Furman set to meet North Carolina Tuesday night

Furman and UNC face each other for the first time since the 1986-87 season

Furman senior center Jalen Slawson

Fresh off a strong performacne in a 73-65 win over a solid Appalachian State team, Furman heads into the final stretch of its non-conference play with maybe its toughest three-game slate, facing power six conference foes North Carolina (Dec. 14) and Mississippi State (Dec. 17)  in quick succession before closing out non-league action with a visit from Big South foe Presbyterian (Dec. 21). 

Through the first 10 games of the season, Bob Richey’s club has certainly gone out and tested itself against some good competition. The fifth-year head coach hopes this final three-game stretch will provide the ultimate final exam prior to the start of Southern Conference play.

After having faced the No. 10 ranked team in all-time college basketball victories earlier this season, in an 80-72 overtime win over Louisville, Furman will face No. 2 in all-time wins in hoops lore, visiting the Dean E. Smith Center to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels, who have 2,301 all-time wins as a college basketball program following the 80-63 win over in-state rival Elon at the Smith Center. The Tar Heels all-time victories total as a program ranks third in college basketball history to only the Univeristy of Kansas (2,331) and Kentucky (2,327)  in all-time wins. 

In terms of national championships, the University of North Carolina has claimed seven national titles as a program to rank third all-time in the sport behind only Kentucky (8) and UCLA (11). 

The Tar Heels last took home a national title during the 2016-17 season in what was an NCAA Tournament that actually got its start in Furman’s hometown of Greenville, S.C.

The Tar Heels have claimed national titles in 1924, ‘57, ‘82, ‘93, 2005, ‘09 and ‘17. North Carolina is one of only five schools in NCAA Division I Basketball history to have claimed five or more national crowns, with along with the aforementioned programs UCLA and Kentucky, as well as Duke and Indiana. 

Tuesday night’s clash will mark the 26th all-time meeting between the two programs, with the Tar Heels holding the commanding 23-2 all-time series edge. 

Furman’s lone two victories in the series against the Tar Heels came in back-to-back seasons, knocking off the legendary Dean Smith and the Tar Heels in the 1977-78 and ‘78-’79 campaigns, respectively. The Paladins, who were under the direction of Joe Williams, who would be in what would prove to be his final campaign as the head coach of the Paladins during an ultra-successful decade in which Furman was arguably the team of the decade in the SoCon.

In the 1977-78 meeting, which took place Feb. 3, 1978, and saw the Paladins pick up what was an 89-83 win over the AP sixth-ranked Tar Heels. 

It would ve part of what was a 19-win season, and it yielded an NCAA Tournament berth, as Williams’ Paladins went on to  defeat Chattanooga (83-73) in the opening round of the tournament at the Memorial Auditorium in Greenville before finishing off the tournament with wins over bitter rivals Appalachian State (W, 72-68) and Marshall (W, 69-53) to cut down the nets in Roanoke. Furman was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament losing a 63-62 heartbreaker to Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers.

The early February 1978 matchup between Furman and North Carolina featured one of the most memorable performances by a Paladin post man in program history, as big Bruce Grimm scored 32 points to lead the Paladins to the six-point win in the Queen City. Furman’s Rodney Arnold calmly knocked down five free throws in the final 15 seconds, as the Paladins held on for the victory. 

Almost a year to the day later and under the direction of a new head coach, Eddie Holbrook, the Paladins defeated North Carolina by an even wider margin in the North-South double-header, posting an 83-70 win in Charlotte.

 This time the eventual ACC regular-season champions came into the contest ranked No. 5 in the country, only to see the Paladins have their way once again at the Charlotte Coliseum.  

The loss to the Paladins by the Tar Heels was just the fourth of the season. That North Carolina team included future NBA talents such as guard Al Wood, forward Mike O’Koren, forward Dudley Bradley, and forward Rich Yonakor. 

The Paladins would go on to finish out the 1978-79 campaign with a 20-9 mark overall, which included a 9-3 mark in league action. That was good enough to give the Paladins a second-place finish in the regular-season standings. 

In the Southern Conference Tournament, the Paladins made it to the title game before losing 86-83 to a Bobby Cremins-led Appalachian State team in Roanoke, VA. That Paladin team included some of the program’s all-time greats like center Jonathan Moore,  and the brother tandem of Mel and Al Daniel. 

The last time the Paladins and Tar Heels met, was of course, the 1986-87 campaign, in which the Tar Heels had their way with an easy, 95-65, win. That meeting came on Dec. 22, 1986, as it would be a Tar Heels team came into the clash ranked No. 4 in the nation and would go on to unbeaten ACC season, finishing a perfect 14-0 in league play. 

North Carolina would go on to an impressive 32-4 season, winning the regular-season and losing a heartbreaking, 68-67, ACC championship game decision to Jim Valvano’s NC State Wolfpack. The NCAA Tournament run in 1987 would come to an end just short of a national title, as the Tar Heels were beaten 79-75 in the Elite Eight by eventual national runner-up Syracuse.

A team that included the likes of former greats and future NBA talents such as guard Kenny Smith, forward J.R. Reid, forward Joe Wolf, guard Jeff Lebo, forward Scott Williams, and center Dave Popson. It would be the size and strength of Popson that the Butch Estes-led Paladins would ultimately have no answers for in the middle, as he scored a game-high 16 points and grabbed a career-high 11 boards in leading the Tar Heels to the easy win. 

A Shawn Reid three-pointer would give Furman a brief 9-8 lead, but unlike the to wins in back-to-back seasons eight years earlier, the Paladins were overmatched at all five positions, and North Carolina was never really threatened the remainder of the game.

Furman and North Carolina will square off on the college basketball hardwood on Dec. 14. The Paladins will be looking to become the fourth team  from the Southern Conference to knock off the Tar Heels in the Dean Dome since 1999. 

College of Charleston, Davidson and most recently, Wofford (2017 and ‘19), to take down the Tar Heels on their home floor. On Nov. 21, 2018, Furman knocked off No. 8 Villanova, 76-68, in overtime on the Wildcats’ home floor of Finneran Pavilion.

A Look at the Tar Heels:

Winners of four-straight and entering Tuesday night’s matchup with Furman boasting a perfect 5-0 record at the Smith Center, which includes perhaps the Tar Heels’ most-impressive win of the season in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, defeating the Wolverines, 72-53. The ‘Heels also have won wins over UNC Asheville (72-53), Elon (W, 80-63), Loyola MD (W, 83-67), and Brown (W, 94-87) in the friendly confines.

The Tar Heels are under the direction of first-year head coach Hubert Davis, and he was left with a cupboard, that when he got the head overall job in Chapel Hill, found that the cupboard was chocked full of talent. 

The Tar Heels have been pretty good defensively so far this season, which is a bit in contrast to the high-octane offense that we have come to associate a lot of North Carolina teams with under the direction of Hubert Davis. The Tar Heels come into Tuesday night’s clash with the Paladins 

UNC comes into the contest averaging 81.1 PPG, while allowing 71.2 PPG. It’s been the defense that has carried the Tar Heels as of late, and that was once again one of the main factors in Saturday night’s win over Elon. UNC scored a season-high 23 points off 16 Phoenix turnovers. North Carolina has also limited its last four opponents to 63 or fewer points. 

In Saturday night’s press conference following the game, head coach Hubert Davis praised how his team is defending at this point in the season, but he is not pleased with how his offense is playing this season. Overall sloppiness and taking care of the basketball are two things he pointed out in the postgame press conference following Saturday night’s win. 

While the offense might have struggled the past few games, the fact remains that North Carolina has big-time talent, and is a team talented enough to go a long way in March if they put it all together. 

North Carolina has high expectations once again, with the ’ team being selected to finish No. 3 in the 15-team ACC during the annual preseason media event. The Tar Heels also had two preseason All-ACC picks, with big man Armando Bacot ending up on the first team, while 6-4 guard Caleb Love was a second-team all-conference pick. 

The leader through the first nine games in the 2021-22 season for North Carolina has been to little surprise has been 6-4 point guard Caleb Love (16.9 PPG, 4.1 RPG). 

ove has been the leader for the Tar Heels in many ways this season, and his athleicism and ball-handling ability in a wing will be somethinhg the Paladins have yet to encounter this season outside maybe Noah Locke of Louisville in Furman’s eight-point road win over the ACC foe in the second game of the season. 

Through the first nine games this season, Love is shooting 45.1% from the field (51-of-113) this season, and is connecting on an impressive 43.2% (19-of-44) from three-point range. He currently ranks eighth overall in the ACC in scoring average, as well as tied for eighth in three-pointers made per game, averaging 2.11 threes made per outing. He has a team-leading 35 assists, and ranks ninth in the ACC in assist/turnover ratio (1.84)

Love has started all nine for the Tar Heels this season, averaging 33.8 minutes-per-game. Four times in eight games Love has scored 22 points, including the last time out in the win over the Phoenix. In the win over Elon, Love connected on 7-of-14 shots from the field, which included going 4-for-7 from three and was a perfect 4-for-4 from the line. 

He’s scored in double figures in eight of the first nine games this season for North Carolina, with the lone game in which he has failed to meet that standard having been in the win over UNC Asheville, in which Love posted a season-low four points.  

The Tar Heels are 5-0 when Love scores 20 or more points in a game. He is also one of North Carolina’s two sophomore captains. Love hopes to join Raymond Felton (2005) and Ty Lawson (2009) as the school’s third all-time winner of the Bob Cousy Award, which is, of course, given to the top point guard in college basketball. If Love does win the award, its probably a good indication of a pretty significant finish to the season for the Tar Heel Blue, as both of Felton and Lawson picked the ultimate team award–a national title–en route to claim both of their individual national certifications. 

Projected to join Love in the backcourt as a starter will be R.J. Davis  (13.7 PPG, 4.0 APG, 4.2 RPG), as well as wing guard Leaky Black (4.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG). Davis is cerebral along with being one of the  best ball-handlers on the roster. Davis joins Love as one of the two sophomore captains. 

Davis’  4.0 assists-per-game this season leads the team. In the win over Brown earlier this season, Black was able to finish with a career-high 26 points in 36 minutes. His six three-point field goals in the win were also a career-best, and he has found his way into the double-figure scoring column on on five occasions this season, including last time out against Elon, which he totaled 11 points. 

Other than his performance against Brown, Davis also boasts on other 20-point scoring performance, with a 23-point effort in UNC’s ACC road-opening win at Georgia Tech. Like Love, Davis is an outstanding shooter from the perimeter, having canned 19-of-39 shots from long range, which converts to an impressive 48.7% clip. That mark from long range actually is better than his overall 47.3% (43-of-91) shooting effort from the field overall this season. 

The 6-8, 200-lb Leaky Black is among North Carolina’s most veteran performers, and comes into Tuesday night’s clash with the Paladins having made 68 starts in 93 career games for the Tar Heels. Black is known most for his athleticism, and is an excellent defensive and rebounding presence on the floor for the first-year head coach.

Black turned his best offensive performance against UNC Asheville, as he posted nine points in 24 minutes against the Bulldogs. He comes into Tuesday night’s contest having connected on 50% (12-of-24) from three-point range. 

Rounding out the starting lineup in the paint for the Tar Heels entering Tuesday night’s clash will be Armando Bacot (14.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG) and Dawson Garcia (11.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG). Traditionally, the Tar Heels are among the best rebounding team’s in the country, and this season is no different. A lot of that has to do with Bacot and Garcia.

Both are among the best big men in all of college basketball, and one of the keys for Furman Tuesday night. Garcia spent last season playing at Marquette before deciding to transfer into North Carolina. He garnered Big East All-Freshman Team honors last season, and was named Big East Freshman of the Week on three occasions last season. 

Garciahas found his way into double figures on four occasions this season, which includes the last outing against Elon, as he posted 22 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field and was 8-of-10 from the charity stripe. It marked his second 20 or more point effort of the season, which included a 26-point effort in one of Carolina’s two losses this season, which came against Purdue. 

Garcia came into the season as a candidate for the John Wooden Award as the National Player of the Year, as well as the Karl Malone Award as the nation’s best power forward. Against Elon last time out, the sophomore forward totaled seven rebounds, a steal and an assist. His 26-point performance against Purdue came on a career-best 10 field goals, He finished the contest connecting on 10-of-13 shots from  the field. 

Bacot has posted double-figure scoring efforts in six out of nine games so far this season for the Tar Heels. The preseason All-ACC selection enters Tuesday night’s contest having posted double-figure scoring performances in 42 games in his career, which included a 24-point effort in the win at the College of Charleston. 

The 6-10, 240-lb junior center has also posted 23 double-double performances in his career, and comes into the contest against the Paladins ranking second in the ACC in field goal percentage (62.4%) through the first nine games this season. 

Bacot is coming off a nine-point, seven-rebound performance in the win over Elon. In the ACC opening win over Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Bacot played a season-high 38 minutes in what was a 79-62 road win. During that season-long of minutes played, Bacot was able to finish off he and Carolina’s ACC opening night by scoring 15 and grabbing 13 rebounds in the win. 

As you might expect from a program the caliber of Carolina, the Tar Heels have a deep, talented bench, which includes player’s like Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek (13.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG), who is the leading Tar Heel off the bench, having seen action in all nine games this season. The 6-9 forward ranks second on the team in rebounding and blocks (7) this season. 

He is also a proficient outside shooter, having connected on 17-of-37 shots from beyond the arc this season, which is good enough for 36.2% so far this season. 

Joining Manek as a player that gets good minutes off the bench for the Tar Heels is sophomore guard Kerwin Waltron (4.4 PPG, 1.4 RPG), who is coming off a freshman season, which saw him set the Carolina freshman record for three-point field goal percentage last season. He’s averaging a solid 19.6 MPG so far this season. 

Furman’s Projected Starting Five and Notes:

G-#10 Alex Hunter (5th yr Sr/17.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.9 APG)

G–#51 Conley Garrison (Gr transfer from Drury/9.5 PPG, 5.2  RPG, 2.9 APG)

G–#3 Mike Bothwell (Sr/16.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.5 APG)

G–#5 Marcus Foster (R-So/7.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.0 SPG)

F/C–#20 Jalen Slawson (Sr./16.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 2.0 SPG)

–Jalen Slawson recorded the first triple-double in program history, when he posted 15 pts, 10 rebounds and 12 assists vs. Wintrhop last Tuesday night.

–Guards Alex Hunter and Mike Bothwell became 1,000-point scorers in non-conference play, becoming the 48th and 49th Furman players to do so. Hunter did so in Furman’s 80-72 overtime over Louisville, with a pair of consecutive second half threes, while Mike Bothwell accomplished his 1,000th point on an early second half triple vs Appalachian State last time out in Furman’s 73-65 win. 

–Furman has been held under 80 points only twice this season, as both Navy (66) and Appalachian State (73) have managed to hold the Paladins below that total. Furman is 1-1 in those games, with a 77-66 home loss to Navy, while defeating Appalachian State 73-65 this past Friday night. 

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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