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.

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