Furman faces final power conference test at Mississippi State Friday Night

Furman senior guard Mike Bothwell pokes it away from UNC’s Armando Bacot/Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

Furman heads from Chapel Hill to ‘The Hump’ to face Mississippi State

Game 12: Furman (7-4) at Mississippi State (7-3)

The Venue: Humphrey Coliseum (10,575)

The Series: 5th meeting/Mississippi State leads 4-0

The Coaches: Bob Richey (96-38/5th yr); Ben Howland (123-85/5th yr at Miss St.)

How To Watch: SEC Network/7 p.m. EST

On Friday night, Furman will undetake its final test against a power six opponent of the regular-season, paying a visit to Humphrey Coliseum in its penultimate non-conference game of the non-conference slate to take on Mississippi State in the first meeting between the two programs in 41 years.

Furman enters the contest looking to rebound from a 74-61 loss at North Carolina Tuesday night, while the Bulldogs were busy putting an end to a two-game losing streak with a resounding 79-50 win over preseason Sun Belt Conference favorite Georgia State inside the friendly confines of Humphrey Coliseum that same evening. 

Like both North Carolina and Louisville, Mississippi State will present the Paladins with multiple challenges when the two do battle at the Hump on Friday night. The Paladins will have obvious challenges to deal with a bigger, more physical SEC team. Add to that the fact that the Bulldogs have one of the quickest guard’s in all of college basketball.

It will also mark the first meeting between the Paladins and Bulldogs since the 1970-71 season. In that contest, which took place at the Memorial Auditorium in Greenville, the Bulldogs were able to pick up what was an 84-77 win over the Paladins. The first-ever meeting between the Paladins and Bulldogs on the college basketball hardwood came on Feb. 23, 1920, with a 69-23 win. The two met a year later in Atlanta, with Mississippi State coming up with a 41-7 win. In 1923, the two met again in Atlanta, with the Bulldogs won again with a 47-23 victory to account for all four victories in the series between the two. 

The 2020-21 season saw the Bulldogs post an 18-15 overall record, which included an 8-10 record in SEC play, which was good enough for an 11th-place finish in the 14-team league. 

Head coach Ben Howland’s Bulldogs would end up making some noise in the postseason, however, as the Bulldogs made it all the way to the NIT championship game where they would face Penny Hardaway’s Memphis Tigers. Memphis would claim the NIT hardware in Frisco, TX. The prospects of a higher SEC finish and potential for an NCAA Tournament berth  in Howland’s seventh season at the helm are solid, with the additions of four high-profile transfers, Garrison Brooks (North Carolina), D.J. Jeffries (Memphis), Rocket Watts (Michigan St.), and Shakeel Moore (N.C. State), and all four have been key so far.

In fact, the last time out in the win over Georgia State, the Bulldogs got 15 points from D.J. Jeffries, who tied a career-high with that scoring effort. Garrison Brooks added four points and Shakeel Moore had nine points and dished out four assists. Off the bench, Rocket Watts finished with two points off the bench.

Furman comes off a 13-point loss at North Carolina in a game, which saw the Paladins play even with the Tar Heels for a half, as the two teams went into the halftime locker rooom tied, 39-39, before North Carolina asserted its overall size and physical edge in the second half of play en route to a 74-61 win. Two significant advantages the Tar Heels were able to take advantage due to their superior size in the paint were points in the paint (19-0) and overall rebounds (44-25). 

The Paladins must flip the switch on the boards, however, as they face a team that ranks even higher nationally in rebounding margin than North Carolina did coming into the clash with the Paladins. The Tarheels are currently 11th nationally in rebounding margin (+11), while Mississippi State comes into Friday night’s clash with the Paladins ranking even higher, at No. 6 nationally with a +11.8 on the boards. Furman currently ranks No. 239 in the nation in rebounding margin (-1). 

The Bulldogs held a 35-27 edge on the boards last time out against Georgia State in picking up their seventh win of the season. Mississippi State has wins over North Alabama (W, 75-49), Montana (W, 86-49), Detroit Mercy W, (77-64), Morehead State (W, 66-46), Richmond (82-71/OT), Lamar (W, 75-60) and Georgia State (W, 79-50). Losses have come against Colorado State (L, 63-66), Louisville (L, 58-72) and Minnesota (L, 76-81). 

The Bulldogs come in ranking pretty high in scoring defense this season, as the Bulldogs come in ranking 43rd nationally in scoring defense, yielding just 60.8 PPG. The one common opponent, of course, being Louisville, with the Paladins owning an 80-72 overtime win at the KFC Yum Center early in the season, handing the Cardinals their first November loss ever in that facility. The Bulldogs played tat same Cardinals team in the Bah Mar Tournament championship,  and the Cardinals claimed a 72-58 win over the Bulldogs back on Thanksgiving Week. 

Furman should at least be able to take something from the film of one of Mississippi State’s most recent games, which was a 66-63 loss to Colorado State, which is also coached by former Paladin head coach Niko Medved. Furman has surely taken note of that particular film in its preparations for Mississippi State Friday night. 

A Look at the Bulldogs:

Everything about Mississippi State basketball pretty much starts and ends with talented All-SEC guard Iverson Mollinar (16.7 PPG, 4.8 APG, 3.4 RPG), who along with North Carolina’s Caleb Love, could quite possibly be the top guard the Paladins will face on the college basketball hardwood this season.

Mollinar is an athletic, slashing guard, who can get to the rim in a hurry. He entered the 2021-22 season as a John Wooden Award candidate. He also enterd the campaign as a consensus First-Team All-SEC selection and has scored in double figures in 40 of his 47-career starts for the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs are 28-13 when Mollinar scores in double figures in his career. 

In a recent loss to Minnesota, Mollinar scored 18 of his 26 points in the second half of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge game. He is shooting 43.8% (57-of-130) from the field so far this season, and also comes into the matchup with the Paladins connecting on 27.5% (14-of-51) from three-point land. In the last outing against Georgia State, Mollinar posted 18 points, dished out four assists and a rebound in the 29-point win. 

Set to team with Mollinar in the Mississippi State backcourt on Friday evening will be 6-1 guard Shakeel Moore (10.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.2 SPG). The book on Moore is he is an extremely quick guard and is one of the quickest and best on-the-ball defensive guards the Paladins will see this season. 

Moore is one of those four transfers that entered the Mississippi State basketball program over the off-season, having come to Starkville from North Carolina State. Four of his top seven scoring performances in his career have come with the Bulldogs this season. 

He tied his career-high for points in a game against Detroit-Mercy, which saw him score 12 of his 19 points on three-point field goals. He is shooting is shooting 37.0% (17-of-46) from three-point range so through the first 10 games for Mississippi State this season. Moore also had double-figure scoring performances in games against Montana (15 pts), Morehead State (13 pts), and Colorado State (13 pts). 

The Bulldogs’ talented front line will feature D.J. Jeffries (9.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG), Derek Fountain (3.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG), and Garrison Brooks (10.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG). Jeffries is another part of that four-transfer signing class, as he came to Mississippi State from Memphis, and has been another impact player for the Bulldogs this season. In his last outing against Georgia State, Jeffries posted 15 points, nine rebounds and dished out three assists in the win over the 

Panthers. The preseason second-team All-SEC pick also had a 15-point effort earlier this season in a win over Montana, while posting 10 points the next time out against Detroit-Mercy.

Jeffries registered a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds in the victory over Morehead State, while also posting 13 against Lamar. Jeffires is shooting 42.4% (12-of-33) from the field this season, along with connecting on 36.4% (12-of-33) from beyond the arc. 

Fountain isn’t as much a threat as a scorer, but is an athletic wing that is a solid defender. He is coming off one of his better offensive performances of the season, having posted 10 points in the win over Georgia State the last time out. He will be making just his second start for the Bullldogs Friday night against the Paladins. Fountain is filling in for an injured Tolu Smith (13.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG), who is out with a broken toe.

Brooks is the third of the four talented transfers for the Bulldogs this season, and he is off to a strong start to his lone season in Starkville. The University of North Carolina grad transfer has posted six double-figure scoring performances this season for the Bulldogs. The 6-9, 230-lb grad transfer posted a season-high 18 points in the season-opener against North Alabama, while having posted a double-double effort with 13 points and 10 boards in the loss to Minnesota.  Brooks has scored 10 or more points in five of the last seven games for the Bulldogs. 

Off the bench, the fourth of those transfers that has battled injuries but is getting close to 100% on the court is Michigan State  transfer Rocket Watts (3.6 PPG, 0.6 RPG). Watts is a player still fitting into his role with this basketball team, as he is looking for his breakout performance. Cam Carter (3.7 PPG, 1.9 APG) is a 6-3 guard off the bench that is a defensive stopper off the bench for the Bulldogs, and he will be one to keep an eye on Friday night. 

Furman’s Projected Starting Five and Notes:

G-#10 Alex Hunter (5th yr Sr/17.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 3.8 APG)

G–#51 Conley Garrison (Gr transfer from Drury/8.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.8 APG)

G–#3 Mike Bothwell (Sr/15.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.5 APG)

G–#5 Marcus Foster (R-So/7.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.0 SPG)

F/C–#20 Jalen Slawson (Sr./16.4 PPG, 8.4  RPG, 2.0 BPG, 2.1 SPG)

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

–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 threee times this season, as North Carolina (61), Navy (66) and Appalachian State (73) have managed to hold the Paladins below that total. Furman is 1-2 in those games. The Paladins are 0-2 when being held below 70, and are coming off their lowest point total of the season against North Carolina.

–Furman’s 28.1% shooting performance in the second half vs. North Carolina is tied for its worst shooting half of the season, along with its 28.1% FG effort against High Point. Furman’s 22 points in the second half vs the Tar Heels was a season-low for points in a half. 

–Furman is 5-2 when Alex Hunter, Jalen Slawson and Mike Bothwell score in double figures, and 2-2 when the aforementioned trio fails to all reach double figures. The two losses in which the trio did reach double figures came in an overtime loss at Belmont and a loss on the road to Winthrop. The two wins when the trio did not reach double figures came against Louisville and Radford. 

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