Saturday, February 24, 2024

Samford's late blitz thwarts Paladins' rally

J.P. Pegues scored 28 of his career-high 33 points in the second half, but
Furman lost at Samford, 74-72, Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

The Furman men's basketball team used the agony of a heartbreaking loss in the 2022 Southern Conference Tournament championship game to push itself to the 2023 SoCon title and its first NCAA Tournament win in nearly 50 years. That journey was captured by a film crew for the documentary "Better Together," which will be coming to Amazon Prime on March 6. An exclusive screening will be Monday at 6 p.m. at the Peace Center's Gunter Theatre. 

If the Paladins' current plan is to use every heartbreaking loss and other turmoil this regular season to go dancing again this March, they will not be lacking in ammunition when they head to Asheville in two weeks. Much like losses to Princeton, Tulane and UNC Greensboro earlier this season, Furman received another gut punch Wednesday at Samford. An amazing second-half performance by J.P. Pegues was spoiled when the Bulldogs went on a 7-0 run over the final 40 seconds to knock off the Paladins, 74-72.

"Give Samford credit. ... There's a reason those guys are undefeated in here. They made some huge plays," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "We made some critical errors late, but man our team fought. I thought it was a heck of a fight for us to get down 10 and come back in the way we did.

"I thought we settled in in the second half and played with a lot more composure. We were a little keyed up in the first half and that environment got to us."

On a big night of basketball with the top six teams facing off against each other, this final game of the night undoubtedly had the attention of the rest of the SoCon. Those other teams were hoping for a Furman victory to pull first-place Samford closer to the pack. On Furman's last trip to Samford in last season's regular season finale, the game started with Mike Bothwell making basically every shot he fired up as the Paladins dominated from start to finish to earn a share of the SoCon regular season title and top seed for the SoCon Tournament.

This season's trip was the polar opposite start. While Furman (15-13. 9-6) missed each of its first nine three-pointers, Samford (24-4, 13-2) made four early to race out to a 14-4 lead. The Paladins trailed 30-21 late in the half before Garrett Hien hit a pair of free throws and Pegues drained a three at the buzzer to trim the deficit to four at the half.

That Pegues' three was a sign of things to come in the second half.

On a tough shooting night for Marcus Foster and PJay Smith, they hit back-to-back threes early in the second half to tie the game 32-32. Samford answered back though and later went on an 11-2 run to match its biggest lead of the night at 56-46 with 8:23 remaining. Furman answered back with a 9-0 run in less than two minutes thanks a Pegues' jumper, a Hien dunk, two free throws and a three by Pegues.

Furman trailed 60-55 with five minutes left when Pegues drilled three consecutive threes giving the Paladins their first lead of the night at 64-62 with 3:48 left. The Bulldogs' Jermaine Marshall answered with a layup and later a free throw before Pegues drew a foul on a three and knocked down all three foul shots to put Furman back in front, 67-65, with 2:25 left.

The game was tied at 67 when Pegues hit yet another three with 56 seconds left. On the other end, Pegues rebounded a Samford missed layup and was fouled. He hit both free throws to give Furman a 72-67 lead with 45 seconds left.

After making 10 three-pointers in the first half, the Bulldogs were just 4-of-16 from three in the second half before Jaden Campbell somehow got wide open and knocked one down with 39 seconds left to cut the lead to two. Smith had trouble inbounding against Samford's press and tried to throw it off Marshall. Instead, Marshall caught it, drew the foul and made both free throws to tie the game at 72 with 38 seconds left.

With two defenders hounding Pegues on the other end, his three-pointer from the right wing as the shot clock expired bounced off no good. You could tell from the angle of the miss that it could lead to a run out for Samford and that's exactly what happened. Marshall got the rebound and went coast-to-coast for the game-winning layup with 2.9 seconds left.

As soon as the ball went through the net, Ben VanderWal was in the middle of the Samford paint signaling for a timeout. No official stopped play to check the clock for how much time should be remaining or to honor the timeout. In a rush to try to beat the Bulldogs' press from getting set after the layup, Foster quickly inbounded the ball to Pegues who fired up a mid-court shot well before the buzzer. The prayer sailed away to the right as the horn sounded, Bucky ball snapped Furman's four-game winning streak in the series and improved to 16-0 at home this season.

"Three critical errors late that you obviously can't have happen with a five-point lead. ... We sub in Carter (Whitt) to get all guards out there and switch. We don't switch on one of their best shooters gets a three," Richey said. "Then we turn it over there. ... I thought for a second there we were going to be able to pull out a W, but there's a couple more things we can learn from this. We will get better from it."

Pegues finished with a career-high 33 points, including 28 in the second half, and six rebounds. The lone other Paladin in double figures was Hien, who had 10 points, six rebounds and five assists. Smith had eight points on 3-of-11 shooting, while Foster - who scored 22 points in Furman's win over Samford in Greenville - had five points on 1-of-7 shooting all of which were threes. Alex Williams, the Paladins' third-leading scorer this season, missed his third consecutive game due to suspension.

Rylan Jones had 17 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals to lead Samford, while Marshall had 15 points and eight rebounds.

As always, there's no time for moping for Furman. The Paladins return home Saturday to host rival Wofford for a "White Out" game at 2 p.m. It will be the Terriers' first game on Furman's campus since 2021. Wofford's last two trips to Greenville were for games at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

No comments:

Post a Comment