Furman heads to Winthrop looking for fourth-straight win
Game 9: Furman (6-2) at Winthrop (4-4)
The Venue: Winthrop Coliseum (6,100)
The Series: Tied 6-6
The Coaches: Furman–Bob Richey (95-36/5th yr); Mark Prosser (167-97/9th yr as a head coach/1st at Winthrop)
Furman looks to gain some revenge at Winthrop
Furman suffered its worst loss of the season at Winthrop last season, as the Eagles handed the Paladins an 87-71 setback in Rock Hill. The Paladins had just come off what was a heartbreaking loss at Alabama in a game the Paladins blew a big lead only to lose after Clay Mounce fouled out of the contest.
In the overall series, it will mark the 13th meeting between the Eagles and Paladins, with the all-time series tied, 6-6. Like the College of Charleston series, however, the Paladins haven’t had all that much recent success against the Eagles, having dropped seven of the last eight overall in the series.
The Paladins haven’t all that much success getting wins in Rock Hill either, having dropped four of five contests all-time at Winthrop. Furman’s lone win over the Eagles on the road came back in the 1986-87 season, when the Paladins picked up a 69-52 win over the Eagles. Furman is facing a program that has made 11 NCAA Tournament appearances since making its first in 1999.
Furman’s lone win in recent memory came back in December of 2019, as the Paladins were able to post an 80-73 win downtown at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
There are some obvious connections between Furman and Winthrop as well, with Eagles Hall-of-Fame coach Nield Gordon having been the first men’s basketball coach of the Eagles during the 1977-78 season.
Gordon, of course, is also a member of the Newberry (coach), Wingate (coach), and Furman (player) athletic halls of fame, and as a player for the Paladins in the 1951-52 and 1952-53 seasons, was instrumental in helping the Paladin teams go 18-6 and 21-3, respectively. Gordon was a teammate of college basketball hall-of-famer Frank Selvy. Gordon is also a member of the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame.
During his two seasons as a player for Furman, he averaged 22.6 PPG in 51-career games as a Paladin. In his nine seasons as a head coach and Director of Athletics at Winthrop, Gordon helped establish a men’s full-time athletics program for the school.
Against Winthrop last season, Mounce would foul out without even scoring, as the Eagles completely took Mounce out of the game, as he went scoreless in the 16-point loss. The Paladins come in off arguably their most dramatic win of the season, as the Paladins posted a remarkable 91-88 overtime win over College of Charleston last time out. Wintrhop dropped a 74-64 contest on the road at the HTC Center against Coastal Carolina.
Both Furman and Winthrop enter the contest having posted wins over power six programs, as the Paladins downed Louisville, 80-72, in overtime, while Winthrop posted an impressive 82-74 win at Washington. The Eagles also played tough before dropping a 92-86 contest to a pretty tough Washington State club.
Paladins were ranked as one of the top mid-major pro- grams in the country, sporting a NET ranking in the high 40s. The Eagles, of course, finished the season with a 23-2 overall record and a 17-1 mark in Big South play. In Pat Kelsey’s final season at the helm, he was able to help the Eagles to the Big South regular-season and tournament titles, with the Eagles being knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the opening round, with a 73-63 loss to the Villanova Wildcats in the opening round of the tournament.
Other than Villanova, the only other team that knocked off the Eagles during the 2020-21 season was Mike Morrell’s UNC Asheville club at the end of January, which ended the nation’s longest winning streak.
With Kelsey leaving to take the head coaching job at College of Charleston. New head coach Mark Prosser comes over from Western Carolina and inherited a pretty good situation at Winthrop, returning two starters, who are among the two best players in the Big South, while adding some talented transfers, like former ETSU Bucs guard Patrick Good and former Western Carolina wing Cory Hightower, who have both figured into the starting rotation this season for the Eagles. It probably comes as little surprise to note that Winthrop entered the 2021-22 season as the favorites to once again capture the Big South title. Over the past two-plus seasons, the Eagles sport an impressive 51-16 overall mark.
In addition to going 1-1 in their trip to Washington, the Eagles also have posted a 3-3 mark with wins over Mary Baldwin (110-78), fellow SoCon member Mercer (88-85/OT), and vs Hartford (82-75). Other losses for the Eagles have come against Coastal Carolina (L, 64-74), at Vanderbilt (L, 63-77) and at Middle Tennessee State (L, 65-76). The Eagles are a perfect 3-0 on their home floor this season.
A Look at the Eagles:
It probably comes as little surprise that Winthrop entered the 2021-22 season as the favorites to once again win the Big South regular-season and tournament titles.
Winthrop comes into Tuesday night’s contest against Furman looking for its fourth-straight win at home to open the season, and its 17th win in its last 18 outings on its home floor. Another streak, which is interesting coming into Tuesday night’s contest is Winthrop head coach Mark Prosser is 0-6 all-time against Furman as a head coach. One of those streaks will come to an end Tuesday night.
The Eagles have some experience returning off that team that won 23 games last season, in starters guard/forward Michael Anumba (6.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG) and redshirt junior D.J. Burns Jr. (16.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG), and both started against the Paladins in that 16-point win by the Eagles last season.
Against the Paladins last season, Anumba finished up the contest by scoring nine points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field, and was 3-for-4 from the charity stripe. The Paladins actually did a solid job defending Burns in that meeting last season, holding him to just four points in that contest.
Burns, who is the preseason Big South Player of the Year, comes into the contest having lived up to that preseason distinction through the first eight games this season. Burns was a major reason that the Eagles were able to go on the road in PAC 12 country and get a massive 82-74 win over the Washington Huskies. He finished that contest with 24 points and nine boards.
He finished that contest, which is easily the Eagles’ signature win of the season, connecting on 12-of-24 shots from the field. He also contributed a pair of steals, a block and an assist in the win. He had his career-high of 30 points in the season-opening win over Mary-Baldwin.
Anumba has been more of a role player for the Eagles, and the 6-4 guard is the most-experienced player in a Winthrop uniform on the roster. He was one of three of Winthrop players to start all 25 games last season. He has started all eight games this season, and has proven to be one of Winthrop’s top defensive players throughout his career. He started 93 of 96-career games for the Eagles.
While the other three starters haven’t seen action in a Winthrop uniform, all three sport experience at other places. Set to start at the other two guard positions will be both Missouri transfer Drew Buggs (4.4 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 3.6 APG) and East Tennessee State grad transfer Patrick Good (14.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.3 SPG).
Buggs surpassed 500-career assists earlier this season in a game at Vanderbilt, and posted a season-high 17 points in the win over Hartford. Good is a player that Furman players and staff are obviously familar with, having faced him during his time at ETSU.
He has the ability to score points in bunches because of his ability as a shooter. In a loss at Washington State earlier this season, Good tallied 33 points in a loss to the Cougars. He comes into the contest leading the Big South in three-pointers made per game, averaging 3.8 made triples per contest. Good currently ranks fourth overall in the Big South in scoring.
Another player the Paladins will be especially familiar with is former Western Carolina forward Cory Hightower (12.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG), who recently returned from injury. He is a player that originally started his career in the Big South prior to transferring to Western Carolina, and then following Prosser back into the Big South by transferring to Winthrop.
Hightower posted a 22-point effort in a 75-69 home loss by the Catamounts last season, and also posted an 11-point effort in an 88-70 loss at Furman.
Off the bench, the Eagles will rely on guys off the bench are guys like wing Kelton Talford (6.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG), as well as Greenville S.C. native and junior forward Chase Claxton (4.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG) and another Western Carolina transfer, in Sin’Cere McMahon (3.4 PPG, 1.4 APG).
Russell Jones Jr (8.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG), a 5-8 guard out of Blythewood, S.C., is the Eagles’ leading scorer off the bench. He’s connecting on an impressive 52.2% (12-of-23) from three-point land this season.
All told, the Eagles rank 25th nationally in three-pointers made-per-game (10.4), and its 34.4 PPG off the bench ranks 13th in the nation.
Furman’s Starting Five and Notes:
Furman’s Projected Starting Five:
G-#10 Alex Hunter (5th yr Sr/17.6 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 4.0 APG)
G–#51 Conley Garrison (Gr transfer from Drury/9.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.1 APG)
G–#3 Mike Bothwell (Sr/17.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.8 APG)
G–#5 Marcus Foster (R-So/7.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.0 SPG)
F/C–#20 Jalen Slawson (Sr./17.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 2.1 SPG)
–Jalen Slawson is the reigning SoCon Player of the Week following his mammoth 33-point, 13-rebound effort vs College of Charleston.
–Alex Hunter set a new career-high for points (25), which included 17 in the second half in the win over CofC last time out. He went 8-of-15 from the field and connected on five triples in the Paladin win.
–Furman will be facing its fourth of five foes from the state of South Carolina on its non-conference slate. It is 3-0 against the Palmetto State so far, having defeated USC Upstate (W, 87-77), North Greenville (W, 118-66) and College of Charleston (91-88 OT).
—Furman is tied for first nationally in overtime games with Utah Valley at four.