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.

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