass to Bothwell, who was fouled with 6.6 seconds left. The 88 percent foul shooter calmly drilled both foul shots.

"We were missing all those free throws late and I finally told them, 'get the ball to Mike!' So Slaw gets the rebound and throws it behind his back and fortunately, that made it through," Richey said. "Mike makes both to put the game away. I couldn't be more proud of this group. They had to endure a lot and they were able to push their way through it."

Bothwell finished with a game-high 23 points, which included a 10-of-10 showing at the foul line. Slawson had 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Marcus Foster totaled 12 points and three steals. Hien had six points and 10 rebounds off the bench.

"That was risky and I told him it was, but it worked because he's so talented and has confidence in his passing game," Bothwell said of Slawson's pass out of the late rebound. "He knew I'd knock them down. A lot of people would want those points late to be the guy that made the clutch free throws, but he trusted me and that's what this team is all about."

Furman will next play host to South Carolina State at noon Saturday. The game was moved from 4 p.m. because of the football team's FCS playoff game at Incarnate Word, which is set to begin at 2 p.m. Fans attending the basketball game are encouraged to stay and watch the football game on the Timmons Arena video boards.