Furman avenges loss to Western Carolina

Much can change in a short amount of time, as Western Carolina found out on Saturday afternoon at Timmons Arena. Furman avenged its 12-point (79-67) loss on the final day of 2022 with a resounding 93-59 win over the same Western Catamount team on the 42nd day of 2023.

Several glaring contrasts from one meeting to the next helped the Paladins continue a current trend, running its winning streak to eight games—its longest since a 12-game winning streak to open the 2018-19 season en route to the school’s first-ever national ranking—before a sellout crowd of 2,577 fans on-hand at Timmons Arena.

The win improved Furman to 21-6 overall and 12-2 in Southern Conference play, as the Paladins remain tied with Samford atop the Southern Conference standings. Samford knocked off The Citadel 76-70 in Birmingham to remain tied with the Paladins atop the league standings at 12-2, while UNC Greensboro remains a half-game back and will be in action tomorrow against Wofford, with tip-off for that contest set for 3 p.m. Western Carolina dropped to 14-13 overall and 7-7 in league play.

The win marked Furman’s 14th in its last 15 games against Western Carolina. The Catamounts snapped what had been a 13-game winning streak by the Paladins on Dec. 31, 2022, as Western Carolina overcame a halftime deficit and as much as nine-point margin in the second half to come from behind and get a 79-67 win over the Paladins at the Liston B. Ramsey Center earlier this season.

There were plenty of contrasts in the meeting at the end of 2022. In Western Carolina’s 12-point win early in SoCon play, the Catamount bench outscored the Paladin bench 19-2 and finished the contest connecting on 10-of-22 from three-point range.

In Saturday’s contest, the Paladins flipped the script, out-scoring Western Carolina’s bench 27-4 and holding the Catamounts to just 3-of-15 shooting from three-point land. In fact, during Furman’s eight-game winning streak, it has held six of its foes to less than 70 points, and in holding the Catamounts to 59 on Saturday, it marked the third Paladin foe that has been held to less than 60.

The Paladins also were dominated on the glass in the first meeting between the two, as Western Carolina out-rebounded the Paladins, 35-21, in the first meeting. In the second meeting, the Paladins blitzed the Catamounts on the glass, 53-39. In Western Carolina’s defense, it was without Tyzhaun Claude, who missed his second-straight game with an ankle injury. But he was also hampered by foul trouble in the first meeting and scored only seven points.

The Paladins certainly benefitted from WCU not having Claude. But the win was thorough by all accounts, and it could even be seen in the final individual totals. Marcus Foster, who failed to score when the Paladins and Catamounts, finished with tied for team-high honors with 17 points in Saturday’s resounding win. Foster, along with Ben VanderWal, Tyrese Hughey and Alex Williams combined to score 44 points in Saturday’s 34-point win, however, that same quartet equaled a total of two points in the first meeting.

The contrast could be found in how Furman defended, too. Not only was Furman simply not surrendering the kind of looks it had in the previous loss, but seemingly shut off the lane to access for the drive, and when access was yielded, the Paladins either fouled or the Catamounts missed some easy ones, but it was a rare occasion to see uncontested shots and layups around the basket—a stark contrast to the first clash between the two.

Individually, Furman was led by five players in double figures, posting more than 90 points for the second-straight outing. Jalen Slawson and Marcus Foster led the Paladins by scoring 17 points apiece, while Mike Bothwell added 16 to the Paladin cause. Tyrese Hughey came off the Paladin bench to add 11, while Alex Williams finished with 10.

JP Pegues narrowly missed the double-figure scoring column, however, nonetheless, he ended up finishing the contest with seven points, seven assists, a career-high nine rebounds and recorded a pair of steals. Garrett Hien also just missed out on a double-figure scoring effort, finishing with nine points, three rebounds, two assists and a block.

For Slawson, he finished the afternoon connecting on 6-of-9 shots from the field and went 5-for-6 from the line to equal his 17-point effort. The senior from Summerville, S.C., just missed his eighth double-double of the season, posting eight rebounds, while dishing out three assists, while recording a pair of steals and a pair of blocks, as he once again got it done on both ends of the floor for the Paladins.

Foster added his 17 on 7-of-12 shooting from the field, which included a 3-for-4 effort from three-point land to go along with seven rebounds and a pair of assists. Bothwell finished 6-for-11 from the field and 4-for-5 from the line, while recording three assists, three rebounds and a steal.

Yes, Tre Jackson can play hoops. If 47 points against Wofford wasn’t evidence enough, then 27 should do it more justice against what I thought was a pretty solid collective defensive performance by Furman. Jackson finished the afternoon by connecting on 10-of-18 shots from the field and knocked down two of the Catamounts’ three three-pointers in the game, as he went 2-for-5 from long range. Jackson was also a perfect 5-for-5 from the charity stripe on an afternoon when the Catamounts as a whole weren’t all that spectacular, connecting on just 16-of-28 (57.1%) from the charity stripe from the line in Saturday’s loss.

The most notable defensive effort was put up by Furman point guard JP Pegues, who did a masterful job of limiting those “off the bounce” opportunities by Jones, which seemingly led to either layups, assists in the paints, or kick-outs for wide open threes in the first matchup.

On Saturday, Jones finished with six points and one assist, connecting on 3-of-9 shots from the field, which included going 0-for-3 from long range. In the first matchup, he scored 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field and 1-of-4 from three-point range.

The Paladins also ended up holding Vonterius Woolbright well under his 15 PPG scoring average coming into the game, as Furman limited the Catamounts’ third-leading scorer to just eight points. Woolbright came into the contest as No. 2 player in NCAA Division I basketball in drawing shooting fouls. The Paladins managed to hold Woolbright to eight points on a 2-for-12 shooting performance from the field. Jalen Slawson’s assignment for most of the afternoon was to limit Woolbright’s effectiveness offensively, and do without fouling. For the afternoon, Woolbright connected on just 2-of-12 shots from the field and while he did have 12 free throw attempts, he was only able to knock down four of them and totaled eight points.

All told, after seeing both Woolbright and Jones Jr. finish with a total of 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists in the first meeting between the two, the Paladins limited those same two players were held to a combined 14 points, 12 rebounds and no assists in Saturday’s contest.

As a team, the Paladins finished the night connecting on 49.3% (34-of-69) from the field, including a 36.8% (7-of-19) effort from three-point land. The Paladins were also 64.3% (18-of-28) from the charity stripe.

The Catamounts finished the afternoon connecting on 31.7% (20-of-63) of its shots from the field, including going 20.0% (3-of-15) from three-point land. The Catamounts also shot 28 free throws in the contest, connecting on two less than the Paladins for a 57.1% (16-of-28) clip from the free throw line.

The Paladins held advantages in total assists (21-2), total rebounds (53-39), points in the paint (44-24), second-chance points (14-10), fast-break points (12-2), bench points (27-4), points from turnovers (12-7).

How It Happened:

It’s evident that Western Carolina head coach Justin Gray is putting together a winning culture in Cullowhee with his Western Carolina basketball team, however, on Saturday a team building a winning culture ran into a program that was more a finished product and playing some of its best basketball at the right time.

If the capacity crowd of 2,577 fans wasn’t enough to get the Paladins ready to play in a key mid-February Southern Conference tilt, the fact that the Paladins were going against one of the two teams to have defeated in SoCon play this season likely would.

Whatever the reason, the crowd roared even  before the ball had been tossed in the air by the referee. For the first 5:31 of the game, the Paladins didn’t allow the visitors a point and it would not be until over six minutes into the game that the Paladins’ stingy defense, which would remain that way for the entirety of the game, would allow the Catamounts even a single field goal. The Paladins jumped to a 14-0 lead out of the gates, which was highlighted by a Marcus Foster triple, a three-point play the old-fashioned way from Mike Bothwell, and a dunk by Garrett Hien off a beautiful feed from Bothwell among the opening flurry of points for the Paladins.

The bleeding would finally be stopped by a pair Vonterius Woolbright free throws, and buckets by Tre Jackson and Bernard Pelote to keep the Catamounts in it, at 19-6. Pelote’s bucket would be his only one of the day after being a huge difference-maker in the first meeting between the two teams sporting different hues of purple, as he scored 14 points off the bench in that contest. On Saturday, Pelote drew the start in place of the injured Tyzhaun Claude. Jackson’s first bucket would ultimately end up being the start of another outstanding afternoon for the Iowa State transfer.

The Catamounts would eventually settle into the basketball game, chipping away at the Furman advantage by forcing Furman to foul and getting to the charity stripe. All told, the Catamounts were able to attempt 14 free throws in the opening half, however, only were able to convert seven of them.

With a little over three minutes left in the opening half of play, it was Jackson’s quick five that put the Catamounts right in the game, cutting Furman’s lead to seven, which was the closest the Purple and Gold had been in quite some time in the opening half of play. A beautiful layup in the paint by Jackson got the Catamounts to within 10, at 34-24, and then following a Hien miss in the paint on the other end for the Paladins, the Catamounts corralled the rebound, as Woolbright flipped a pass up the floor to an open Jackson, who pumped faked a leaping Hien to free up some space, and then knocked down the three-pointer right in from of Furman head coach Bob Richey from the left elbow, who yelled in disgusts and immediately took a timeout. That snippet of action, which got Western Carolina to within 34-27 with 2:51 remaining in the first half, showed just how dangerous the Catamounts could be offensively even when not shooting the ball particularly well for much of the opening half.

With 1:28 remaining, the Catamounts eventually got within six, at 37-31, after Woolbright made 1-of-2 foul shots, however, order would eventually be restored when Jalen Slawson and Foster made layups to close the half, staking Furman to a double-digit lead at the break, at 41-31.

Early in the second half, a Jackson triple got the Paladin lead below double digits again, as his triple made it a 44-36 game with 18:32 remaining. However, it would be all Paladins from that point forward, responding with a 17-0 run, which would essentially end any thoughts of Western Carolina getting its first win over Furman since 2012, and posting its first season sweep of the Dins since that same season. Highlighting the Furman flurry were plays on both ends, with Slawson hauling in a well-timed alley-oop from J.P. Pegues, and a Slawson block of a Woolbright layup, which led to a Bothwell runner in the lane on the other end. The Paladins held a 25-point, 61-36, lead following a made foul shot by Ben VanderWal foul with 13:03 remaining. Seven different Paladins scored points during the run, and Furman’s strong defensive effort saw the Catamounts miss 10-straight shots from the field.

Furman returns to action Wednesday night, as the Paladins face arch-rival The Citadel at McAlister Field House looking to run their winning streak to nine games. Tip-off for that contest is set for 7 p.m. Western Carolina returns to action Wednesday, looking for a regular-season sweep of East Tennessee State, with tip-off for that contest set for 7 p.m. at the Liston B. Ramsey Center.  


—Furman’s win Saturday afternoon was its 174th since the start of the 2015-16 season, as well as its 100th SoCon win over that same span.

—Furman also improved to 95-16 at Timmons Arena against visitors since the start of the 2015-16 season

—Jalen Slawson posted his 12th-straight double-figure scoring game

Postgame Press Conference:

Head Coach Bob Richey addressed the media following today's win over the Catamounts. 🎥

Originally tweeted by Furman Basketball (@FurmanHoops) on February 11, 2023.

Mike Bothwell and Marcus Foster addressed the media following today's win over the Catamounts 🎥

Originally tweeted by Furman Basketball (@FurmanHoops) on February 11, 2023.

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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