Sunday, February 4, 2024

Pegues, Foster help Paladins rally past Citadel

J.P. Pegues hit another clutch three-pointer in the final second of regulation during
Furman's 82-79 overtime win at The Citadel Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Wednesday night in Charleston, J.P. Pegues did that thing he's become known for and Marcus Foster did that thing he's becoming known for. Pegues hit another clutch three in the final second of regulation to force overtime and Foster had another double-double to help Furman rally for a fairly amazing 82-79 win at The Citadel.

Pegues has followed up his heroic game-winning three-pointer over Virginia in the opening round of last year's NCAA Tournament, by hitting three similar threes this season. Wednesday's was the first that didn't give Furman the lead, but it tied the game at 72-72. That didn't seem like a very likely proposition when the Paladins (12-10, 6-3 Southern Conference) trailed by 18 late in the first half. Foster who had three double-doubles in his career entering this season, had his fourth in five games since returning from a knee injury. He just missed a triple-double as he finished with 17 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists.

"There's a lot of guys we're proud of, but Marcus, good grief. There's not much more I could ask him to do tonight. He drew seven of their 13 fouls. I thought he played an exceptional game with his effort," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "I was proud of J.P. too because I thought he just stuck in there. I asked him to play more aggressive tonight. I thought he was aggressive early, but he wasn't seeing the ball go in. I was glad that he stayed with it and obviously hit the huge shot to put us into OT."

"We led for three minutes and 48 seconds tonight, but sometimes that's how you have to win. Especially on the road when you get into the kind of environment we ran into tonight."

The kind of environment Furman ran into was none like these group of Paladins have ever seen at Citadel. Any Furman fan who's made that trip in the last few years know that finding a seat at McAlister Field House has never been an issue. Given that the Bulldogs are in last place in the SoCon, one would've expected that to remain the case on Wednesday. Instead it was a packed house of with more seats brought out that are usually not available because of no need.

It also faced a fired-up Citadel squad that showed no fear against a Furman team it lost by 14 to earlier this season in Greenville. After taking more than eight minutes to make their second field goal in a loss at Wofford the last time out, the Paladins got off to a similarly lousy start Wednesday as their second field goal was made at the 14:20 mark.

"I've been in games here since 2006 when I was an assistant at Charleston Southern. I've never seen anything like this tonight. This thing was wall-to-wall. They must have made the whole school come out here," Richey said. "That's the best crowd I've ever seen here and I thought it kind of rattled us at first. Moreso than us being startled was that they (the Bulldogs' team) really fed off the energy of it."

The Bulldogs (9-13, 1-8) fed off that energy after what was also a slow start for them before Elijah Morgan got cooking. The game was tied 14-14 midway through the first half before a three-pointer by Morgan started a nine-minute stretch in which Citadel outscored Furman by 18 points. Another Morgan three gave the Bulldogs a 42-24 lead with 1:14 left in the first half. That also gave Morgan 22 points in the first half.

Furman closed out the half with just its second and third made three-pointers to that point. Those threes by Alex Williams and Pegues cut the lead to 42-30 at the break.

"Fortunately, we got those back-to-back threes. Besides J.P.'s shot, Marcus' offensive rebounds and some other second-half plays, those were probably the two biggest plays of the game," Richey said. "In the second half, we really settled in defensively. After 22 in the first half, we held Morgan to two over the next 25 minutes and I thought that was the big difference in the game."

Citadel got the lead back to 15 two minutes into the second half. PJay Smith drilled a three-pointer that started a 13-4 run for Furman over the next three minutes. It was still a six-point Citadel lead when Smith hit another three with 11:27 left to slice the lead to 54-51. Three minutes later, another Smith three tied the game at 56-56. On the Paladins' next possession, Foster found Carter Whitt for a layup giving Furman its first lead since early in the first half.

Foster's three with 4:09 left gave Furman a 67-64 lead, but the Bulldogs responded with an 8-2 run to take a 72-69 lead with 1:32 left. At that point, Foster, Smith and Pegues all missed three-pointers. Meanwhile, Citadel missed a three and the front end of a pair of one-and-one free throws. That last one with eight seconds left, opened the pay phone door for Pegues to change into his Superman suit one more time.

Williams rebounded the free throw and flipped the ball to Pegues, who dribbled all the way down and pulled up from that same spot to the right of the top of the key for the game-tying three with 0.1 seconds left. After reviewing it, officials put the clock at 0.8 seconds left - just like after every other one this season. The Bulldogs could not get a shot off taking the game to overtime.

Citadel actually hit a pair of free throws to take the lead in overtime, but another Smith three with 2:48 left gave Furman a lead it never relinquished. Foster's three-point play off a putback with 1:57 left pushed the Paladins lead to five to help seal the win.

"I kept thinking they were going to go foul (Pegues in regulation) but they didn't. They let him get it off and he hit it," Richey said. "This is one we're going to look back on. Yes, we can turn games, turn our energy and do it on the road. I really think we will feed off this as we go into the stretch of the season."

Pegues finished with 16 points, four assists, four rebounds and two steals. Foster and Pegues played 40 and 41 minutes respectively, and had just one turnover apiece. Smith finished with 15 points off the bench and Williams scored 12.

Morgan and A.J. Smith led Citadel with 24 points apiece. Smith also had team-highs in rebounds (eight) and assists (five). They also each played 40-plus minutes with one turnover apiece.

Furman returns to action at home Sunday, hosting UNC Greensboro at 2 p.m. The game will be televised by ESPNU.

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