Furman flexes its muscle in SoCon-opening win over VMI

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It wasn’t necessarily pretty at times, but while Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson spent most of the night leading in other ways than scoring points, it set the stage for Furman to show how diversified and deep its scoring options go, as Marcus Foster and Tyrese Hughey were able to pick up Furman’s offense during a tough stretch in the opening minutes of the game, and the duo helped give the Paladins a boost when things weren’t going smoothly offensively, as Furman opened Southern Conference play by making a strong statement with an 85-62 win over VMI.

The win sees the Paladins improve to 10-4 overall and 1-0 in the Southern Conference, while VMI falls to 5-9 and 0-1 in league play. The 23-point win over the Keydets also marked Furman’s third-straight victory, while also marking the Keydets third-straight defeat. Furman’s 23-point win not only marked

Foster would score 15 of his career-high 23 points in the opening half, while Hughey had eight of his 11, in the opening frame, as the duo accounted for 23 of Furman’s 33 halftime points, helping the Paladins to a 12-point, 33-21, lead and an eventual 85-62 Southern Conference win over a gritty, young and tough-as-nails VMI team. The win was the Paladins’ ninth-straight league-opening win, dating back to the 2013-14 season. The win also improved Furman to 91-15 overall and 50-7 in SoCon play inside the friendly confines of Timmons Arena, which dates back to the start of the 2015-16 campaign.

For Foster, a junior from Atlanta, GA, its his eighth game in double figures this season, including his second-straight, as he scored 17 points in Furman’s last game prior to Christmas break against Anderson University. His 23 points eclipsed his previous career-high of 22 points established earlier this season in a win over Tusculum. The combo guard finished the night connecting 8-of-15 shots from the field, which included a 7-of-12 effort from three-point land. His seven triples in the contest were also a career standard, matching his scoring effort.

In addition to what he was able to provide the Paladins in the way of scoring, Foster also finished the contest with a pair of assists with no turnovers and grabbed eight rebounds in 35 minutes of floor action off the bench in his new role for the Paladins.

Hughey added 13 points and four boards, finishing the night by knocking down 5-of-7 shots from the field, including going 3-for-5 from deep. He also had a steal and an assist in a little over 10 minutes of action off the bench.

While Foster and Hughey were most certainly sparkplugs for the Paladin offense, they weren’t the only two that got into the double-digit scoring act offensively, as both J.P. Pegues (15 pts) and Mike Bothwell (12 pts) also finished in double figures. Pegues continued his consistent play as of late for the Paladins, as he posted his second-straight double-figure scoring performance, knocking down 5-of-9 shots from the field, including 3-for-7 from three-point land. He also added six rebounds, an assist and a steal to the Furman cause.

For Bothwell, his night was spent setting others up and doing even a little coaching himself at times, as during one of the game’s early media timeouts, he got into his team a bit about not staying on their feet defensively against VMI’s smart, undersized backcourt quartet. After not taking a shot in the opening half of play, Bothwell connected on 5-of-10 in the second, including 2-of-3 from long-range. The senior Southern Conference Player of the Year candidate added three steals, three assists, and a pair of rebounds.

Though Slawson didn’t find himself finishing in the double-digit scoring column for the game, it almost felt like he did everything else for the Paladins in the win. After all, the senior from Summerville, S.C., threatened a triple-double, finishing the night with seven points, a team-leading nine rebounds and a team-best eight assists. He also added three blocks in arguably one of his most complete defensive performances of the season.

Garrett Hien also finished with another solid effort, contributing eight points, two assists and a rebound in a little over 14 minutes of work Thursday night.

VMI finished the contest by placing three players in double figures, with Devin Butler leading the way off the bench for the Keydets with 14 points, while center Tyler Houser added 13 points, and freshman guard Asher Woods contributed 10.

Furman did a nice job on the league’s fourth-leading scorer coming into the contest—Sean Conway—holding the senior guard well below his 15.8 PPG scoring average coming into the game, as he finished with eight points, which was seven points below his 15.8 PPG scoring average entering the contest. All eight of his points came in the second half, as part of Furman’s masterful work on the defensive end of the floor in the opening half of play was exhibited by holding the senior guard from Fairfield, CT, scoreless in the opening 20 minutes on a 0-for-6 shooting performance from the field, which including a 0-for-2 effort from three. Conway did end up leading the Keydets with 10 boards.

As a team, the Paladins finished the night connecting at a 46.9% (30-of-64) clip from the field, including a 40% effort from three-point land (16-of-40). In fact, the Paladins have notably picked up their shooting from long-range in the past two games, combining to hit 33 three-pointers in back-to-back wins over Anderson and VMI, shooting at a 39.2% clip (33-of-84) over the past two games. The Paladins have now scored 80 or more points in eight of their 14 games this season, having gone 7-1 in those contests.

VMI completed the contest by connecting on just 37.7% (23-of-61) from the field and shot just 29.4% (5-of-17) from three-point land. The five three-pointers by the Keydets were tied for their second fewest in a game this season, as Davidson also limited the Keydets to just five three-point field goals in what was a 75-71 Wildcats win at Belk Arena.

Furman finished the game holding advantages in total rebounds (42-35), total assists (25-13), second-chance points (11-4), fast break points (9-6), bench points (39-22) and points from turnovers (10-8). VMI finished with a slight end in points in the paint (28-26).

How It Happened:

It was an opening night of league play, which saw a pair of SoCon heavyweights fall to teams picked to finish below them in the league standings, however, Furman avoided becoming the third of those league title contenders to be upset by weathering the tough start and showing the maturity of a team with vision on long-term gratification rather than short-term inconveniences.

Those inconveniences and headaches were due in part to a tough, well-coached VMI team that has battled its own adversity in the form of injuries and departures of four starters, with three of those playing starring roles in their new chosen destination, yet despite all that, VMI, and its young first-year head coach Andrew Wilson has the Keydets playing loose, free and with toughness. And for at least 12 minutes of the opening half, that proved somewhat bothersome for Richey’s Paladins, despite all the maturity and talent at the disposal of the preseason league title favorite.

However, the Paladins were buoyed by their play on the defensive end of the floor when the shots weren’t falling in the opening half, putting together maybe its best half of defensive basketball this season. Furman stifled the Keydets to just a 9-for-33 shooting performance in the opening frame, which included just a 1-of-9 (11%) from three-point range for one of the league’s most prolific outside shooting teams. The Paladins held the Keydets to just 21 first-half points, which was the second-lowest point total in a half by a Furman opponent this season, eclipsed only by Appalachian State, which scored just 19 first-half points in a 65-61 Furman road win earlier this month.

Furman’s notable defense effort, however, needed a spark of energy from the Paladin offense, and it would come via redshirt junior guard Marcus Foster.

With VMI holding a 19-17 lead following a Taeshaud Jackson layup with 7:31 to play in the opening half, the Paladins got the spark they needed from Foster, who after three made free throws on two separate trips to the line from freshman forward Ben VanderWal to take a slight 20-19 lead, knocked down a left elbow triple with just under five minutes to play in the opening half of play.

It would be the start of a 16-2 run to close the half, in which the Paladins were able to hold the Keydets scoreless from the field over the final 7:31 of the opening 20 minutes to take a comfortable 12-point, 33-21, lead into the halftime locker room. Foster’s first of three threes along with another layup in the lane in that final first half stretch saw him account for 11 of Furman’s 16 points during that decisive stretch to close out the Paladins, helping the Paladins build momentum after Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson combined for just two points on just 1-of-6 shooting in the opening stanza.

VMI was able to slice the Paladin lead back to the halftime margin, following a three-point play the old-fashioned way by Devin Butler, at 49-37, with a 13:24 remaining. However, Furman would respond with a 13-2 spurt to essentially put the game out of reach, starting with a Bothwell layup in transition and finishing with a J.P. Pegues made three with 4:36 remaining to stake the Paladins to a 75-50 lead. A little less than two minutes later, the Paladin lead would reach its apex for the evening at 27 points (81-54) on a three-pointer by Hughey.

Furman returns to action Saturday afternoon with a trip to beautiful Cullowhee, N.C., to take on Western Carolina at the Liston B. Ramsey Activity Center with tip-off set for 4 p.m. VMI returns to league action Saturday as well, returning to the friendly confines of Cameron Hall to take on East Tennessee State, with tip-off for that contest slated for 1 p.m.

Postgame Presser:

Furman head coach Bob Richey
Furman players–Tyrese Hughey (left) and Marcus Foster (right)

Published by soconjohn

I am a lover of all things SoCon, and I have had a passion to write about, follow and tell the world about this great conference for pretty much my entire life. While I do love the SoCon, and live in the SoCon city, which is home to the Furman Paladins, have a passion for sports in general, with college football and college hoops topping the list.

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