Furman gets back on track with win at Western Carolina

Furman senior guard Mike Bothwell

Furman got a game-high 25 points from senior guard Mike Bothwell, while classmate Alex Hunter chipped in with 23, as the Paladins snapped its first three-game SoCon losing streak since the 2015-16 season, with a 103-85 win over Western Carolina in Southern Conference action Wednesday night at the Liston B. Ramsey Center.

With its 13th-straight win in the series, the improved to 18-10 overall and 10-5 in Southern Conference play, while the Catamounts fell for the fifth-straight time, falling to 9-19 overall and 3-12 in league play. 

Bothwell and Hunter were two of four Paladins in double figures, with J.P. Pegues coming off the bench to add 15 points, while Conley Garrison added 13 points, six rebounds, and handed out a pair of assists. Of particular note was Garrison’s work on the offensive glass, snagging three of Furman’s season-high 20 offensive boards, which led to a 22-16 advantage in second-chance points. 

Bothwell finished the night connecting on 6-of-12 shots from the field, including having gone 2-of-4 from three-point range, and was 11-of-13 from the free throw line. He also corralled five rebounds and dished out three assists in the Paladin win. 

Hunter finished out his career in fine fashion at the Liston B. Ramsey Athletic Center by connecting on 8-of-15 shots from the field, including 7-of-14 from three-point range, which accounted for his 23 points. 

Additionally, the super senior finished the night by dishing out three assists, bringing down three rebounds, and recorded a steal. 

For Hunter’s career at the Ramsey Center, he finished going 21-of-39 in his career from three-point range, which converts to a 53.8% shooting clip inside Western Carolina’s Catamount lair. 

Pegues, a freshman guard out of Nashville, Tenn, was solid off the bench all night for the Paladins. After posting a career-high 18 points in the initial meeting with the Catamounts this season, which resulted in an 88-50 win for the Paladins at Timmons Arena,  last month. In his 15-point effort in the second meeting with the Catamounts at the Ramsey Center, Pegues finished the night by connecting on 5-of-7 shots from the field, including going 1-of-3 from three-point range. Pegues added two assists and a pair of rebounds. 

Garrison was influential as usual on a night in which he celebrated his Birthday. The graduate transfer from Drury University finished scoring his 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and was 2-of-5 from three-point range and knocked down his only foul shot of the night. 

Garrison was a major part of the Paladins dominance on the boards on both ends, as Furman won the battle of the boards by 13, out-rebounding the Catamounts, 41-28, on the evening. Three of his six rebounds came on the offensive end, which were part of a night that saw the Paladins pull down a season-high 18 boards. He also dished out a pair of assists. His 13-point scoring effort saw Garrison cross the 2,000-point threshold for his standout career. 

Western Carolina placed five players in double figures, led by a career-high 15 points from Marlow Gilmore, while Tyler Harris and Vonterius Woolbright added 13 points apiece off the bench. Marvin Price and Cameron Bacote finished off the night by adding 12 and 11 points, respectively, to round out the Catamounts in double figures. 

Gilmore finished out his career night by connecting on 6-of-7 shots from the field and was 3-of-4 from the foul stripe. Gilmore also had four rebounds and blocked three shots

After seeing its fair share of struggles shooting the basketball in each of the past three games, the Paladins shot the ball pretty well the entire evening, connecting on 44.7% (17-of-38), which included a 51.5% (17-of-33) from the field in the second half. The Paladins knocked down 41.7% (15-of-36) from three-point range. 

Western Carolina finished the night by connecting on 49.2% (29-of-59) shots from the field, which includes connecting on 42.3% (11-of-26) from three-point range. 

“I think our group did a good job of not worrying about all the noise and what everybody’s focused on but just hey we gotta go find a way to win this game tonight by one point…and um we’re going to put all energy on that and trust our process. And not get caught up in this and that and we can’t make shots and the losing streak and all this stuff…like just go play the game…and I thought we did that,” head coach Bob Richey said. 

Furman finished the night by owning advantages in points in the paint (38-30), second-chance points (22-16), fast-break points (18-11), total rebounds (41-28), offensive rebounds (20-9) and total assists (17-16).  The Paladins turned the ball over just six times on the night, while forcing seven Western Carolina miscues. 

The two teams were even in points from turnovers (6-6), while the Catamounts owned a 48-26 advantage in bench scoring. Woolbright returned for the first time in five games for the Catamounts, playing a good portion of the second half, while leading scorer Nicholas Robinson logged just 2:46 of court action in the contest. 

How it happened:

In Saturday’s loss at Chattanooga, Furman started well on the defensive end, made a few shots, but couldn’t seemingly make enough shots to pull away from a talented Mocs basketball team, leading by only seven at the break in what turned out to be a six-point homecourt loss last time out. 

On Wednesday night, the Paladins faced a dangerous mid-week game against a Catamount team, which had already upset Chattanooga in a mid-week contest earlier in the season, while also ending a 14-game losing streak to East Tennessee State in a mid-week contest just a couple of weeks ago.

With knowledge of that, Furman was intentional in how it started, and its efforts, particularly on the offensive glass early in the contest, would see the Paladins impose their will on the game, not letting the Catamounts have more than a fleeting moment or two of momentum throughout the game. 

The quick start would see Furman get out to a 10-0 lead just 3:08 into the contest, as Mike Bothwell and Conley Garrison  combined for a couple of threes, while Bothwell added a jumper in the paint, and Slawson added a couple of foul shots, leading to an early Western Carolina timeout to help head coach Justin Gray’s Catamounts try and stop the bleeding from a Furman team that came to Cullowhee locked in on both ends, particularly on chasing down rebounds on both ends of the floor. 

“I thought we came out with an element of freedom to us that we needed…The ball was moving and I thought defensively we did a much better job in the first half than in the second half and we were able to push the margin up pretty quick and got on top of the game and kept the lead from there,” Richey said. 

Furman’s lead would grow from there, as a pair of J.P. Pegues free throws put the Paladins on top 22-6 inside the first seven minutes of action. That solid defense early had limited the Catamounts to just a pair of three-pointers, which were knocked down by Joe Petrakis and Marvin Price III in the opening six-and-a-half minutes for the Catamounts.

A pair of Bothwell free throws with 7:15 remaining in the opening half saw the Paladins cap a 10-0 run to push their lead to the largest of the night, at 42-15. However, Western Carolina would close the half strong, using a 21-9 spurt over the final portion of the opening half, including a 14-2 run over the final five minutes, cutting the Furman lead to 15 points, at 51-36, as the two teams headed to the half. 

In the early moments of the second half, the Paladins would push their lead back out to 18, at 59-41, using eight-straight points by Alex Hunter, which included two of his seven three-pointers in the contest. 

One of those Hunter threes was a snapshot of Furman’s effort on the offensive glass for the entire contest, as the first of those two triples saw the Paladins outwork the Catamounts on the glass to provide a second-chance and even a third-chance opportunity. Garrett Hien would grab the first offensive rebound of the possession, and after Jalen Slawson’s layup attempt was blocked out of bounds by Marlow Gilmore, the ball would eventually find Hunter, who found his range from the right elbow to make his first of two threes in the opening two minutes of the second half.

The Catamounts continued to fight, however, and a 10-3 run, which started with a Tyler Harris jumper at the 17:13 mark of the second half and ended with a Vonterius Woolbright jumper at the 15:28 mark, suddenly had the hometown Catamounts back to within a manageable distance on the scoreboard, as Western had cut the Paladin advantage to just 11, at 62-51. 

After a Bothwell jumper put the Furman lead back at 13 on the ensuing possession, the Catamounts cut it to 11 once more when Cameron Bacote knocked down a left elbow jumper, making it a 64-53 game with just under 15 minutes remaining. 

However, it would be as close as the Catamounts would get on the scoreboard the rest of the night, as Furman would push the lead quickly back to 16 on a three-pointer on the ensuing possession and a pair of Bothwell free throws and following a missed jumper by Bacote, as Furman pushed its lead to 69-53 with 14:06 remaining. 

Western Carolina would get back to within 13 following a Marcus Banks triple, making it a 69-56 game with 13:12 remaining, but quick transition layups from Garrison and Pegues had the margin back to 17, as Furman continued to answer every Catamount attempt to steal momentum on their home floor.  

Furman’s push came despite Slawson and Marcus Foster getting into early foul trouble in the second half, with Foster charged with his fourth personal foul at the 12:03 mark of the second half, while Slawson’s fourth came with 11:45 remaining in the contest. 

Furman’s lead would eventually grow to as much as 24 in the second half, at 89-65, following another Hunter three with just over seven minutes remaining. The Paladins were able to close out the game with 103 points, which marks the third time they have reached the century mark this season, and the 103 points are the most achieved against NCAA Division I opposition this season, eclipsing the 102 posted against The Citadel back on Feb. 2. 

Up Next:

Furman will play its final home game of the season, with senior day being celebrated at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in downtown Greenville, as the Paladins battle arch-rival Wofford (16-11, 8-7 SoCon). Tip-off is set for 12 p.m. EST. 

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