Furman finds a way on another Friday against a former league rival

For the second-straight Friday night, Timmons Arena played host to an outstanding basketball game between two former conference rivals. Last week, it was a Bothwell miracle against the ‘SoCon Saviors’ now CAA member College of Charleston to force overtime. 

In overtime, Furman saw the opportunity to make Pat Kelsey and Charleston’s ride back to the Holy City longer than they had anticipated for much of the evening, having out-scored the Cougars 13-10 in the final five minutes to pull a 91-88 win in a game that they had trailed most of the night.

Seven days later and a tough Tuesday road loss at Winthrop (L, 80-85) later, Furman needed to prove itself defensively in front of its most energetic home crowd of the season, as a crowd of 1,978 looked on with a nearly packed at full capacity student section, which was rowdy for most of the night as the athletic, tough Appalachian State Mountaineers took their best shot at the Paladins in Timmons Arena—a place Furman has won 83 times since Appalachian visited in 2014, and though the Paladins were tested the entire night in a different way than it was by the Cougars, they emerged with hard-fought 73-65 win.

Needless to say and probably more words than I should use—it wouldn’t come easy.  App State, like Charleston, wasn’t a washed up, played out version of its former SoCon self. Success, ironically, has come quicker for both in new, and at the time, seemingly much tougher leagues. 

And while CofC had more pedigree and tradition as a program overall, the visitors from Boone, N.C., came to Greenville with something neither Furman nor CofC could boast of, and that is a more recent NCAA Tournament berth. 

The Mountaineers went from play-in round-to-championship trophy to qualify for the NCAA Tournament with the Sun Belt’s automatic bid last March. The Mountaineers played and lost to Norfolk State in a battle of No. 16 seeds for the right to play top overall seed and eventual national runner-up, Gonzaga, in a second-round clash. 

The Mountaineers would lose that game, 54-53, to the Spartans, but second-year head coach Dustin Kerns was building things a lot faster than most anticipated he would. The trip to the NCAA Tournament for Kerns and the Mountaineers marked just the third time in program history that had occurred, and first trip to the Big Dance in a full 21 years. Furman’s drought has now doubled that, but playing early December non-conference matchups against like opposition, for which Appalachian offered the perfect ingredients, is how such streaks are ended. 

From that team a year ago, Kerns’ Mountaineers returned 92.3% of its scoring production, which ranks 17th nationally and marked the second-most experienced team Furman has faced this season behind only Belmont. 

With that in mind, a similar, grueling non-conference schedule to prepare an experienced, and more talented Mountaineer team for a legitimate regular-season and tournament title was put in motion once again, and it put both programs looking for as many non-conference ‘tests’ as they could prior to entering the open of conference play.

With that said, Furman was able to find a new path to a seventh win in 10 games out of the gate, and it involved arguably their most balanced team offensive scoring performance of the season, and one of the better defensive performances of the season. 

The eight-point win saw the Paladins improve to 7-3 overall this season, as non-conference play begins to wind to a close. More tests are on the immediate horizon, however, with two games at a pair of power five leagues, to come in the coming week, the win couldn’t have come at a better time for Furman, and with a like pair of ‘tests’ ahead for Appalachian, maybe  the loss came at a particularly inopportune one. The loss, which came after a nine-day layoff due to exams and saw the Mountaineers have their two-game winning snapped, falling to 5-4.

Following his two outstanding performances, which saw him post a career-high 33 points and 13 rebounds in the win over CofC last Friday, then saw him post the program’s first recorded triple-double in a road loss at Winthrop (15 pts, 10 rebs, 12 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals), Jalen Slawson tied for team-high honors tonight, as he posted 16 points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal en route to leading the Paladins in a mature fashion to the win.

Slawson, who was whistled for an early second half technical foul at Winthrop and ended up fouling out in the final two minutes, weathered early foul trouble and a flagrant one foul in the second half, however, kept himself from being disqualified from the contest all together by utilizing some sense of self-control and maturity, and parlayed his passion for the game into points in the clutch down the stretch.

All told, the senior from Summerville, S.C., connected on 8-of-13 shots from the field, and he entered the game with 8:32 remaining and Furman clinging to a 54-51 lead, posting half of his points total for the game in that span and accounted for eight of the final 19 points in the contest for Furman.

Slawson picked up a flagrant one foul with 10:20 remaining in the game and was taken out of the contest with his third foul. Less than two minutes later, he entered the game just in time for crunch time and managed compose himself and picked up only one foul the rest of the way, while picking up Furman up offensively at just the right time. The senior big man scored 10 of his 16 points in the second half.

The other two-thirds of that senior triple threat—Mike Bothwell and Alex Hunter—combined to score 27 points and rounded out the Paladins in double figures. Bothwell, a senior from Cleveland Heights, OH, finished the contest by tying teammate Slawson for team-high scoring honors with 16. He finished by connecting on 6-of-9 shots from the field, which included a 3-for-6 effort from three-point range. 

It was Bothwell’s ninth game in the first 10 of the season that he has found his way into double figures in points. Bothwell also added four boards and dished out a couple of assists. On a night when teammate Alex Hunter was honored for his 1,000th-career point in Furman’s win over Louisville last month, Bothwell was able to join that rare distinction of his fellow classmate Friday night by becoming the 49th player in school history to score 1,000-career points. 

Hunter rounded out the Paladins in double figures, finishing with 11 points on 5-of-10 shots from the field. Hunter, who entered the contest tied for the nation’s lead in three-pointers made (38), finished just 1-for-4 in the contest from long range. The graduate senior from Raleigh added a team-high six assists to go with five rebounds and a steal, while turning the ball over just one time in the game.

Marcus Foster finished on the cusp of double figures, finishing with eight points to go with a team-high nine boards, while Conley Garrison was also close to the double-figures scoring threshold, finishing with eight points to go with seven boards. All nine players that saw minutes in the game for Furman scoring at least one field goal. 

Appalachian State was paced by 17 points from both Adrian Delph and Justin Forrest led the Black and Gold, while James Lewis Jr. and Chattanooga transfer added 12 off the bench. Senior guard Michael Allmonacy rounded out the Mountaineers in double figures with 10. Delph added 10 boards to go with his 17 points, as he was the only player in the contest to record a double-double. 

The Paladins finished the game connecting on 49.1% (28-of-57) from the field, which included a 32.0% (8-of-25) shooting performance from three-point land. 

Appalachian finished the game by connecting on 39.7% (25-of-63), and were held to just 34.4% (11-of-32) in the second half from the field by the Paladins. The Mountaineers finished connecting at just a 24.0% (6-of-25) from three-point range. It was a defensive performance for Furman that came on the heels of surrendering a 9-of-17 performance from long range by Winthrop last Tuesday night.

Furman finished the night with advantages in points in the paint (40-30), bench scoring (14-12), total assists (21-13) and fast break points (10-4). App State managed to post advantages in second chance points (17-10), total rebounds (36-34), and points off turnovers (14-11).

How It Happened:

Although the game didn’t feature 24 lead changes and 10 ties like the one Tuesday night between Winthrop and Furman did, it was yet another close game that the Paladins had to pull out down the stretch. Friday night’s tilt saw only two lead changes and was tied only once.

Twice in the second half it looked as though the Paladins were ready to pull away from their visitors from the High Country, and on both occasions, Appalachian’s veteran maturity provided the immediate needed elixir. A Hunter three in transition gave Furman a 49-40 lead with 14:40 remaining prompted a Kerns timeout.

Shortly thereafter, the Mountaineers used an immediate 9-2 run of their own to cut the Furman lead to 51-49 a 1-of-2 performance at the line from James Lewis Jr. following the flagrant one foul whistled against Slawson. On the ensuing Mountaineer possession, a pair of Forrest foul shots tied the game, 51-51, with 9:14 remaining. 

Furman would score the next five on a three-point play the old-fashioned way from Bothwell and a layup from Hunter to assume a 56-51 lead with 7:47 remaining. However, over the next three-and-half minutes, Appalachian wouldn’t allow the Paladins to take a lead larger than five. 

With 4:22 remaining, Forrest drew Slawson’s fourth foul in the act of shooting with Furman clinging to a two-point, 61-59, lead. The senior and son of former Georgia Tech legend James Forrest connected on 1-of-2 from the line, leaving the Paladins with a 61-60 lead.

That slight crack in the door allowed the Paladins match their nine-point lead and threaten a double-digit lead for the second time in the second half, as Furman posted eight-straight points, with six from Slawson and another two from Foster, taking a 69-60 lead on Slawson’s layup in the paint with 1:23 remaining.

The Mountaineers wouldn’t go away, however, as Delph answered with a left elbow three in transition with 1:06 left to cut Furman’s lead back to two possessions. However, the Paladins quickly inbounded the basketball up the floor, and a quick thinking Garrison saw Foster up floor wide open, and the redshirt sophomore would do the rest, as his two-handed stuff allowed the Paladins to regain an eight-point (71-63) lead with 18 seconds remaining.

App State’s Donovan Gregory answered with an emphatic dunk in the paint on the other end with 11 seconds left, accounting for visitor’s final points of the night. After getting fouled immediately on the inbounds pass, Garrison added Furman’s final two points of the night from the stripe to finish off the 73-65 home win.

The Paladins also threatened to pull away in the opening half of the contest, as an Alex Williams three-point play the old-fashioned way increased Furman’s lead to its largest margin of the night, at 28-15, with 8:11 remaining. The Mountaineers closed out the half strong, however, out-scoring Furman 21-12 the rest of the half, trimming the Paladin lead to just four (40-36) at the half.

The win saw Furman improve to 78-13 at Timmons Arena since the start of the 2015-16 season.

Up Next:

Furman will be on the road Tuesday night to face the first of two power six foes, taking on North Carolina (6-2/vs Elon Sat night at 8 p.m. EST). It will mark the first meeting between Furman and North Carolina on the college basketball hardwood since the 1986-87 season when the two face off against each other in the annual North-South Doubleheader in Charlotte, N.C., as the Paladins dropped a 95-65 decision on that particular occasion, which marked North Carolina’s seventh-straight win in the series, dating back to the 1979-80 season.

App State will face its final non-Division I foe Erskine Monday night before heading to Duke for a battle with the No. 3 Blue Devils next Thursday.

Postgame Press Conference:

Furman senior guard and 1,000-point scorer Mike Bothwell
Furman head coach Bob Richey

Final Stats Link:

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