The Day, Date and Time: Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, 7 p.m.
The Game: Furman (19-6, 10-2 SoCon) at VMI (6-19, 1-11 SoCon)
The Venue and Location: Cameron Hall (5,000)/Lexington, VA
The Coaches: Furman-Bob Richey (130-52, 6th yr)/VMI-Andrew Wilson (6-19, 1st year)
The Series: 106th meeting/Furman leads 68-37
Last Time They Met: Furman 85, VMI 62 (Dec. 29, 2022)
Brief Preview: Furman looks to continue its season-long, six-game winning streak Wednesday night when it heads to Lexington, VA., to face off against the VMI Keydets in a Southern Conference clash set for 7 p.m. at Cameron Hall. The Paladins currently are in a three-way tie for the top spot in the league standings along with Samford (10-2 in SoCon) and UNCG (11-2 in SoCon). Currently, the Spartans have a half-game lead in the standings following Tuesday night’s resounding 91-65 win over East Tennessee State at the Greensboro Coliseum in a game, which was televised by ESPNU.
A win over the Keydets Wednesday night would not only help the Paladins remain at least in a tie with UNCG, it would also mark the Paladins’ seventh-straight win overall, as well as the sixth-straight Southern Conference road win–Furman’s longest in-league road winning streak since 1973-74 and its longest overall since the 2018-19 season, when the Paladins opened the season since winning 12-straight. A win Wednesday night would also mark the Paladins’ eighth true road win of the season.
Furman’s longest road winning streak out of conference in general in that timeframe, which also includes non-conference games in contiguous seasons spanned the end of the 2017-18 season and into the 2018-19 campaign, as the Paladins totaled eight wins away from Timmons Arena. A win Wednesday night would also snap a two-game skid in Lexington, with the latest of those losses to the Keydets coming last season without head coach Bob Richey, who was by his wife’s side for the birth of their third child, as the Paladins dropped a 76-67 contest to the Keydets inside Cameron Hall. When the Keydets are in house making noise, the venue is one of the tougher road venues in the Southern Conference.
The last time the Paladins won a game in Lexington, VA., current graduate assistant coach Jordan Lyons was a big part of it, posting 40 points, which included 11 three-pointers, en route to helping the Paladins to an 89-73 road win in early January of 2020. The Paladins have won 12 of the last 15 games against VMI. Aside from the two losses at Cameron Hall, the Paladins also lost a 91-90 overtime heartbreaker to VMI win the quarterfinals of the 2021 Southern Conference Tournament.
The Paladins are coming off quite the performance in front of what was the program’s largest home crowd in program history, as 6,199 fans filed into Bon Secours Wellness Arena to see Furman take down Wofford, 80-67. The 13-point win over the Terriers marked Furman’s eighth double-digit in 12 SoCon games, as well as its 15th overall this season. Only four of the Paladins’ victories have come by single digits this season (Stephen F. Austin, at Appalachian State, Samford, and at Chattanooga).
A win Wednesday night will also mark Furman’s 20th of the season, which would account for its sixth 20-win season in its last eight seasons. The Paladins have won a total of 172 games since the start of the 2015-16 season, and have posted an impressive 98 Southern Conference victories, which is second-most behind UNC Greensboro, who picked up wins No. 173 overall and 99 in league in that same timeframe with its home league triumph last night over East Tennessee State. It would also mark the 15th 20-win season in program history.
Only the 2015-16 season, which saw the Paladins fall just short of that 20-win threshold after finishing 19-16, and the pandemic shortened 2020-21 season, which saw Furman finish 16-9, are the the exceptions to that string of 20-win campaigns.
Furman is being led of late by Jalen Slawson (15.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.5 APG), who is both the SoCon’s reigning Player of the Month for the month of January, as well as the league’s Player of the Week for the first week of February and comes into Wednesday night’s game in Lexington having posted a 11-straight games in double figures. Slawson paced Furman in its season sweeping performance of Wofford last time out, as he finished with 16 points to lead four Paladins in double figures in the win.
JP Pegues (10.6 ppg, 4.0 APG, 3.8 RPG) continued his strong play as of late, posting 13 points and dishing out eight assists in the win over the Terriers. Senior guard Mike Bothwell (18.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG) continues to lead the Paladins in scoring this season, while Marcus Foster (11.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG) gives the Paladins a fourth double-figure scorer in the starting five.
Though Garrett Hien (8.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG) isn’t averaging in double figures this season, he’s one of five Paladins to score 20 or more in a game this season. In fact, Furman has eight different players that have established new career highs this season. One could also certainly argue that Paladin forward Alex Williams (5.9 PPG, 2.3 RPG) has been one off the bench that has made Furman so offensively gifted.
The Paladins rank 11th nationally in points per game average (82.0 PPG), seventh in total assists per game (17.5 APG), 10th in effective field goal percentage (0.564), 14th in assists-turnover-ratio (1.48), and 20th in field goal percentage (48.4%).
With its six-straight wins, the Paladins have ascended to No. 85 in the latest KenPom rankings, while moving to No. 88 in the NET (Net Evaluation Tool) rankings.
VMI has undergone a tough season under its first-year head coach, Andrew Wilson. Wilson was already tasked with having to replace four startes, including top player Jake Stephens, who of course is currently at Chattanooga as well as young guard Honor Huff, who had to sit out this year due to it being an in-league transfer. Stephens was not forced to sit because he has already graduated, and VMI didn’t have a grad school at the time. It’s meant that this season the Keydets are among the youngest teams in college basketball and are the 10th youngest team in college basketball to be exact.
Wilson has primarily had to deal with several injuries to key performers before and throughout the season, and VMI only utilized seven scholarship players in its last game, which was an 80-54 loss at Mercer last time out. The good news is that the Keydets, who lost their first 10 SoCon games, are not going to go winless, as VMI snapped a 12-game losing skid last week with a 75-69 win at The Citadel.
VMI’s most veteran Keydet–guard Sean Conway (13.2 PPG, 5.4 RPG) –is on the brink of a milestone, needing just 15 points against Furman tonight to surpass the 1,000-point plateau for his career. He would become the 45th player in program history to accomplish that feat should he be fortunate enough to do so.
Conway is most noted for his proficiency as a long-range shooter, ranking fifth in the SoCon in three-pointers made (58). He is among four double-figure scorers in the starting five for VMI, and is joined by freshman guard Asher Woods (13.8, 4.9 RPG), as well as center Tyler Houser (10.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG) and guard Tony Felder (10.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG).