In a 2022 NCAA Tournament venue, the SoCon’s defending NCAA Tournament representative met a red-hot Furman team hoping to end a 42-year NCAA Tournament drought later this season.
For the better part of the 40 minutes on Saturday afternoon at ‘The Well’, it was the defending NCAA Tournament representative from the nation’s fifth-oldest conference that was the aggressor, ultimately handing Furman’s its second home loss of the season and just its third in SoCon play.
Furman held UNCG scoreless for the final 6:25 of the contest, but fell to UNCG 58-56 in a Southern Conference thriller Saturday afternoon at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. It was UNCG’s second win over the Paladins. The Spartans’ complete defensive effort, held Furman to season-lows for shooting percentage (30.2%), three-point field goal percentage (21.4%), three-pointers made (6), and points (56).
Despite Furman closing the contest on an 18-3 run, it wasn’t enough to overcome a Spartan lead that grew as large as 17 in the second half.
Before a crowd of 3,616 fans on-hand at Furman’s downtown home, the Paladins struggled to find their shooting touch for much of the afternoon, but its stern dedication to intentional defense down the stretch would eventually see the Spartans hanging on for dear life to get a big conference upset win on the road. As it turns out, the winning point total in each of the meetings between Furman and UNCG this season turned out to be 58, with the Paladins claiming a 58-54 in the first meeting between the two last month.
With the win, UNCG snapped a two-game losing skid, improving to 13-10 overall and 5-6 in Southern Conference play. Furman fell to 17-8 overall and 9-3 in Southern Conference play. The loss, coupled with Chattanooga’s 77-68 win over Mercer, sees the Mocs vault the Paladins in the Southern Conference standings, as UTC improved to 19-5 overall, and more importantly, 9-2 in Southern Conference play to pull a half-game ahead in the league’s regular-season title race.
The Spartans had three players in double figures in the win, with De’Monte Buckingham leading the way with 12 points, while Bas Leyte, who scored the only three points for the Spartans from the foul line in the final six minutes, finished with 11 and Kaleb Hunter, who did not play in the first meeting between the two, finished with 10.
Buckingham, a transfer from Cal State Bakersfield transfer, posted his 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field, which included a 2-for-4 effort from the beyond the arc. He also added four rebounds, a steal, and a block.. Leyte added 10 points to complete what was a double-double for the Dutchman, marking the fifth different Spartan to post a double-double in a game this season and marked the first of his career. Leyte also added three assists in what was a complete all-around performance. Keyshaun Langley, who finished the contest with four points and five boards, led the the Spartans with four helpers.
Furman finished the contest with two in double figures, led by Mike Bothwell, who posted 18 points prior to fouling out late in the contest, while Marcus Foster added 10. Bothwell was one of the key factors in helping ignite Furman’s comeback in the final six minutes of the contest, finished with his 18 points on 6-of-16 shooting from the field, including going 2-for-7 from three-point range He also finished a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line. He added five rebounds, three steals, a block and an assist.
Foster finished the afternoon by hitting on 3-of-11 shots from the field and was 4-for-5 from the line. He also added eight rebounds, an assist and a block. For just the fourth time this season, Jalen Slawson finished with out a double-figure scoring effort, but he was on the cusp of recording his sixth double-double of the season, as he finished with nine points and 12 rebounds. The SoCon Player of the Year candidate also finished with nine points, 12 rebounds, and dished out five of the team’s 11 assists.
With his six points in the loss, Furman super senior guard Alex Hunter finished the game as the school’s all-time three-point field goals leader, having canned 289 triples in his standout Paladin career. Hunter finished the game 2-of-7 from the field and 2-for-5 from three-point land. His two triples helped him surpass former Paladin great Jordan Lyons (2017-20).
UNCG finished the game shooting the ball at a 47.2% clip, as the Spartans connected on 25-of-53 shots from the field for the game, including 33.3% (5-of-15) from three-point range. The Paladins connected on just 19-of-63 shots from the field, which equated to a season-low 30.2% shooting effort. The Paladins were just 6-for-28 from long-range, which equates to a season-low 21.4% from long range for the game.
The Spartans finished with advantages in points from turnovers (18-11), points in the paint (34-18), fast-break points (8-4), total assists (13-11), total rebounds (41-35) and bench points (18-9). Furman held a 15-11 advantage in second-chance points, but yielded 12 offensive rebounds to UNCG, with of those coming in timely situations.
How It Happened:
When Garrett Hien’s three-pointer from the corner gave Furman a 56-55 lead with 59 seconds remaining, Furman held its first lead since the 15:58 mark of the opening half, when the Paladins led 8-6 following a Miles Jones layup.
Furman’s lead wouldn’t last, however, and following a missed jumper by Keyshaun Langley from three-point range, saw Marcus Foster grab the rebound, however, the ball was stripped away by Bas Leyte, and then he was fouled by Foster, putting him at the line for a one-and-one opportunity. Leyte connected on both ends to give the Spartans a 57-56 lead with 32.7 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing possession by the Paladins, Furman would get a good look on a left elbow three-point attempt by Foster, however, his shot caromed out and the ball was rebounded by Leyte, who had to be fouled with 6.6 seconds remaining. Following a timeout by Furman’s Bob Richey, Leyte knocked down the front end before missing the second, as Furman quickly found Foster, however, his attempted tear-drop layup as time expired was short, as Furman dropped its second game in Greenville this season.
Prior to its 18-3 run to close the game, which eventually saw the Paladins retake the lead for the first time since early on in the contest, the Spartans lead had grown to as much 17 points when Mohammed Abdulsalam when after getting an offensive rebound and put-back. That came with 6:25 remaining in the game, and it would be the final points of the afternoon from the field for the Spartans. Abdulsalam’s layup was part of a 16-6 run in the middle portion. Of the second half, which ultimately proved decisive.
While Furman was the aggressor for the final 6:25, it was UNCG that was the aggressor for most of the day. Mike Jones has put together a team that, defensively, is a team that could very well find itself in the mix once again for the duration in Asheville. The key will be finding a way to grab a top six seed, and a win at Furman will go a long way in determining a potential tiebreaker should it come down to that.
The old adage is you can’t win a game in the first half, but you can lose one. While that might not have been entirely the case today, it sure did have that feel. The Paladins seemed to start the game well enough, assuming an 8-4 lead following a Mike Bothwell basket and free throw on a three-point play the old fashioned way with 16:46 left. UNCG responded with the its first of two big runs, with one coming in each half.
The Spartans took control of the game with a 20-8 at 32-20 when Dante Treacy knocked down a triple with 1:37 left remaining in the half before the Paladins closed the half with a Jalen Slawson layup to cut the Paladin deficit to 10 at the half.
The loss dropped Furman to 3-2 since playing games at ‘The Well’ two years ago. It was just Furman’s second loss in Greenville this season, as the Paladins dropped to 11-2 in its home city this season, with other loss being a 77-66 setback to Navy in late November.
Postgame Press Conference (Head coach Bob Richey):
Furman heads to Johnson City to face East Tennessee State (12-13, 4-8 SoCon) Monday night at Freedom Hall. Tip time is slated for 7 p.m. and will be nationally televised by ESPNU.