Furman couldn’t do it again could it? After all, the last time Furman had a chance to extend a long winning streak in a series on the road, it fell 79-67 in Cullowhee to end what had been a 13-game winning streak over Western Carolina in an early conference test. This time, however, the Paladins would extend a long winning streak against a SoCon foe, and doing so in much in the same emphatic fashion, extending its winning streak to 16 games with its fifth-straight double-digit win over Mercer.
Marcus Foster went off again in the opening half of play, posting 18 of his game and career-high 25 points in the opening half of play, as the Paladins came away from Macon, GA, with an 84-66 Southern Conference victory over the Bears Wednesday night at Hawkins Arena. His 25-point effort marked the third time in five league games that Foster has led the Paladins in scoring.
The wins sees the Paladins improve to 13-5 overall and 4-1 in SoCon basketball action, while Mercer drops to 7-11 overall and 0-5 in Southern Conference action. It marks the first time since joining the Southern Conference in 2014-15 that the Bears have gone winless in their first five SoCon games.
Foster’s big night was highlighted by another outstanding shooting effort from three-point range, as he connected on 6-of-7 shots from long-range, including knocking down all five of his long-range efforts in the opening half. For the game, the Atlanta, GA, native connected on 7-of-9 shots from the field and was 5-for-6 from the free throw line. In addition to his career-high scoring performance, Foster also led the Paladins on the backboards, ripping down seven rebounds. Through the first five Southern Conference games, Foster has knocked down 20 three-pointers in Southern Conference play, which is more than any other player in the league. When you consider he didn’t score against Western Carolina, he’s canned those 20 triples in those four Paladin league wins. Overall, he’s shooting 55.6% (20-of-36) from three-point land since the start of league play, which ranks him fifth overall in three-point shooting in league play.
After finishing the win over ETSU connecting on 5-of-10 from long range against ETSU, Foster’s 6-of-7 performance as a part of his career-high scoring night means the Atlanta, GA., native is 11-of-17 from three in his last two games, meaning the junior is connecting on 64.7% from three-point range over the past two games.
Foster was one of three Paladins in double figures in the opening half of play, as both Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson both provided their usually efficient scoring nights, as the all-conference duo posted 17 and 15 points, respectively, in the win for Furman. Bothwell finished the night connecting on 7-of-12 shots from the field, including going 1-for-2 from three-point range. The senior from Cleveland Heights, OH, also connected on 2-for-4 from the charity stripe. He also ripped down a pair of rebounds and dished out one assist.
Slawson added his 15 on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and was 1-of-1 from three-point land. Dating back to his 2-for-2 from three-point range against ETSU, the senior from Summerville, S.C., has now hit his past three from long-range. He was also 2-for-3 from the foul line. In addition to his scoring total, Slawson also dished out five assists, five rebounds and had one block.
Evidence of Furman’s strong improvements on the defensive end of the floor were evident once again this evening. Fresh off holding ETSU’s leading scorer Jordan King 0-for-9 from the line a total of five points for the game, the Paladins turned around and held Mercer’s Jalyn McCreary, who came into the contest averaging 15.5 PPG to lead the Bears, was held to 0-of-6 shooting from the field with no points. That means in the past two games Furman has held the opposing team’s leading scorer to a combined 0-for-15 shooting from the field and a total of five points.
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), ETSU’s Jordan King (5 pts), and now Mercer’s Jalyn McCreary (0 pts) well below their respective scoring averages entering the contest. Those players have been held to 7-of-42 shooting (16.6%) from the field, which includes a 1-for-13 effort from three-point land.
The Bears failed to reach 70 points in a league game for the fifth-straight contest and had four players finish the night in double figures. Shannon Grant led the way for the Bears with 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field. Grant also added six rebounds and a pair of assists to finish out his most complete effort of the season. The other three Mercer players in double figures in the contest were Kam Robertson and Jah Quinones adding 12 points apiece, while James Glisson III rounded out the double-figure scorers for the Bears with 10.
Furman finished the night connecting on 51.9% (28-of-54) of its shots from the field, which included a 62.5% (10-of-16) performance from three-point range in the contest. Furman finished the game connecting on 75.0% (18-of-24) from the free throw line.
Mercer finished the night connecting on 41.9% (26-of-62) from the field, however, struggled shooting the ball from the perimeter, knocking down just 20.0% (3-of-15) from three-point range in the loss. The Bears knocked down 73.3% (11-of-15) from the charity stripe.
For the game, Furman ended up holding advantages in total assists (15-9), points off turnovers (15-10), and fast-break points (12-10), while Mercer ended up holding advantages in total rebounds (38-31), points in the paint (38-32), bench scoring (25-14), and second-chance points (18-8).
How It Happened:
Both teams came out with an offensive mindset, and shooting the ball well from the field early. The Paladins were on fire in the opening eight-plus minutes of the contest, jumping out to a 27-18 lead by connecting on 11 of their first 13 shots. The Paladins assumed their largest lead of the night on a jumper by J.P. Pegues and a Slawson driving layup to the basket in which he was also fouled, but missed the free throw and the Paladins held a 31-18 lead with just under 10 minutes remaining in the opening half. A baseline layup by Bothwell extended Furman’s lead to 15 and prompted a Mercer timeout. The Paladins connected on 14 of their first 17 shots to assume that 15 point advantage.
The Paladins were able to take a 20-point, 52-32, halftime lead on the strength of a 75% (20-of-28) shooting performance, which included connecting on 9-of-11 three-point field goals, staking the Paladins to the big halftime advantage. In the early going, both Furman and Mercer traded the league back and forth, as the game got off to a furious start, with the Bears taking it to the Paladins and had plenty of energy in front of small home crowd, as the Bears held an early 9-5 lead following a Shawn Walker Jr. jumper in transition. A Slawson layup and the first of Foster’s five first-half threes gave the Paladins the lead back, at 10-9, with 17:11 to play in the opening half.
Shannon Grant, who was playing in just his fifth game of the season, continued the strong start for the Bears with a layup in the paint, allowing the Bears to go back on top by a point, 11-10, with 16:42 to play in the opening half. That would set the stage for the first of two major runs for the Paladins to close out the half. A Tyrese Hughey dunk would give the Paladins the lead for the good, at 12-11, with 16:36 remaining in the opening half, and that would spark what would be a 10-0 run for the Paladins. One of Foster’s five first-half threes would conclude the run, as the junior guard gave the Paladins a 20-11 lead with 14:40 remaining in the opening half.
Furman’s second major run came a couple of minutes later. After Jah Quinones got the Bears to within five (23-18) after a pair of made free throws with 13:03 remaining in the opening half, the Paladins used a 15-2 run over the next five minutes and change to give the Paladins their most comfortable advantage of the night, at 38-20 following a Jalen Slawson layup in the paint, giving the Paladins a 38-20 lead with 7:45 to play in the half.
Mercer would whittle the Furman lead to just 12 (44-32) following a pair of free throws by James Glisson III foul shots with 2:43 to play in the opening half, however, Furman would score the final eight points of the opening half to take a 20-point (52-32) lead to the locker room. That last flurry to end the opening half of play was sparked by a Mike Bothwell jumper with just over two minutes remaining in the first half of play, and the final points of the half, fittingly, came from Foster, who knocked down three foul shots after the Bears fouled the red-hot shooter on a three-pointer with just under a minute remaining in the half. Foster promptly knocked down all three to give the Paladins the sizable lead entering the locker room.
In the second half, Mercer played tougher on the defensive end, and while Furman didn’t shoot the ball as it did in the opening half, it maintained a safe distance on the scoreboard to ensure what would be its third true road win of the season.
Mercer threatened to get back into the game, as the Bears cut the Paladin lead to 67-53 with eight minutes left in the contest, but a quick 10-2 answer by the Paladins, which started with a pair of Alex Williams foul shots and concluded with a Mike Bothwell jumper in the paint gave Furman its largest lead of the contest at 22 points (77-55) with 4:30 remaining. The Bears would cut Furman’s lead to 16 points once more, following a Jah Quinones jumper in the paint following a Luis Hurtado offensive rebound to cut Furman’s lead to 79-63, however, the Paladins had the answer as they did almost every time they were challenged Wednesday in Macon, as Furman inbounded the ball quickly and the ball found its way to Foster in transition, who didn’t think twice about shooting the transition three and it hit no iron as it dropped through the bottom of the net with 2:14 remaining to give Furman the 19-point edge once again and essentially end all hopes of a Mercer rally.
Furman has a monumental Southern Conference tilt on the horizon Saturday afternoon at Timmons Arena, as the Paladins will face UNC Greensboro (11-7, 4-1 SoCon) in a 4 p.m. contest at Timmons Arena.