Tuesday, January 3, 2023

No bench, no boards equals no win for Furman

Garrett Hien matched a career-high with 20 points in Furman's 79-67
loss at Western Carolina Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

CULLOWHEE, N.C. - After shooting 65.2 percent in the first half at Western Carolina Saturday, Furman shot 34.6 percent in the second half.

That wasn't the worst of its troubles.

The Paladins got essentially nothing from its bench all day. In the second half, they made just 3-of-8 free throws and were annihilated on the glass. All that added up to a 79-67 loss as Western snapped its 13-game losing streak in the series.

Furman had a 41-38 lead at halftime and an 11-8 edge in rebounding in the first half. In the second half, the Catamounts won the rebounding battle, 27-10, including nine offensive boards. After the Paladins got 39 points off the bench in the win over VMI two days earlier, Alex Williams' 2-of-4 free throw shooting accounted for all the bench points Saturday. Furman dropped to 0-4 in games in which it's been outrebounded this season.

"There's things you can point to, but at the end of the day, we didn't play with the right spirit. We had two times that we were up nine at different points in the game and we did not make the plays necessary to continue to push the margin," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Instead, we got comfortable. We came off shooters. We came out of gaps. We didn't guard the ball.  They basically scrapped a lot of their offense and just start driving us.

"I still have a lot of belief in this team. We're just not consistent in our defensive intensity. We don't have enough guys that are taking responsibility collectively to demand that this is how we have to play on that end of the floor. Until we do that, you can't expect it."

Western opened Southern Conference play Thursday with a 72-47 home loss to UNC Greensboro. The Catamounts (8-7, 1-1) shot 20 percent (12-of-60) in that game, including 3-of-31 in the second half. On Saturday, Western shot 51.9 percent (28-of-54), including 10-of-22 (45.5 percent) from beyond the arc. In all eight of the Catamounts' wins this season, they've hit at least 10 threes. In all seven losses, they didn't reach double figures in made threes.

Furman once again got off to a slow start as it trailed 17-12 midway through the first half. The Paladins (10-5, 1-1) responded with a spurt of outstanding defense. Western had seven consecutive possessions that ended with: a shot clock violation, a putback dunk, a blocked shot and Furman rebound, a steal, a three-second call, another shot clock violation and a traveling call.

That helped the Paladins go on a 16-2 run capped by a Garrett Hien three that gave Furman a 28-19 lead with 6:18 left in the half. The Paladins never had another defensive effort that sniffed that one and - despite Furman making nearly two-thirds of its shots - Western whittled the lead down to three at the half.

"Once (6-foot-8 forward Tyzhaun) Claude got his second foul right about the four-minute mark going into halftime, they just start going dribble-drive. They kind of carried that into the second half and you know, it's no secret. It's our weak spot," Richey said. "We just made some mental errors tonight that we've got to do a better job of. We did not contain the ball. Our gaps weren't active. We weren't flowing aggressively. We allowed the rim and the paint to be exposed.

"It's disappointing because I thought we came off on one of our better defensive performances of the year (in an 85-62 win over VMI). Then we come out here and we do this."

Another three by Hien pushed Furman's lead to 50-41 with 16:06 left. Hien's blocked shot out of bounds on the other end led to the under-16 timeout and left the Catamounts with five on the shot clock. Coming out of that timeout, Western immediately nailed a three-pointer, then got a three-point play and another three-pointer. Just 80 seconds after the timeout, the game was tied at 50.

Mike Bothwell's layup with 10:24 left gave the Paladins a 57-55 lead, but that was their last lead of the day. Over the next seven-plus minutes, Furman went 1-of-8 from the floor and 1-of-3 from the foul line. Meanwhile, Western went on a 20-3 run over that stretch to take an insurmountable 75-60 lead with 3:17 left.

"We go back up nine (in the second half) and then we have a couple of breakdowns right in succession and before you know it, the game's tied," Richey said. "Give them credit. They played really well. They basically just went to five out offensive and just start dribble driving us. We just could not contain the ball. Our second layer defense was poor. Our ability to protect the basket was poor and they got 17 layups basically at the rim in the second half."

Claude, Western's leading scorer averaging 15.2 points and 8.4 rebounds a game entering Saturday, was held to seven points and five boards in just under 16 minutes of action. As Richey mentioned though, his foul trouble ironically became a detriment to Furman and allowed other Catamounts to rise up. Iowa State transfer Tre Jackson led Western with 17 points, while Winthrop transfer Russell Jones Jr. had 15 points and three steals. Vonterius Woolbright had 14 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and Bernard Poole added 14 points and eight rebounds off the bench.

Hien matched his career-high of 20 points set earlier this season in the rout of South Carolina. Bothwell finished with 18 points, while Jalen Slawson had 16 points and seven rebounds. Furman will next host The Citadel at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

"We lost the second game on the road last year in the league. The team that won the league last year lost in Cullowhee as well. This doesn't kill all hope, but it makes the road harder," Richey said. "We've got to learn from it. We've got to figure out how to be more consistent."

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