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."

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