Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Wofford dominates paint to knock off Furman

Marcus Foster had his third double-double in the last four games Saturday,
but Furman lost at Wofford, 77-67. Photo courtesy of Furman

SPARTANBURG - When your first made field goal of the night doesn't count, that's probably not a good sign. Furman had no idea what a bad sign that would turn out to be at Wofford Saturday night. One minute into the game, Marcus Foster's pretty left-handed running jumper was erased after video review determined that he didn't release it before the shot clock expired.

As it turns out, not making two-pointers was a theme for the Paladins before a sold-out crowd at Richardson Indoor Stadium. On a night when Furman made 20 free throws and 11 three-pointers, it was just 7-of-23 (30.4 percent) on shots inside the arc. It was a different story for the Terriers, who dominated inside and led from start to finish to record a 77-67 win. Wofford had a 46-14 advantage on points in the paint to snap the Paladins' five-game winning streak.

"I thought it was energy more than anything. They had the right energy and played harder than us. They had a lot of people here. The place was juiced and they fed off that juice," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "I didn't expect us to come out like we did on our heels. I thought we had a good practice (Friday) and we were ready to roll, but you could feel that difference in energy early."

Defense sparked the Paladins' win streak it carried into Spartanburg, especially in big wins over Western Carolina and Samford their last two times out. That continued in the first half Saturday, but outside of Foster hitting free throws, Furman's offense was non-existent early on. The Paladins' lone field goal over the first eight minutes of the game was an Alex Williams putback at the 16:14 mark. Furman trailed 17-6 before it's next field goal came on a three-pointer by Williams with 11:50 left. 

As bad as things were going for the Paladins in the opening half, Williams' driving layup with 1:36 left cut the Terriers' lead to 31-29. But that second made two-pointer for Furman turned out to be its final points of the half. Over the final 81 seconds, Wofford had two layups, a dunk and two free throws while Furman had two turnovers, a foul and a missed layup as it was a 39-29 game at the break. It marked the first time since its last loss that Furman didn't score on its final possession of the first half. In a quirky stat, the Paladins fell to 2-6 this season when not scoring in that situation.

"The start of the game and the finish of the first half, that's what got us," Richey said. "And they killed us in the paint. They really did a good job of driving it, kicking it and moving it. They had us rotating all night."

Furman played much harder in the second half, but it's pressing defense led to some easy buckets for Wofford which shot 51.9 percent from the floor after halftime. The Terriers expanded their lead to 15 by the first media timeout of the second half. The Paladins cut it to 52-47 with 11:01 left on Foster's layup, but Wofford big man Kyler Filewich answered with a hook shot on the other end. After a missed layup by Foster, Jeremy Lorenz drilled a three-pointer and Terriers led by double figures for most of the rest of the game.

The Paladins (11-10, 5-3) had no answers for Filewich. In 25:33 on the court, the Southern Illinois transfer hit 8-of-9 shots and finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, a steal and no turnovers. Corey Tripp led Wofford (12-9, 5-3) with 20 points and five assists.

Foster had his third double-double in four games since returning from injury as he finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds for Furman. Williams and J.P. Pegues scored 15 points apiece, while PJay Smith had 11. For the game, Furman shot 31 percent (18-of-58) with just 10 assists. For comparison's sake, Chattanooga made 23-of-30 two-pointers in a 79-65 win on Wofford's home floor three days earlier.

"We saw this at Chattanooga and we saw it tonight. We've got to figure it out - do we want to play connected or do we not want to play connected. Connection is depending on one another and working with one another," Richey said. "Connection is using five people to create a really good shot, not one person trying to create a shot. Then you let that energy get into your defense and you don't guard as well.

"One of the big elevations of our defense here lately was that we've been moving it on offense to a point where the whole game just comes easier and more enjoyable. That connection bleeds into our defense. Tonight we weren't connected on either end and I've got to be better there."

The Paladins will look to get back on track when they play at The Citadel at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Furman should have plenty of motivation to come out focused to try to avoid back-to-back losses at in-state rivals. The Bulldogs were the last team to defeat the Paladins last season before Furman's run to round two of the NCAA Tournament.

"You've got to be ready to go. ... If you think you're just going to go into somebody's own environment and win without playing your best game, you're going to have something bad coming for you," Richey said. "That's what we've got to learn and grow up a little bit. This team has responded and I've got full confidence that they'll continue to respond."

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Defense helps Furman end Samford's win streak

Garrett Hien (13) defends against Samford's Josh Holloway (1) during
Furman's 78-68 win Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

As the Furman men's basketball team toiled through an injury plagued first two months of the season, a prevailing idea by those in the know was that once the Paladins were at full strength they'd be just fine. That's proven to be the case, but here's the thing. "Fine" is no longer good enough for this program. As the great Roy Kent once said, "Don't you dare settle for fine!" (If only one person gets that reference, it's still totally worth it.)

A fully healthy squad has been more than fine the past couple of weeks. It's been great. Greatness has come from not only getting back key players, but also getting back to the biggest key to "Furman basketball" - defense. Coming off its best defensive performance of the season in holding Western Carolina to its season-low point total in a 65-62 win last Saturday, Furman faced another challenge Wednesday when Samford came to Greenville with the nation's longest winning streak at 17 consecutive games. The Bulldogs were also second in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 90.4 points per game.

The Paladins rose to the challenge, displaying the kind of defense Samford hasn't seen in two-and-a-half months. The Bulldogs were held to their lowest scoring output since they started the season 0-2 as Furman posted a 78-68 win at a nearly sold out Timmons Arena. In snapping Samford's winning streak, Furman (11-9, 5-2 Southern Conference) extended its to five consecutive games in what was the 150th victory of Bob Richey's career.

"It was a heck of a ballgame. We knew we were facing a team with the longest winning streak in the country and its a credit to our group for playing connected. ... I love the confidence they're playing with. They've got a little chip on their shoulder and they should," Richey said. "Everybody thinks Furman's an offensive team but in the analytics report tonight, the offense was red and the defense was green. The defense was great. It's why we won tonight. It's why we won Saturday. It's why we're having the improvement we're having.

"I also want to thank everybody that took the time to come out here on their Wednesday night. ... We fought for years to get these consistent crowds and get the energy where it's at and that's what makes it fun. Environment matters."

Neither team was cooking offensively early on as the game was tied 16-16 with less than eight minutes left in the first half. Coming out of the under-eight media timeout, J.P. Pegues missed a jumper, but Garrett Hien batted the rebound out of the scrum with enough force that PJay Smith was able to track it down in the backcourt. The ball made its way back to Hien, who found Alex Williams open for a three-pointer and Williams drilled it.

That ignited a 13-3 run and Furman never relinquished the lead. The fact that Smith and Hien were heavily involved in the play that put the Paladins in front for good would turn out to not be a coincidence. Later in the half, a Hien dunk extended the lead to 31-21 and made Timmons as loud as it has been all season. Hien and Smith, who started coming off the bench when this win streak began, led Furman in plus-minus Wednesday at plus-22 and plus-14, respectively.

"Garrett Hien was big tonight. ... We had to take him out of the starting lineup and just like our team, when everybody thought we were going to fold up and quit, he didn't. He kept working. He's been in the gym and he earned the right to play like he did tonight," Richey said. "PJay Smith was phenomenal. He played with confidence and swagger. ... When we've got (point guards) PJay, Carter (Whitt) and J.P. out there and you're trying to press them, it can be difficult especially if we keep two feet on the ground."

Furman got a pair of offensive rebounds on its final possession of the first half before Pegues found Marcus Foster for a layup that pushed the lead to 34-25 at the break. It's the fifth consecutive game - and 13th time this season - that the Paladins have scored on its final possession of the first half.

Samford shot 37.5 percent in the first half, including 0-for-9 on three-pointers. The Bulldogs 25-point output was its lowest in any half since their 98-45 loss at Purdue in the season opener on Nov. 6. 

"It's a very high-powered offense. They get the tempo really, really fast and you've got no chance if you don't guard them," Richey said. "I think our guys took tremendous pride in playing defense tonight."

Furman actually shot worse than Samford in the first half as it made 36.4 percent from the floor, but a difference was making six three-pointers. The Paladins, who've had at least 12 offensive rebounds in 11 of their last 12 games, also outscored the Bulldogs 12-2 on second-chance points in the opening half.

Samford got the lead down as close as four twice after halftime but Furman had a quick response each time. After the Bulldogs scored the first five points in the second half, Hien had a layup off an assist from Whitt. Samford used a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 44-40 with 14 minutes left before Foster found Smith for a three-pointer. That started a 12-3 run as the Paladins took command again.

Foster led Furman with 22 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and a block. After having just one double-double last season, Wednesday's was Foster's second in the past three games since returning from his knee injury. Williams made 4-of-6 threes and finished with 16 points, while Pegues scored 12 and Smith had 11. Whitt finished with six points, seven assists and five rebounds, while Hien had five points, four assists and two steals.

"I think we stayed composed and didn't try to force things against their press," Smith said. "I think we handled the pressure well and I think that's why we ended up getting the win."

Furman joined Purdue and VCU as the only teams to hold Samford under 75 points this season. VCU defeated the Bulldogs, 75-65, in game two this season. Achor Achor led Samford (17-3, 6-1) with 19 points, six rebounds and three blocks.

Furman will travel to Wofford Saturday for a 6 p.m. game. It will be televised locally by the CW Ch. 62.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Pegues does it again as Paladins win thriller

Teammates celebrate with J.P. Pegues (1) after he hit the game-winning three-pointer
in Furman's 65-62 win over Western Carolina Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Mr. Clutch? Onions? Stone cold killer? No matter what nickname you might like to use to describe Furman's J.P. Pegues after his latest game-winning heroics, he's seemingly going to have enough for every thrilling victory.

Much like he did to Virginia last season and what should've been done at Tulane this season, Pegues once again delivered at the finish line Saturday. Pegues' three-pointer with 0.8 seconds left lifted the Paladins to a 65-62 win over Western Carolina at Timmons Arena Saturday.

"The coaching staff and the players on this team trusted me in that moment. ... Thanks to them for putting that confidence in me because that plays a big part," Pegues said. "I was just looking at the clock, knowing I had time to shoot it or drive it. ... I work on that shot every day, so I decided to shoot it and had full belief it was going in.

"At the end of the day, we had five guys out there who could've made that shot. ... I got sprayed for them to tie it up on the three, so I just knew I wanted the last shot. I just crave those moments."

There were six ties and seven lead changes in this instant classic and nearly all of them were in the final three minutes. After the Catamounts' phenom Vonterius Woolbright found D.J. Campbell open on the wing for a game-tying three pointer with 17.3 seconds left, Furman played for the last shot but first called timeout. Coach Bob Richey had a play in mind, but history overruled it.

"I had a play ready that we haven't shown yet if we needed a game-winner. We got to the huddle and we'd gone small over the last seven minutes," Richey said. "We said, 'we're just going to put the ball in J.P.'s hands and let him get us home."

Coming out the timeout, Campbell - a 6-foot-2 guard - was on Pegues as he dribbled into the half court. At the top of the key, Alex Williams set a screen and Campbell followed him switching 6-8 forward Bernard Pelote on Pegues. With the final seconds ticking down and Pelote's feet just inside the free throw circle, Pegues took a step back and drilled the three with 0.6 seconds showing on the clock.

After video review, 0.8 seconds were left - just like the nightmare scenario at Tulane. This time, Furman didn't guard the inbounder and didn't have an officiating crew rewrite the list of things humanly possible on a basketball court in 0.8 seconds. Campbell's inbounds pass was tipped away by PJay Smith and Timmons erupted in celebration of the Paladins' fourth consecutive win.

"What a college basketball game. There won't be five better in the country today. The last two times we've played, we've just made one more play. Both times, it's been blow-for-blow, hit-for-hit," Richey said. "It was eerily similar to Tulane having the clock reset at 0.8 seconds, but that's the beauty of sports. The hard can feel like it's caving in on you a little bit.

"This time, I trusted my conviction and played it with a centerfielder. We told them to use the arc like an electric fence and don't go past it. We get the deflection and it's ballgame. Sometimes sports can teach you and that was one of those little funny moments. In New Orleans, I was in my hotel room that night just kicking myself. I was thinking I could coach for 30 more years and not see another full court, 0.8 (seconds) left and up three. I'll be darned if we didn't have one tonight. ... Seeing our team be able to celebrate a huge win after that exact situation tonight was a nice little bonus after a heck of a game."

In a rough game where both teams fought like crazy, bodies hit the floor on a routine basis. Furman (10-9, 4-2 Southern Conference) found a way down the stretch without Tyrese Hughey, who rolled an ankle with 15:43 left and never returned. The Paladins also played much of the second half without Pegues, who was battling leg cramps.

Much like he did to end the game, Pegues ended the first half with a three-pointer in the final seconds to give the Paladins a 36-26 lead at the break. Furman held the Catamounts to 34.4 precent shooting including 1-of-8 on three-pointers in the first half.

Western flipped that script on the Paladins in the second half. That 10-point was all gone when Woolbright hit a layup with 14:26 left to give the Catamounts a 39-38 lead.  While it never grew larger than five, Western maintained that lead for most of the next 11 minutes. With 3:22 left, Alex Williams' putback tied the game 55-55.

Marcus Foster was called for a foul on the other end and Woolbright hit both free throws to put the Catamounts back in front. Woolbright then blocked Foster's layup but Furman maintained possession. With time running out on the shot clock, Pegues found Foster who drilled a three to put Furman up 58-57. That was the Paladins' first made three of the second half, on its eighth attempt.

"Marcus' three was one of our best possessions of the second half. We got some movement, side-to-side, got the ball in the paint and kicked it out," Richey said. "It's just great seeing him back out there. Then we make the plays that we need to make late."

Woolbright again answered when he followed his own miss on a layup with 1:57 left to put Western back on top. In what will be overshadowed by the game-winning three, this is when Pegues really came through when needed most. His left-handed layup with 1:38 left gave Furman a 60-59 lead. Officials failed to see Richey calling timeout after the bucket, but that turned out just fine for the Paladins.

After being hounded by Foster most of the day, Woolbright found himself facing Carter Whitt on a switch. No longer facing Furman's top defender, Woolbright drove Whitt down towards the basket. As Woolbright spun to his left, he turned right into a double team and Foster made the steal. After a Furman timeout, Pegues drove to the basket and perfectly put a high spinning, left-handed layup over the outstretched arm of the bigger Woolbright to push the lead to 62-59 with 39 seconds left.

Campbell's tying three-pointer on the Catamounts' ensuing possession set the stage for Pegues' winner. Richey wasn't the only one confident in leaving it in the hands of Pegues.

"Everyone has a willingness to just play for one another. We really just just to see each other win," Foster said. "I knew J.P. was going to hit that shot as soon as Coach drew it up. When we play our best together, it's going to be hard to beat us."

Pegues finished with 17 points and four assists to lead Furman, while Foster had 14 points and nine rebounds. After hitting 15-of-21 three-pointers over the previous three games, Williams was 0-for-2 from beyond the arc Saturday. He came up huge in other ways though as he had 13 points and 11 rebounds for the first double-double of his career. Whitt, who had scored 35 points over his previous two games, was just 1-of-5 Saturday but he had four of the Paladins' 10 steals.

Woolbright had game-highs in points (27), rebounds (16), assists (6) and fouls drawn (8) for Western (15-4, 4-2).

Furman has another huge test Wednesday when it hosts Samford at 7 p.m. The Bulldogs (17-2, 6-0) enter on Division I-best 17-game winning streak.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Foster powers Furman to dominant win in return

Marcus Foster (5) had 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Alex Williams (24) scored
23 in Furman's 100-60 win at VMI Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Furman men's basketball coach Bob Richey deployed his 14th different starting lineup this season when the Paladins played at VMI Wednesday night. This is the one Furman had been waiting on though. After missing nine games since suffering a knee injury at Princeton on Dec. 2, Paladins' leading scorer Marcus Foster returned to the lineup.

After not having a big immediate impact in the first half, Foster's second half helped Furman transform a comfortable lead into a dominant win. Foster had all 18 of his points and seven of his 10 rebounds after halftime as the Paladins pounded the Keydets, 100-60. Alex Williams scored 23 points and Carter Whitt had 21 as Furman (9-9, 3-2 Southern Conference) scored at least 99 points for the fourth time this season.

"It was great to see old '5' back out there. We missed him and he looked like a kid at Christmas. He was so excited to play," Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "Having Foster back out there is a whole other weapon and another dimension. It was really fun to see him get comfortable there in the second half. I think that's his first double-double since at ETSU about a year ago."

The play of Williams and Whitt has spearheaded the Paladins' three-game winning streak and that continued in the opening half Wednesday. About the only thing Whitt had not done of late was shoot three-pointers as he had made 24.2 percent (15-of-62) this season entering Wednesday. After Furman trailed 6-5 three minutes in though, Whitt drained three consecutive threes in a 95-second stretch. That gave the Paladins a 14-6 lead and they led the rest of the way.

Whitt and Williams accounted for all of Furman's first 20 points. That lead grew to 38-23 on Williams' dunk off a steal and assist by Foster with 5:27 left. Suddenly, all that momentum came to a screeching halt. Unlike earlier times this season when a bad offensive stretch by Furman would be compounded by bad defense, that didn't happen Wednesday. While the Paladins were nearly shut out for the rest of the half, so were the Keydets.

After Williams' dunk, there wasn't another point scored until VMI's Tyran Cook had a dunk off a steal and assist by Brennan Watkins with 1:10 left. Cook's free throw with 32 seconds left cut the lead to 12. Furman managed to avoid going scoreless over the final 5:27 when J.P. Pegues was fouled on a three-pointer with six seconds left. Pegues drained all three foul shots as Furman took a 41-26 lead into halftime. Whitt scored 15 points in the opening half, while Williams had 14.

"We got a lot of different contributions tonight. We made 18 threes, so the Dins can make some shots. The Dins can play some defense too. I thought we really guarded," Richey said. "We talked about that a lot in preparation for this game. When we've come up here and played well, it's typically been that our defense has spurred our offense."

Threes by Williams and Whitt helped extend the lead to 19 just over two minutes into the second half. Furman led 52-39 with just under 14 minutes to go when the "Marcus Foster Show" began. Foster got his first field goal on a jumper with 13:43 left. Then PJay Smith hit a three. Then Foster hit a three. Then Smith converted a four-point play to extend the lead to 64-39 with 11:49 left.

It was 73-45 with nine minutes to play when Foster returned to the court following a three-minute breather. He went out like Prince ending a concert with an epic performance of "Purple Rain" - only in about half the time of the iconic song. From the 8:50 mark to the 5:11 mark, Foster had:

  • a blocked shot
  • a three-pointer
  • a defensive rebound
  • two free throws
  • a defensive rebound
  • a three-pointer
  • a defensive rebound
  • a layup
  • a defensive rebound
  • a layup
With 4:57 left, a VMI turnover allowed Foster to exit the stage for the final time. There was no need for any encore as Furman led 85-49.

"I felt great, but to be honest that first media (timeout) kind of got me because it took about eight minutes to get to. Once I got through that and realized I wasn't too gassed, I knew I was going to have a good game eventually," Foster said. "I really just let the game come to me. I knew eventually it was going to turn for me as long as I kept my cool and just played within the offense."

The Paladins hit each of their final five three-pointers to close out the scoring. Williams had another extremely efficient night shooting. After going 5-of-18 (1-for-11 from three) from the floor in Furman's loss at Chattanooga, Williams has shot 59.5 percent (25-of-42) and made 15-of-21 (71.4 percent) three-pointers over the last three games.

Smith was the other Paladin in double figures as he scored 13 thanks to hitting 4-of-5 three-pointers. It's an encouraging sign for Smith, who was 9-of-39 from three over his previous six games. Ben VanderWal had nine points, seven rebounds (five offensive) and three assists off the bench for Furman, while Pegues finished with eight points. Pegues and Tyrese Hughey shared the team lead in assists with five apiece.

Cook and Stephen Olowoniyi each scored 14 to lead VMI (3-15, 0-5).

It will be quite a turnaround for the Paladins Saturday. After the victory at three-win VMI, Furman will host three-loss Western Carolina (15-3, 4-1) at 2 p.m. The Paladins will then host SoCon first-place Samford Wednesday at 7 p.m.

"Once you get into league play they're all huge, but Western's had a great year. (Western Carolina coach) Justin's (Gray) done a great job and I'm sure they're excited to play us again after that semifinal game (in last year's SoCon Tournament)," Richey said. "We've got a lot of respect for what they do and how they operate. It's going to be a heck of a ballgame. We need to have Timmons rocking."

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Paladins stay connected in win over ETSU

Carter Whitt had 14 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals in
Furman's 82-73 win over ETSU Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

For just the third time this season, the Furman men's basketball team had the same five starters as it did in the previous game Saturday when the Paladins hosted East Tennessee State. That consistency led to another satisfying outcome. Alex Williams and J.P. Pegues scored 20 points apiece and Carter Whitt's level of play continued to rise as Furman recorded an 82-73 victory before a crowd of 2,273 at Timmons Arena.

Saturday marked the Paladins' sixth consecutive win over the Bucs, which pulled them even in the all-time series at 34-34. The win also got Furman (8-9) even in the Southern Conference standings at 2-2. While the Paladins weren't quite as hot as they were when they shot a season-high 55 percent from the floor in a win over The Citadel last time out, they held a lead for all but 89 seconds Saturday. Furman led by as many as 21 with 11:40 left in the second half.

"That was a fun Saturday afternoon in front of a great crowd with great energy. I thought the crowd really affected the game, especially on that run in the second half," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We started making some mistakes there late and it was kind of like, 'what's going on?' but did what we had to do to close it out.

"I'm really proud offensively of how we're moving the ball all of a sudden. It's amazing to go from what we saw a week ago with very little movement and a bunch of bad shots to the last two games with just guys trusting each other and playing with one another and making shots easy for one another. I think in the first half, we were 1.33 offensively. That's incredible, especially versus a team like ETSU with how well-coached they aren't how hard they play."

The only other time the Paladins had the same starting lineup in consecutive games this season came in a three-game stretch against Arkansas, Bob Jones and Tulane. That was right after Marcus Foster was injured at Princeton. The difference in the lineup the last two games from those three has been Ben VanderWal and Carter Whitt starting in place of Garrett Hien and PJay Smith.

Richey said the change wasn't about Hien and Smith as much as it was about just finding the right mix to start. This new lineup allows Williams to shift from the three to the four position and he's responded by hitting 10-of-13 three pointers over the past two games.

"I give A-Will a lot of credit. He gets 20 points and seven rebounds and does it on 13 shots, going 3-for-4 from three. I thought he let me coach him in terms of the shot selection. He's really trying to do better there," Richey said. "He's been so much more coachable there and I can see him really trying. We challenged him defensively tonight too. ... Going with A-Will at the four, we knew we were going to have to fight and scrap like heck on the glass. We won the boards by four and I thought that was a big key to the game."

The lineup change has seemed to benefit all involved but most importantly, the team. Hien came on and scored all 10 of his points consecutively in a less than three-minute stretch to turn Furman's 16-14 deficit into a 24-16 lead midway through the first half. VanderWal had six points, six rebounds and three assists, while Smith was 0-for-2 from the floor, but grabbed five rebounds and drew three fouls.

No one has seen their personal stock rise as much as Whitt has the last two games though. Whitt had 14 points, five assists, five rebounds and four steals Saturday. While Whitt also had five turnovers, they weren't the same out-of-control kind that have been an issue for him at times in the past.

There's often a fine line between a turnover and a spectacular play and Whitt pulled off the latter right out of the gate Saturday. He made an incredible pass through traffic to Williams, who in turn, made an incredible reverse layup to open the game's scoring and get the crowd roaring from the start.

"Carter's vision is exceptional. Sometimes he can see what others can't. That's his gift. ... I saw A-Will cut and thought, 'man, that's going to be a tough window,' but he led him and A-Will made an unbelievably talented play," Richey said. "I'll take five turnovers if I get 14 points, four steals, nine deflections, 5-for-9 from the floor, all free throws made and five rebounds."

After Hien's flurry, Furman led the rest of the way. The Paladins led by as many as nine in the first half on two occasions - one on a Whitt steal and layup and then a pair of Whitt free throws on Furman's next possession.

Much like Hien did in the first half, Pegues had a personal run in the second half to give Furman a commanding lead. With just under 15 minutes to play, the Paladins led 55-45 before Pegues outscored ETSU 11-3 over a stretch of two minutes and one second. Williams' three-point play - off an assist from Pegues - made it a 16-3 run to give Furman a 69-48 lead with 11:40 left.

The Bucs (9-8, 1-3) cut that 21-point lead down to seven with 4:48 left. After a free throw by Williams, Whitt was all over the play-by-play for the next couple of minutes. He had a blocked shot, a jumper, a rebound and then an assist to Tyrese Hughey. In addition to making the layup, Hughey drew the fifth foul of ETSU big Jadyn Parker. Parker fouled out with 10 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots, so his absence obviously helped Furman close things out.

"There's a certain creativity in Carter's game that you've got to let flow. In the year-and-a-half we've been together, the compromise has been 'I want you to be in free space and I want you to go, but here are the things I need you to do.' The big battle for he and I on that is that I want feet on the ground." Richey said. "Once you launch into the air, you have to make a decision and it's a rushed decision. ... I'm just really proud of him. His growth is why we do what we do."

Jaden Seymour had a game-high 23 points to lead the Bucs.

Furman will try to move above .500 in the SoCon Wednesday when it plays at VMI at 6 p.m.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Williams' shooting lifts Paladins past Citadel

Alex Williams hit seven three-pointers and scored 26 points in Furman's
82-68 win over The Citadel Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

When Furman basketball's top shooters are going through a slump, Paladins coach Bob Richey may have to remind them to shoot their way out of it. Alex Williams doesn't appear to be one that ever needs that reminder.

Coming off Furman's worst shooting night of the season in a loss at Chattanooga last Saturday, Williams led the Paladins to their best shooting night of the season in an 82-68 win over The Citadel Wednesday at Timmons Arena. Williams hit seven three-pointers and scored 26 points for Furman, which made 55 percent (33-of-60) of its field goals after making 27.5 percent (19-of-69) at Chattanooga.

In defeating their oldest rival, the Paladins (7-9, 1-2 Southern Conference) snapped a three-game losing skid in a game that finally looked like "Furman basketball" again. Backed by Williams' 7-of-9 showing, the Paladins made 13-of-31 three-pointers. This came after a four-game stretch in which Furman was just 18-of-111 from three.

In addition to the poor shooting night at Chattanooga, Furman also had only six assists - its fewest in a game in four years. On Wednesday, the Paladins had 28 assists led by Carter Whitt's career-high 10.

"We made sure we came out and looked like a Furman team. We'd gotten a little bit outside of our identity," Richey said. "I've had to do a better job of getting this thing into structure and demanding that we take great shots and demanding that we depend on one another.

"We took 26 bad shots on Saturday according to our grading system. Unfortunately for us, we can't do that. No team can do that. You can sit there and say 'we can't make shots.' Well, we didn't earn the right to make shots (Saturday)."

After missing the SoCon opener at UNC Greensboro with an injury, Williams came off the bench at Chattanooga and was 5-of-18 from the floor, including 1-for-11 from three. In Furman's national-high 13th different starting lineup this season on Wednesday, Williams rejoined those five and immediately went to work leaving the Chattanooga game in the dust.

Williams scored Furman's first point at the foul line, made a steal and then hit the Paladins' first field goal - a three-pointer - in the opening 84 seconds. That three started a spurt that Tyrese Hughey capped with a three and a dunk to give Furman a 14-6 lead less than four minutes in.

Furman took its first double-digit lead of the game thanks to a flurry of Williams' threes midway through the first half. Williams hit three threes in a span of 80 seconds, each one seemingly further away than the last, as the Paladins took a 33-20 lead and forced a Citadel timeout with 9:42 left. On Furman's next possession out of the timeout, Williams used the attention he was getting defensively to find Cooper Bowser for a layup to push the lead to 15.

"We just got back to our identity - passing up a good shot for a great shot," Williams said. "When I get hot like that, I feel like I can shoot it from anywhere but I still have to make sure it's at least a good shot."

The Paladins did have a dry spell that allowed the Bulldogs (8-8, 0-3) to trim the lead down to four with 1:35 left. J.P. Pegues found Garrett Hien for a layup as time expired to give Furman a 44-36 lead at the break. The Paladins made 9-of-18 three-pointers in the opening half and had assists on 16 of their 17 buckets.

Citadel got the lead down to 48-45 three-and-a-half minutes into the second half before Pegues again found Hien for a layup. That was followed by back-to-back threes by Pegues and Williams to push the lead back to double figures at 56-45.

From the 14-minute mark to the 5:13 mark, Furman outscored the Bulldogs 21-8 to take its biggest lead of the night at 77-57. Highlights of that stretch included a beautiful bounce pass from Whitt to Ben VanderWal for a dunk and later a defensive deflection by VanderWal that Whitt corralled. Whitt then raced down the middle of the floor before dishing to Pegues for a layup.

"That's Furman basketball - defense leading to offense, getting out in transition and running," said VanderWal. "Carter was awesome. ... He is lethal off ball screens and off the drive and he made really good decisions tonight."

Not to be overlooked by the offensive turnaround, Furman's defense got back to what it wants to be as well. Citadel's 3-of-16 shooting from three were the fewest makes by a Furman opponent since Belmont hit 3-of-21 on Nov. 10.

After missing a few games with an injury, Citadel leading scorer A.J. Smith was held to 11 points on 5-of-16 shooting in his return. Elijah Morgan, the Bulldogs' second-leading scorer, had 15 points but it came on 6-of-15 shooting including 0-for-7 from beyond the arc. Morgan entered Wednesday ranked No. 1 in the SoCon - and near the top 10 nationally - in three-point shooting at 46.5 percent (46-of-99).

"Our defense has been getting progressively better each game. We still have a long way to go, but tonight was a great step in that direction," Williams said. "We know J.P.'s going to play defense every time. He's just a warrior and we get that energy from him. We just all feed off the way he plays and talk to each other a lot more on the court."

Williams was one of five Paladins in double figures and also had four assists. Coming off the bench Wednesday, Hien and PJay Smith had 11 and 10 points, respectively. VanderWal and Pegues each scored 10 with Pegues adding six assists and four rebounds. Hughey finished with eight points, five rebounds and three assists.

The two leaders in plus-minus for Furman were Williams and Whitt, each at plus-18. After probably trying to do a little too much given the Paladins' injury situations of late, Whitt still played at his typical fast pace but seemed more in control than ever Wednesday. In addition to his 10 assists, Whitt also had five points on 2-of-5 shooting, four rebounds, a steal, a block and two turnovers.

"Confidence is a funny thing - up or down. I've been really proud of Carter's fight in the last year-and-a-half and it has not been an easy road for him," Richey said. "We infused him in that lineup last season and won 15-of-17 from that point forward. He came back this summer and his work ethic increased. He's in here every day, watching film, getting shots, popping in my office asking what he needs to get better at.

"I challenged Carter tonight to 'just go play to your strengths. You have elite vision and elite creativity with the ball. ... Take some pressure off yourself to make all these shots and just go play.' ... I looked at the boxscore during a couple of timeouts and he had no points and was at plus-20. He was affecting winning."

Furman will try to keep the momentum going when it hosts East Tennessee State Saturday at 2 p.m.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Cold first half dooms Paladins in loss at UTC

J.P. Pegues had 16 points and a career-high 11 rebounds in Furman's
73-58 loss at Chattanooga Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Furman welcomed back two of its three leading scorers from injury Saturday night, but that didn't prevent the Paladins from suffering an astoundingly bad first half of basketball. Furman missed 16 consecutive shots over a stretch of 13-and-a-half minutes in the opening half to fall behind by 23 and went on to a 73-58 loss to Chattanooga.

While leading scorer Marcus Foster remained sidelined due to injury, second-leading scorer J.P. Pegues and third-leading scorer Alex Williams returned. Like most of their teammates Saturday, neither could get much to fall. Pegues and Williams were a combined 11-of-39 from the floor, including 1-of-19 on three-pointers. As a team, the Paladins (6-9, 0-2 Southern Conference) shot 27.5 percent (19-of-69) overall and 12.1 percent (4-of-33) from three. It marked Furman's most lopsided SoCon loss since a 79-56 defeat at ETSU on Dec. 29, 2018.

"We weren't making shots. I didn't think we were taking great shots and we weren't getting back in transition. They were driving the heck out of us," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "They were in a good home crowd with good enough and they played the game the right way."

Early on Saturday, there were no signs of the struggles the Paladins were set to endure. Pegues missed his first shot, but after Garrett Hien grabbed an offensive rebound, Pegues drove for a layup less than two minutes in. That turned out to be his last made field goal out of 10 first-half attempts. Williams' jumper cut Chattanooga's lead to 18-12 with 14:23 left in the first half.

Sixteen missed shots and six turnovers later, Furman's next made field goal came on a Ben VanderWal three-pointer with one minute left in the half. That cut the Mocs' lead to 38-20. Chattanooga answered eight second later on Trey Bonham's three-pointer. Bonham added a layup at the final horn to give the Mocs a 43-20 lead at the break. Furman was 7-of-29 (24.1 percent) from the floor in the first half, and VanderWal's three was its lone successful one out of 14 attempts.

The abysmal offense should not overshadow what was a pretty dismal defensive showing in the first half by the Paladins as well. Chattanooga shot 51.5 percent (17-of-33) in the opening 20 minutes.

"We were letting not making shots affect our effort (in the first half) and we've got to make sure not to do that," Richey said. "I've always said, 'this game is connected and complimentary.' Bad offense turns to bad defense. Good defense turns to good offense. You can't pick and choose which side of the ball you're going to play."

Furman opened the second half with a beautifully orchestrated play that saw Pegues find Cooper Bowser for a dunk. The Paladins then went to a full-court press and made two deflections before Tyrese Hughey got a steal. Furman couldn't capitalize though as Williams' three-pointer missed.

While the Paladins clearly played harder in the second half, UTC maintained the big advantage by making four of its first five shots - all in the paint. The Mocs took their biggest lead of the night on Jan Zidek's three-pointer with 14:14 left that made it 54-26. Furman managed to get the lead down to 12 twice in the final three minutes, but couldn't get any closer.

"In the second half, I thought we played with much better effort and won it by eight, but it was too late. ... We ended the game 1-for-14 from three and it's hard to win like that," Richey said. "We've got all kinds of stuff to figure out. Some games, certain guys are playing hard and well and then the next game, it's somebody else.

"We're having a hard time getting some consistency out of some guys. ... We're going to dive into this and figure out how we can get back to making some shots."

Despite their rough nights shooting, Pegues and Williams were the lone Paladins in double figures with 16 and 15 points, respectively. Pegues also had a career-high 11 rebounds, three steals and two assists. Williams also had two assists as that duo accounted for four of Furman's six as a team. It was the first single-digit assist total for the Paladins this season and their fewest in a game since recording six in a 77-68 loss to Wofford at the SoCon Tournament in 2020.

Tyler Millin led five Mocs (9-6, 1-1) in double figures with 16 points.

Furman will try to end its three-game losing streak Wednesday when the Paladins host The Citadel at 7 p.m.

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Outmanned Paladins fall in SoCon opener

Carter Whitt scored a career-high 23 points in Furman's loss
at UNC Greensboro Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

The Furman basketball team spent the non-conference portion of its schedule seemingly playing every game one or two players short of a fully healthy squad. When Southern Conference play began Wednesday in Greensboro, the injury list only grew longer. The Paladins opened conference play without their three leading scorers - Marcus Foster, J.P. Pegues and Alex Williams, who are averaging a combined 52.8 points per game. That left Furman with seven scholarships players available - two guards, one wing and four post.

If you're missing scorers, there's quite a few SoCon teams you'd probably rather face than a UNC Greensboro program built on defense, but that's the way the schedule opened. A new 1-3-1 defensive set necessitated by the injuries and a gutsy effort helped Furman hang around for the first half before the Spartans pulled away for a 79-68 win.

"We competed. I didn't think we were always smart, but we played hard. We're out there with triple big lineups and lineups we haven't played with all year. They had multiple opportunities to fold up with seven guys who are exhausted," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "They laid it on the line the best they could with the situation we had.

"It looked like the game was about to really get away from us and then we'd make another little push. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. That's just the storm we're in right now."

Staying out of foul trouble was obviously an imperative necessity Wednesday and the 1-3-1 defense, which Furman had not played all season, helped do that. At the same time, the defense itself was also effective early on. A pair of Carter Whitt free throws gave the Paladins a 19-13 lead midway through the first half.

Furman's first foul didn't occur until PJay Smith was whistled for one at the 9:03 mark of the first half. A jumper by Whitt gave the Paladins a 23-18 lead with 7:50 left in the half. The Spartans answered with a three-pointer by Donovan Atwell 14 seconds later. That triggered a 13-0 run capped by Atwell's three-pointer with 4:58 left that gave UNCG a 31-23 lead. At some points in the first half and particularly during this less than three-minute stretch, Furman fell into a rut of launching threes early in the shot clock on a night when slowing down things down seemingly was the plan.

The Paladins trailed by nine with just under four minutes left in the half before an 8-0 run capped by Cooper Bowser's three-point play cut the lead to 34-33 with 1:49 left. One of the most critical points of the game came on Furman's final possession of the half. Trailing 35-33, the Paladins played for the final shot hoping to tie or take the lead into halftime. Instead, UNCG's Kobe Langley poked the ball away from Whitt with nine seconds left and retrieved the ball in the paint on the other side of the court with six seconds left. Langley's layup missed, but Jalen Breath's tip-in before the horn gave the Spartans a 37-33 lead at the break.

"Carter really, really competed in situations that he's never been put in before tonight," Richey said. "On that particular play right before half, he goes the wrong way. ... If we get a bucket there, we go in tied. Instead, we turn it over and then give up the offensive rebound on the putback."

Each team had six turnovers in the opening half. While UNCG scored 11 points off those, the Paladins had zero points off them. That trend continued in the second half. Furman's first three turnovers turned into seven points for the Spartans which gave them a 49-38 lead with 16:41 to play.

"It felt like all theirs were pick-sixes," Richey said. "It seemed like the turnovers we got were more interior passes."

After Smith hit a three-pointer nine seconds into the second half to cut the lead to 37-36, Furman didn't make another field goal until Smith's three-pointer with 14:54 left. Furman's next field goal was another Smith three with 12:02 left.

Davis Molnar became the second Paladin with a field goal in the second half on a jumper with 10:57 left. That sliced the lead to 59-50. Atwell answered with a three on UNCG's ensuing possession and the Spartans led by double figures for much of the rest of the game. The only other time Furman got the lead to single digits was at 74-65 on another three by Smith with 2:39 left. Of course, that was answered on another three by Atwell on UNCG's next possession.

"We come out of the gate after halftime and execute a nice action right off the board, hit the three and cut it to one," Richey said. "Then for whatever reason, we just hit a lull right there."

The Spartans (10-4, 1-0) made 7-of-10 three-pointers in the second half to shoot 50 percent (11-of-22) from beyond the arc for the game. Meanwhile, Furman (6-8, 0-1) made just 7-of-31 (22.6 percent) threes. UNCG finished with 20 points off 12 Furman turnovers, while the Paladins had three points off of 12 UNCG turnovers.

"We won the glass (42-37 in rebounds). We won the free throw line (19-of-23 to 6-of-8). It's another night where we got beat on the three-point line. We lose the game by 11 and they win the three-point line by 12 with way less volume (of shots)," Richey said. "I thought that ended up being the difference in the game.

"We've got to keep fighting the good fight and I trust this group will do that. ... We've got to use this to figure out how this can help us."

Whitt was 5-of-20 from the floor, including 1-of-9 on threes, but made 12-of-13 free throws to finish with a career-high 23 points. Whitt also had six assists, four rebounds and four turnovers. Smith made 6-of-20 field goals, but his five three-pointers helped him score 19 points. He also had six rebounds and three steals.

Atwell and Keyshawn Langley had 17 points apiece to lead the Spartans, while UNCG big man Mikeal Brown-Jones returned from injury to put up 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Furman will have to quickly move on as another road challenge awaits Saturday night at Chattanooga. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised locally by CW 62. It appears that Foster will be out for at least another week, while Pegues and Williams could be game-time decisions Saturday.