Tuesday night’s mid-major clash between Furman and Appalachian State wouldn’t have won any awards for aesthetically pleasing to all those basketball fashionistas out there, however, the game itself was as exciting as any you’ll find in the grinding month of February in either the Southern Conference or the Sun Belt Conference.
The two going at it for the 88th time in series history, also happen to be old Southern Conference rivals. Plenty of similarities still exists, with each program led by head coaches, in Furman’s Bob Richey and App State’s Dustin Kerns, earmarked for success at the power six level in the very near future one would assume.
With that said, it made for an outstanding late November mid-major basketball game.
How It Happened
Mike Bothwell posted a game-high 23 points, and Furman weathered a 17-0 second-half run from Appalachian State, as the Paladins held off the Mountaineers, 65-61, in a battle between two old Southern Conference rivals Wednesday night at the Holmes Convocation Center.
The Paladins won their third-straight game to improve to 5-2 overall on the young season, while the Mountaineers fell to 5-3. The Mountaineers, who knocked off Southern Conference member East Tennessee State, 74-70, in Johnson City last week, were aiming to post their second-straight win over a former league foe. However, in the end, it would be Furman that would help the SoCon clinch its first win over a Sun Belt foe in the 2022-23 basketball season, as Appalachian’s former conference affiliation improved to 1-4 against its current one.
The Paladins seemed to in complete control of the game midway through the second half, holding a seemingly safe, 52-40, lead following a Mike Bothwell layup in the paint with 10:57 left.
However, Appalachian State head coach Dustin Kerns, who is now somewhat as a defensive mastermind, made some adjustments on both ends, which helped the now Sun Belt member storm back into the contest, and caused a somewhat slumbering crowd of a listed 1,976 fans come to life inside the somewhat cavernous 8,300-seat Holmes Convocation Center come to life, as the Apps held the Paladins scoreless for a 6:03 stretch in the second half and took as much as a five-point, 57-52, lead after Mountaineer forward C.J. Huntley knocked down a pair of free throws with 6:04 remaining.
“Credit them. They fought…They were down 16 and could have basically said ‘it’s just not our night’ and you know I think Dustin [Kerns] made some key adjustments and they went to a three round two dribble drive [motion offense] and to be honest you don’t really see teams doing that a lot anymore and I thought it was pretty clever on their part,” Furman head coach Bob Richey said.
“They went to the zone a little while on this end [the defensive end] to kind of get us out of rhythm and it did and then the crowd got into it a little bit and they took the lead and it was a 21-point swing and you know it’s a forty minute game and our team responded and we threw one more punch at the end and we got the win,” Richey added.
The punch thrown by the Paladins was a counterpunch in the form of an 11-0 spurt by the visitors from Greenville in response to the 17-0 run punch landed by the hometown Mountaineers. Furman did indeed have a plan for when it got punched in the mouth by its former league rival on the road to survive its first serious true road test of the season in a game that had that old feeling a key February mid-week conference tilt at times down the stretch on Tuesday night in the High Country.
Following Huntley’s two free throw makes with just over six minutes left to play, the Paladins faced their largest deficit of the entire evening—five points (57-52)—and the collective response was one that went according to script for a veteran, mature basketball team picked to win its league in the preseason, and at the forefront of leadership just happened to be a couple of Paladin wily veterans, in senior guard Mike Bothwell and senior forward Jalen Slawson, who have seen a thing or two a time or two in their respective Furman careers.
Following Huntley’s made foul shots, Marcus Foster missed a three for the Paladins, which was followed by a Donovan Gregory missed jumper for the Mountaineers, and it was one of Garrett Hien’s key rebounds down the stretch—this one on the defensive end of the floor—that gave Furman yet another opportunity to get back to within a possession on the road with just under five minutes to play. Hien’s work on both the offensive and defensive glass late in the game proved vital.
Hien, who is a native of the Queen City of Charlotte, was no doubt playing in front of some friends and family, as they likely made the short trek of just over an hour to see him play in the key early-season, non-conference battle, posted six points to go with 10 rebounds.
The 6-9 junior forward was especially on the offensive glass. Furman, which did not have an offensive rebound in the opening 20 minutes of basketball, snagged nine in the second half alone, with Hien corralling nearly half, as he finished with four offensive caroms. All told, Hien would record seven of his 10 total rebounds in the second half, with several of those coming in key moments down the stretch of the game.
Following Hien’s rebound, the ball found its way to Jalen Slawson, and it was Slawson that would start the Paladins on what would be the decisive late-game run, and as you might expect according to how it should be scripted in the order of things, it was Bothwell who ended it. Slawson finished with his 13th-career double-double (16 pts, 12 rebs) and the win, and the bucket that ignited Furman’s run was a tough running one-handed jumper as he crossed through the lane with just under five minutes left to help the Paladins snap a six-minute scoring drought to get back to within one possession, at 57-54, with 4:54 remaining.
Slawson’s veteran leadership was also prove vital on the defensive end of the floor on Appalachian’s ensuing possession with the basketball, knocking the ball free from Mountaineer sophomore guard Terence Harcum for one of his three steals in the contest, showcasing why he was the SoCon’s top defensive performer in 2021-22.
Furman’s other veteran leader Mike Bothwell followed accordingly, and the Paladins were starting to smell blood in the water. He drove to the basket and nearly saw his baby jumper fall in the act of being fouled only to see it roll out. However, the senior from Cleveland Heights, OH, would get to shoot a pair of charity shots following the foul whistled against App State’s Gregory. He would make both as part of his 10-for-10 performance front the stripe in the game, including going 8-for-8 in the second half. Furman was with a point, at 57-56, with 4:34 remaining.
Following a missed foul shot by Appalachian’s Carvell Teasett after he couldn’t convert the front end of a one-and-one following a J.P. Pegues foul, Slawson grabbed the defensive rebound and after Pegues missed a left elbow three, Bothwell crashed the glass for one of those nine offensive caroms Furman was able to outwork the Mountaineers for in the second half. That provided another key, vital scoring opportunity. Bothwell was then fouled in the act of shooting with 3:23 remaining. Following a media timeout, the senior calmly stroked home both free throws to put the Paladins back on top, 58-57.
Teasett’s attempt at a quick three to answer on the other end was no good, and after Slawson’s rebound, the ball found its way to Bothwell out top just right of center, and his three-pointer helped Furman now seize full momentum, as the Paladins pushed their lead to four, at 61-57, with 2:49 remaining.
On the other end, Appalachian suddenly could not find the form that had gotten them to within sights of a huge early-season non-conference win a little over three minutes earlier, as Harcum’s missed layup was agonizing for the partisan Mountaineer crowd on-hand. The carom once again fell into Paladin hands, with Marcus Foster this time grabbing the Mountaineer miss and the ball found its way to Bothwell, who saw a cutting Hien in the paint. Hien did the rest, using his body to seal off the defender and after using a wily head-fake, used the glass to kiss home a layup and extend Furman’s lead to 63-57 with 2:03 remaining.
Appalachian would finally put an end to a long scoring drought from the field, which spanned over five minutes, as Gregory’s short jumper with 1:49 remaining marked the Mountaineers’ first field goal since the 7:04 mark of the second half. More importantly, the bucket got Appalachian back to within four of the Paladins, at 63-59, as the Holmes Center began to get a little noisy once again, looking to rally the Black and Gold.
Following a pair of missed shots from the field from both Furman’s Pegues and Appalachian’s Gregory, the Paladins once again had the basketball—now under a minute left—with the opportunity to make the Mountaineers’ climb a little steeper, however, a missed layup by Bothwell resulted in a loose ball foul on Appalachian’s Harcum, which sent Pegues to the line for a one-and-one opportunity with 40 seconds remaining.
After missing the front end, Hien grabbed a key offensive rebound for the Paladins, however, his putback attempt was no good and the Mountaineers raced the other way. Gregory was then fouled on a layup attempt by Pegues with 32 seconds remaining. He made both his first foul shot to cut Furman’s lead to one possession, at 63-60. His second charity shot would end up being no good, however, the Mountaineers would get the ball back following the rebound attempt which ended up out of play. After a short review after the ball touched Furman’s Foster last before going out of bounds and the Mountaineers would have the ball near midcourt, where they would inbound the basketball. With a chance to get within a point or potentially tie the game with a three, however, Slawson once again came up with a huge defensive play, poking the ball free from Gregory for another of Furman’s 10 steals on the night, which rendered the Mountaineers no opportunity to even shoot the basketball.
Slawson was immediately fouled by Huntley with 20 seconds remaining, sending the senior to the line with the opportunity to potentially make the game academic if he could knock down both ends of the one-and-one opportunity. However, he could not, missing the first and Appalachian’s Gregory rebounded the ball and sprinted up the floor, however, a foul by Bothwell sent him back to the line with 10 seconds remaining. Gregory made the first to get Appalachian to within two, at 63-61, however, his miss on the second one was rebounded by Slawson, who then quickly got the ball to Bothwell who was fouled with seconds seconds left. Bothwell left no doubt, connecting on both free throws to seal a tough, 65-61, road win for the visitors.
Furman’s final points of the evening would come from the charity stripe, and fittingly, from Bothwell, who showed up huge down the stretch for the Paladins in the key road win. His two free throws with six seconds remaining sealed the four-point road win.
Over the final five minutes, Bothwell scored nine of Furman’s final 13 points, and handed out one of his three assists on one of the other two made field goals during that final stretch, as the senior factored in on nearly every offensive possession as a scorer or facilitator down the stretch for Furman.
Both teams had trouble finding their shooting touch in the opening eight minutes of the contest of the contest, with Furman jumping out to 7-2 lead on a three by JP Pegues, a layup by Tyrese Hughey and two foul shots from Mike Bothwell. However, the Mountaineers would hold the Paladins scoreless for over five minutes to tie the ballgame on a free throw by Dibaju Walker.
Sparked by an 8-0 run, which was highlighted by a pair of dunks in transitions of Paladin steals, Furman would close the half especially strong Mountaineers 25-12 over the final 12 minutes of the frame to take a comfortable 32-19 lead into the break. Furman played some of its best defense in stretches in Tuesday night’s win over the Mountaineers, and it showed up especially in the opening half of play, as Furman scored nearly half its points off Mountaineer turnovers, converting 10 Mountaineer miscues into 15 first-half points.
The Paladins would see their lead their lead grow as large as 16 early in the second half, following one of two Jalen Slawson three-pointers in the contest.
The Mountaineers held the Paladins without an offensive rebound in the opening half of play, but Furman would respond in the second half by snagging nine key offensive rebounds, which contributed to seven second-chance points in a game, and in a game decided by four points, proved to be a pivotal contributing factor in getting the important road win.
“Something we worked on in the off-season in particular was how we rebounded, and we’ve did a lot of unique stuff in the off-season to prepare ourselves to be mental tougher when facing a good opponent like the one we faced tonight…this game will help us down the road,” Furman senior guard Mike Bothwell said.
Furman ended the night owning advantages in second-chance points (7-4), points from turnovers (21-17), points in the paint (30-27), fast-break points (17-10), and assists (18-7). The two teams were deadlocked, 37-37, on the glass.
The Paladins finished with 11 turnovers and 10 steals, while the Mountaineers turned the basketball over 17 times, with four takeaways.
The Paladins finished the contest connecting on just 38.1% (24-of-63) from the field, including only 24.1% (7-of-29) from the field. Furman, which shot a solid 83.3% from the charity stripe, saw Bothwell knock down all 10 Furman freebees, as he finished the night 10-for-12 from the stripe.
The Mountaineers finished the night connecting on 43.1% (22-of-51) from the field but were just 25.0% (5-for-20) from three. The Apps shot 66.7% (12-of-18) from the charity stripe, which included going 10-of-14 in the second half.
Bothwell finished the night connecting on 6-of-14 shots from the field and was also 1-of-5 from three-point land. As mentioned above, Bothwell was particularly aggressively offensively, especially down the stretch, as evidenced by his 10-for-12 effort from the line. His 23-point scoring performance marked his fourth 20-point scoring effort in seven games this season.
Slawson finished scoring 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field, including 2-for-4 from long range. He also led the team with 12 boards and was one of two Paladins in double figures in total rebounds. He also added two assists, three steals and a block shot.
Rounding out double-figure scorers for the Paladins was Marcus Foster, who added 12 on a 5-for-12 effort from the field, which included a 2-of-7 connection rate from three-point land.
Appalachian placed three players in double figures, with Donovan Gregory leading the way with 14 points to go along with a team-high tying seven rebounds. Gregory was joined in double figures by Terence Harcum and CJ Huntley, who added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Furman returns to the hardwood Saturday afternoon at high noon against South Carolina State.
The tip-off time was changed from its original slated tip-off time of 4 p.m. to accommodate Furman’s FCS second round playoff game against seventh-seeded Incarnate Word, which is slated to kickoff at 2 p.m. EST at Benton Stadium in San Antonio, TX. Appalachian State will head on the road for an intriguing road matchup with Charlotte on Friday night, with tip-off time slated for 7 p.m. at Halton Arena.
Post-game (Furman head coach Bob Richey)