Furman fades in second half against league-leading Mocs

Darius Banks (24 pts) and Malachi Smith (20 pts) fueled the Mocs efficient second half. charge in a 64-58 UTC win at Timmons Arena

Chattanooga 64, Furman 58

For the 11th time in 27 games this season,  Chattanooga was forced to overcome a second-half deficit,  as the Mocs used a complete effort, which saw the duo of Darius Banks. (24 pts, 9 rebs, 2 assists) and Malachi Smith (20 pts, 9 rebs, 7 assists) combine for 44 of the Mocs 64 points,  18 of of their 38 rebounds, and nine of the team’s 12 assists, with Chattanooga able to overcome as much as an 11-point second half  deficit to post its fifth-straight win with a 64-58 victory over Furman before a rowdy “white out” crowd of 2,502 fans Saturday afternoon in a key Southern Conference game at Timmons Arena. 

With the win, Chattanooga improved to 22-5 overall and 12-2 in Southern Conference play, while Furman fell for the third time in succession, as the Paladins dropped to 17-10 overall and 9-5 in league play. 

A week after the Spartans held the Paladins to season-lows for points (56), made threes (6), and field goal percentage (30.2), the Mocs’ defensive effort may have been even more impressive considering they were playing in a venue in which Furman has a combined 84 wins over the past seven seasons, as Chattanooga held the Paladins to a modest 44.2% on (23-of-52) from the field, while holding the Paladins to a just a 17.4% (4-of-23) shooting clip from long range.

The four made three-pointers eclipsed the previous season low of six, which the UNCG limited the Paladins to in last Saturday’s 58-56 Spartans win at The Well.

The nation’s leader with 316 three-point field goals, and shooting at a 39.3% clip coming into Saturday’s matchup, Furman has seen its shooting share of shooting struggles over the past three games, connecting on 21-of-81 three-point attempts (26%) during that span. The Paladins have been held to less than 60 points in two of the past three games, and are averaging 61.6 PPG during the current three-game skid.

In the five-game winning streak prior to the current three-game losing streak, the Paladins had knocked down 81-of-187 from long-range (43.3%), and boasted an average margin of victory of 25.4 PPG, while averaging 84.8 PPG during that stretch. 

The Mocs have now won five-straight, including four in an eight-day span. Furman has now lost three-straight Southern Conference games for the first time since the 2015-16 season, when it dropped games at Wofford (L, 73-77), at East Tennessee State (L, 75-80) and at Western Carolina (L, 62-73) to close out the regular-season and heading into the SoCon Tournament in Asheville. 

The win by the Mocs almost assures a regular-season Southern Conference title and No. 1 overall seed for the Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville next month, as well as running their nation-leading true road wins total to 11. The Mocs were able to claim their first road win at Timmons Arena since Feb. 2, 2015, when the Mocs were 74-71 victors at Timmons Arena. It also marked Chattanooga’s first season sweep of Furman since that very same season. The Paladins dropped a 71-69 contest to the Mocs back on Jan. 15, 2022 in the Scenic City. 

While Smith was right on-par with his season scoring average, dropping in 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and 1-of-3 from beyond the arc, while just missing a double-double with nine rebounds.  Smith played all but 52 seconds of the 40-minute war between the league’s top two teams in the standings, clocking in at 39:08 in floor time at Timmons Arena on Saturday.  

All told, it marked Smith’s 16th 20-point scoring effort this season. He also played a role as a facilitator in the game, dishing out seven of team’s 12 assists in the contest.

However, it was Darius Banks, much like Ledford in the first matchup between the two at McKenzie Arena last month, who scored 13 points off the bench in the absence of David Jean-Baptiste, saw Banks, a transfer from James Madison, post a season-high 24-point effort, tying for game-high scoring honors. Banks’ big-time effort came without Silvio De Sousa in the lineup once again Saturday, as he missed his third-straight game with an injury. 

Banks came into the contest with the Paladins averaging 7.5 PPG and 4.8 RPG, but far exceeded those totals against the Paladins, posting 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and a 1-of-3 effort from three-point range and a 3-for-4 effort from the line, making some key charity shots in the latter part of the game. Banks was also key down the stretch on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, respectively in both matchups.

Like his backcourt teammate, Banks was also excellent on the glass and just missed a double-double with nine boards, including five on the offensive glass. 

The effort by Banks and Smith on the glass helped lead to an eight-point edge in second-chance points (13-5) and a total +13 on the backboards, as the Mocs’ held a 38-25 edge on the boards, with 11 of those coming on the offensive glass. 

Furman finished with three in double figures in the loss. After posting 22 points in the first meeting with the Mocs this season, senior big man Jalen Slawson continued his strong play against the Mocs, posting 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field, including going 2-for-6 from three-point land and was also 2-of-2 from the charity stripe. 

Additionally, Slawson added eight rebounds and dished out four of the team’s 13 assists, while blocking three shots and positing a steal. It was Slawson’s 23rd double-figure scoring effort of the season, including his sixth game of 20 or more points in 2021-22. 

Slawson was joined in double figures by both Mike Bothwell and Marcus Foster, who added 11 points apiece. The trio of Slawson, Foster and Bothwell combined for 46 of Furman’s 58 points in the loss. 

The Mocs finished the night connecting on 46.6% (27-of-58) from the field, while limiting the Paladins to 44.2% (11-of-27) for the game, and after the Paladins took a 27-20 into the halftime locker room, the Mocs would go on to out-score the Paladins 44-31 in the second half to come away with the six-point win in the all-important tilt between the league’s two top teams.

Neither team shot the ball well at all from three-point range, connecting on a combined 16.3% (7-of-43) from three-point range in the game.

The Mocs finished the contest holding advantages in points in the paint (40-36), second-chance points (13-5), bench points (6-4), total rebounds (38-25), and offensive rebounds (4). The Paladins ended up holding advantages in total assists (13-12), steals (6-5), fast-break points (6-0) and points from turnovers (10-8). 

How It Happened:

For a little over 28 minutes Saturday afternoon inside Timmons Arena before 2,502 fans, the confines couldn’t have been any friendlier inside the boisterous home venue for Furman, which was playing its final game in its on-campus facility this season—a place it has won 84 games, including 49 league games over the past seven seasons.

However, on this day, despite holding the lead most of the way, Furman faltered in the final seven minutes, as the Mocs would eventually take control of the game after assuming their first lead on a Josh Ayeni three-point play the old-fashioned way with 7:18 remaining, which gave the Mocs their first lead of the day, at 44-41.

From there, the Mocs grew the advantage to as much as seven points before eventually picking up one of its most impressive and important road wins of the season, becoming just the seventh Southern Conference team to come to Timmons Arena and come away with a win since the start of the 2015-16 season, as UTC left Timmons Arena with a 64-58 win. 

The win saw the. Mocs overcome what was as much as an 11-point second half advantage for the Paladins to post 11th come-from-behind win this season. The Mocs closed the final five minutes strong after Furman had tied the game, 47-47, following a Conley Garrison layup in the paint with 5:15 remaining. 

Following Garrison’s layup, the Mocs’ five-consecutive made field goals on five offensive trips included a Darius Banks tear-drop jumper in the paint, a David Jean-Baptiste three-pointer, and two more layups by Banks and one by Malachi Smith as a part of a quick 11-4 spurt that would prove pivotal and result in a 58-51 Chattanooga advantage—its largest of the afternoon—following a 

It wasn’t just what the Mocs did in that short stretch offensively either, as the Mocs would get stops on two of Furman’s next four possessions, which included a key blocked shot by Smith against Furman’s Mike Bothwell that proved to be part of a championship-level defensive performance over the final five minutes of game action, as Chattanooga finished out its fifth-straight win. 

Though Furman committed only 10 turnovers in the contest, most of those proved especially untimely. Three of those miscues came in the final five minutes of action, with the last one—a mis-communication between Garrison and Slawson with nine seconds remaining—rendering the result academic and the comeback attempt over for the Paladins. Six of Furman’s 10 turnovers in the game came in the second half. 

The Mocs would make next four shots from the field and made five of their final six of the game to finish the contest on a 17-11 scoring run to claim the win.  In one key stretch early in the second half, Furman’s Jalen Slawson bucket in the paint helped Furman assume its largest lead of the game at 36-25, with 15:25 left.

As all good teams do, Chattanooga made its charge. With 10 comeback wins in the second half this season already in its back pocket for Lamont Paris’ team, when to make the charge for the Mocs had almost become instinctual. 

Chattanooga launched a 12-1 run over next 3:19 to tie the game, 37-37, following a corner triple from Banks, tying the game, 37-37, with 12:06 remaining and forcing the Paladins into a 30 second timeout. Neither team could score for the next two-and-a-half minutes, with a Slawson layup in the paint with 9:32 remaining allowing the Paladins to assume the lead, at 39-37, once again.

Following another Slawson layup, which gave Furman is final lead of the game at 41-39, Chattanooga’s veteran savvy in the form of college basketball’s oldest player, Nigerian-born Josh Ayeni became a Nigerian nightmare for the Paladins, scoring five-straight on a layup off an offensive rebound, and a three-point play the old-fashioned way, turning the game at its crucial point when it was hanging in the balance. It would be Ayeni’s only five points of the game before fouling out of the game. 

Furman would tie the game only once more on Garrison’s layup, 47-47, with  5:14 remaining. The Paladins  got as close as two points down the stretch, trailing just 60-58, with a pair of made Foster free throws, however, the Mocs closed out the win by making their final six foul shots, with Banks connected on four of them, while Jean-Baptiste connected on two. 

The second half, which saw the Mocs shoot 54.8% from the field on 17-of-31 made field goals, including all three of its made three-point field goals, was in direct contrast of a poor shooting performance in the opening half, thanks in large part to Furman’s dedication from the jump on the defensive end of the floor. 

The Mocs had been held to just 37.0% (10-of-27) in the opening half, including going 0-for-9 from long range. Both defense, which held the Paladins in check, limiting the Paladins to just 40.7% (11-of-27) from the field, including 21.4% (3-of-14) from three-point range, and Malachi Smith, who scored 10 of the Mocs 20 points in the opening half, as the Mocs went to the half with their lowest point total for a half in a game this season, yet trailing by just seven, as the Paladins 27-20. 

Also key in the first half to help keep the Mocs with a fighting chance on the road was a strong performance on the glass, out-rebounding the Paladins 19-14 in the opening frame, using four offensive boards to lead to six second-chance points. The 20 points in a half is three fewer in an opening frame than Chattanooga’s previous season low of 23, which the Mocs recorded in.a 76-68 road loss to the Bruins back on Dec. 15.

Meanwhile, it marks the third time in five SoCon losses to date that the Paladins have surrendered a halftime lead, with the Mocs able to overcome deficits of five and seven in the two regular-season meetings, while VMI was able to overturn a seven-point halftime deficit early in league play in Lexington. Furman dropped to 14-3 in games it has led at the half this season. 

Like UTC’s Smith, Slawson logged much of the offensive load in the opening 20 minutes for the Paladins, posting 14 of the Paladins’ 27 points in the opening half. His electrifying two-handed slam off a feed from Mike Bothwell got the place jumping from the start, giving the Paladins an early 4-0 lead. The opening half advantage grew to as much as eight on two occasions, with the last coming at 24-16 following coming after a pair of made foul shots from Slawson with 3:17 remaining in the half.

Postgame Press Conference:

Furman head coach Bob Richey discusses the loss to the Mocs with local media

Up Next:

Furman heads back on the road to face Western Carolina with a 7 p.m. tip-off time set for the Ramsey Center in Cullowhee on Wednesday night. The Paladins won the previous meeting 88-50 last month at Timmons Arena, which commenced a five-game winning streak for the ‘Dins. The Mocs return to the court on Wednesday night when they host UNC Greensboro in a 7 p.m. contest at McKenzie Arena.

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