Winthrop outlasts Furman in another thriller

Jalen Slawson records program’s first-ever triple-double in loss

Reigning SoCon Player of the Week Jalen Slawson records first-ever triple-double vs. Winthrop

Once again, Furman tested itself against one of the most storied programs in basketball in the Palmetto State, and as you might would have guessed, the game between the Paladins and the Winthrop Eagles came down to the wire.

The game certainly lived up to its billing as a mid-major classic, as the contest featured 24 lead changes and 10 ties, with neither team boasting more than a five-point edge. In the end, that would be the exact margin in which the Eagles would hold on for the win.

With the win, the Eagles improved to 5-4 overall on the young season, while Furman fell to 6-3, ending what had been a three-game winning streak.

Despite first-ever triple-double in school history from senior big man and reigning Southern Conference Player of the Week Jalen Slawson (15 pts, 10 pts, 12 assists), Furman would drop what was a hard-fought, 85-80, contest at perennial Big South power Eagles Tuesday night at the Winthrop Coliseum. 

Slawson, who scored a career-high 33 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in helping lead the Paladins to a near-miraculous come-from-behind win over College of Charleston, connected on 6-of-16 shots from the field, which included going 2-of-7 from three-point range, to equal his 15-point effort. Slawson’s double-double effort marked his fourth of the season, which leads the SoCon. He also contributed a pair of blocks and two steals.

Winthrop was led by an unlikely hero, in senior guard Michael Anumba, who paced five Eagles in double figures, posting 18 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the field, and a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc. 

The senior guard from Reggia Emelia, Italy, was just one off his career-high of 19 points, which he recorded against Pfeiffer back in the 2018-19 season. His 18-point effort marks just his second double-figure scoring effort of the season, posting 11 points in 33 minutes in the loss at Washington State earlier this season.

It was a game that needed the maturity of a player like Anumba to get Winthrop across the finish line in Mark Prosser’s first season at the helm of Winthrop. The new head coach, which was already pretty familiar with his surroundings having spent six years as an assistant prior to spending two years as the head coach at Western Carolina, garnered his first win against Furman as a head coach, improving to 1-6 against the Paladins.

Anumba was joined in double figures in the contest by four other Eagles, as Western Carolina transfer Cory Hightower continued his string of strong performances against Furman. As a Catamount last season, Hightower scored 22 and 12 points in a pair of losses to the Paladins. 

The redshirt junior finished the contest with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field and 2-for-4 from three-point land. He added five rebounds and a pair of assists to complete his all-around performance.

Missouri transfer Drew Buggs finished with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field and 2-for-4 from three-point land, marking his second double-figure scoring effort of the season, as he also had 17 points in a win over Hartford. 

Preseason Big South Player of the Year D.J. Burns Jr., who scored just four points in Winthrop’s easy 87-71 win over the Paladins last season, finished up a strong effort Tuesday night by posting 12 points, six boards, and an assist. He connected on 6-of-13 shots from the field in what was a battle between two of the top big men in mid-major hoops. 

Rounding out the Eagles in double figures was Kelton Talford, who posted 10 points, three rebounds and a block to finish off his evening. 

Winthrop finished the night by connecting on 56.1% (32-of-57) from the field and 52.9% (9-of-17) from three-point land. The Eagles’ nine three-pointers were one off their average of 10.4 per game entering the contest. 

Aside from the remarkable performance from Slawson, who recorded his triple double prior to fouling out of the contest with 1:32 remaining, the Paladins were led by Alex Hunter, who posted a game-high 24 points on 7-of-10 from the field, and 4-for-6 from three-point land, while recording two rebounds, two assists, and coming up with one steal. 

It marked Hunter’s fourth 20+ scoring performance of the season, including doing so in three of the past four games. Hunter scored 14 of his 24 points in the opening half, including going 4-for-5 from three-point land.

The final Paladin in double figures in the contest was Mike Bothwell, who finished with his eighth double-figure scoring effort in nine games this season, as he finished the evening with 10 points.  

Furman completed the contest by connecting on 46.7% (28-of-60) from the field,  and connected on 41.7% (15-of-36) from three-point range. 

Winthrop finished with a narrow 31-28 edge on the backboards, while holding a substantial 44-24 advantage in points in the paint.  The Eagles also held a narrow 17-14 edge in bench scoring. The Paladins held narrow advantages in second-chance points (8-5), assists (18-15), and fast-break points (8-7).

How It Happened:

Michael Anumba, who made big shot after big shot seemingly the entire night for the Eagles, connected on a three-pointer  with 6:08 left, stretching what had been a two-point Winthrop lead (73-71) to a five-point (76-71) advantage over the Paladins, matching what had been Winthrop’s largest lead of the evening.

However, Furman countered with seven-straight points of its own to re-take the lead, at 78-76, following a Conley Garrison made three-pointer, two Alex Hunter free throws following a technical foul whistled against Winthrop head coach Mark Prosser, and a Jalen Slawson jump hook in the lane, with the Slawson basket helping the Paladins assume that two-point lead with 4:40 left. 

A pair of Cory Hightower foul shots tied the score for a ninth time, at 78-78, following a foul whistled against Marcus Foster with 3:32 remaining. Hunter’s layup on a beautiful feed from Slawson with 2:19 remaining gave Furman what would prove to be its final points of the night, and thus, its final lead, at 80-78.

The Eagles finished off the home performance, which was also their seventh win in a row on the home hardwood, in style, outscoring the Paladins 7-0 the remainder of the contest.  That included another made three from Anumba off an offensive rebound and assist by Hightower with 1:47 left, giving the Eagles the lead back for good, at 81-80.  A Buggs layup and a pair of Patrick Good free throws with 11 seconds remaining helped seal Furman’s fate, and gave Winthrop an 85-80 win. 

 Winthrop scored the first four points of the game on buckets from Drew Buggs and DJ Burns Jr., Furman was able to go to the first media timeout with an 8-4 lead on a pair of threes from Alex Hunter and Conley Garrison, while Mike Bothwell made a couple of free throws. 

After a layup in the paint off a nice spin move from Burns gave the Eagles an 18-17 lead, back-to-back threes from Alex Hunter and Mike Bothwell stretched Furman’s lead to 23-18, however, an 11-2 run by Winthrop late in the half helped the Eagles assume a 37-32 lead with 2:40 remaining in the half on Sincere McMahon layup.

Joe Anderson, who finished with six points on 2-for-2 shooting from three-point range, connected on a three, as well as a Bothwell layup and a Hunter, and a Hunter triple allowed Furman to re-take the lead by a point, at 40-39, with 1:09 to play in the opening half.  After Winthrop answered with a Burns layup in the paint to go back on top by one, Hunter then connected on a pair of foul shots with 31 seconds remaining to give the Paladins a 42-41 lead.

Winthrop would close out the opening half by getting a Burns rebound and put-back off his own missed shot, with four seconds remaining in the half, and that’s how the two teams would enter the halftime locker room.

Postgame Audio:

Furman head coach Bob Richey
Winthrop senior guard Michael Anumba

Up Next:

Furman returns to the hardwood on Friday night, welcoming another former SoCon foe into the friendly confines of Timmons Arena, as the Paladins will face off against their third NCAA Tournament team from a year ago, including the second-straight, as longtime rival Appalachian State (5-4) pays a visit to Timmons Arena. The Mountaineers have had a nine-day break for exams.

The last time the Mountaineers came to Greenville was during the 2014-15 campaign, as Furman picked up an 84-65 win on that occasion.

App State head coach Dustin Kerns is in his third season rebuilding the Mountaineer basketball program, taking the Apps back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1999-2000 season last March.

His “Take the Stairs” approach has resonated with Boone, and he looks to be building something special in the High Country. A culture shift not too unlike the one that has taken place in Greenville.

Appalachian won the Sun Belt Tournament last year by knocking off off Little Rock (W, 67-60), Texas State (76-73 OT) and Coastal Carolina (64-61, OT) before knocking defeating perennial league power Georgia State, 80-73, in the championship game to punch what was just the third NCAA Tournament ticket in program history.

Appalachian State posted a 69-67 win over perennial SoCon power East Tennessee State in its home opener to the 2021-22 season. The Mountaineer and Paladins will be meeting on the college basketball hardwood for the 87th time, with Furman holding a 47-39 all-time series edge.

The Paladins’ current three-game winning streak in the series is its longest since claiming eighth-straight victories in the series from 1986-90. Tip-off for Friday night’s contest is slated for 7 p.m.

Published by soconjohn

I am a lover of all things SoCon, and I have had a passion to write about, follow and tell the world about this great conference for pretty much my entire life. While I do love the SoCon, and live in the SoCon city, which is home to the Furman Paladins, have a passion for sports in general, with college football and college hoops topping the list.

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