Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Paladins rally for emotional win at ETSU

Furman dedicated Saturday's win at ETSU to the memory of football
player (No. 97) Bryce Stanfield. Photo courtesy of Furman

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - Nothing can take away the pain endured by the entire Furman community following the tragic death of rising senior football player Bryce Stanfield on Friday. The men's basketball team was able to provide a bit of a respite Saturday night though, in thrilling fashion. The Paladins rallied from an 11-point deficit with less than seven minutes to play and J.P. Pegues came up huge again in the final seconds as Furman defeated East Tennessee State, 65-63, at Freedom Hall.

Furman was coming off one of its poorest efforts this season in a rough loss at Mercer on Wednesday night. Earlier that day, Stanfield was attending a morning workout as the football team was preparing to open spring practice. Stanfield collapsed and was rushed to the hospital where he remained in critical condition until he passed away. Ever since the news broke on Wednesday, Furman received tons of support from those outside the school including fellow Southern Conference members. That continued prior to Saturday's game when ETSU held a moment of silence for Stanfield prior to the national anthem.

"The Furman family has had heavy hearts this week. That one tonight was for No. 97 (Stanfield's number), his family and the football team," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Our school needed that win. Our program needed it and just the way it happened. To get in the hole we got into and fight until the bitter end. We had to just scrap and claw, and be thankful for the opportunity to compete."

After making just 12 of its first 35 field goals for the game, Furman (13-12, 7-5) hit 12 consecutive shots over the final 13 minutes. With the game tied 63-63 in the final seconds, Pegues once again delivered the game-winner albeit in a much different fashion than normal. He drove to the right baseline, pulled up, pump-faked his defender into the air and then went up for a jumper that didn't fall but he drew the foul with 1.8 seconds left. Pegues calmly drained both free throws to lift the Paladins to an emotional victory.

"I thought he (the defender) might bite on this one because I usually go straight up and he fell for it. I would rather make the (game-winning) jumper, but I'll take anything in that moment," Pegues said. "Credit to their guys. They played super hard, but we found a way."

Ben VanderWal's jumper with 12:56 started that run of 12 consecutive made baskets. Carter Whitt's layup on the Paladins' next possession cut the ETSU lead to three. But just three made Furman baskets later, the Bucs lead soared to 11 as they put together a quick string of seven consecutive made shots. That's when Richey turned to freshman big man Cooper Bowser to try to stop Furman's defensive bleeding.

Bowser, who had played a total of 43 minutes since Jan. 7, came on Saturday with 7:49 remaining and never headed back to the bench. When Bowser came on, ETSU big man Jadyn Parker had 12 points, nine rebounds and five blocks. Parker had one point, no rebounds and no blocks the rest of the way. Furman outrebounded the Bucs 9-2 over that time frame.

"To be honest with you, we weren't scoring and at that point I thought, 'well, let's at least protect the rim.' We put him in there in the paint to try to clog the rim up a little bit," Richey said. "It's one of those decisions that you don't know how it's going to go until you make it, but he continues to grow and mature. He grew up another step tonight."

The Paladins trailed 59-51 before Marcus Foster drilled a three-pointer with 4:17 left. Foster drove and hit a floater on the next possession to cut the lead to three. After ETSU's Ebby Asamoah answered with a jumper, Furman called timeout with 3:04 left. Coming out of the timeout, Bowser found Pegues for a three. After a missed three for the Bucs, Pegues grabbed the rebound and dribbled all the way down before lobbing an alley-oop to Bowser for the game-tying dunk with 2:12 left.

Bowser got the rebound on ETSU's next possession giving Furman a chance to take the lead. Pegues' jumper didn't fall though, snapping that run of 12 straight makes. Tyrese Hughey grabbed the offensive rebound and Pegues drew a foul, but it was only the Bucs' sixth. On the inbounds under Furman's basket, Pegues lobbed a pass that Hughey had no idea was intended for him. The ball sailed over everybody's head except ETSU's Jaden Seymour who caught it and slammed it home on the other end to put the Bucs in front 63-61 with 1:03 left.

Furman and Pegues didn't flinch under the stress of what could've been a backbreaking turnover as he drew a foul on a three-pointer with 43 seconds left. After missing the first shot, the SoCon's No. 1-ranked free throw shooter sank the next two to tie the game at 63-63. On the other end, Foster played incredible defense as Seymour tried to twist and turn his way for a clean look. Seymour never got it. His shot hit all backboard, no rim and deflected off of ETSU out of bounds. After a long video review, the ball remained with Furman setting the stage for Pegues' game-winning free throws.

"(Foster's) play was the biggest defensive play of the game. Seymour tried to get him off his feet probably four or five times. Marcus just did a great job of staying down, sticking to his discipline and walling up," Richey said. "J.P. is just a gamer and he's got the clutch gene. He loves those moments and I wasn't going to have the ball in anybody else's hands."

Pegues finished with a game-high 15 points and also had five rebounds, four assists and two steals. Foster had 11 points, eight rebounds and two steals. The Paladins found a way to win with only two fast break points and two points off turnovers as ETSU (13-12, 5-7) finished with eight turnovers. Four of those turnovers for the Bucs came in the first four minutes of the game. Their only turnover in the second half came when their long inbounds pass with 1.8 seconds left sailed out of bounds.

Quimari Peterson led five ETSU players in double figures with 14 points.

Furman returns to action Wednesday when it hosts VMI at 7 p.m.

No comments:

Post a Comment