Furman set for regular-season home finale against Mercer

Furman prepares for final home game against Mercer

The Date and Time: Feb. 22, 2023, 7 p.m.

The Location and Venue: Greenville, S.C., Timmons Arena (2,500)

The Game: Mercer (12-17, 5-11 SoCon) at Furman (22-7, 13-3 SoCon)

The Coaches: Mercer-Greg Gary (63-60, 4th yr at MU)/Furman-Bob Richey (133-53)

The Series: 36th meeting/Furman leads 25-10

Last Meeting: Furman 84, Mercer 66 (Jan. 11, 2023)

Brief Preview: Furman will take on Mercer in its final home game of the 2022-23 season, as the Paladins look to stay alive in the Southern Conference regular-season title race, while Mercer will be looking to snap what is a four-game losing streak to stay alive for a top six seed for the upcoming Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville. The Paladins have a 16-game winning streak in the series against the Bears, which includes an 84-66 win earlier this season in Macon.

The Paladins, who had their eight-game winning streak snapped with a 69-65 loss at The Citadel last week, rebounded to get an 83-79 win over East Tennessee State on Senior Night at Timmons Arena. The win this past Sunday night saw Furman improve to 22-7 overall and 13-3 in Southern Conference play.

With a win Wednesday night against the Bears, the Paladins would remain alive for the No. 1 overall seed for the Southern Conference Tournament coming up in Asheville March 3-6. It would also afford the Paladins the opportunity to play Samford on the road in what would amount to a de facto Southern Conference championship game.

A win by the Bears keeps them very much alive for a top six finish for the Southern Conference Tournament, while a loss pretty much ends any hopes of a top six finish heading towards Asheville. The Bears have lost their last two games by a combined six points, dropping contests to Wofford (L, 67-70) and Western Carolina (L, 68-71) last time out.

The loss to Western Carolina essentially means the Bears need to win each of their last two games—tonight against Furman and at home on Saturday against The Citadel—to have a chance to avoid the play-in round of the Southern Conference Tournament, which is a place the Bears have had to start the tournament each of the past two seasons.

Only in Gary’s first season were the Bears able to avoid the opening day of the Southern Conference Tournament, which saw the Bears enter the tournament with a 17-14 record and as the No. 4 seed.

Last Time Out For Mercer:  Western Carolina 71, Mercer 68—Mercer’s Jah Quinones ended up pouring in a career-high 19 points on a perfect 8-for-8 shooting performance from the field, however, it wouldn’t be enough as the Bears recorded a seventh loss of the season by three points or less. In the loss against Western Carolina, the Bears shot better than 50% in a league game for just the second time this season.

Last Time Out For Furman: Furman 83, East Tennessee State 79—Furman celebrated Senior Night with a thrilling 83-79 win over East Tennessee State to garner the first sweep of the Bucs since the 1986-87 season. The Paladins were led by Marcus Foster’s 15-point effort, while Jalen Slawson posted his 18th-career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds in the win.

Last Time They Met: Furman 84, Mercer 66– Marcus Foster posted 18 of his game and career-high 25 points in the opening half of play, as the Paladins came away from Macon, GA, with an 84-66 Southern Conference victory over the Bears Wednesday night at Hawkins Arena. His 25-point effort marked the third time in five league games that Foster has led the Paladins in scoring and it directly led to Furman’s 16th-straight win in the series, dating back to 2016.

A Closer Look at the Bears: Mercer’s M.O. this season has been slowing the pace of games and relying on its half-court defense to get wins. It’s been the most successful recipe for success for a Bears team that comes into Wednesday night’s contest averaging 62.6 PPG since the start of Southern Conference play, which ranks ninth out of the 10 teams in the Southern Conference in scoring offense. On the flip side, the Bears rank second in the SoCon since the start of league play in scoring defense, allowing just 67.6 PPG, while ranking sixth in the league in field goal percentage defense, as team’s are shooting 44.9% against the Bears in games this season.

The Bears have attempted less three-pointers than any team in the Southern Conference since the start of league play, having attempted 40 less three pointers (267) than the next highest team in that same category, in East Tennessee State (307), who the Paladins just faced this past Sunday. Mercer has also made less threes than any team since the start of SoCon play, connecting on just 80 of those 267 attempts, which computes to a 30.0% clip in league play this season. The Bears come into the game against the Paladins ranking fourth in the SoCon since the start of SoCon play in turnover margin (+1.06), while ranking sixth overall in the league in rebounding margin (-0.6).

Individually, the Bears have all-conference caliber talent in the paint and in the backcourt in the form of forward Jalyn McCreary (15.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG), as well as veteran senior guard Kamar Robertson (11.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG), who seemingly usually plays well against the Paladins. McCreary has posted 11-straight games in double figures, as he is coming off an 18-point performance against the Catamounts last time out. Furman was one of a handful of teams able to slow the South Carolina/South Florida transfer. In fact, the Paladins are the last team to hold McCreary below double figures in points, as he did not score the Paladins. It was the last time McCreary failed to reach double figures in a game.

Since the start of league play, McCreary’s 15.8 PPG ranks him eighth in scoring. Robertson has been the straw that stirs the drink for the Bears for most of the season in the backcourt for the Bears, and he’s the only other Bears player to average in double figures entering Wednesday night’s clash with the Paladins, as he averages 11.3 PPG and 2.4 RPG. In the earlier matchup with Furman this season, Robertson was one of four Bears players in double figures, as he finished with 12 points in 30 minutes off the bench against the Paladins. Robertson has started only 14 times in 25 games he has played this season and has been the first option off the bench for the past month or so.  Robertson’s top performance of the season was a 23-point effort in a win over Winthrop. Robertson’s 39 three-point field goals leads the Bears this season, and he’s shooting an impressive 40.6% (39-of-96) from long range this season.

The starting backcourt as of late for the Bears has been freshman point guard Braden Sparks (2.6 PPG, 1.4 RPG) along with veteran Shawn Walker Jr. (8.8 PPG, 2.4 RPG) have been the primary starters in the backcourt for the Bears as of late, with both the aforementioned Robertson and Jah Quinones (5.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG) coming off the bench. Quinones has been having a season worthy of consideration as an All-SoCon Freshman Team selection. Luis Hurtado (7.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG) and James Glisson III (6.0 PPG, 3.8 RPG) round out what should be the starting front court for the Bears heading into Wednesday night’s clash. Glisson III was an all-conference pick coming into the season, however, had to miss the first month-and-a-half of the season with a hand injury.

Freshman guard Michael Zanoni (6.4 PPG, 2.2 RPG) is one of the Bears’ best perimeter threats. He comes into Wednesday night’s contest shooting 37.5% (33-of-88) from three-point land this season. His 33 three-pointers this season are tied for second on the team in three-pointers made along with Shawn Walker Jr. Drake Harrison (2.0 PPG, 0.8 RPG) and Jordan Jones (1.8 PPG, 1.4 RPG) could also see some time in the backcourt for the Bears Wednesday night.

The player that has had some outstanding performances in his career against the Paladins is Shannon Grant (4.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG). His 16-point, six-rebound performance in just 19 minutes of action against the Paladins earlier this season represents a season-high scoring performance for Grant in 2022-23. He has struggled to stay out of foul trouble throughout his career for the Bears. Grant has seen his minutes diminish over the last three games, seeing only a combined 17 minutes of floor time over the past three games. Big seven-foot-two David Craig (5.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG) is Mercer’s biggest player on the front line and is the biggest player overall in the Southern Conference. He did not log any action in the first meeting between the two this season.

Tough at Timmons: Since the start of the 2015-16 season, Furman has made life for opposing teams extremely tough for the opposition. The Paladins have posted a 96-16 record inside the friendly confines over the past eight seasons, which includes a 55-8 record against SoCon foes. This season, the Paladins have posted a 13-2 record at Timmons Arena and a 7-1 mark against Southern Conference foes. The lone two losses inside the friendly confines this season have come against High Point (L, 82-85) and UNC Greensboro (L, 80-88). Furman is 45-5 overall and 24-3 against SoCon foes at Timmons Arena over the past four seasons.

Paladin Notables: It will be the last official home game for both Mike Bothwell (17.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG) and Jalen Slawson (15.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG), as both wind down their outstanding careers as Paladins. If the Paladin tandem are able to help the Paladins to a victory tonight, it will mark the 111th for the duo in their Paladin careers, which would tie former Paladin Alex Hunter for the most in program history. Bothwell is just 109 points shy of 2,000 points for his career, which would make him one of just five players in school history to accomplish the feat.

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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