Friday, December 2, 2022

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. 

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