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."

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