Furman routs short-handed Samford in league opener

Furman senior guard Mike Bothwell/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

Furman dominates Samford to open league play

Furman opened Southern Conference play in strong fashion, finishing out the final game of 2021 by posting a 81-49 win over under-manned and over-matched Samford squad Wednesday night at Timmons Arena. 

Five Paladins were able to finish the night in double figures on a night when Furman answered some questions about its defense, holding the Bulldogs to just 29.5% (18-of-61) from the field, which included just a a 15.4% (4-of-26) effort from three-point land. It was apparent, at least for game 1, the Paladins have collectively flipped the switch with conference play now officially underway.

 Furman’s 50-36 advantage on the glass along with the aforementioned defensive effort offered plenty of credibility to the tough non-league slate, which was designed exactly for the purpose it served in the mid-week league opener, as Furman begins its chase for its first SoCon regular-season crown since 2016-17, as well as its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 42 years.

With the  win, the Paladins improved to 9-5 overall and 1-0 in Southern Conference action, while the Bulldogs had their four-game winning streak snapped, and dropped to 10-3 overall and 0-1 in league play.

The 32-point margin of victory is the largest margin of victory in a league game since a 96-62 win over VMI on Feb. 16, 2019. It also marked the first time Furman has held an opponent below 50 points in a SoCon opener since 

The win by the Paladins marked the 80th win in Timmons Arena since the start of the 2015-16 season, as the Paladins improved to 80-13 in the friendly confines, including a 45-6 ledger against Southern Conference competition.

The lopsided result probably isn’t a fair determination of the actual margin between the two teams, as the Bulldogs were without several key players, including leading scorer Ques Glover, who is the reigning  SoCon Player of the Week, and came into the night as the league’s third-leading scorer, averaging 19.3 PPG. Still, the impressive win marked Furman’s fifth-straight in the series.

The Paladins created havoc from the outset of the game, forcing the Bulldogs into 12 first-half miscues, which led to an 11-2 advantage in points-off-turnovers. The Paladins got a combined 30 points in the opening frame from seniors Mike Bothwell (13 pts), Jalen Slawson (10 pts), and Alex Hunter (7 pts), as Furman cruised to a 27 point halftime lead (48-21).

The senior trio ended the night accounting for 40 of the Paladins’ 81 points, including scoring 40 of the team’s first 60 points in the contest. In addition to accounting for nearly half of Furman’s points, the senior triple threat also contributed 13 of the team’s 21 assists, 16 of the team’s 50 rebounds, and eight of the team’s 12 steals. 

Bothwell led the way with 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field and was 3-for-6 from three-point land, as he posted his 11th double-figure scoring effort in 14 contests this season.The senior from Cleveland Heights, OH.,  also added four assists, four rebounds and a pair of steals.

Senior forward Jalen Slawson continued to fill his stats sheet out in several different categories, as he posted his fifth double-double of the season, with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and dished out five assists in the win. Slawson went 3-for-8 from the field and posted a 6-of-7 performance from the charity stripe. 

Grad senior guard Alex Hunter added 10 points on a 3-for-10 effort from the field and from three-point range, while also finishing 1-for-2 from the line. Hunter also added four helpers, two rebounds and a steal in 26 minutes of action to round out his night.

After having already become part of an elite club to score 1,000 points in Furman’s upset win at Louisville, Hunter’s four assists Wednesday night helped him surpass 400-career helpers, as he joined elite former Paladin point guards, Hal Henderson (1989-92), Guilherme Da Luz (1999-2002), Ron Smith (1975-78) and Eric Webb (2004-07) as the only players in program history to score 1,000 points and dish out 400 helpers in a career while donning the Purple and White.

Also getting into the act in a big way once again was sophomore guard Joe Anderson, who followed up his 12-point outing against Presbyterian to establish a new career-high for a second-straight game, as he came off the bench to post 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field, which included an impressive 4-for-8 shooting performance from long range. He also added four rebounds and a pair of steals and assists.

Senior grad transfer Conley Garrison rounded out the complete performance from Bob Richey’s Paladins, as he posted 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting from the field, including 3-of-5 from three-point land. The Drury University transfer also added four rebounds, three assists and a steal to finish out his night.

All told, the Paladins finished the contest connecting on 40.9% (27-of-66) shots from the field, which included a 33.3% (13-of-39) effort from three-point land. 

Samford finished the contest placing just one player in double figures, as Jaden Campbell’s 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting from the field and 1-for-6 shooting from long range allowed him to finish the contest with 15.

Campbell also added four steals and one rebound to his all around effort. Freshman wing and highly-regarded Bulldog recruit Wesley Cardet Jr. added eight points to go along with a team-high seven boards.

Furman finished the night holding overall advantages in total assists (21-5), total rebounds (50-36), fast-break points (17-4), points off turnovers (12-6), and points in the paint (26-22). Samford finished the night with advantages in bench scoring (26-24) and second-chance points (8-6). 

How It Happened:

Furman came out and established the momentum from start to finish, never trailing en route to getting its most lopsided SoCon win in three seasons. The Paladins got out of the gates to score the game’s first seven points on a Jalen Slawson jumper in the lane, a triple from Alex Hunter, and another two foul shots from Slawson, as the Paladins ran out to an early 7-0 lead just barely over two minutes into the contest. 

The Bulldogs would respond with a. 7-3 run of their own over the next 3:27 to cut the Paladin lead to three, at 10-7, following a Wesley Cardet Jr. jumper with 14:15 remaining in the opening frame.  Samford would manage to stay within in striking distance of the Paladins until the second media timeout of the contest, as Jermaine Marshall’s long triple allowed the Bulldogs to trim the Paladin lead to just three once again, at 15-12, with 11:49 remaining in the opening frame.

After that point, however, it would be all Furman, as a 33-9 run allowed the Paladins to take all the momentum into the halftime locker room. After a Campbell three brought a brief respite to the Paladin onslaught, getting the Bulldogs back to within double digits at nine (26-17) with 8:27 left In the opening half, the Paladins used a quick 10-0 spurt to push the lead to 19 following a layup by Marcus Foster, a jumper by Mike Bothwell and a pair of triples from Conley Garrison and Joe Anderson to push the Paladin lead to 19, at 36-17, with 5:42 remaining in the half. 

Just under ninety seconds later, a Bothwell triple allowed the Paladins to take their first 20-point lead of the evening, as Furman assumed a 39-19 lead following the right elbow triple with 4:14 to play in the half. Furman outscored the Bulldogs 6-0 over the final 2:19 of the opening frame, as the Paladin lead ballooned to 27, at 48-21, with Bothwell’s two foul shots giving him 13 of his total 18 points at the end of the first 20 minutes of action.

Things would continue to snowball for the Bulldogs in the second half against the consensus No. 2 pick in the SoCon preseason, with the Paladins pushing its lead to 32, at 58-26, following a Hunter triple with 16:24 remaining in the game. The Paladins would keep the margin at 30 for much of the second half, with the Bulldogs able to get no closer than 29 points the remainder of the game, as points became harder and harder to come by for the visitors as the night wore on. 

Furman’s lead would grow to as much as 33 points on three occasions in the second half, with the last coming a little over midway through the second half, as Furman assumed a 70-37 lead following a Garrison triple with 9:37 to play. Furman capped off its 32-point win with a jam from freshman Tyrese Hughey off the right side, as he made his first-career start for the Paladins in his second-career game. 

Post-game Press Conference:

Furman head coach Bob Richey
Furman grad transfer Conley Garrison (left) and senior guard Mike Bothwell (right)

Up Next:

Furman hits the road to face VMI in Lexington in another key Southern Conference clash. The Keydets swept both meetings with the Paladins last season, which included a 91-90 overtime win over the Paladins in the SoCon Quarterfinals, which brought an abrupt end to the Paladins’ season in heartbreaking fashion.

The Keydets held the Paladins without a field goal for the final 6:11 of regulation to rally from a 15-point deficit and provide a disappointing ending to what started out as a promising season for the Paladins.

The only regular-season meeting between the two, which was not canceled as a result of COVID-19 as the scheduled February meeting in Greenville had been, saw the Keydets hand the Paladins their first Southern Conference setback of the 2020-21 season, as Dan Earl’s Keydets handed Furman a 74-73 setback at Cameron Hall, bringing an end to the Paladins’ four-game winning streak to open league play last season.

Just like the conference tournament clash, the Keydets were forced to rally down the stretch, trailing by five (60-55) with just under eight minutes remaining before rallying from behind for the win on freshman Trey Bohnam’s foul shot with 3.2 seconds remaining, which gave VMI the lead by the narrowest of margins.

The two wins by the Keydets last season allowed VMI to end a 10-game skid against the Paladins, as well as giving sixth-year head coach Dan Earl his first two wins over the Paladins.

Saturday’s New Year’s Day meeting, which is slated for a 1 p.m. tip-off at Cameron Hall, will mark the 103rd renewal of the rivalry, with Furman owning a commanding 66-36 lead in the all-time series.

VMI has won 15 of its last 16 games at Cameron Hall, including all four games on the home floor this season. The only team to beat the Keydets in Lexington in the past two seasons is Wofford, which claimed an 80-78 win in Lexington last season.

VMI, which won its only road game of the 2020-21 season at Wofford, duplicated that feat to open SoCon play in the only other league game on Wednesday night, as the Keydets claimed an 80-73 win at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium.

The Keydets are coming off a 13-12 record, which included a 7-7 mark in regular-season league play last season-easily its best season in Earl’s tenure at VMI. It was good enough to afford the Keydets a No. 6 seed in Asheville, meaning the Keydets got to sit out the opening day of the tournament, which they had not done since the 2015 league tournament.

Earl’s Keydets made the most of that opportunity, knocking off Furman by a point to make it to the SoCon semifinals for the first time since 2003 before eventually losing to Mercer. The past three meetings between Furman and VMI have been decided by a combined four points. Following its win over Wofford, VMI will enter the clash off to an 8-5 start this season and were picked to finish seventh by both the league’s coaches and media coming into the 2021-22 campaign.

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