UNCG battles back for important SoCon win over Furman

UNCG guard Keyshaun Langley led all scorers with 24 points

Some games tell one story, while others are several wrapped up in one final result. Saturday’s SoCon showdown between Furman and UNC Greensboro was one of the latter.

Despite holding as much as a 13-point second half lead, Furman could not sustain it, and it was UNC Greensboro’s know-how and maturity that shined through down the stretch, forcing overtime and then out-scoring the Paladins, 11-3, in the extra session, as the Spartans escaped with a win in Greenville for the third time in four seasons, capturing an 88-80 Southern Conference triumph before a sellout crowd on hand at Timmons Arena.

The series over the past few years has had some crazy finishes, especially each of the last two in Greenville. Last February, Furman held UNCG scoreless for the final 6:25 of the contest but fell to UNCG 58-56 in a Southern Conference thriller at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. In last season’s clash, it was the Spartans’ complete defensive effort held Furman to season-lows for shooting percentage (30.2%), three-point field goal percentage (21.4%), three-pointers made (6), and points (56). Despite Furman closing the contest on an 18-3 run, it wasn’t enough to overcome a Spartan lead that grew as large as 17 in the second half. 

UNCG’s most recent win in Greenville sees them improve to 11-8 overall and 5-1 in the Southern Conference, while Furman falls to 13-6 overall and 4-2 in league play.

While last season’s clash was a slugfest that saw neither team reach 60, this season’s contest was at times, a foul shooting contest interrupted by good, hard-fought basketball the few times the officiating crew allowed the rhythm of the game and the two teams actually run a complete offensive set, or two. At least that’s the way it seemed, but it’s conference basketball, and while despite the litany of interruptions, especially in the second half, it was evident that two high-caliber Southern Conference basketball teams were duking it out in a high stakes regular-season battle on Saturday.

If one didn’t know better, it could have been mistaken for a game in March with the type atmosphere, despite being marred by the combined 45 fouls, with UNCG drawing 28 fouls and connecting on 33-of-41 foul shots, which included connecting on a total of 24-of-30 from the line in the second half and overtime.  UNCG was 9-of-11 from the stripe in the opening half.

By contrast, Furman connected on 17-of-20 free throws for the game, drawing 17 fouls. The Paladins went 6-of-7 from the line in the opening half and went 11-of-13 in the second half and overtime to finish out the contest. While the disparity on the line was clear to all who witnessed it, it was UNCG effort on the offensive glass that ended up winning the game late, and ultimately why the Spartans handed Furman just its eighth Southern Conference home loss since the start of the 2015-16 season, with UNCG responsible for three of those wins, which is tops among the 10 SoCon schools. Wofford has two of those wins, while East Tennessee State, Samford and Chattanooga own the other three.

Furman is now 81-9 under head coach Bob Richey when scoring 77 or more points in a game. The Paladins had 77 in regulation today, which in most cases, would almost be an assured win, especially in the friendly confines of Timmons Arena. However, UNCG is responsible for two of those nine losses over the past six seasons when the Paladins have scored 77 or more points. Winthrop, Alabama, Auburn, High Point, VMI, Belmont, Old Dominion and The Citadel are responsible for the others. Five of those losses came in overtime (Belmont, Auburn, VMI, The Citadel, and UNCG).

Three of those 10 losses have come this season, and five of those 10 have come in the past two seasons, however, UNCG is the first SoCon team to that since the 2018-19 when the Spartans first accomplished the rare feat with an 89-79 win in Greensboro. The only other Southern Conference teams to defeat Furman over the past six seasons when the Paladins have scored 77 or more points are both VMI and The Citadel, with both games going to overtime.

The Keydets garnered a 91-90 come-from-behind win in the 2021 Southern Conference Tournament, while in head coach Bob Richey’s first season, the Paladins surrendered as much as a 17-point second half lead to drop a 100-92 overtime contest in Charleston.

UNCG finished with five players in double figures, as Keyshaun Langley put together a second monster game and after scoring a career-high 25 points in a win over VMI last time out, posted 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, including connecting on 4-for-6 from three-point land and 6-for-9 from the charity stripe, equaling his 24. Joining Langley with double-figure scoring efforts for the Spartans were Keondre Kennedy (17 pts), Mikeal Brown-Jones (15 pts), Bas Leyte (14 pts) and Mohammad Abdulsalam (11 pts).

The Paladins were buoyed by their two big game ballers, as Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson combined for 44 points, while Marcus Foster posted his fifth double figure scoring effort in his past six outings, finishing with 15 points, while JP Pegues rounded out Furman’s players in double figures, as he posted 13.

Slawson and Bothwell tied for team-high scoring honors with 22 apiece. Slawson added a team-best 12 rebounds to account for his fifth double-double of the season, and it was the senior from Summerville, S.C. who came alive in the second half, sparking Furman to a 13-point lead by posting 19 of his points in the latter half and overtime. It was the Bothwell show in the first half, as he posted 16 of his 22 in the opening stanza.

Slawson finished by connecting on 6-of-11 from the field, including 2-for-3 from long range and connected on 8-of-10 shots from the line to complete his strong scoring effort before fouling out in overtime. He also dished out a pair of assists and blocked a season-high four shots. Slawson also led the Paladins with three of the team’s six offensive rebounds in the loss.

Bothwell added his 22 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field, including going 1-for-5 from three-point land. He was a perfect 5-for-5 from the foul line. The senior from Cleveland Heights, OH, added six rebounds, three assists and a steal to round out another strong effort. Pegues added three assists to tie Bothwell for team-high honors, while Garrett Hien recorded three of the team’s five steals.

UNCG finished the contest connecting on 45.3% (24-of-53) from the field to go with a 50% (7-of-14) from three-point land. The Spartans were an impressive 80.5% (33-of-41) from the charity stripe in the contest.

Furman finished the contest shooting a near identical percentage, connecting on 45.0% (27-of-60) from the field, while shooting 34.6% (9-of-26) from three-point land. The Paladins were also impressive from the free throw line, making good on 85.0% (17-of-20) of their shots from the charity stripe.

UNCG held advantages in points from turnovers (17-16), bench points (15-5), total rebounds (36-33), total assists (15-9), and fast break points (9-0). Furman finished with advantages in points in the paint (34-30), and second chance points (9-8).

Leyte-Game Heroics in Greenville?

Bas Leyte must like late-game situations in Greenville, S.C., or kalm onder druk as it translates in his native language of his homeland–The Netherlands.

Leyte, who was born in Bergen op Zoom Netherlands, probably will look back with a great deal of fondness with the role he played in a pair of big Southern Conference victories against a Furman when he looks back on a fine college basketball career spent at UNC Greensboro at some point in the future. The fact is, he played a big part in handing Furman a Southern Conference loss in Greenville each of the past two seasons, with this one probably even a little sweeter being that it came at Furman’s home venue—Timmons Arena—a place it had lost only seven times to league competition and had just 15 total losses against 92 victories coming into Saturday afternoon’s mid-January SoCon showdown.

The Spartans got two huge offensive rebounds to ultimately force the game into the extra session. Both came from one of UNCG’s Bas Leyte, who seemingly has been huge and each of UNCG’s last two wins in Greenville the past couple of seasons. At the Bon Secours Wellness Arena last season, it was Leyte who helped UNCG hold off Furman furious rally in eerily similar fashion. He stripped away a rebound that Marcus Foster had apparently corralled in last season’s contest and was fouled. He knocked down four crucial free throws late in that game to affect the outcome for the visiting Spartans. It was the flying Dutchman that would come through once again in late going for the Spartans, allowing them to force the extra session.

The first offensive rebound came following a J.P. Pegues layup, which gave Furman a 75-71 lead with 1:55 left, however, after Keyshaun Langley clanked a three late off the front iron, it was Leyte that out-fought two Paladins, forcing Alex Williams to commit his third foul and with Furman already in the double bonus, found himself in a familiar situation in Greenville late in a Southern Conference game. Leyte made both foul shots to bring the Spartans within two points, at 75-73, with 1:31 remaining.

Following a Mike Bothwell missed shot, it was Leyte that came up with a defensive board on one end and then, following a Mikeal Brown-Jones missed jumper in the paint, Leyte came up with another offensive rebound, and again, it was Williams who committed the foul, resulting in his fourth personal and putting the veteran Spartan back at the stripe. He calmly made both of the double bonus charity offerings to tie the basketball game, 75-75 with 38.9 seconds left. After VanderWal scored a follow-up layup on a Jalen Slawson miss with just 13 seconds remaining, Slawson attempted to steal the ball from Keyshaun Langley, however, picked up his fourth personal foul late, and Langley converted both of the double bonus foul shots to tie the game, 77-77. Bothwell had a shot to win the game late, however, Keondre Kennedy came up with a big block to allow the Spartans to force overtime on the road. All told, UNCG’s final six points came from the line

Last season at The Well, Furman’s Garrett Hien’s three-pointer from the corner gave the Paladins a 56-55 lead with 59 seconds remaining, it would be Leyte that came up huge to help the Spartans secure another huge SoCon road win in Greenville. It was Furman’s first lead in the game since it was 8-6 at the 15:58 mark of the opening half of play. That lead would be very brief, thanks to a clutch play by Leyte.

Following a missed jumper by Keyshaun Langley from three-point range, which was rebounded Marcus Foster, however, Foster had the ball stripped away by Bas Leyte, and he had to then be fouled by the sophomore guard, putting him at the line for a one-and-one opportunity. Leyte connected on both ends to give the Spartans a 57-56 lead with 32.7 seconds remaining. 

On the ensuing possession by the Paladins, Furman would get a good look on a left elbow three-point attempt by Foster, however, but his caromed out and the ball was rebounded by Leyte, who had to be fouled with 6.6 seconds remaining. Following a timeout by Furman’s Bob Richey, Leyte knocked down the front end before missing the second, as Furman quickly found Foster, however, his attempted tear-drop layup as time expired was short and the Spartans held on for the 58-56 win almost 11 months ago.  

In the 2022 win over the Paladins in Greenville, Leyte recorded his first-career double-double, posting 11 points and grabbing 10 boards and remains one of two in his career as a Spartan. This season, Leyte finished with 14 points and tied for the team lead with seven rebounds.

How It Happened:

UNCG got out to a fast start and took a 17-10 following a Mohammed Abdulsalam layup at the 12:41 mark of the opening half. However, the Paladins came back to score five-straight to get within a couple, as Marcus Foster splashed in a three-pointer and a JP Pegues offensive rebound and putback off his own miss.

The Spartans stretched the lead back to five, at 20-15, following a foul on Dante Treacy by Mike Bothwell with 9:09 remaining in the opening half. Treacy knocked down all three foul shots to give the Spartans a 20-15 lead. The Paladins would take their first lead since it was 2-0 when JP Pegues drove in for an uncontested layup to give the Paladins a 26-24 lead with 6:05 remaining. The Paladins would see its lead grow to as much as five points, at 32-27, when Foster connected on another triple. UNCG hit back with five-straight on a Keondre Kennedy layup in the paint and a three-pointer from Keyshaun Langley to tie the game, 32-32, with 2:43 left in the opening half.

With the UNCG holding a one-point lead, at 34-33, Bothwell drew a foul driving to the basket, missing the layup, however, but knocked down the lead to give the Paladins a 36-35 lead. After Abdulsalam tied the answered on the other end, Bothwell again drove to the basket and this time scored and was fouled once again. He made the ensuing foul shot to put the Paladins back in front 38-36 with 1:17 left. However, the Spartans would score the final four points of the half, as Treacy connected on 1-of-2 foul shots from the line and then Abdulsalam made good on a three-point play the old-fashioned way to stake the Spartans to a 40-38 halftime edge.

In the second half, the Paladins overturned the two-point halftime deficit by using a 17-6 run midway through the half to assume what was a 69-56 lead following a Pegues deceptive layup, flashing past a Spartan would be defender with a layup to increase Furman’s lead to its largest of the afternoon, at 69-56, with 8:02 remaining in the game.

But the Spartans would manage to whittle way at the Furman lead over the final portions of the game, connecting on 10-of-11 shots from the charity strip over the final five minutes and change, eventually tying the game, 77-77, after a pair of Keyshaun Langley foul shots with 13 seconds remaining.

By the time overtime started, the Spartans were energized with a second wind, while Furman looked exhausted and in the extra session, Slawson would get fouled going to the basket and knocked down one free throw to give Furman a 78-77 lead. After Keyshaun Langley took a pass from his brother Kobe Langley, he would put the Spartans ahead with a right elbow triple to make it an 80-78 contest with 3:47 remaining. The Spartans wouldn’t trail the rest of the way, and Furman went scoreless from the field in the extra session, which is evidence of their exhaustion level, which had staked them to a 13-point second half lead.

Furman returns to action Wednesday night for a huge league battle on the road at Chattanooga. Tip-off for that contest is set for 7 p.m.

Post-game press conference:

head coach Bob Richey
Jalen Slawson (right) and Mike Bothwell (left)

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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