Four Paladins led a balanced offensive effort, while Furman, which held its second-straight Southern Conference opponent to less than 60 points for the first time since the 2018-19 campaign by limiting Chattanooga to a season-low 33.3% (20-of-60) shooting clip from the field en route to a decisive, 79-58, win over Chattanooga before a crowd of 1,627 fans on-hand at Timmons Arena to take in the mid-week league tilt.
If the season-low 33.3% shooting percentage wasn’t a good enough defensive stat to please the sometimes-unreasonable Paladin fanbase, then surely the 58 points allowed by a stingy Paladin defense, which just a couple of weeks ago was maligned by some of those fans for surrendering 82 points to Wofford in what was a 14-point road win. The 58 points allowed by Furman is tied for UTC’s season scoring low of 58 points previously established in a 72-58 road setback at Ole Miss back in mid-November.
The win, which Furman’s fifth in succession, saw the Paladins improve to a league best 18-6 overall and remain atop the Southern Conference standings with Samford at 9-2 in league play. UNC Greensboro (14-9, 8-2 SoCon), which is the other team tied atop the SoCon standings, had the night off and will take on Mercer in Macon, GA., tomorrow evening. The Mocs dropped their fifth game in their last six outings, as the SoCon defending champions fell to 12-12 overall and 4-7 in SoCon play.
Samford, which also improved to 9-2 in league play to remain tied atop the SoCon for first, picked up a huge road win and a season series sweep of Western Carolina, with an 85-77 win at the Ramsey Center in Cullowhee. The win also saw the Bulldogs improve to 15-9 overall, snapping a two-game skid to start the three-game road stand.
It was another productive night for the duo of Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson. Bothwell led the Paladins with 17 points and recorded a career-high nine rebounds, while also dishing out three assists. The senior from Cleveland Heights, OH connected 5-of-12 shots from the field, which included a 1-for-4 effort from three-point range. Bothwell was a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe.
Slawson, Furman’s other super senior, who hails from Summerville, S.C., stuffed the stats sheet once again, which included notching his seventh double-double of the 2022-23 season, as he posted 15 points, 11 rebounds, dished out six assists, recorded four steals and blocked a couple of shots. He finished the night by knocking down 4-of-9 shots from the field and was 1-for-3 from three-point land. Like Bothwell, Slawson was a perfect 6-for-6 from the stripe.
All told, Slawson and Bothwell combined to score 32 points, corral 20 rebounds, dish out nine assists, record four steals, and block a pair of shots. Rounding the Paladins in double figures in the contest were Marcus Foster, who added 13 points and five boards, while sophomore point guard JP Pegues registered his sixth-straight double-figure scoring game, finishing with 12 points, while dishing out three dimes and recording three rebounds.
Chattanooga placed three players in double figures in the setback, with guards Dalvin White and Jamaal Walker leading the Mocs in scoring with 15 points apiece, while Jamal Johnson chipped in with 12.
By holding Chattanooga to just 58 points in Wednesday night’s win, and by limiting UNCG in Sunday’s road win, it marked the first time since limiting Wofford (L, 54-59/1-19-19) and Chattanooga (W, 73-58/1-24-19) to less than the 60-point threshold some four years ago.
Furman’s balanced offensive effort didn’t come on the strongest of shooting outings for the Paladins, who shot a modest 41.3% (26-of-63) from the field for the game, which included just a 25.0% (7-of-28) performance from three-point land. The Paladins were also a little more careless with the basketball than head coach Bob Richey would have liked them to have been, however, despite the 18 turnovers and the low shooting percentages from both the field and the perimeter, the Paladins somehow found a way to score 79 points.
Helping off-set both the lower than accustomed to shooting percentages, and the high turnover volume was getting to the charity stripe 25 times. The Paladins connected on 20 of them, posting an impressive 80% shooting effort from the charity stripe, connecting on 20-of-25 from the stripe. That came on the heels of one of their worst efforts at the free throw stripe last time out in road triumph at UNCG last time out, as Furman shot foul shots at just a 57.7% clip in the 12-point road win. The Paladins still ended up scoring the Spartans by six (15-9), from the charity stripe, despite the low shooting percentage.
In Wednesday night’s win over UTC, the Paladins were able to get to the line 25 times, making 20 and ended up out-scoring the Mocs 20-9 at the charity stripe, as the Paladins had 11 more free throw opportunities.
An interesting rabbit trail involving Chattanooga’s rebounding prowess and past title-winning teams
Sometimes this happens to me…A thought leads to another and another and then back to the main point, which was the fact that championship basketball teams seemingly always rebound well.
It’s been a haymaker for the league’s basketball gold standard program–the Chattanooga Mocs–time-and-time again. My rabbit trail started with Furman’s 53 rebounds in the win, it’s 21 offensive caroms, and the ingredients of some truly great March memories from the SoCon Tournaments of yester-year and just how Chattanooga dominated the glass.
Furman’s aggressiveness showed up in other areas as well, and that was on the glass—a staple of so many winning Chattanooga teams over the year. On Wednesday night and with Chattanooga without its main cog in the paint, Furman blitzkrieged the Mocs, ripping down a total of 53 boards, which included 21 offensive rebounds, as the Paladins finished with a +21 margin on the backboards.
I was reminded of former Chattanooga coach John Shulman as I watched the seemingly pull down nearly every aerial 50-50 in their vicinity, and precisely, following the Mocs’ 2005 league title game triumph over UNC Greensboro, as that Mocs blitzed the glass the entire season, and for three days in the Scenic City back in 2005, posted ridiculous totals of a 50-36 rebounding edge in a semifinal triumph over Appalachian State.
Add to that a 46-30 rebounding margin against East Tennessee State in the SoCon quarterfinals, and a closer 37-34 edge in the 66-62 title game win over UNC Greensboro, and you have quite a rebounding weekend for the Mocs when the numbers are added up. In that combined three-game weekend back in March of ’05, the Mocs won the tournament not because it was on their home floor before a rabid fanbase, though that certainly did help, but rather they won the tournament title because they simply wanted it more, out-working SoCon foes the entire weekend, finishing the three games at McKenzie Arena with a +33 rebounding margin, posting a 133-100 margin over the duration of the weekend. The Mocs finished the 2004-05 campaign with the highest rebounding margin in league history since that stat began to be tracked in 1984-85, posting a whopping 10.8 margin at season’s end. Only the 2018-19 ETSU Bucs posted a similar margin, at 10.1.
Why did I go all the way down the rabbit trail you might be inclined to ask? It wasn’t just a memory that I decided to conjure up for the heck of it. It stuck out. Championships are won in March less on shooting percentages and most always on effort. On Wednesday night, Furman just simply outworked Chattanooga—Stephens or no Stephens—that’s what the stats indicate.
There’s no question the Mocs missed Jake Stephens, and that was going to the case the entire night against the Paladins, and in fact, will be the case for the remainder of the 2022-23 regular season at least. The 21 offensive rebounds by the Paladins, which led to an 18-10 advantage in second chance scoring opportunities. The 21 offensive rebounds were a season-high for the ‘Dins.
All told, the Paladins finished the game holding other specialty stat advantages in total assists (19-12), points in the paint (38-20), total rebounds (53-32), points off turnovers (18-9), while the Mocs’ lone win in terms of the specialty stats was bench scoring, outdueling the Paladins, 19-16, in that category.
How It Happened
When Jake Stephens is in the Chattanooga lineup, the beautifully designed motion offense, which utilizes the big man’s skilled attributes as a passer and shooter to occupy the most important facilitator of a perfectly flowing motion offense employed by first-year UTC head coach Dan Earl is probably most comparable to a what it’s like to witness one of the United States’ great national treasures–Hoover Dam operating in unison–a thing of pristine and immaculate beauty.
Quite simply, Stephens is the very piece that transformed Chattanooga into a legitimate SoCon contender at the start of the season. But it was a combination of things. A lack of Stephens and the presence of a locked in Furman on the defensive were recipes for potential disaster if the Paladins were interested. Much to the dismay of the Mocs, they in fact were.
Without Stephens in the lineup, Furman’s stingy defense and veteran leadership made that same motion offense facilitate at the pace more to a slog with the efficiency of and pace of molasses or maple syrup through a thick glass bottle rather than with the precision and orderly flow of an architectural masterpiece like the Hoover Dam.
UTC’s intention to play a faster pace without Stephens was eventually met by faster paced Furman with jet-quick Paladin point guard JP Pegues meeting the challenge step-for-step. When a half-court offense was employed in the second half to try and throw off the Paladins, the ball seemingly stagnated at times in the post and Furman played lock down with Slawson. There were times were the ball swung side-to-side like a pendulum for UTC, with no intent and no paint touches and no Stephens. Game. Set. Match. Paladins.
To start out the midweek clash with league favorite, things didn’t go all that bad for Dan Earl’s sharp-shooters. In fact, the early spell of shooting success was highlighted by Chattanooga’s talented trio of guards, most notably Dalvin White and Jamal Johnson, before Furman broke the Mocs spell and exposed the true identity of the Stephens-less motion offense. From that point, UTC’s confidence gradually dwindled, and so did its effort as the game wore agonizingly on.
Chattanooga knocked down its first three long-range bombs of the night, drawing an icy glare from head coach Bob Richey in the direction of his team, as Chattanooga took a 13-12 lead into the first media timeout of the game with 14:34 to play in the opening half. A beautifully designed play off the timeout by the Furman staff led to a driving layup by Bothwell and a 14-13 Paladin lead. However, the faster than anticipated Mocs continued to offer answers in the form of long-range bombs that found their mark, with Dalvin White’s triple just 19 seconds after Bothwell’s deuce, helping the Mocs regain the two-point, 16-14, lead.
Furman and Bothwell would find the long-range shot to its liking on the ensuing possession, as freshman forward Ben VanderWal found his wide open, veteran teammate just left of the top of the key for a wide-open triple, helping the Paladins regain a 17-16 lead.
But White answered with another high-arching triple, giving the Mocs a 19-17 advantage. Following a Furman miss, the Mocs had a chance to make it a two-possession lead, however, Jamaal Walker only managed to knock down one of his two charity shots, leaving Chattanooga clinging to just a 20-17 lead. After Carter Whitt’s beautifully thrown, Rafer Alston-esque pass found Tyrese Hughey for the easy finish in the paint to get Furman within a point, VanderWal swatted away a Randy Brady shot on the other end, which led to a second-straight layup on the offensive end for the Paladins, as he was able to gather in his own miss and quickly go back up to convert the easy two, giving the Paladins the 21-20 lead once again.
The Mocs took their final lead of the contest when Khristion Courseault’s under-handed, no-look feed in the lane led to a two-handed stuff by Walker in the paint, giving the Mocs their final lead of 22-21, at the 11:06 mark of the opening frame.
From there, Furman started to figure it out on both ends, and over the latter half of the opening frame, the Paladins were able to out-pace the defending champs by finishing the frame on a 20-9 run, which included stellar defensive work by the ‘Dins to close the half, holding UTC scoreless from the field for the final 5:31 of the frame to take a 42-31 lead into the halftime locker room.
The Paladins would open up even more of a cushion in the second, with Jalen Slawson using a two-handed slam, a block on the defensive end, and a three-pointer on a feed from Marcus Foster to stake Furman to a 47-31 lead just 1:07 into the second half, prompting a timeout and quick come to Jesus meeting from UTC head coach Dan Earl to his team and its demeanor to start the latter half of play.
After a no-look feed from Alex Williams to Hughey led to another rim-rattling dunk for the Paladins, it seemed as if Furman might be able to coast to win No. 18 of the season, leading 58-40 with 14:15 remaining in the game. However, things are always harder than they seem in the Southern Conference, and such was the case—even without Stephens—as the Mocs responded to the early second-half onslaught by the Paladins. Furman had out-scored UTC 37-18 spanning two halves and roughly 16 minutes of game action.
The Mocs, however, would respond with a 12-0 run, holding the Paladins scoreless from the field for nearly five minutes in total, as Chattanooga crept within six of the ‘Dins following a pair of Jamal Johnson free throws with 10:22 remaining in the game.
That’s when Mike Bothwell was re-introduced into the lineup and it didn’t take long for him to put an almost immediate halt to all the momentum the Mocs had worked hard on both ends to establish during the 12-0 run, which spanned almost five full minutes. A pair of foul shots by Slawson ended the Mocs scoring run, and after Mike Bothwell made a nice defensive play that forced a Brody Robinson errant pass and eventual turnover, leading to a layup by the Cleveland Heights, OH, native on the other, as Furman was all of the sudden back up by double digits (62-52) with 9:40 left. Another Bothwell bucket in the paint after another Mocs errant shot saw the Paladins rolling again, and order restored. Furman would go on to score nine more points without reply, assuming its highest level of comfort all night to that point, as the Paladins held a 71-52 advantage with 5:37 remaining following a pair of Pegues charity shots.
Furman would not be seriously threatened the rest of the game, as the Paladins put the finishing touches on what was its seventh double-digit win out its nine total league victories, with a substantial 79-58 victory to remain red hot in SoCon play.
Furman will be back in action at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena Saturday evening against Wofford in tip-off slated for 6 p.m. at The Well. The Paladins have claimed a pair of one-point wins over the Terriers in the last two engagements between the two bitter rivals in downtown Greenville, with the Paladins claiming a 70-69 win on Feb. 19, 2022, while also posting a 67-66 victory against Wofford on Feb. 22, 2020. The Terriers will be looking to rebound from what was a 77-52 thrashing they took on the SoCon road at East Tennessee State Wednesday night.
The Mocs, meanwhile, will be back on the league road themselves, looking to right one of the few wrongs they had in their league regular-season and tournament titles season a year ago, looking to avenge what was a 70-59 setback in Cullowhee to Western Carolina on Jan. 12, 2022. The Catamounts will be looking to rebound from a tough 85-77 setback at the Ramsey Center to league tri-leader Samford Wednesday night. The Mocs owned the Catamounts in the earlier meeting at McKenzie Arena this season, downing Western Carolina 95-76 back on Jan. 11. Tip-off for Saturday’s clash at the Liston B. Ramsey Center is set for 12 p.m.
Postgame Press Conference: