Furman’s historic season ends with NCAA second round exit

Aztecs size and strength underneath and strong defense were the difference

Furman senior guard Mike Bothwell (photo courtesy of Furman athletics)

The last time Furman played in an NCAA Tournament; Major League baseball Hall-of-Famer and former San Diego Padre outfielder Tony Gwynn was busy setting the single-season assists record at San Diego State as the Aztecs’ point guard on the basketball team. He posted what many around the program feel is an unbreakable record, as he dished out 221 assists during the 1979-80 season. It was the same season Jonathan “Stitch” Moore capped a brilliant career by leading the Paladins to the NCAA Tournament, where he ended it with 2,299 career points to finish as the second highest scorer in program history.

On Saturday afternoon in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32, the Paladins were back in the Big Dance for the first time in 43 years and had already won a game in the tournament for the first time in 48, however, in what was the first-ever hardwood meeting between the two, Paladins and Aztecs, Furman ran into a buzz-saw, in Gwynn’s alma mater.

The No. 5 seeded Aztecs took care of the Palmetto State in the NCAA Tournament and moved on to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, defeating No. 13 Furman, 75-52, Saturday afternoon at the Amway Center.

In the opening round, the Aztecs defeated the only other team to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, defeating the College of Charleston, 63-57.

The Aztecs, who are the only one of four Mountain West teams remaining in the field of 68, became the first team from the conference to reach the Sweet 16 since 2018, and first Aztecs squad to accomplish that same feat since 2004.  It’ll the third appearance by the Aztecs in the regional semifinal, as well as the seventh all-time for the MWC. The last team from the MWC to reach the Sweet 16 was Nevada in 2018.

The Paladins set a new school record with 28 wins, finishing the campaign with a 28-8 ma7rk, while the Aztecs improved to 29-6 and move on to play Alabama in the Sweet 16 next weekend.

The opening minutes of the game were competitive, and the Paladins actually jumped out to a 16-12 lead with 11:17 remaining in the opening half after Jalen Slawson nailed a long three-pointer as the shot clock expired.

However, over the next 10:54 of game action, the Paladins would go scoreless from the field, as the Aztecs put the clamps down on the defensive end of the floor, ending the half on a 27-9 run and took a 39-25 lead into the halftime break. The Paladins’ long scoring drought from the field would finally be ended by Mike Bothwell’s short jumper with only 23 seconds remaining in the half, and it would be Furman’s final points of the opening frame to get the Paladins to with 12. However, the Aztecs would score the final points of the half, as Matt Bradley’s short jumper gave San Diego State the 14-point, 39-25 halftime lead.

In the second half, the Aztec lead would continue to grow, as the SoCon Player of the Year Jalen Slawson got into foul trouble. When Darrion Trammell connected on a contested three-pointer with 13:24 remaining in the game, the Aztecs took their largest lead of the afternoon, as they assumed a 21-point lead, at 53-32.

After JP Pegues responded with another Paladin three-pointer with 13:11 left, it got the Paladins back to within 18. However, Trammel banged yet another three on the ensuing possession for San Diego State and that shot proved to be a dagger once and for all for Furman’s hopes for a second-half comeback, as San Diego State went back ahead by 21.

With just over 10 minutes remaining, Slawson committed his fifth personal foul, and was also whistled for a technical foul. It ended his stellar collegiate career with 1,509 points. However, after scoring a team-high 19 points in Furman’s opening round upset win over No. 4 seed Virginia, Slawson would be held to just eight points in his final game for the Paladins. He finished connecting on just 2-of-5 shots from the field and was 1-of-2 from three-point range. The fifth-year senior from Summerville, S.C., was held scoreless in the second half because of his foul trouble. In addition to his eight points, Slawson added two rebounds, a block and an assist.

The Aztecs just kept coming, and after Slawson went out of the game, due to foul trouble, his replacement, Alex Williams, who finished as one of three Paladin players in double figures with 11 points, knocked down a three-pointer with 9:20 remaining to get the Paladins back to within 18, at 60-42, but a Lamont Butler jumper on the other end put the San Diego State lead back to 20.

A pair of Mike Bothwell free throws with 8:28 remaining got the Paladins to within 18 again, at 62-44, however, when Keshad Johnson dunked on the other end off a nice feed from Nathan Mensah underneath, the Aztecs grew their lead back to 20, where it would stay the remainder of the game. The Aztecs would assume as large of a lead as 26 points when Jared Bennett connected on a three with 37 seconds remaining, making it a 75-49 game. However, the Paladins would end the season and the game on a high note, as Bothwell stroked home a three-pointer with 21 seconds remaining to set the final score in the contest.

The Paladins were led by Bothwell’s 15 points in the game, as he finished going 4-for-9 from the field and was 1-for-4 three-point lane, while knocking down 6-of-9 foul shots to finish with his 15. He also added a pair of rebounds and a steal to his cause. With his 15-point scoring effort, Bothwell capped what was a legendary career with the Paladins, as he finished with 2,016 career points to finish as the fourth-highest scorer in Furman basketball history. He surpassed Karim Souchu (2,014 pts/2000-03) in Furman’s loss to the Aztecs and became Furman’s highest scoring player on the hardwood since 1980, when Jonathan Moore (1977-80) ended his stellar career with 2,299 points.

Also in double figures for the Paladins were Williams, who finished with 11 points, while point guard JP Pegues rounded out the Paladins with 10. Pegues’ scoring over the latter half of the season was a big part of Furman’s incredible run, as was Williams being the ultimate sixth man off the bench for the ‘Dins. For Pegues, his season ended by scoring in double figures in 17 of his last 18 games for the Paladins, which included 10-straight.

For the second straight game, however, the Paladins couldn’t find their shooting touch from the field, as they were only able to connect on 32.0% (16-of-50) from the field, which included just a 23.1% (6-of-26) effort from beyond the arc. The 32.0% shooting effort was easily Furman’s lowest shooting percentage of the season, and lowest since Feb. 6, 2022, when the Paladins connected on just 30.6% of their shots from the field in a 58-56 loss at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in downtown Greenville.

The 52 points scored by the Paladins were the lowest point total in a game for a Bob Richey-coached team since Jan. 17, 2020, when the Paladins dropped a 66-52 contest at Wofford.

San Diego State finished the game placing four players in double figures, with Micah Parrish coming in off the bench to add 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting from the field, which included going 2-of-5 from three-point land and 2-for-2 from the foul line. He also added six rebounds and a blocked shot.

Parrish was joined in double figures by Darrion Trammell (13 pts), Lamont Butler (12 pts), and Matt Bradley (10 pts).

 As a team, the Aztecs finished off the contest by connecting on an impressive 50% (29-of-58) from the field and 36.3% (6-of-20) from three-point range. The Aztecs held decisive advantages in ever category: points in the paint (40-16), points from turnovers (11-5), total rebounds (41-24), second-chance points (18-5), bench scoring (27-11), total assists (18-7) and fast-break points (11-10).

It was an incredible season for the Paladins, and it marked the first time the Paladins have won 28 games in a season, as well as win a game in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the Field was extended to 64 or 68 teams. In fact, it marked Furman’s first appearance in the Big Dance since it was just a 32-team field back in 1980. Stay tuned for more on the historic season by the Paladins.

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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