Furman stumbles at VMI to open 2022

Furman senior forward Jalen Slawson/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

It was inauspicious start on the road to the 2022 calendar year for Furman basketball, which was under the direction of associate head coach Jeremy Growe, who was served in head coach Bob Richey’s stead, as Richey was at his wife’s side for the birth of the their third child. 

At the end of the first day of the new calendar year, VMI had picked up its third-straight win over Furman and remained perfect at both Cameron Hall (5-0) and in SoCon play (2-0), as the Keydets posted a 76-67 win over Furman in what was the only SoCon game not canceled by COVID-19 protocols on the opening day of the year.

With the win, VMI claimed its second-straight win and its sixth in its last seven outings to improve to 9-5 overall and 2-0 in league play, while Furman dropped to 9-6 overall and 1-1 in league action.

Jake Stephens posted a game-high 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while sophomore guard Trey Bonham chipped in 16 points and added four assists, highlighting four Keydet players in double figures in the contest. Stephens posted his game-high 23 on a 10-of-16 shooting effort from the field, which included a 2-for-5 effort from long range. Stephens also dished out four helpers and blocked three shots.

Joining Stephens and Bonham in double figures for the Keydets were both Sean Conway and Kamdyn Curfman, as each added 11. Conway had a solid all-around game, as he posted a double-double, finishing with 12 boards, while also dishing out five assists.

Furman was led by another stat-stuffing afternoon from Jalen Slawson, who continued his outstanding senior season by leading three Paladins in double figures, with 20 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal. The native of Summerville, S.C., connected on 8-of-19 shots from the field and was 2-for-7 from three-point range. He also knocked down both foul shot opportunities in the contest. 

Mike Bothwell scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half, as he finished the afternoon by connecting on 5-of-9 shots from the field, including going 3-for-6 from three-point range and was also 1-of-2 at the charity stripe. Bothwell added a season and team-high eight rebounds and dished out a pair of assists.

Joe Anderson, who’s playing as well as any player on the Paladin roster at the moment, finished with his third-straight double-figure scoring performance, as he added 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field, including a 3-for-8 effort from three-point range. He also finished with a pair of rebounds.

Alex Hunter struggled shooting the basketball for the second-straight outing, as he was held to eight points on just 3-for-13 shooting from the field and 3-for-10 from long-range. Since his jaw-dropping 30-point effort at Mississippi State earlier this month, which saw the star guard and all-time winningest Paladin hooper connect on an 11-of-15 shooting from the field, including a blistering 77% performance from three-point range, canning eight of 11 attempts.

Hunter was forced to leave the game early following a scary moment, which saw him go airborne and hit the back of his head in the final non-conference game against Presbyterian, as was undercut by PC’s Winston Hill, who was looking to draw the foul on a three-point shot and when Hunter jumped at the pump fake, Hill inadvertently caught him on the way down causing a tumble. 

Over the past three games, Hunter has connected on just 7-of-24 shots from the field and just 5-for-23 from three-point land. As with any sport,—they are fickle—streaks ebb and flow.. Hunter will find his shot again soon…Just like Bothwell has. 

Marcus Foster finished on the cusp of double figures for the Paladins, finishing with nine points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field and 1-for-2 from three-point land. 

Individual shooting struggles come with every team hoping to complete its mission of winning a title of any sort, however, there is one thing in basketball that is seemingly non-negotiable, and that is defense. Furman played well at times on that end of the floor, even holding a 36-30 at the break. Furman had been 7-0 when holding the lead at the break prior to today this season. 

But it was a second half that would likely be described as forgettable by both team and staff, as the Keydets blistered the nets to the tune of 62.1% (18-of-29) from the field in the second half, overturning that six-point deficit at the break and turning it into a nine-point win by out-scoring the Paladins 46-31 in the second half. The Keydets shot nearly 50% from three in the second half, connecting on 7-of-15 from long range. The more shocking stat is the Keydets were 11-of-14 on two-point shots.

In the opening half, the Paladin defense was solid, limiting the Keydets to just 39.3% (11-of-28) from the field, with the three-point shot having kept the Keydets in it, as it overcame mediocre overall shooting by connecting on 46.7% (7-of-15) from three. The 62% shooting effort in the second half saw the Keydets improve their shooting percentage to 50.9% (29-of-57).

Furman’s low energy second half drew some obvious comparisons to the early home loss vs Navy back in November, which saw the Paladins fall by a similar score line. In the 77-66 loss to the Midshipmen back on Nov. 21, 2021. In that contest, Navy did hold the halftime edge, 38-31, however, the offensive numbers in the second half almost mirrored what happened Saturday in Lexington. 

The Midshipmen went to outscore the Paladins, 39-35, in the second half of that contest, and after shooting a red-hot 56% in the opening half of play, improved to 62.6% in the second. It might come with a bit of irony when you consider the fact that VMI’s head coach Dan Earl considers Navy head coach Ed DeChellis the most influential mentor as a basketball coach. 

For the game, the Paladins struggled shooting most of the day, however, connecting on 40.3% (25-of-62) shots from the field for the game, including connecting on just 31.6% (12-of-39) from three-point range.

VMI finished the day with advantages in points in the paint (28-24), second-chance points (11-8), total rebounds (35-30), bench points (12-11), and fast-break points (9-5). Furman did manage to hold an advantage in points from turnovers (13-8).

How It Happened:

The Paladins started the game with a technical foul as a result of not having the official submitted to the official scorer by the 10-minute mark prior to tip-off, and Kamdyn Curfman’s free throw prior to tip-off gave the Keydets a 1-0 lead.

Despite trailing by a point prior to tip-off and then trailing 3-0 following VMI’s gained possession off the won tip-off after a Curfman jumper from the elbow, the Paladins used back-to-back triples from Jalen Slawson and Mike Bothwell to assume a 6-3 lead, and though the opening half of play would see the Keydets tie the Paladins three times in the opening half, but following the 3-0 deficit early in the game, the Paladins wouldn’t trail again en route to taking a 36-30 into the halftime locker room.

The Paladins, who like VMI,  came into the game known for their perimeter prowess, used 16 buckets in the paint, with 12 layups and four dunks to showcase Furman’s overall offensive versatility as a complete basketball.  Furman led by as many as eight in the opening half (30-22).

Early in the second half, a Trey Bonham three-pointer would see the Keydets assume their first lead since it was 3-0, as Bonham’s right elbow triple gave the Keydets a 40-39 lead with 16:33 remaining. Shortly thereafter, a pair of Bonham foul shots following the first media timeout of the second half gave VMI a 42-39 lead with 15:59 remaining. Bothwell’s second made three-pointer of the game would tie the basketball moments later. 

After a Curfman jumper gave VMI a brief 44-43 lead, Bothwell’s second-straight three gave the Paladins a 45-44 lead. After a VMI miss on the other end, Bothwell’s layup gave him eight-straight points and Furman a 47-44 lead with 13:46 remaining. In fact, for a stretch, Bothwell scored a total of 11 of 13 points, as the game was left tied at 51 with just over 10 minutes remaining.

After Furman assumed its final lead of the day at 55-54 lead on Slawson layup with 9:03 remaining, VMI answered with a a three from Brennan Watkins and a steal and layup by Honor Huff to make it a 59-55 lead for the Keydets. It would be the start of what would become an eventual 19-6 run which the Keydets parlayed into a 74-61 lead on a Bonham triple with 43 seconds remaining.

Up Next:

Furman continues on the SoCon road when it faces off against reigning Southern Conference champion UNC Greensboro (8-4), who has yet to get its conference season underway due to two COVID postponements. The Paladins and Spartans split a pair of meetings last season, with Furman winning in Greenville, while the Spartans were triumphant in the Gate City.

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