Furman set to host former SoCon rival CofC Friday night

Summerville, S.C. native Jalen Slawson vs. CofC last season/photo courtesy of CofC athletics

Game 8: Furman (5-2) vs. College of Charleston (5-2), 7 p.m.

The Venue: Timmons Arena (3,500)

The Series: Tied 42-42

The Coaches: Furman–Bob Richey (94-37/5th yr); Pat Kelsey (191-97/10th season)

Last Time They Met: Furman 81, College of Charleston 57 (Dec. 5, 2020)

Furman returns to Timmons to tangle with Charleston

Furman will welcome College of Charleston back to Greenville for the first time since the 2014-15 season, when the Paladins opened the season by getting blitzed the Cougars, dropping a 75-40 decision to the Cougars at Timmons Arena. 

The Paladins would avenge that substantial loss by delivering what was a substantial beat-down in the Holy City last December, as the Paladins posted an 82-57 win at TD Arena in Charleston.

The  meeting marks just another tough litmus test in the  non-conference for the Paladins at Timmons Arena, which is a place the Paladins have posted a 76-13 mark since the start of the 2015-16 season. 

Last time out at home, the Paladins were defeated 77-66 by Patriot League member Navy, who snapped the Paladins’ streak of 22-straight non-conference home wins, datint back to a 93-74 setback to Wintrhop on Nov. 29, 2017. 

It is somewhat interesting to note that the coach of that team was Pat Kelsey. Now at Charleston, he and the Cougars have a chance to hand the Paladins back-to-back home losses for the first time since losing home outings against Chattanooga and Mercer on Feb . 5 and 7, 2015, to both Chattanooga and Mercer. 

Perhaps no school in the state of South Carolina boasts the type of basketball tradition and big names than that of the College of Charleston. First-year head coach Pat Kelsey would likely be the first to tell you that, and he should know, having already come to the Port City from Rock Hill and being the head coach of Winthrop to assume the head coaching vacancy in the nation’s second oldest city back in April. 

With names like Bobby Cremins and John Kresse on a short list of its “who’s-who” names that are recognizable to the most casual of college basketball fans. Among the player greats to wear the CofC uniform include Andrew Goudelock, Anthony Johnson, Sedric Webber, and Grant Riller just to name a few.

Goudelock, who left the program as its all-time leading scorer with 2,571-career points, ranks third in league history in career points behind only Davidson’s Stephen Curry (2,635 pts) and Marshall’s Skip Henderson (2,574 pts). 

Simply put, the brand and the program has succeeded at every level and in every conference it has played in, including the SoCon. Ironically, as successful as the Cougars were as a SoCon member, they only ever made the Big Dance once in their 14-year membership, and that was their first year as a member of the league that saw the Cougars turn out one of the best teams in the cherished 101-year history of the league in 1998-99. 

That 1998-99 Cougars team went a remarkable 28-3 and were a perfect 16-0 in Southern Conference play, and if you include the SoCon Tournament, 19-0 against league competition. The Cougars would start the 1998-99 season in the pre-season AP Top 25, and that’s also where the Cougars would end the season, ranked No. 19 in the final AP Poll. 

The 2021-22 season and the start of the Pat Kelsey era has seen College of Charleston off to a solid 5-2 start, which includes  a pair of losses to power six programs, in Oklahoma State (L, 66-96) and North Carolina (L, 83-94), but since the loss to the Cowboys in Stillwater, the Cougars have won two-straight in impressive fashion.

Meanwhile, Furman had to go to its third overtime game in four road games this season to get its second-straight win and improve to 5-2, as the Paladins claimed a 74-70 win at Big South member High Point in double overtime at the Quebien Center this past Tuesday night. The win over the Panthers was preceded by an 87-77 win at USC Upstate Saturday evening at the G.B. Hodge Center. 

It’s safe to say the College of Charleston has owned Furman in the recent history of this rivalry, with the two meeting regularly as Southern Conference members from 1998-2013. Since moving officially to the Division I level in 1989-90, the Cougars hold a 31-5 record over Furman since joining the Division I ranks, which includes having won 13 of the past 15 meetings between the two programs. 

After getting blown out at Oklahoma State, the Cougars have won two-straight successfully, and both against two pretty solid teams, with victories at preseason SoCon favorite Chattanooga (W, 68-66) and against a solid Conference USA member, in Tulane (W, 81-77) back home at TD Arena Monday night.

All five of Charleston’s win on the young season have come against KenPom Top 200 ranked programs. 

This year’s Cougars club has a much different look to it than the one Furman trouced by 24 in Charleston last season, with several transfers having made an immediate impact for Kelsey’s Cougars. 

All told, the Cougars brought in a total of 10  newcomers to totally transform and basically turn over the entire roster. Part of Kelsey’s heavy influence has been bringing a good mixture of freshmen and transfers. 

One of those transfers that has come in and had an immediate impact for the Cougars has been  John Meeks (17.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG), who transferred in from Bucknell and has been a key performer for the Cougars from the outset this season. Beset by injuries last season with the Bison, the senior forward logged action in only six games. 

He was a key scoring cog for the Bison last season, and that has remained the same this season for the Cougars, as his  17.7 PPG leads the Cougars coming into the blockbuster clash on Friday night.  He is shooting a blistering 43.8% from three and 46.3% from the field.

Meeks will team down low in the paint with a pair of solid freshmen brought in by Kelsey, with both Ben Burnham (7.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG) and Babacar Faye (5.1 PPG,  3.3 RPG). Burnham and Faye are joined in the starting lineup by one other freshman, in Reyne Smith (14.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG), who is the second-leading scorer and has matriculated to Charleston from down under, as he is a native of Australia.

Like Meeks, Smith is outstanding perimeter shooter for the Cougars, and comes into Friday night’s matchup having posted a career-high of 22 points last time out against Tulane, as he connected on six of the team’s 12 triples in the contest. So far in his rookie season, he is knocking down 3.57 three-pointers per game, and that ranks 16th in all of NCAA Division I basketball. 

Through the first seven games this season, Smith is shooting the ball at an impressive 45.5% clip from the field, and is connecting on 47% of his shots overall from the field. 

Rounding out the expected starting five for the Cougars will be senior Dimitrius Underwood   (8.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG), who provides veteran leadership as a senior  to off-set the youth of Smith in the backcourt. It was Underwood who had the game-winning tip-in against Chattanooga, and he is one of the players that is looked at as a veteran leader for the Cougars. 

Underwood is an excellent defender, having recorded 16 steals over the past four games for the Cougars. In addition to his game-winning tip-in against the Mocs, Underwood also added 12 points and three steals in the Cougars’ best win of the season. 

Faye and Burnham are more the unsung heroes for the Cougars in the paint, and while they aren’t headline grabbers, the duo has been consistent in helping CofC be one of big reasons why the Cougars have been so dominant on the backboards to date, as CofC currently leads the CAA in rebounds-per-game, averaging 42.9 RPG. 

Junior guard Brenden Tucker (10.3 PPG, 2.2 RPG) has been the top player off the bench so far this season for the Cougars. He is averaging 16.7 PPG over the past three outings for CofC, and he’s been a long-range markseman off the bench for CofC this season, having knocked down 12-of-22 three-pointers for the year, which converts to 54.4% for the season so far. 

The Cougars are a +43 in the backboards through the first seven games of the season. The Cougars have grabbed 10 or more offensive rebounds in all seven games this season, which if there is one key to the game tonight, it will be on the boards. If the Paladins truly are as improved on the glass as the stats would imply, then this will be a stat that it should be able to limit this evening, which is holding the Cougars to less than 10 offensive boards for the game. 

Another key to Pat Kelsey’s team’s success over the years has been establishing pace, and being able to create a high number of possessions, which is  trying to get as close to 80 possessions per basketball game per outing as possible. With the Cougars forcing the issue, that has them coming to Greenville leading the nation in the adjusted metric of opponent possessions, as the opposition is averaging a total of 77.6 possessions per game.

The problem comes when you try and speed up teams that are already wired to play that style of basketball, which this Furman team appears to be, as opposed to last season’s squad, which preferred a fast pace, but a more measured one as well. 

However you look at this game, Furman is going to be tested in a different way once again tonight, and if the Paladins don’t make shots like they struggled to do against High Point this past Tuesday night, the result will not be the same as that one was in double-overtime on the road. After all, the Cougars showed us they could in fact seize the moment when another team is struggling offensively, and you have to look no further than the UTC game to see that. 

The Paladins have not won back-to-back meetings in the series against the Cougars since winning 114-67 in 1952-53 and then again in 1971-72 with a 94-73 win in Greenville.

Furman’s Projected Starting Five:

G-#10 Alex Hunter (5th yr Sr/16.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 4.3 APG)

G–#51 Conley Garrison (Gr transfer from Drury/10.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.0 APG)

G–#3 Mike Bothwell (Sr/17.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.0 APG)

G–#5 Marcus Foster (R-So/8.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG)

F/C–#20 Jalen Slawson (Sr./14.9 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 2.6 APG, 2.4 BPG)

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