Furman 91, North Greenville 55
Furman’s 22 three-pointers and 35 assists, sprinkled in with some windmill dunks and beautiful alley-oop lobs were like watching an impressionist era painting carefully fashioned by Claude Monet. That was describing the 2021-22 season-opening, 118-66, win by the Paladins over North Greenville.
The 2022-23 season opener against the same opponent was more like watching a someone finish out the rough edges on some soft stone sculpture in the process of refinement, yet you know at some point the finished product is going to look a lot better from the business end of the project than it does from the front end.
That’s probably an accurate description of Monday night’s 91-55 victory over North Greenville, which also happens to be Furman head coach Bob Richey’s alma mater.
Furman, which saw reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Year Jalen Slawson exit the contest just over two minutes into the second half following an apparent hand injury of some type following a hard foul going to the basket, actually ended up leading six Paladins in double figures with 17 points to go with three steals and a rebound before leaving the game with the aforementioned injury. No word was provided on the extent of the injury.
Slawson finished the night connecting on 6-of-9 shots from the field and was 5-for-6 from the line before leaving the game after his only missed free throw of the evening.
His fifth-year senior teammate–Mike Bothwell–finished the contest with 16 points, while Tyrese Hughey added a career-high 15 rebounds. Two new Paladins–Ben VanderWal and Carter Whitt–were seeing their first action in a Paladin uniform, and both showed why there was a buzz around them during the off-season, as both showed they had that ‘it’ factor.
The freshman VanderWal added 11 points in his collegiate debut, while Whitt, a sophomore and former four-star recruit added 10. Rounding out the double-figure scorers for the Paladins in the season-opening win was Marcus Foster, who matched VanderWal with 11.
The Crusaders were led by one player in double-figures for the night, in Greenville, S.C., native C.J. Jamison, as he posted a game-high 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field and 2-for-5 from three-point land and was 2-for-2 from the line. He also added eight rebounds, three assists and three steals to his overall solid statistical line for the evening.
Garrett Hien, who is now in his junior season with the ‘Dins, looked more polished and stronger in the paint, while also playing with a new aggression and physicality, which he struggled to find a year ago. He ended up fouling out, but while that’s not often a positive for most players, it was a good sign for Hien and good things to come as the season progresses. His 12 rebounds were a career-high, while also added five points, two assists, two blocks and an assist in 25 minutes of floor action.
Furman, which finished the 2021-22 season with a Southern Conference record 401 three-pointers, which included a school-record 22 triples in the win to open the season over the Crusaders on Nov. 8, 2021, connected on just 5-of-25 attempts from three-point range 365 days later.
Despite the struggles from three-point range, the Paladins still manage to close out the game with an efficient night shooting the basketball, as Furman connected on a solid 53.7% (36-of-67) of its shots from the field, which included a 60% (21-of-35) from the field in the second half alone.
Furman was good defensively for much of the night, and while the Paladins might have only connected on 20.0% from three-point range in the season-opener, the Paladins managed to hold the Crusaders to just 33.4% (3-of-9) from three-point land in the game, and just a 33.3% shooting effort overall (22-of-66) from the field. Furman’s defensive intensity, especially towards the latter part of the first half and the entire second half, as the Paladins forced 25 turnovers, including 15 steals, which was one off the 16 steals the Paladins established as a season-high in an 81-51 road win at Mercer last season.
The Paladins finished the contest holding advantages in total rebounds (42-39), points in the paint (58-34), total assists (20-11), second-chance points (15-2), fast-break points (24-8), and bench points (42-18). The Paladins finished the night an impressive 9-of-12 from the charity stripe.
How It Happened:
Furman would break the game open midway through the opening half of play, using an 16-0 run over the first half to stretch what was a 14-12 contest into a steal and one-handed tomahawk slam on the other end to make it a 30-12 lead with 3:48 remaining in the opening half. The Paladins would maintain that 18-point edge, at 37-19, heading into the halftime break.
In the second half the Paladins would elevate their play to the highest level of the night, using a mini 8-0 run to increase their lead to 30 of the first time in the contest. With a little over nine minutes remaining, Tyrese Hughey converted a layup in transition off a feed from Carter Whitt to give the Paladins a 63-39 advantage. Whitt then went to work showing off his shooting skills, and then after he recorded one of his team-leading four steals, he connected on a second-straight three to make it a 69-39 lead with 8:09 left.
Furman’s lead would grow to its largest of the night on the final basket of the evening, which fittingly, was scored by walk-on senior Rett Lister following a steal and assist from walk-on junior Blake Harris, bringing the loudest roar of the night from a crowd of 2,027 packed inside Timmons Arena. Lister is the son of North Greenville head coach and 1995 Furman graduate Chad Lister.
Post-Game Press Conference:
Up Next: Belmont (1-0), Friday, 7 p.m. at Timmons Arena
Furman will get its first major test of the 2022-23 season and with or without Jalen Slawson in the lineup, the Paladins will take on one of the top established mid-major programs in the country when the Bruins pay a visit to Timmons Arena for a Friday night blockbuster matchup at Timmons Arena-a place where Furman improved to 85-14 since the start of the 2015-16 season with Monday night’s season-opening win.
The Bruins were also in action on the opening night of college basketball season, taking on a good Mid-American Conference program, in the Ohio Bobcats, who used a buzzer-beating three-pointer from freshman Cade Tyson, lifting Belmont to the 70-69 triumph before a capacity crowd at the Curb Events Center.
The buzzer-beating effort from Tyson came on a night when tied for a team high in scoring for the Bruins with 18 points, and helped the Belmont avenge what was their first loss of the 2021-22 campaign, as the Bruins opened the campaign with a 92-80 setback to in Athens.
On Friday night, it will mark just the fourth meeting between Furman and Belmont, with the Bruins holding a 2-1 series edge, which includes handing the Paladins a heartbreaking, 95-89, overtime setback at the Curb Events Center last season.
After being one of the most-experienced teams in college basketball last season, head coach Casey Alexander should have a rebuilding project on his hands, however, Belmont is not most programs, as they seemingly just reload.
The Bruins graduated four starters from a squad that finished with a 25-8 record last season, bowing out in the opening round of the NIT with a loss to cross-town rival Vanderbilt, dropping an 81-72 contest.
Ben Sheppard, who is a preseason All-OVC selection, is the lone returning starter from a year ago, and will head into the season as a potential preseason Player of the Year in the Bruins’ new conference, which will be the Missouri Valley, as Belmont will begin play in its new conference this season.
Sheppard contributed a team-high tying 18 points to help the Bruins to the memorable season-opening triumph. Belmont was the No. 6 pick in the Missouri Valley Conference in the preseason.