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."

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