Saturday, November 25, 2023

Furman basketball looks to get on track at UAB

Marcus Foster set the Myrtle Beach Invitational scoring record as he had
78 points over Furman's three games there. Photo courtesy of Furman

On the Furman basketball team's last trip to Birmingham, the Paladins put on a clinic at Samford and left as the 2022-23 Southern Conference regular season champions. When Furman plays at UAB Saturday at 6 p.m., Paladins coach Bob Richey would love another clinic but would probably simply settle for some improved play on both ends of the court.

Furman (3-2) is coming off a 1-2 trip to the coast last weekend at the Myrtle Beach Invitational. After losing to Liberty, 88-74, in the opener, the Paladins knocked off host Coastal Carolina, 89-80, the following day. In Sunday's finale, Furman cut a 17-point second half lead down to three before falling to Wyoming, 78-71.

For the tournament, the Paladins made 26-of-94 three-pointers (27.7 percent). Meanwhile, their three opponents combined to hit 31-of-72 (43 percent).

"There's a few things that we got to continue to work through. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see we're not shooting the ball well and that's been consistent in these games so far. It's not consistent (with how they shot) in fall camp or the summer," Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show Sunday. "For whatever reason, right now, we're continuing to shoot in the 20s (percentage) from three. We lost the arc tonight by 12 points and they took nine fewer threes. It's killing us in some of these games.
"We've got to figure out shot quality and make some adjustments there. We're going to have to continue to figure out how to guard the bounce. They got way too many baskets where we were scoring that they just answered by driving the lane for a layup."

Furman also dealt with inconsistencies in availability due to injuries and illness all last weekend. Alex Williams, who suffered a hand injury in the season opener, remained out through the tournament. Tyrese Hughey, who was coming off a brilliant performance in the win over Belmont, missed the first two games with a groin injury and played just nine minutes after starting Sunday. Ben VanderWal missed the Coastal game due to an illness.

"I'll be the first to admit, we don't have this thing totally figured out personnel wise. Neither did we at this point last year and there's a lot of teams in the country like that," Richey said. "We've still got a really good player in Alex Williams that's not playing right now. We'll get him back in a couple games and we'll have to figure that all out. We've just got to stay together and stay the course.

The brightest spot from Myrtle Beach for Furman was Marcus Foster. Foster made the All-Tournament after setting the Invitational's scoring record with 78 points over the three games. Foster scored 30 apiece in the first two games and had 18 points against Wyoming.

In Sunday's game, Wyoming used an 11-0 run early in the second half to take its biggest lead of the game at 48-31. The Cowboys had a 12-point lead with just over seven minutes to play before J.P. Pegues went on a personal 8-0 run to trim the deficit to four.

It was an eight-point game with 2:12 when PJay Smith drained a 3-pointer for Furman. He then had a steal on the other end which led to Pegues drawing a foul. Pegues hit both free throws to cut the lead to 70-67 with 1:40 left. Wyoming's Brendan Wenzel answered with a three and the Paladins never could get the lead back under six.

"I credit our guys for hanging in there and making a comeback the way that they did. ... But when you get down 17, your margin for error is really small," Richey said. "I thought we had the momentum and had enough time to eventually get the lead. But we let their best shoot a three on non-action play. At that point, it freed them up and took the game pressure off them.
"It's November and this is about getting better. ... It's early, but that doesn't excuse lack of effort and lack of focus on the defensive end. We've got to get better at that. There's no doubt about that."

Pegues finished a team-high 22 points Sunday. In addition to his 18 points, Foster also grabbed seven rebounds. Carter Whitt had nine points and seven assists.

"I have a lot of belief that this is an upside team," Richey said. "If we can have those two things get better - our shooting and defense - I think you're going to see this team do a lot of good things."

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