This season, Furman’s trips along the Watauga River have certainly gone according to plan, as that is where both Paladin true road wins have occurred this season. The first was a 65-61 win at Appalachian State, while the second came in a 70-56 win on the road at East Tennessee State, in what was arguably Furman’s most complete defensive performance of the season.
The 14-point win by the Paladins marked the second-largest win by a Furman team in program history, trailing only the 1984-85 squad, which marked the largest margin victory in Johnson City in school history. Since 2015-16, Furman and East Tennessee State had been two of the three most successful teams in the Southern Conference span, along with UNCG. The Paladins and Bucs had totaled the same number of victories (164), however, the Paladins’ 14-point triumph saw the Paladins pull into the lead with 165. UNCG’s 166 total wins since 2015-16 tops the league, while Furman moves into second with 165 and ETSU now sits third with 164. The win by the Paladins was also a milestone in the careers of Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson, who notched win No. 100 of their respective careers in Johnson City.
The loss by the Bucs also marked their fifth-straight home loss, marking the program’s longest home losing skid since the Ed DeChellis era.
Furman even had a familiar face to ETSU and SoCon hoops aficionados sitting on the end of its bench in its first win at Freedom Hall since 2017-18 campaign, as Alan LeForce, who led the Bucs to SoCon title runs in 1990-91 and 1991-92, respectively, was in attendance to take in the road contest for the Paladins. LeForce, who recently moved to Greenville, S.C., has been on the end of Furman’s bench in all of its home games this season. LeForce won 178 games as the ETSU head coach from 1990-96, coaching the likes of Keith “Mister” Jennings and Calvin Talford, while leading the Bucs to a No. 10 national ranking during the 1990-91 season.
The win saw Furman improve its overall mark to 12-5 on the season and 3-1 in Southern Conference action, while East Tennessee State would fall to 6-11 overall and 2-2 in league action.
The Paladins were led by Marcus Foster’s 21 point and 10 rebounds, marking his first of the season and third of his career. The junior combo guard from Atlanta, GA., finished by connecting on 8-of-18 shots from the field, including going 5-for-10 from three-point land. Eighteen of his 21 points came in the opening half, with 12 of those coming on triples.
Foster has now scored in double figures in three out Furman’s four league games this season, which is highlighted by a career-high 23-point effort in Furman’s league-opening win against VMI. He was one of three Paladins in double figures Saturday afternoon.
Jalen Slawson and Mike Bothwell were also double-figure scorers in the win, as the All-SoCon duo added 16 and 13 points, respectively, to the Paladin cause.
Slawson connected on 5-of-6 shots from the field and made his only two threes in the contest. He was also a perfect 4-for-4 from the charity stripe. In addition to his offensive performance from the floor, the senior from Summerville, S.C., also added eight rebounds, dished out three assists, recorded three steals and blocked a pair of shots.
Bothwell put in a solid afternoon of work, which is the norm for the SoCon Player of the Year candidate. He posted his 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field, however, he struggled shooting the ball from three-point land, going 0-for-7 from long range.
He was also 5-of-6 from the charity stripe. His 13-point effort put Bothwell over 1,700 points for his career, as he now has 1,711 points in his standout career, moving Bothwell onto Furman’s top 10 all-time scoring charts, as he moved past Mel Daniel (1,707) points in his career and into 10th place on Furman’s all-time scoring ledger. Additionally, Bothwell added two rebounds and an assist.
ETSU placed a pair of players in double figures in the losing effort. DeAnthony Tipler came off the bench to lead the Bucs in scoring, posting 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting from the field, including going 2-for-9 from three-point range.
Tipler added two assists, pulled down a team-best eight rebounds and had one steal, however, also recorded four of the Bucs 16 turnovers.
Joining Tipler in double figures for the Bucs was Jalen Haynes, who has been ETSU’s most-consistent player this season. Haynes, who transferred in from Virginia Tech, added 13 points, six renbounds and a steal, despite early foul trouble.
Evidence of Furman’s superior defensive effort can be found by one glance at the stats sheet, as the Paladins held ETSU leading scorer Jordan King without a field goal and for the first time in his 35 games as a Buc, without a three-pointer. He finished 0-of-9 from the field and 0-for-4 from three, scoring all five of his points from the charity stripe, going 5-of-6 from the line.
It’s the fourth-straight game to open conference play in which the Paladins have held the opposing team’s leading scorer to a season-low for scoring. King, who paced the Bucs coming into the contest averaging 12.3 PPG, finished with a season-low five points, eclipsing his previous season-low of seven vs. UNC Asheville.
Since the start of league play, the Paladins have held VMI’s Sean Conway (8 pts), WCU’s Tyzhaun Claude (7 pts), The Citadel’s Austin Ash (8 pts) and now King (5 pts), and for three of those four players, it marked a season-low for scoring. Those players have been held to 7-of-36 shooting (19.4) from the field, which includes a 1-for-13 effort from three-point land.
Neither team shot the ball very well in the game, with Furman finishing the contest with the more solid shooting percentage, connecting on 41.7% (25-of-60) from the field and 32.4% (11-of-34) from three-point land. The Paladins were solid from the charity stripe once again, having going 9-of-10 from the line, and in its last two wins, as Furman has connected on 30-of-34 foul shots in the past couple of games.
The Bucs finished the contest by connecting on just 33.3% (9-of-27) shots from the field, including connecting on just 3-of-21 long-range efforts, which was accounted for just a 14.3% clip from long-range in the game.
The Bucs 56 points was its second-lowest total of the season, trailing on the 47-point effort at the University. The 33.3% shooting effort from the field was a season-low, and the three three-pointers made matched the second-lowest total for made triples in a game, matching the three made against Western Carolina last time out, as well as in the loss to Louisiana Lafayette earlier this season. Only the two made triples against Georgia was lower.
Furman finished the game holding advantages in total assists (15-7), points from turnovers (22-13), and second-chance points (17-16).
ETSU finished the game by claiming advantages in points in the paint (28-24), total rebounds (42-35), bench points (31-11), and fast-break points (13-12).
East Tennessee State 56
How It Happened:
Furman’s defensive effort included holding the Bucs to 33.3% (20-of-60) shooting and just 14.3% (3-of-21) from three-point land. The 56 points, along with the shooting percentages from both the field and from three-point land are all season lows for a Furman opponent.
For the second time in four league games this season, folks got to see some of Furman at its best, which was in direct correlation to some of Marcus Foster’s best as a Paladin. It wasn’t a perfect performance by any stretch, but it was Foster that created the separation point with just under three minutes to play in the opening half, as he scored nine-straight points on three-consecutive made three pointers to stretch the Paladin lead from six points (26-20) to 15 points (35-20) by the time he knocked down his third—straight triple with 1:28 remaining in the half.
After a missed three from Jordan King, Ben VanderWal stretched Furman’s lead to 37-20 on a driving dunk in the lane, bringing Furman’s bench to its feet and the good energy that the Paladins maintained much of the night was thanks in large part to a bench that cheered in unison for their teammates a majority of the night.
The Bucs were able to get a Jaden Seymour triple to close out the half, however, the damage was done, and the Paladins went to the half with a 37-23 lead after closing on an 11-3 run. Nine of Foster’s 18 points came in during that stretch. He would only score three in the second half to post his game total; however, the damage was done.
In the second half, the Paladins would add to their lead even more substantially, using a pair of 14-2 runs to build upon its 37-23 halftime advantage. The Bucs scored the first field goal of the second half, cutting Furman’s lead to 12 following Justic Smith’s jumper in the paint. However, from that point forward, the Paladin defense would be stifling, as it held ETSU scoreless from the field for over eight minutes, allowing the Paladins to create an even greater advantage.
With 9:32 remaining, the Paladins extended their lead to their largest margin of the afternoon following a pair of Mike Bothwell made free throws, making it a 56-34 game.
ETSU would make an 11-2 run to cut the Paladin lead back to 13, at 58-45, following a pair of King made charity shots with 6:11 remaining. However, the Paladins would push the lead back to 20, following a 10-3 spurt, which was ignited by a J.P. Pegues three ball from the right elbow and a Garrett Hien layup in the paint to stake Furman’s lead back to 20, at 68-48, with 1:42 remaining.
The Bucs would score eight of the game’s final 10 points, which was capped by a Justice Smith layup with eight seconds left for the final points of the contest.
Furman will remain on the road Wednesday night with a trip to Mercer to take on a Bears team that has gotten off to an 0-4 start to league play. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. at Hawkins Arena.
What we learned
As we get deeper into Southern Conference play, a clearer, and perhaps more accurate picture is beginning to take shape for Bob Richey’s Furman basketball team in 2022-23. It is the fact that Furman is getting better defensively, and offensively, showing more versatility than it did in non-conference play.
That has been highlighted by having players other than Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson help share the scoring load offensively, and as in the wins over both VMI and The Citadel, seeing a Furman bench get fully involved in those two wins.
But the effort defensively is something that Furman had to have and will have to continue to rely upon if it wants to reach its ultimate goal this season.
Through the first four conference games, the Paladins are a respectable fifth in scoring defense (67.2 PPG), third in field goal percentage defense (40.6%), third in three-point field goal percentage defense (30.8%).
In addition to that, the Paladins continue to rank in the top three in the league in most every offensive category, leading the league in scoring offense (79.8 PPG), second in field goal percentage (48.7%) and rank third in three-point field goal percentage (38.2%).
Below, I have listed the final overall statistics of each champion that has won the league since 2015-16, as well as what currently Furman ranks both defensively and offensively in all categories listed, as well as the current league leader in each.
Conference Tournament champion season ending overall defensive rankings since 2015-16
()=ranking in conf
bold+italics=ranked 1st in category
Year Champion Scoring def FG% def 3pt FG% def reb margin
2015-16 *Chattanooga 75.8 PPG (3rd) 44.0% (6th) 33.1% (1st) +3.1 (3rd)
2016-17 ETSU 69.7 (5th) 41.7% (2nd) 38.2% (4th) +4.1 (2nd)
2017-18 *UNCG 62.5 PPG (1st) 40.6% (2nd) 35.3% (6th) +3.5 (3rd)
2018-19 Wofford 65.6 PPG (1st) 42.5% (3rd) 32.1% (1st) +5.8 (2nd)
2019-20 *ETSU 63.1 PPG (1st) 42.5% (2nd) 30.1% (1st) +4.5 (1st)
2020-21 *UNCG 67.3 PPG (2nd) 41.7% (1st) 35.0% (8th) +2.9 (3rd)
2021-22 *Chattanooga 64.4 PPG (1st) 42.2% (3rd) 29.7% (1st) +4.9 (2nd)
2022-23 ????????? 64.5 PPG (UNCG) 39.5% (UNCG) 30.8% (T-1st) +5.8 (UTC)
2022-23 league favorite/Furman 71.6 PPG (8th) 45.5% (9th) 36.1% (9th) +3.1 (6th)
2022-23 Furman conf. only 67.2 (5th/UNCG 60.5 PPG) 40.6% (3rd/UNCG 36.2%) 30.8% (3rd/ETSU 26.9%) +0.2
Conference Tournament champion season ending overall offensive rankings since 2015-16
Year Tourney Champion Scoring off FG% 3pt FG% scoring margin
2015-16 Chattanooga 75.8 PPG (3rd) 45.7% (2nd) 35.9% (4th) +8.2 (1st)
2016-17 ETSU 79.5 PPG (2nd) 48.8% (1st) 38.2% (4th) +9.8 (1st)
2017-18 UNCG 73.2 PPG (7th) 44.5% (6th) 35.3% (6th) +10.7 (2nd)
2018-19 Wofford 82.3 PPG (2nd) 49.0% (1st) 41.4% (1st) +16.7 (1st)
2019-20 ETSU 76.3 PPG (3rd) 47.5% (1st) 34.6% (7th) +13.1 (1st)
2020-21 UNCG 73.0 PPG (8th) 42. 1% (10th) 30.0% (10th) +5.6 (3rd)
2021-22 Chattanooga 74.2 PPG (5th) 46.4% (1st) 34.5% (7th) +9.8 (1st)
2022-23 ???????????? 81.9 PPG (Furman) 49.7% (Furman) 39.2% (VMI) +10.4 Furman
2022-23 league favorite Furman 81.9 PPG (1st) 49.7% (1st) 35.3% (5th) +10.4 (1st)
2022-23 Furman conf only: 79.8 PPG (1st) 48.7% (2nd/Samford 49.5%) 38.2% (3rd/Samford 44.2%) +12.5 (1st)
Upcoming articles for Mid-Major Madness:
A feature on both ETSU’s Jalen Haynes and Western Carolina’s Tyzhaun Claude
–Special thanks to both outstanding SIDs at East Tennessee State (Kevin Brown) and Western Carolina (Steven Grandy) at getting each player for interviews for me. The SIDs don’t often get enough credit for what they do, however, Kevin and Steven are great at what they do, and they make our job so much easier. Shout out to all the league’s media relations coordinators and a big thank you.