Furman ends three-game series skid vs VMI

Mike Bothwell was one of four Paladins in double figures as Paladins snap streak against Keydets Wednesday night at the midway point of league play

Furman claimed its third-straight win and its sixth victory in its last seven outings, as the Paladins snapped a three-game losing skid to VMI with a 79-64 win over the Keydets Wednesday night at Timmons Arena. 

With the win, Furman improved to 15-7 overall and 7-2 in Southern Conference action, remaining a half-game behind Chattanooga in the loss column, who also won with a 71-60 win over Wofford, to stay atop the league standings, while VMI saw its record fall to 11-10 overall and 4-5 in SoCon action.

Furman’s win avenged an earlier season, 76-67, loss at VMI in the Paladins’ first SoCon road loss. The Paladins were knocked out of the Southern Conference Tournament last March in a 91-90 overtime in the quarterfinals of the 2021 at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville last March. 

The Paladins’ win also saw them improve to 10-1 at Timmons Arena this season, and 83-13 overall and 48-6 against SoCon competition in the friendly confines of the on-campus facility since the start of the 2015-16 season. With wins of 38, 25 and 15 points in its last three Southern Conference games against Western Carolina, at Wofford and VMI, Furman is boasting an average margin of victory of 26 points-per-game in its last three outings. 

The mid-week SoCon clash between the Paladins and Keydets marked a clash between the two national leaders in three-pointers made, with Furman’s 257 made triples leading the nation, while VMI’s 254 trifectas ranking second nationally. The Paladins finished the night going 14-of-41 (34.1%) from three-point land, while holding the Keydets to just 8-of-23 (34.8%) from three-point land in the contest. It marked just the fourth time this season the Keydets have been held to less than double-digit three-pointers made in a game this season, including their second-lowest number of threes made in a game. 

The Paladins now have 271 three-pointers made this season, while VMI has 262 triples made. Furman is on pace to break its school record of 338 three-pointers made in a season, which was established in Bob Richey’s first season as the head coach of the 2017-18 campaign. In the past three games, Furman has connected on 53 three-pointers, connecting on 45.2% from long-range in the past three games. The Paladins are 2-2 in games in which they fail to connect on at least 10 triples in a game this season, while the Keydets also dropped to 2-2 in games in which they failed to reach at least 10 three-pointers in a game. 

The Paladins were led in the contest by four players in double figures, adding 19 assists to an already gaudy total, which led the nation entering the matchup.

For the second time in conference play, the Paladins were led in scoring by Conley Garrison, who posted a game-high 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field, which included a 5-of-8 effort from three-point land.

Earlier this season, Garrison scored 23 second-half points in a 78-69 win over East Tennessee State. Garrison came into the contest against VMI ranking third in the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage (47%). 

In addition to his scoring performance, Garrison was a huge part of Furman’s 47-32 advantage on the backboards, including 18 offensive boards, as Garrison finished the night with six of his eight boards coming on the offensive glass.

Garrison’s effort accounted for one-third of Furman’s offensive rebounds, and was a big part of helping the Paladins hold a sizable 22-7 edge in second-chance points. The Drury transfer also added four assists and a block. 

Jalen Slawson continued his outstanding play as of late, adding 21 points, four steals, three blocks, two assists, and nine rebounds. The senior from Summerville, S.C., connected on 8-of-14 shots from the field, which included another impressive performance shooting from long-range, as he went 4-for-8 from three-point land. In the past two games, Slawson has gone 8-for-14 from three-point land. He has now scored in double figures in 19 of Furman’s 22 games so far this season. 

Senior classmates Mike Bothwell and Alex Hunter rounded out the Paladins in double figures, adding 14 and 10 points, respectively. Bothwell finished his night going 6-of-16 from the field, including 1-of-7 from three-point land, while adding eight boards, four assists, a steal and a block.

Hunter, a senior from Raleigh, N.C., finished the night with his 10 points coming on a 3-for-10 shooting effort from long-range and 2-of-8 from three-point range. His performance from three-point range gives him 281 triples for his career, and with eight more triples this season, the former Leesville-Road High School standout will be Furman’s all-time three-point king, surpassing former Paladin great Jordan Lyons’ 288-career triples, which he set from 2016-20. In addition to his scoring production, Hunter finished the night by handing out five assists, three rebounds, a steal and a block. 

VMI finished the night with with three players in double figures, with senior Jake Stephens leading the way with 20 points, while Kamdyn Curfman added 16 and Trey Bonham added 11. Stephens, a senior from Bunker Hill, WVa, connected on 8-of-15 shots from the field, including 1-for-4 from three-point range. Fifteen of his 20 points in the contest came in the opening half of play. Additionally, Stephens added a team-best eight rebounds, blocked a shot, and added an assist, while committing four turnovers. 

Furman finished the night connecting on 41.8% (28-of-67) from the field, which included a 34.1% (14-of-41) from three-point land. Meanwhile, the Paladins held VMI to 41.1% (23-of-56) from the field and 34.8% (8-of-23) from three-point land. 

The Paladins ended the night holding advantages in total rebounds (47-32), second-chance points (22-7), total assists (19-14), fast-break points (7-5), bench points (5-0), and total steals (8-5). The Keydets held an advantage in points from turnovers (9-8). Both teams were even at points in the paint (28-28). VMI concluded the night connecting on 71.4% (10-for-14) from the charity stripe, while the Paladins were 69.2% (9-of-13) from the stripe. 

All told, the contest featured four ties and five lead changes, with the Paladins holding the upper hand for 32:50 total in the game, while the Keydets found themselves with the advantages for a 5:11 span in the game. 

How It Happened:

Not too many teams have caused head coach Bob Richey quite as much trouble in now his fifth season at the helm of the Furman basketball program than VMI, especially in recent seasons.  The only teams to have claimed three-straight wins over Furman during Richey’s five seasons as Paladin head coach are Wofford, UNCG and VMI. And Wednesday night’s 15-point, 79-64 win over Dan Earl’s Keydets, which snapped VMI’s three-game winning streak in the series wouldn’t come as easy as the score might indicate. 

With last season’s meeting in Greenville having been canceled due to positive COVID-19 tests within the Keydets basketball program, it marked VMI’s first trip to Timmons Arena since a 74-72 overtime win by the Paladins on Jan. 29, 2020. 

The Paladins had a fight on their hands the entire way. However, what’s become a theme as of late for the Paladins has been how they have been able to close out wins. Especially on the home floor in close games against East Tennessee State and VMI. Against the Bucs, the Paladins ended the game 9-0 run over the final 2:58 to go on to a 78-69 win some 14 days ago. On Wednesday night, the Paladins would once again break open a close game late, closing out the final five minutes on an 18-3 run to secure the 15-point win. 

The Paladins seemed to be in good shape just after the first media timeout of the second half, as Conley Garrison’s layup of a rare VMI turnover gave the Paladins a seemingly comfortable eight-point, 49-41, lead with 14:32 remaining, which nearly matched their nine-point (39-30) halftime lead.

However, with the way Dan Earl’s club shoots the three ball, they are never really out of the contest. The Keydets quickly cut the Paladin lead in half on a layup by Jake Stephens in the lane, and following an Honor Huff steal off an errant J.P. Pegues pass, Tre Bonham drove in on the left side for a layup, slicing Furman’s lead to four, at 49-45, with 13:40 left. 

Furman responded with a Joe Anderson triple from the left elbow with 13:16 left on the ensuing possession, pushing the lead back to seven, however,  Sean Conway answered with a top of the key three on the other end, bringing the Keydets back to within 52-48 with just over 13 minutes left. 

Tre Bonham then made a pair of free throws following an Anderson miss on the other end, as he was fouled by Furman freshman wing Tyrese Hughey on his way to the basket. Bonham knocked down both shots of the two-shot trip to the charity stripe, as brought the Keydets to within 52-50 with 12:29 remaining. 

Over the next four minutes, both teams went cold from the field with only a Mike Bothwell layup in the paint following a fast-break made it a 54-50 contest with 11:34 remaining. With the Keydets trailing 52-50 and following a Curfman steal, VMI had a chance to take the lead, but the junior’s three in transition was off the mark, leaving the Paladins clinging to just a two-point lead. Bothwell’s layup on the next possession helped the Paladins to the aforementioned two-possession lead. It wouldn’t be until a Bothwell rebound and ensuing layup off an Alex Hunter missed three-pointer that would see the Paladins increase their lead to six, at 56-50, with 8:46 remaining. 

The Keydets would score the next seven points to take a somewhat surprising lead, and it looked a lot like Dan Earl’s club might be well on its way to stealing a fourth-straight win in the series against the Paladins. Conway’s jumper in the paint cut Furman’s lead to four (56-52), and following a bad pass by Slawson, the Keydets were quick to make the Paladins pay with a three from Curfman in transition with 7:14 remaining to make it a one-point game, at 56-55. Following a missed three from the wing by Slawson, Huff blew past Hunter on the left side going to the hoop, nearly converting the three-point play the old fashioned way before the shot just rolled out on the opposite side on a reverse layup attempt. Huff’s two foul shots with 6:20 left helped the Keydets take their first lead since the score was 11-8 with 14:04 remaining in the opening half of play. 

On one of the most important possessions of the game, Slawson came up big following a made layup in the paint while being fouled by Curfman in a mismatch in the paint. Slawson conveyed the foul shot to help the Paladins regain a 59-57 lead with just over six minutes remaining. 

The Keydets tied it on a Curfman jumper in the lane before Slawson responded with another layup on the other end to give Furman a 61-59 lead with 5:26 left. After Stephens made a baby-hook in the lane to tie it, 61-61, with 5:08 remaining,  Garrison made perhaps the biggest shot of the night on a pull-up three from the top of the key with 4:51 remaining to give the Paladins the lead for good, at 64-61. 

Bothwell and Furman’s defense took over from there. A key Slawson block on Stephens, which was corralled by Bothwell proved to be one of those game-winning details, and it was the senior from Cleveland Heights, OH, that would score on a three-point play the old fashioned way after a Conley Garrison offensive rebound on the other end, eventually giving the Paladins a 67-61 lead with 3:58 remaining. 

From there, VMI would get as close as five, at 68-63, following a pair of Curfman foul shots with 3:05 left following a foul by Slawson in the act of shooting. After a pair of Bonham foul shots saw the Keydets cut it to two possessions, at 70-64, with 2:02 remaining, a Slawson triple from the left elbow with 1:35 all but sealed Furman’s 15th win of the season, including the 10th on its home floor. 

In the opening half of play, it was the Keydets that got off to the fast start, leading for most of the opening six minutes of the contest, taking a 6-2 lead on a Curfman three just 1:59 into the contest and then again giving the Keydets a 9-8 lead following a three from the right elbow with just under 15 minutes remaining in the half. A Honor Huff layup off a double-clutch reverse in traffic allowed the Keydets to take an 11-8 lead with 14:04 remaining in the half. Fifteen of the first 17 combined points in the contest came off made three-pointers, which gave the three-pointers made rankings street cred from the outset. 

Postgame Press Conference:

Jalen Slawson (left)/Conley Garrison (right)
Furman head coach Bob Richey

Stats:

Up Next: Furman will travel to face Mercer (12-9, 5-3 SoCon) Saturday afternoon at Hawkins Arena. Furman won 81-66 in the meeting between the two earlier this season in a game played at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. The Bears dropped a 75-61 contest at Samford Wednesday night. It will be a meeting of No. 2 and No. 3 in the SoCon standings, respectively, and the 6 p.m. EST tip-off will be televised nationally by CBS Sports Network.

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