Furman clinches share of SoCon title; No. 1 seed

Furman sweeps Samford in convincing fashion

Mike Bothwell scored 35 points, including Furman’s first 18 of the game, as the Paladins claimed a share of the 2022-23 Southern Conference regular-season title with a 93-79 victory over Samford Saturday afternoon at the Pete Hanna Center.

The win sees the Paladins end the regular-season with 24-7 and 15-3 in Southern Conference play, ensuring Furman will be the No. 1 overall seed for the Southern Conference Tournament next weekend in Asheville.

The Paladins will face the winner of No. 8 seed Mercer and No. 9 seed The Citadel in the first quarterfinal game next Saturday, Mar. 4 at noon. The Bulldogs and Bears will open the tournament Friday night in what will be the opening game of the 2023 Southern Conference Tournament, as the two will tip off at 5 p.m. EST.

The loss by the Bulldogs sees them fall to 21-10 overall and 15-3 in the SoCon and despite the loss, garnered a share of their first-ever Southern Conference basketball crown. The Bulldogs will be the No.2 seed in Asheville and will get their tournament underway on Saturday evening a few hours after Furman plays, taking on the winner of Friday night’s other opening round contest between the No. 7 seed Chattanooga Mocs and the No. 10 seed VMI Keydets. Tip-off for that contest is set for approximately 7:30 p.m. EST. Samford will face the Chattanooga-VMI winner at 6 p.m. EST Saturday night in the third quarterfinal of the day.

Furman has garnered the No. 1 overall seed for the first time since the 1991 Southern Conference Tournament, when the Paladins tied both East Tennessee State and Chattanooga for the regular-season title. It also marks Furman’s first regular-season crown since the 2016-17 and it also marks the seventh regular-season crown for the program in its rich basketball history. The win ensures the Paladins an invitation to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) should the Paladins not win the Southern Conference Tournament.

The win means the Paladins share the 2022-23 Southern Conference title with Samford, who saw its seven-game winning streak come to an end, and it was also the 112th overall win for both Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson in their respective careers for Furman, making them the two winningest players in Furman basketball history, surpassing former teammate Alex Hunter’s 111-career wins.

Bothwell was on fire from the outset, scoring Furman’s first 18 points of the contest by connecting on his first seven shots from the field, which included three three-pointers. His fourth try at a three was missed, however, he connected on 2-of-3 foul shots to help the Paladins to an 18-7 lead just after the second media timeout. The senior from Cleveland Heights, OH, who had failed to score in double figures for the first time since his sophomore season, did so emphatically on Saturday, with everything to play for. It was Bothwell’s second-highest scoring output of his career, eclipsed only by his career-high back on Dec. 17 at the Greenville Winter Invitational, as he posted 36 points in Furman’s 72-70 win over Stephen F. Austin.

The super senior finished his memorable afternoon going 10-for-15 and 5-of-8 from three-point range to finish out the game. He was also an impressive 10-for-11 from the charity stripe to close out the contest. He added one steal and two rebounds to his overall totals.

Bothwell was joined in double figures by both point guard J.P. Pegues (20 pts) and Marcus Foster (16 pts) to round out the Paladin players in double figures.

“The past three games I hadn’t shot the ball as much and it’s easy to look around for excuses like my teammates aren’t getting me the ball as much or is coach not drawing up plays for me but on this team that’s really not the case because I know these guys believe in me and they had been telling me all week like ‘Mike you’re a killer…you’re meant for this’ and Slaw was like ‘you’re meant for games like this’ even Tyrese Hughey was like ‘you were made for moments like this…what are you going to do today’ so it wasn’t about me coming out to try and save the team or the game, but it was more about me just playing like I was capable of playing,” senior guard Mike Bothwell said of his performance.

Pegues put together another all-conference type of performance, as he went 7-of-12 from the field and was 4-for-7 from three-point range. Pegues also added four rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block to his overall totals. Foster’s 16 points came on 4-of-6 from the field, including a 2-for-4 effort from three-point land. He was also a perfect 6-for-6 from the line.

Ques Glover led the Bulldogs with 27 points, four assists, two rebounds and a steal, while Jermaine Marshall added 19 points, eight rebounds and a steal.  Logan Dye finished off his Senior Day in front of friends and family for the final time at the Pete Hanna Center with 13 points, four boards and a steal.

The Paladins finished the contest connecting on 54.7% (29-of-53) from the field, including a 50.0% (14-of-28) effort from long range. The Paladins connected on 17-of-18 free throws in the second half and finished the game going 21-of-24 from the line.

Samford shot the ball pretty well, too. The Bulldogs completed the game by connecting on 47.4% (27-of-57) from the field but were just 28.6% (6-of-21) from three-point range. The Bulldogs connected on a solid 76.0% (19-of-25) from the charity stripe.

Furman finished the game holding advantages in total rebounds (33-27), total assists (14-10), fast-break points (10-7) and bench scoring (10-7). Samford held advantages in points in the paint (36-26) and second-chance points (12-10). The two teams tied, 13-13, in points from turnovers.

How It Happened:

Describing just how Saturday’s Southern Conference de facto championship played out is something that became evident early on from those observing the game in the Pete Hanna Center. There was one team that was ready for the moment and matured by past moments with a similar weightiness to them, while the other team was emotional and seemed to play with an adrenaline overload for most of the day.

Sometimes the maturity of the moment also filters down to decisions made at the top, and for head coach Bob Richey and his staff, that meant changing a routine to see if it could ignite the Paladins offensively and allow them to play with type of freedom that was evident throughout its eight-game winning streak, which was ended by The Citadel on Feb. 15.

“We were free…we were free…We really worked as a staff the last two days to get them to that point of freedom and we changed some stuff up and I really felt like we had to change the stimulus a little bit…sometimes as coaches we are very routine-driven because the routine is comfortable and routine is what we do and I flipped the script on them and we typically took the day after our Wednesday game and were pretty soft on them just to try and re-rest them and go a little bit on Friday with contact and then go play and we flipped it and on Thursday we went for about an hour and then yesterday we just did shots and strictly walkthrough,” head coach Bob Richey said.

Furman, which was powered by Mike Bothwell for the opening nine minutes of the contest, as he connected on seven of his first eight shots from the field, was the former. Samford, which had its motored charged and going early by some electric plays from its own standout guard—Ques Glover—was the team that was the latter. Glover and Bothwell were emotional. But it was Furman’s positive team emotion that carried Bothwell and he was only more fueled by it, while it was Glover’s emotions that was fueling himself as well as trying to fuel his teammates.

After Bothwell’s fury carried Furman to an 18-7 opening half lead, which included three-straight made three-point field goals in the flurry in the first 8:13 of the game, then saw him pick up his third foul of the opening half with just under eight minutes remaining in the frame with the Paladins clinging to 24-18 lead. On the ensuing possession following the Bothwell foul, Glover knocked down a jumper to make it just a four-point deficit for the Paladins (24-20) and then came the first of several responses to adversity from the Paladins. It seemed that every time Samford had a chance to chip away at the margin to a manageable margin, Furman always had an emphatic answer.

At the time, it was hard to know just how important the next possession for the Paladins would be in the grand scheme of the entire game, however, it proved to be maybe the most important. With Furman up just four, the ball found its way into the corner to Ben VanderWal, who knocked down the triple and was fouled by Achor Achor, offering him the opportunity for the rare four-point play opportunity. That four-point play give the Paladins a 28-20 lead with 7:28 remaining in the half.

With 6:34 remaining in the half, the Paladins led by seven following a Glover driving layup, and after missed by both the Paladins and Bulldogs on their ensuing possessions, Furman would extend its lead to double-digits for the first time since the hot start by Bothwell when JP Pegues canned a long three from the top of the key to make it a 36-26 Furman advantage with 5:38 left in the opening half of play. Moments later A.J. Staton-McCray converted a layup to make it an eight-point game again, and after Jalen Slawson had the ball ripped away by Staton-McCray at mid-court, it appeared it was going to be a six-point margin again as McCray went in for the layup, however, the ball was batted against the glass by Slawson, caroming to the other side of the goal where Bubba Parham charged hard, but missed the follow dunk and Slawson ended the flurry by gathering in the defensive board.

From there, Slawson charged into the lane on the other end and converted a layup to give the Paladins a 10-point, 38-28, lead and completed the four-point swing with 4:26 remaining in the half. A Glover free throw on the other end was answered with layup by VanderWal off a beautiful backdoor feed, a three-pointer by Alex Williams and then a powerful two-handed slam by Slawson staked Furman to its largest lead of the half, at 45-29, with just 1:45 left in the half. The Paladins would eventually take a 50-33 lead to the break, with Pegues finishing the half with a triple with 13 seconds remaining, giving Furman a great deal of momentum to the break.

The Paladin had connected on a season-high 10 triples in the opening frame and would only knock down four more in the second half. As for Bothwell and Pegues, they combined to go 10-of-15 from the field in the opening half of play, which included a 7-for-10 performance from three.

Moments into the second half, the Paladins took their largest lead of the day when another Pegues triple at the shot-clock buzzer gave Furman a 53-34 lead. The first of two second-half runs would be answered by the Paladins in strong fashion.

Samford’s 10-2 spurt would get the crowd back into the game, as a three-pointer by Glover got the Bulldogs to within 11, at 55-44, with 16:34 remaining. The Paladins answered the critical point with one of its four second-half threes, as Garrett Hien found his favorite spot at the top of the key, and swished home a long-range bomb to extend Furman’s lead back to 14.

About four minutes later, another Bothwell three had given the Paladins a 65-49 lead with 12:39 left, however, Samford would answer with a 13-5 run to get within double figures for the first time in the second half after Jermaine Marshall’s layup got the Bulldogs to within eight, at 70-62, with 9:09 left. A dunk by Hien on the other end after receiving a pass from Slawson put the Paladins back ahead by double digits from the remainder of the contest.

Five more times the Bulldogs would threaten to get within double digits, with the last coming following a pair of Glover free throws that pulled Samford to within 76-66 with 6:39 remaining.

After Pegues threw an errant pass intended for Slawson stolen away Staton-McCray at mid-court, it was the 2022 SoCon Defensive Player of the Year that came to the rescue, chasing down Staton-McCray and swatting the shot off the backboard to make to keep the margin at 10. It was another one of those responsive plays in the face of adversity by the Paladins, keeping the score at double digits and squelching any opportunity for the Bulldogs to get back into the game. Bothwell was fouled on the other end on a fast break with just over six minutes remaining, and he knocked down both foul shots to give the Paladins a 12-point, 78-66, lead once again.

The Paladins would eventually stretch their lead back out to as many as 17 on two more occasions inside the final six minutes, with the final coming after a Bothwell was fouled on an emphatic dunk attempt. His two free throws with 37 seconds remaining would make it a 93-76 game, however, Glover’s final three was good to set the final margin at 14 and final score, at 93-79.

Postgame Audio: (Head coach Bob Richey following the 93-79 win)

2023 SoCon Tournament Bracket:

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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