Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Paladins foul up big lead in loss to UNCG

Jalen Slawson had 22 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots in Furman's
88-80 overtime loss to UNCG Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Furman has had a second-half lead of at least nine points in all six of its Southern Conference games this season. For the second time among those, the Paladins saw it slip away Saturday. UNC Greensboro rallied from a 13-point deficit with less than seven minutes left in regulation to post an 88-80 overtime win before a sold out crowd at Timmons Arena.

Foul trouble that had pestered Furman (13-6, 4-2) all day finally caught up to it by the end of regulation Saturday. The 29 total fouls it was called for, combined with going ice cold late in regulation and in overtime, combined with losing starting point guard J.P. Pegues to leg cramps down the stretch and in overtime doomed for the Paladins. The Spartans (11-8, 5-1), who had not shot more than 20 free throws in any SoCon game this season, made 33-of-41 Saturday. While UNCG only made 8-of-24 field goals in the second half, it made 20-of-24 free throws in the second half.

"The story of the game is the fouls. You're probably not going to win any games letting them shoot 41 free throws. We've got to get better there," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "A lot of credit to Greensboro ... for the competitiveness they played with down the stretch down 13 with less than eight minutes to go. They scrambled the game and increased the pressure a little bit. I thought it got us on our heels.

"It was a heck of a game in a heck of an environment. I thought our team did a lot of good things and I'm proud of their effort. I'm proud of how they came out of halftime, the adjustments they made, and how they played for those (first) 13 minutes (of the second half). But it wasn't enough. When you get in these big games, you've got to close them out."

When Pegues brilliantly lost his defender on a drive to the basket to give Furman its biggest lead at 69-56 with 7:55 left, Timmons was rocking and UNCG called timeout. There had to be a thought that even with the mountain of fouls, the Paladins were going to capture a win in what would be a very unusual way given this series' history.

While their recent games against the Spartans have been fantastic, they were all "rock fights" as Richey and former coach Niko Medved would say. Furman had more points (69) with eight minutes left than it had in any of the two teams' previous four meetings. That was also five more points than UNCG's top-ranked SoCon scoring defense had been allowing this season.

Mike Bothwell's layup with 6:10 left in regulation pushed Furman's lead to 71-60 and the Paladins were shooting 55.6 percent (25-of-45) at that point. The Paladins made just 2-of-15 field goals the rest of the way, including 0-of-5 in overtime. After just one turnover over nearly the first 17 minutes of the second half, Furman had five over the final 3:11 of regulation through overtime.

"Credit to them. They switched up how they were playing and kind of started trapping a little bit more off the ball, speeding us up," Bothwell said. "We started taking too many dribbles and weren't getting the ball popping as much as we were when we were on our run. It really wasn't our foul situation. We just got too stagnant and dribbled around too much."

Furman's next made field goal came at a crucial time on a Pegues' layup with 1:55 left to give the Paladins a 75-71 lead. The Spartans' Keyshaun Langley had a rare miss on the other end. With Furman big man Garrett Hien having fouled out four minutes earlier, UNCG big man Ben Leyte grabbed the offensive rebound and drew a foul with 1:31 left. That's when Pegues left the game for the first time in the second half.

Leyte made both free throws to cut the lead to two. With its point guard on the bench receiving medical attention, Furman's ensuing possession was not pretty. Bothwell's contested jumper as the shot clock wound down bounced off no good and UNCG got the board. The Paladins defense forced a miss on the other end, but again Leyte got the offensive rebound drew a foul and tied the game at 75 with 38 seconds left.

Furman regained the lead on a great putback by Ben VanderWal with 16 seconds left. One second later, Jalen Slawson inexplicably fouled Kobe Langley 60 feet from the basket. Slawson may not have actually fouled him at all but he got close enough to be called for one, which was all Saturday's crew seemingly needed for a whistle. Langley hit both free throws to tie the game. Bothwell's shot at the buzzer was rejected by Keondre Kennedy for the Spartans' lone block of the game.

"At the end of the day, we had two balls in the air that were misses in the last minute of the game. Had we secured possession, I think we come out on top," Richey said. "We gave both rebounds up. I guess we foul on both of them and they hit all four free throws.

"We still had the ball at the end of regulation, but didn't get a great look. And you know, that's on me. I gotta get our guys in a better position to get a better look there. Give them credit for getting that stop."

Pegues was able to start the overtime period. After scoring 18 points in the second half, Slawson drew a foul to start overtime and hit 1-of-2 free throws to give Furman the lead. After the teams exchanged misses, Keyshaun Langley's three gave UNCG the lead back for good with 3:47 left. When play stopped after a Slawson turnover with 3:16 remaining, Pegues left and didn't return.

The Paladins' only points the rest of the way came when Marcus Foster hit 2-of-3 free throws with 48 seconds left to cut the lead to 84-80. Furman appeared to possibly force a five-second call as UNCG struggled to inbound the ensuing possession, but it wasn't called as Richey vehemently argued with officials for it. It was 85-80 with 34 seconds left when Joe Anderson's errant pass was picked off by Langley, who cruised to the bucket for a layup and the final nail in Furman's coffin.

Furman's 29 fouls were the most in a game since it was whistled for 29 in an 80-69 loss at TCU on Dec. 9, 2014. Record books could not track the last time - if ever - the Paladins were whistled for 29 fouls at home. One of the most controversial of those calls came with 15:53 left in the second half when Hien was called for a foul in which UNCG's Mikeal Brown-Jones fell to the ground.

As Brown-Jones got up, it appeared on replay that Hien's knee made contact with his side. Both players got in each other's face and were separated. Despite no punches or shoves taking place, both were called for technical fouls. The regular foul and double technical saw Hien go from two fouls to four. News of the double tech did not sit well with Richey. Richey argued to the point that one official, who had gone to the scorer's table for a video review, yelled "I heard you Bob. Go back," as pointed to the Furman bench. That little message really didn't sit well with Richey.

Hien's foul trouble affected the rotation and he wasn't alone among foul woes in the frontcourt. Thirty seconds after Hien's fourth foul, Tyrese Hughey was called for his fourth and he finished with that many in just 7:32 of playing time. Slawson and Williams fouled out in overtime and Foster finished with four fouls.

"I haven't seen much like that today. That's all I'm gonna say (about the fouls)," Richey said. "Amazingly enough, with all that, we have two balls go in the air in the last minute with the lead and got neither of them. You hate that because it all impacts that situation, but we've got to get those balls.

"It was frustrating that they were in the bonus quickly in both halves, but you don't always control part of that. When that ball goes in the air and you've got to get a rebound to close the game out, you do control that."

Slawson and Bothwell each scored 22 points to lead Furman. Slawson also had 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. Bothwell also had six rebounds and three assists. Foster had 15 points and Pegues scored 13. It was an odd night in which Furman had 13 turnovers and just nine assists.

Keyshaun Langley had a game-high 24 points for the Spartans, who had rallies at the end of each half. Furman led 32-27 with 3:28 left in the first half, before UNCG made each of its last five shots of the half to take a 40-38 lead into halftime.

There's no time for Furman to dwell on the loss as this was the first game of a tough seven-game stretch. The Paladins will play at Chattanooga Wednesday at 7 p.m. It will be a matchup of teams who saw big leads fade in key games on the first showdown Saturday of the season. The Mocs had a 19-point lead at Samford Saturday before the Bulldogs came back for a 75-74 win to remain the only unbeaten team in SoCon play.

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