Whitt’s crucial three fuels Furman’s late winning run at Chattanooga

Furman senior guard Mike Bothwell

Mike Bothwell scored 22 points and classmate Jalen Slawson added 21, as the two super seniors added another superlative in their respective Furman careers by doing something few other Paladin players have in theirs, finishing off a final appearance inside one of SoCon hoops’ most-revered homecourt venues with each posting marks of 4-1 inside Chattanooga’s “Roundhouse” (McKenzie Arena), in leading Furman to a 77-69 win over the defending SoCon champion Mocs in a key mid-week Southern Conference basketball contest.

The win saw the Paladins improve to 14-6 overall and 5-2 in Southern Conference play, while the Mocs fell for the second-straight game and are now 11-9 overall and 3-4 in Southern Conference play.

It was a rematch of the 2022 Southern Conference Tournament championship team, one team—Furman—was essentially the same team, while the other—Chattanooga—was almost entirely a different team from the one that handed Furman the ultimate heartbreak of a 64-63 buzzer-beating defeat last March in Asheville. However, it is a new season, and for the Mocs, it was a team that had one player, in A.J. Caldwell, who saw significant playing time in that game some 318 days ago.

Furman didn’t care about how many of those players off that team were still around, it had this game circled on the calendar, not necessarily because of the heartbreak last March, but mostly because Chattanooga was one of those handful of teams expected to compete for the Southern Conference regular-season and tournament titles this season. Add that to Furman coming off an 88-80 overtime home loss to UNCG last time it took the floor, and its collective backs were likely against the wall when facing the defending champion Wednesday night before 3,402 fans at a rowdy Roundhouse.

Wednesday night’s battle was also one that had the likely winner of the SoCon Player of the Year, with Chattanooga’s outstanding center Jake Stephens, while Furman’s Bothwell being his closest competition. On this night at least, it was Bothwell that once again that stepped up and had a huge game inside the Roundhouse.

It was kind of a full circle moment for Bothwell, who four years ago, had his breakout game as a Paladin in the same facility, scoring 27 points in what was a 73-67 win for the Paladins back in December of 2019. In Bothwell’s last four games inside the arena in which he has played meaningful minutes, he’s scored a combined 83 points, which converts to an average of 20.7 PPG in those four contests.

In Wednesday night’s Paladin victory, Bothwell connected on 7-of-11 shots from the field and went 2-for-4 from three-point range,  while also connecting on 6-of-7 shots from the charity stripe and added one rebound and an assist. Slawson finished with his 21 on 6-of-15 shooting from the field, which included a 1-of-5 effort from three and an 8-for-10 effort at the line. Slawson also added seven rebounds, two steals, two assists and a block to round out another complete performance.

J.P. Pegues finished with 11 points, six rebounds, three assists, and a block, while Marcus Foster posted his fifth-straight double-figure scoring performance by adding 10 points, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal to round out the Paladins in double figures.

Chattanooga was led by Stephens, who posted 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field, however, was 0-for-2 shooting the ball from three-point land in the contest. It marked only the third time this season that Stephens has managed to be held scoreless from the perimeter, which also came with 0-of-2 performance in a lopsided win over Oakland City back on Nov. 10, and another lopsided win over Non-Division I Johnson back on Dec. 10, which saw Stephens go 0-for-4.

Stephens scored 12 of his 18 total points in the opening half of the contest on 4-of-6 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 from the charity stripe. In the second half, the senior from Bunker Hill, WVa, went 2-for-5 from the field and was a perfect 2-for-2 from the stripe. He also added a team-leading eight rebounds, blocked three shots and added a pair of assists. Jamal Johnson is the only other Mocs player to finish in double figures, adding 10 points, five rebounds, and a pair of steals.

Furman finished the contest connecting on 43.1% (25-of-58) from the field, which included a 25.9% (7-of-27) effort from long-range, while Chattanooga knocked down 40.7% (22-of-54) from the field, and finished with a 27.6% (8-of-29) shooting clip from three-point range.

The Mocs finished the contest holding advantages in total rebounds (35-31) and bench points (18-13), while the Paladins held advantages in points off turnovers (21-9), points in the paint (36-26), total assists (8-7), second chance points (20-16), and fast-break points (17-11).

The game was physical, as expected between two very good basketball teams, and the even disparity of fouls and free throw attempts was an accurate representation of that. Furman finished connecting on 20-of-25 charity shots (80%), while Chattanooga connected on 17-of-25 free throw attempts (68.0%). Furman improved to 82-9 under sixth-year head coach Bob Richey when scoring 77 or more points in a game.

Whitt’s Winning Moment

Furman sophomore guard Carter Whitt

However, it was one player that wasn’t one of the four Paladins to score in double figures that had a profound impact on the ultimate outcome of the huge SoCon tilt in the Scenic City. That player was sophomore guard Carter Whitt. The Wake Forest transfer has been struggling to find his fit with his new team in Greenville at Furman, however, on Wednesday night, Whitt, who scored just five points in 21 minutes, gave Furman a of confidence it has needed at times this season in big games, and when his own individual moment came in crunch time Wednesday night against the Mocs, Whitt didn’t shy away from it and showed no hesitation in it. He embraced it and stepped into that pressure and opportunity with confidence.

With the game tied 66-66 with a little less than three minutes left, starting point guard JP Pegues, who himself ended the night with 11 points, six rebounds and three assists, had an open shot from the right elbow when he received the pass, however, Carter Whitt was in the right corner and had a better one. Pegues whipped a pass to the corner and Whitt caught it and stepped into his shot not thinking twice. It swished for Furman’s eighth triple of the night, giving the Paladins a 69-66 lead and would ultimately spark the run that ended up winning the game, as the Paladins outscored the Mocs 11-3 during the final 2:42 to garner what is the Paladins’ fourth true road win of the season. It was a complete 180-degree difference of how things transpired in overtime at Timmons Arena last Saturday against UNCG, with the Spartans out-scoring the Paladins 11-3 in the extra session.

“Carter has been through a lot of adversity you know,” senior guard Mike Bothwell said. “He hadn’t been playing as much coming in from a high major program and people were asking him what’s been going on and to his credit, he’s just stuck with it and stayed in the gym and never really questioned why but just kept being a good teammate and coach Richey said he was going to give him an opportunity and to shake things up and we needed to play more people to stay fresher and he met the opportunity and made a bunch of big plays and probably made the play of the game hitting that three when it was tied. He’s an example of what this program has been about,” Bothwell added on Whitt’s performance Wednesday night.

In Furman’s loss to UNCG, Furman starting point guard JP Pegues was left exhausted and unable to finish the game with leg cramps. On Wednesday night, the plan was to give Pegues a little help by giving Carter Whitt his opportunity. By the nature of that decision, Pegues played calmer and with even more confidence himself, and for a good stretch in Wednesday night’s game, the two found themselves on the floor at the same time. Not since the opening two games of the season has Whitt found himself seeing as much floor time, and not since the Belmont game, which Furman claimed an impressive 89-74 win over the current Missouri Valley Conference leader, has Whitt played in a game in which the outcome of it was hanging in the balance. Part of that has been a hamstring injury, which has kept his action limited to an extent. All told, he logged 21:48 of floor time in Wednesday night’s road win.

“It makes me look like a bad coach, right…But it’s been a new place and it’s a new way of doing things and he was battling an injury here recently as well, but he just keeps showing up and the way he’s handled this has increased his hunger and it’s made him work harder and we’ve seen it coming and we saw it in practice and we decided to give him a run tonight and man…his ‘and-one’ and obviously his huge three were huge plays in the game,” head coach Bob Richey said of Carter Whitt’s performance in Furman’s win over Chattanooga.

How It Happened:

Furman found itself facing adversity more than once in Wednesday night’s thrilling Southern Conference road game at Chattanooga, however, found a way to get the job done in what was a tough eight-point, 77-69, road win against defending champion Chattanooga.

The Paladins found themselves trailing, 66-64, following a pair of made Jake Stephens foul shots with 4:28 remaining, however, the Paladins scored the next nine points of the game to assume a 73-66 lead. Mike Bothwell started the run with a driving layup off the right side to tie the game 66-66. Furman got two important defensive stops on the next two Mocs possessions, and after Carter Whitt’s three from the right corner with 2:42 remaining put Furman ahead 69-66, the Paladins never looked back and never wavered in ending a three-game losing skid to the Mocs and picking up wins 14 overall and five in league play.

Following Whitt’s right corner three, Furman’s perimeter defense was excellent, forcing Chattanooga to two more launch prayers from long range, with both missing badly. Eventually, it was Bothwell, who allowed Furman to extend its lead to two possessions with another driving layup following a timeout by Furman head coach Bob Richey, likely knowing points at that juncture were crucial and would go a long way in helping Furman to a big league road win if it could get them. Bothwell’s layup with just under a minute left gave Furman a five-point, 71-66 lead. After Chattanooga missed a hurried three-pointer, JP Pegues was immediately fouled. He went 2-for-2 from the line to extend Furman’s lead to seven, at 73-66. The Mocs would get a bucket from AJ Caldwell and a free throw from Brody Robinson in the final 36.9 seconds, while Jalen Slawson went 4-for-4 down the stretch, as the Paladins made all their foul shots inside the final minute to close out the win.

Furman managed a 40-37 halftime lead, but trailed by as many as seven in the early moments of the contest, falling behind 11-4 after a pair of made threes from Jamal Johnson, a layup by Demetrius Davis and three made foul shots by Jake Stephens after he was fouled shooting a three. The Paladins missed their first eight threes, however, answered by connecting on their next five to claw back into the contest, assuming as much as a nine-point lead (36-27) before settling for the three-point halftime edge, as the Mocs closed the half with a 10-4 run, capped by a Stephens buzzer-beating layup to give UTC some momentum heading to the locker room, trailing just 40-37.

In the opening minutes of the second half, Furman assumed a 57-50 lead following a Slawson layup with 14:05 left, but were held scoreless from the field for eight minutes, which would eventually be enough to see the Mocs re-take the lead to take a 60-58 lead following a pair of Brody Robinson free throws with just under nine minutes remaining. A pair of Bothwell free throws tied the game, 60-60, before UTC’s Sam Alexis was fouled by Garrett Hien and he went to the line and connected on 1-of-2 shots to give the Mocs a one-point, 61-60 lead with 7:09 left. Hien exited the game and Slawson, who had four personal fouls, re-entered the contest with 7:09 remaining. He was able to stay disciplined enough, playing within himself to not commit his fifth and against a player like Stephens that demands attention all the time, might be as impressive as what he was able to do on either end of the floor the entire night.

Whitt answered with a driving layup and he was fouled in the process. He couldn’t, however, complete the three-point play the old-fashioned way, but Furman still had a 62-61 lead with 5:49 remaining. Chattanooga then got a long three, which banked in, from Brody Robinson with 5:22 remaining to bring a raucous noise from the better than 3,400 in attendance at The Roundhouse. Slawson then missed a layup and UTC had a chance to take a two-possession lead, however, Pegues blocked Robinson’s driving layup attempt, corralled the rebound, and found a streaking Slawson down in the forecourt for an uncontested two-handed slam to tie it at 64 with 4:50 remaining.

Stephens would be fouled on the other end but gave Chattanooga their final lead of the night with his two foul shots with 4:28 left. A little less than two minutes later and a full three minutes after giving Furman a 62-61 lead, Whitt had another opportunity to give the Paladins a second lead in the final six minutes, and after making a huge three with 2:42 remaining, 69-66, Furman would not relinquish that advantage the rest of the night.

“Coach Richey’s message to us before the game was to keep our joy and there’s a lot of things in life that are bigger than this ballgame and he took the pressure off us by saying ‘guys we don’t have to win this game and this game won’t dictate our season and this game won’t dictate your life so if things don’t go your way don’t put too much pressure on yourself that you really don’t need to’  and I feel like tonight a couple of times when the crowd got into it and they cut our lead and they took the lead and we were able to just stay poised and we’ve struggled with that in a lot of our losses and we kind of freaked out when a team came back on us or a team took the lead on us especially on the road but today we were able to just keep our focus on just trying to do the next right thing,” senior guard Mike Bothwell said.

Furman returns to league action Sunday facing Wofford on the road in a nationally televised contest on ESPNU. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium. Chattanooga will return to action Saturday, hosting rival East Tennessee State at 3 p.m.

Postgame Interviews/Audio:

Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson
Head coach Bob Richey

IG Highlights:

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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