|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."