|Jalen Slawson had 22 points in Furman's 69-65 loss at|
The Citadel Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Furman's trip to rival The Citadel Wednesday was a classic case of two teams going in opposite directions. At the time, nobody had more consecutive wins in the Southern Conference than the Paladins' eight while nobody had more consecutive losses than the Bulldogs' five.
Over the course of Wednesday's game, it was difficult to tell which team was on what streak. Coming off a six-point loss at first-place Samford, Citadel outworked, outsmarted and outplayed first-place Furman to earn a 69-65 win. While those main two streaks ended Wednesday, so did the Paladins' six-game road winning streak this season and nine-game winning streak in the series.
In avenging their 97-72 loss in Greenville earlier this season, the Bulldogs used a classic Furman formula to get the win:
- Shut down the opposing team's leading scorer
- Force turnovers
- Dominate in points off turnovers
Citadel held Mike Bothwell, who was averaging 16.8 points per game in league play, to six points on 2-of-5 shooting. The Bulldogs (10-18, 5-10) only forced two more turnovers (12) than Furman did, but outscored the Paladins 14-2 off them. On a perplexing night of basketball, nothing was more perplexing than Furman only getting two points of 10 forced turnovers. For this program, that's unacceptable.
"The team that played the hardest and with the best spirit won the game," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "It's disappointing. I can't sit here and tell you I saw it coming. I thought we've had pretty good practices and we've been in a pretty good routine. ... This won't be the end-all, be-all. It's obviously a bad loss for us, but give them a lot of credit. They played phenomenal."
Old habits from earlier this season that the Paladins (21-7, 12-3) had seemingly overcome since the calendar flipped to 2023 resurfaced Wednesday. Those were primarily getting outworked on the glass and getting lay-upped to death. While each team had 33 rebounds Wednesday, Furman entered leading the SoCon in rebounding margin (+3.5) while Citadel (-5.2) ranked last. The Paladins, who were coming off a 53-rebound effort against Western Carolina, outrebounded the Bulldogs, 40-26, in the first meeting.
Much like turnovers and the points off them told a story, so did offensive rebounds. Furman finished with 11 offensive boards, while the Citadel had 10. However, the Bulldogs had a 14-9 edge in second-chance points. They finished with 40 points in the paint.
"The most telling stat is the second-chance points. We've done a good job of making sure we get rebounds and not letting other people capitalize on their misses," Richey said. "Tonight, we did a poor job. I just didn't think our composure was where it needed to be tonight.
"Unfortunately, we've seen some games where we didn't have the right composure. We've been down this road a little bit and I really felt like we we're past it. I was kind of surprised to see it kind of creep back in the night. But I've got faith in this group. It's a resilient bunch."
Six of Citadel's offensive rebounds were grabbed by 6-foot-9 senior Brady Spence, who entered Wednesday averaging 2.9 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. Spence, who had taken a total of 13 shots in SoCon play and not played more than 14 minutes in any game this season, finished with a season-high 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting and career-highs in rebounds (12), blocked shots (4) and assists (2) in 30 minutes.
The Bulldogs' Stephen Clark, who leads the SoCon in scoring in league play, had 21 points, seven rebounds, four blocked shots and four steals. Citadel's eight blocks were the most by a Furman opponent in league play since Clark had five of Citadel's eight in Charleston two years ago. The Bulldogs' nine steals were the most by a Furman league opponent this season.
As had been the case for much of its winning streak, Furman came firing out of the gate. The Paladins made their first six shots from the floor to take a 14-8 lead less than four minutes in. On the other side of the court though, all eight of Citadel's points came on layups and it had two offensive rebounds in that span. Both turned out to be a bad sign of things to come for Furman.
After going 6-for-6 to start the game, the Paladins shot 36.7 percent (18-of-49) the rest of the way. Furman led for more than 18 minutes in the first half and by as many as seven with 3:41 left. But just as they did in their loss at Western Carolina on New Year's Eve, the Paladins closed the first half on a whimper. Clark's layup with three seconds left cut Furman's lead to 36-34 at the half.
The Paladins kept the lead for the first 10 minutes of the second half, but every time it seemed like one of those 13-2 runs Furman can quickly go on was about to ignite, Citadel had an answer. Furman could never get the lead larger than five.
After a block by Spence midway through the second half, Clark knocked down a three to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the second half. Jalen Slawson hit a pair of free throws to tie the game 54-54 with 8:56 left, but Clark answered with a dunk.
Citadel held the lead for the next five minutes, which included a play than encapsulated Bothwell's night. A Garrett Hien block led to a rare fast break opportunity for Furman. Bothwell drove to the basket, withstood contact and got the layup to drop. That should've given Furman a 61-60 lead and sent Bothwell to the line with 4:56 left. Instead Bothwell was called for a charge and the basket waved off. Replays showed that Bothwell did absolutely nothing to warrant a charge call. Didn't put his shoulder down. Didn't go in there like a bull in a China shop. It was a typical "and-one" play that anyone who's ever watched basketball has seen 1,000 times.
Nevertheless, one bad call never decides a game and as bad as it played Wednesday, Furman still had chances to win. Hien's three-pointer tied the game at 61-61 with 3:20 left, but Spence answered with a putback with 2:44 left gave the Bulldogs the lead for good. On the ensuing possession, Slawson's layup was rejected by Clark.
Citadel had two turnovers over the next 90 seconds, but all the Paladins could do with those was miss the front end of a one-and-one free throw and turn it back over. Clark's jumper made it a four-point lead with 44 seconds left. Furman missed a pair of three-pointers on its ensuing possession but got the rebound off each one and Slawson ended up hitting a three to cut the lead to 65-64 with 23 seconds left.
Elijah Morgan hit two free throws for Citadel to push the lead to 67-64 with 17 seconds left. Bothwell, who's hit so many clutch shots in the final seconds of games in his brilliant Furman career, drove to the basket and drew a foul. He missed the first free throw and made the second to cut the lead to two with 11 seconds left.
On the Bulldogs' ensuing possession, Furman had to immediately foul. The only Paladin with more than two fouls was Bothwell with four. Inexplicably, Bothwell was the one who fouled Morgan with nine seconds left to foul out with six points, four rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes. Morgan again hit both free throws. J.P. Pegues missed a three-pointer and Citadel got the rebound to complete the upset.
"Three minutes to go and it's a tie game. You've got to go find a way to get it done. And we're missing free throws and giving up offensive rebounds," Richey said. "We had nine turnovers and seven assists in the second half. That just tells you we resorted a little bit to one-on-one basketball, trying to make hero plays, not trusting the spacing in the system."
In his final game near his hometown of Summerville, Slawson finished with a game-high 22 points, five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals. He made 7-of-8 free throws, while the rest of the Paladins made 1-of-5. Hien finished with 11 points, while Pegues had 10. No other Furman player scored more than six points. The bench, which had been a key part of the Paladins' winning streak, combined for 10 points.
"It's a tough night, but it won't define our season or take away everything we've done," Richey said. "It's going to be critical that we move forward and we make sure we get things corrected for the tournament. But we've got three big games left, so we got to make sure we finish well."
In a battle of the other two teams in first place Wednesday, Samford rallied to beat UNC Greensboro. That leaves Furman's fate entirely in its own hands. If the Paladins win the final three games of the regular season, including the finale at Samford, they will be SoCon champions and the No. 1 seed for SoCon Tournament.
The first of those final three come Sunday when Furman's hosts East Tennessee State at 6 p.m. on ESPNU. It will be Senior Night at Timmons Arena as Bothwell, Slawson and walk-on Rett Lister will be honored.
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