Furman finishes non-conference play strong with win over Presbyterian

Furman 75, Presbyterian 61

On a night when Alex Hunter became the program’s winningest player with 97-career victories as a member of the Furman basketball program, he didn’t even sit on the bench to celebrate the occasion with his team. That’s because the graduate senior experienced one of the scarier moments of his career in Furman’s 75-61 win over Presbyterian. 

Furman finishes out non-conference play with an 8-5 mark, while Presbyterian dropped to 7-7 overall before heading into its final non Big South game against Truett McConnell. 

With 9:24 remaining in the contest, Hunter rose off his feet try and alter a Winston Hill three-point attempt, however, the one problem was that when he did, Hill pump faked and then jumped into Hunter to draw the foul, and in doing so, accidentally undercut the grad senior guard sending him airborne, and he took a scary tumble, landing first on his shoulder then that soften the blow the back of his head took when it struck the Timmons Arena hardwood. 

He lie motionless for about 45 seconds, as the Timmons Arena pre-Christmas crowd looked on in silence and concern. After coach Richey and trainers came to the floor, Hunter exited the court with the help of the trainers going straight to the locker room and did not return to enjoy his moment with his team. 

Hunter remains day-to-day, and fortunately for him, will have a chance to enjoy Christmas while recovering from an apparent concussion over the Christmas Holiday, with eight days remaining until Furman’s Southern Conference opener at home against Samford. 

However, his team did its best to enjoy it for him, and in particular, fellow seniors Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson, who finished out the final nine minutes and change in a way that would have made their winningest teammate proud. For most of the night, Hunter was the hunted, as PC hawked him. 

No one was surprised considering he had just dropped 30 at SEC member Mississippi State last week, which followed his 22 at North Carolina. And Hunter was not at all dismayed, throwing passes with creativity, including a behind-the-back find to Bothwell late in the first half. It was a fun night, no matter whether Hunter was hunting or hunted—scoring 30 or five. 

Through 13 non-conference games, that bond has only grown stronger. Bothwell, who couldn’t find any points in Starkville, returned to Timmons Arena to enjoy his first 20 or more point performance since dropping 30 on the ACC’s Louisville Cardinals over a month ago, and led the Paladins with a 21 tonight.

After missing a maybe his easiest shot of the night early in the contest, some might have wondered if the scoring struggles might have carried over from Starkville. Bothwell quelled any of those thoughts for the remainder of the game. He finished 7-of-9 from the field, which included a 2-for-3 effort from three-point range. He also went 5-for-6 from the charity stripe, dished out a pair of helpers and recorded a steal. 

For Slawson, his steady string of stat-stuffing nights continued in a strong finish to non-conference play, posting 18 points, eight rebounds, five assists and blocked a pair of shots. 

Rounding out the Paladins in double figures was Joe Anderson, who finished with 12 points. He also contributed four assists and two steals to the Paladin cause. 

While Hunter enjoyed his 97th win as a Paladin in maybe a different manner than he had planned, for Tyrese Hughey, he hadn’t planned on being a part of his first win as a Paladin. After all, the true freshman from Columbus, OH, had been expecting to redshirt this season, but the coaching staff opted to take it off and make him available for last night and for conference play, giving the Paladins one other athletic, talented basketball player for the opposition to account for from this point forward. 

Hughey delivered a solid NCAA Division I college basketball debut, going 2-for-3 from the field to finish with six points, with two rebounds and a block in 18:27 minutes of court action.

It was also a night that would see Jaylon Pugh see action for a second-straight game after his strong effort in practice the past couple of weeks, as well as a solid defensive effort on the road in Furman’s heartbreaking 69-66 setback at Mississippi State. Pugh saw the court for 8:32 on Tuesday night, contributing his first points since the season-opening win over North Greenville, finishing with five points on 2-of-3 shooting from the field, which included a 1-of-2 effort from three-point range.

PC, which came into the contest with a 3-1 record against SoCon opposition, finished the night with just two players in double figures, with Greenville, S.C., native Rayshon Harrison leading the way with 15 points on 7-of-20 shooting from the field, including a 1-of-6 effort from three-point range. Harrison also dished out three assists and had a couple of boards.

The talented sophomore guard came into the contest averaging 22.5 PPG so far this season against and was the Big South Freshman of the Year last season, had to work for everything he got on Tuesday night, as Hunter settled in and focused on his defense, delivering one of his best performances on that end of the floor of the 2021-22 season. Harrison came in as one of the top guards the Paladins have seen as a scorer this season, dropping a career-high 32 points in one the Blue Hose two wins over the Keydets earlier this season.

The only other Blue Hose player finishing in double figures in the loss was 6-9 junior forward Owen McCormack, who came off the bench to add 10 points, two assists and two boards. 

For much of non-conference play, head coach Bob Richey and staff have stressed the importance of Furman improving defensively as a team. 

On the final Tuesday night before Christmas 2022, Furman wasn’t in the giving mood, exhibiting energy needed from the outset, holding the Blue Hose to just 44.8% (26-of-58) for the night, which was highlighted by a defensive masterpiece for the opening 20 minutes, as the Paladins limited PC to just 38.5% (10-of-26) and 0-for-6 from three-point range in the first half. Furman ended the night surrendering being the ultimate Christmas Grinch, holding the Blue Hose to a 4-for-16 (25.0%). 

The Paladins, meanwhile, delivered a strong shooting effort, connecting on 59.6% (28-of-47) of their shots for the game, including going 55.6% (10-of-18) from three-point range. 

Furman ended the night holding advantages in bench points (23-22), total rebounds (30-23) and total assists (14-12). PC finished owning advantages in points off turnovers (17-10), points in the paint (38-30), second chance points (15-9), and fast-break points (9-4). 

Furman’s efforts on the boards were another notable improvement, as the Paladins held the Blue Hose, who entered ranking 14th nationally in offensive rebounds (14.15 ORPG) and ninth in total rebounds (494) well below their overall output per game coming into the contest. Furman allowed just two offensive rebounds, which led to a season-low 23 rebounds in what was the Blue Hose 14th game of the season. 

Tuesday night’s performance on the boards by the Paladins came a week after Furman was blitzed on the boards in a 13-point loss at North Carolina, which saw the Tar Heels hold a 44-25 edge in total rebounds and a 19-0 performance in second chance, which was fueled by 12 rebounds on the offensive end.  Furman turned the ball over just 10 times, while forcing 17 miscues by the Blue Hose. 

The win saw the Paladins improve their mark to 79-13 at Timmons Arena since the start of the 2015-16 season, including a 5-1 home record this season. 

How It Happened:

Presbyterian had more than proven itself during to be worthy opposition during its tough non-conference slate, which included a 3-1 mark against the SoCon, and to that end, it wasn’t a team that was ever going to take the Paladins by surprise when the Blue Hose arrived at Timmons Arena to provide the final non-conference test prior to an eight-day break for Christmas.

Furman came out and played with the type of energy on the defensive end that hadn’t been all that evident over the non-conference portion of the schedule, and was likely its most complete defensive effort since an 81-64 win over PC’s Big South rival Radford last month. 

Not only did the Paladins get it done on the defensive end, it held the Blue Hose to just 61 points, which was a season-low defensively for Furman. A strong way to finish out non-conference play. 

The action went back-and-forth in the opening five minutes. With the score tied, 8-8, following a Kirshon Thrash second-chance opportunity, the Paladins commenced a 23-4 run, which started with a Tyrese Hughey dunk at the 14:12 mark of the opening half, and ended with a Joe Anderson jumper at the 6:24 mark of the opening frame, as the Paladins assumed a 31-12 lead. 

The Paladins finished the half holding steady, taking a comfortable 42-22 lead into the halftime locker room on the strength of 22 combined first-half points from Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson.

In the second half, Furman assumed its largest lead of the evening on a Slawson steal and resulting Conley Garrison layup, giving the Paladins a 54-31 lead less than five minutes into the second frame. 

The Blue Hose continued to fight, however, and a 10-0 run over the 3:08 following an Owen McCormack three-pointer saw PC cut the Paladin lead to 12, at 54-42, with 12:18 left. The Blue Hose would get as close as 12 again following a Marquis Barnett layup with just under five minutes remaining.

However, the Blue Hose would get no closer, as Furman eventually built its lead back to as much as a17-point cushion when Joe Anderson knocked down 1-of-2 foul shots with exactly three minutes remaining to give Furman a 70-53 lead. A Marcus Foster triple and a Mike Bothwell layup put the finishing touches on a 14-point, 75-61, win for the Paladins. 

Press Conference:

Furman head coach Bob Richey
Senior forward Jalen Slawson and senior guard Mike Bothwell

Up Next:

Furman will open Southern Conference play on Dec. 29 when it welcomes Samford (10-2) to Timmons Arena for the league opener and last game of the calendar year. Samford has won eight of its last nine, including a 75-73 win at Ole Miss Tuesday night.  Tip-off on the 29th is set for 7 p.m.

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