SoCon Basketball Power Rankings Groundhog Day Edition

Furman sophomore point guard J.P. Pegues has been on a tear as of late for Furman and is largely responsible for the Paladins’ four-game winning streak heading into the final month of the regular-season

We’ve successfully made it through 10 games on the Southern Conference basketball hardwood, and at the top of the league, it has become a three-team race to the finish line over the final eight games.

As I write this, it’s the first day of the most decisive month of the college basketball season, meaning March Madness is creeping ever closer, as the days count down towards the Harrah’s Cherokee Center and the 2023 Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville, which will commence March 3. Ten teams will battle it out over the shortest month of the year to avoid having to take the floor on the tournament’s opening session.

With that said, here’s the SoCon power rankings as they currently stand entering the final month of the regular season. Well, at least as my best educated SoCon guess goes. But I am sure anyone can come with an educated guess and a viable argument in opposition. After all, we’re a long way from 2018-19 or 2019-20 when saying any other team than Wofford or East Tennessee State to follow were ever in the top spot either of those two campaigns would have been borderline blasphemous and could have even gotten you ex-communicated from any Methodist church that had an affiliation with Wofford.

  1. Furman (17-6, 8-2 SoCon)--Exactly a month ago, head coach Bob Richey’s Paladins ended 2022 with disappointment, as Furman’s 79-67 loss to Western Carolina in Cullowhee raised more than a few eyebrows. The Paladins, however, would rebound, winning eight of their nine games in the month of January, with the only other loss being a hard-fought 88-80 overtime set back in the exact middle of the month against UNC Greensboro at Timmons Arena. The Paladins responded following that loss to the Spartans to win their final four games of the opening month of 2023, forging a three-way tie atop the league standings, with wins over Samford (W, 91-84) and UNC Greensboro (W, 69-57), as the Paladins closed the month on a four-game winning streak, and have now won five-straight on the road. The Paladins open the month of February on Wednesday night against Jake Stephens-less Chattanooga. Keying Furman’s ultimate successes of late has been JP Pegues, who if he continues to play like he has over the past five games for the ‘Dins, Furman is certainly going be tough to beat down the stretch, as well as in Asheville. Over the past five games, Pegues is averaging 16.4 PPG, while ripping down 23 rebounds and dishing out 21 assists. The sophomore point guard scored a career-high 26 points in Furman’s 96-82 win at Wofford last week.
  2. UNC Greensboro (14-9, 8-2 SoCon)–Life had been good for head coach Mike Jones and his UNC Greensboro Spartans until running into the Paladin buzzsaw on Sunday afternoon inside the friendly confines of the Greensboro Coliseum. The 12-point loss to the Paladins snapped what had been a five-game winning streak by the Spartans, which was the longest of the Mike Jones short coaching tenure in the Gate City to this point. While it was a struggle once again offensively for the Spartans against Furman, it’s been the calling card for the better part of the past eight seasons, which has yielded three SoCon regular-season crowns and two SoCon Tournament crowns, along with standards for overall victories (172) and Southern Conference wins (97) since the start of the 2015-16 season. The biggest issue for the Spartans this season in losses has been the scoring struggles of their guards. Saturday, UNCG’s five primary backcourt players combined to score just 24 points, which was most notable in all-conference guard Keyshaun Langley (13.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG), who scored just four points after pouring in a game-high 24 in the 88-80 overtime win over Furman in Greenville. UNCG’s backcourt scored a combined 48 points on that occasion, connecting on an impressive 13-of-25 shots from the field. In Sunday’s home loss to the Paladins, Keondre Kennedy, Keyshaun Langley, Kobe Langley, Dante Treacy, Joryam Saizounou, and Donovan Atwell combined to shoot just 10 of-36 from the field in the 12-point setback. The season doesn’t get any easier for Mike Jones’ club, who head to Mercer (Feb. 2) and The Citadel (Feb. 4) for their next two games.
  3. Samford (14-9, 8-2 SoCon)–Samford was the talk of the Southern Conference just last week at this time, embarking on a trip to the Upstate of South Carolina, as Bucky McMillan’s club looked to solidify themselves as the clear-cut favorite to win the 2022-23 Southern Conference regular-season and tournament titles. However, things aren’t always what they might seem on paper, and for the Bulldogs, who are as close to full strength as they have been all season with the return of star guard Ques Glover (15.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG) last week. However, the Bulldogs hit a snag, dropping back-to-back Southern Conference games at Furman in overtime (L, 84-91) and on the road Saturday afternoon at the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium, dropping what was an 85-77 decision. While the Bulldogs are uber-talented, in comparison to the other two teams which they are tied with for first place in the league standings, they have been through a lot less hardwood battles over the past four or five years than say Mohammed Abdulsalam, the Langley twins, or either Jalen Slawson or Mike Bothwell. With that said, I would give the slight edge to both UNCG and Furman based on experience, but it’s evident the Bulldogs have more than enough talent to not only win the regular-season title, but also cut down the nets on Monday night March 6 in Asheville. Until Glover plays his way back into shape and up to game speed, the go-to-guy will continue to be Logan Dye (13.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG), who is having a career year for Samford. He is supplemented by two all-conference caliber performers, in Georgia Tech point guard transfer Bubba Parham (9.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG), as well as athletic wing Jermaine Marshall (11.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG). The Bulldogs will close out their three-game road trip with a game in Cullowhee against Western Carolina on Wednesday night before returning to the Pete Hanna Center Saturday to host East Tennessee State.
  4. Wofford (13-10, 5-5 SoCon)–If one had to describe interim head coach Dwight Perry’s Wofford team this season it would be dangerous. Perry has been tasked with taking over for the successful, young head coach Jay McAuley and helping the Terrier basketball program maintain its winning standard, despite the adversity and mid-season transition. It’s happened before in the SoCon, as instances have cropped up where coaches have–for different reasons–not been able to continue the remainder of the season. I remember about two or three years after Georgia Southern joined the Southern Conference in 1993, Frank Kerns was forced to step away after NCAA sanctions were levied against the Eagles’ basketball program, and a former Alabama assistant–Gregg Polinsky–was asked to lead the program with the interim tag attached. Polinsky is currently a member of Rick Barnes’ staff at the University of Tennessee as of March of 2022. More recently, Wes Miller took over the UNCG basketball program as an interim coach when Mike Dement stepped down abruptly in Dec. of 2011, while Bobby Cremins took a leave of absence in January of 2012, eventually retiring after the season. Mark Byington, who is currently the head coach of James Madison and was also the head coach at Georgia Southern later on, took on the interim tag at CofC for the remainder of the season, however, wasn’t hired at the end of the season. Scott Padgett’s situation at Samford when he embraced the interim tag to later take over as the head coach after the Bennie Seltzer project wasn’t working in Homewood in 2014. But while all those are great examples for Perry to look to, he’s had one all along just across the hall, in head football coach Shawn Watson, who assumed the interim duties after Josh Conklin was asked to step down in the middle of October. Watson later did enough to be hired full-time. For Perry, who has cut his teeth as a high-level assistant at both Furman and Wofford before being named interim head coach of the Terriers, has helped his team settle into a nice little rhythm heading into the final month of the season, winning two-straight at Chattanooga (W, 85-80) and at home vs. Samford (W, 85-77) in what was arguably the Terriers’ most-complete effort of the season, and Wofford could be a team you don’t won’t to face in Asheville. Especially considering the Terriers have one of the top inside-outside duos in the league, in guard Jackson Paveletzke (14.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG) and forward B.J. Mack (15.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG). The Terriers head to Johnson City to face East Tennessee State Wednesday night before traveling to Bon Secours Wellness Arena to face arch-rival Furman in Greenville at 6 p.m. Saturday night. The Terriers’ clash with the Paladins will be part of CBS Sports Network’s Saturday lineup.
  5. Western Carolina (12-11, 5-5 SoCon)–Western Carolina is the type of basketball team that could befuddle even mathematical savants like the late Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton. Figure out the theory of relativity or Bible code hidden within the Biblical text in multiple translations would have seemed easy-peezy in comparison to figuring out how the Catamounts were swept by The Citadel yet posted a double-digit win over Furman in Cullowhee to close out the 2022 calendar year. But for the most part, a glance at the Catamounts’ supremely talented lineup would probably have even Einstein and Newton erroring on the side of the team more of the high-end caliber that defeated Furman and competed in Homewood than the one that stubbed its toe twice already to perennial league cellar dweller The Citadel. That’s because like Wofford, head coach Justin Gray has a tremendous inside-outside basketball team when all the pistons are firing. Iowa State transfer guard Tre Jackson (14.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG) and Winthrop transfer Russell Jones (9.5 PPG, 2.7 RPG), while Morehead State transfer post presence Tyzhaun Claude (15.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG), who had an eye-popping 17 points and 17 rebounds in a Catamount loss in Charleston earlier this month. This is a Catamount team that literally lives and dies by the three-point shot, however, though the Catamounts average nine made triples per game, the Purple and Gold have only managed a combined total of eight in their last two in games against The Citadel and VMI. The nine made three-pointers per game currently have the Catamounts ranked fourth overall in the SoCon in made three-pointers per game, however, Western Carolina is shooting the basketball at just a 33.8% clip from three-point land this season, which ranks seventh in the SoCon. Western Carolina will host Samford Wednesday night in a 7 p.m. contest against the Samford Bulldogs at the Liston B. Ramsey Center, and the Catamounts will host Chattanooga Saturday in a 2 p.m. contest at the RAC. The Catamounts will be looking to put an end to a four-game losing skid to Samford when the two tip-it-up Wednesday night in Cullowhee.
  6. Mercer (11-12 overall, 4-6 SoCon)–Greg Gary’s Mercer Bears appear to have awakened from their early conference slumber and have started to both establish and enforce their brand of basketball against league opposition of late, having won four of their last five games, including back-to-back decisions against East Tennessee State (W, 71-67 OT) and on the road at The Citadel (W, 74-65) last time out, which followed an inauspicious 0-5 start to league play. The Bears’ most-recent success–a pair of back-to-back wins–can be attributed largely to the play of Jaylyn McCreary (15.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG). The South Florida transfer has put together back-to-back 26-point efforts in the wins over the Bucs and Bulldogs. Those consecutive standout performances were good enough to help McCreary bag SoCon Player of the Week honors. While scoring really hasn’t been an issue for McCreary individually this season, it has been for Mercer as a team, especially since kicking off league play. Through the first 10 Southern Conference games, the Bears have found that points have come at a premium, as reaching 70 points in regulation has become a chore. The Bears have failed to reach 70 points in regulation in nine out of 10 league games and are averaging a league-worst 60.1 PPG since the start of league play. But Gary’s Bears have figured out how to win rock fight type basketball games, and winning doesn’t have to look pretty. The Bears are set to face off against the only team (UNCG) to have defeated Mercer in its last five games, as UNC Greensboro pays a visit to Hawkins Arena Thursday night in a game slated for a 7 p.m. tip-off time. The Spartans were able to hand the Bears 59-48 setback at the Greensboro Coliseum just 11 days ago. The UNCG game kicks off a three-game homestand for the Bears, which will also feature games against VMI this Saturday in a 2 p.m. contest before closing out the three-straight in the friendly confines next Wednesday night, as the Bears close the homestand next Wednesday night when Samford comes to town for a 7 p.m. league tilt.
  7. Chattanooga (12-11, 4-6 SoCon) —There should be an asterisk applied to reigning Southern Conference champion beside Chattanooga’s current placement in the SoCon’s power rankings, and it should denote probably a No. 3 or 4 ranking “with Jake Stephens” and a No. 6 or 7 ranking “without Jake Stephens”. Simply put, the season took a severe negative turn when it was learned the league’s clear-cut favorite to win the league’s SoCon Player of the Year award suffered a significant hand injury at some point in UTC’s 77-69 home loss to Furman in what was a rematch of last season’s championship thriller in Asheville. After all, Stephens was the only player in Division I college basketball not named Zach Edey (Purdue) to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocks per game. For Furman fans reading this, subtracting Stephens would be comparable to if Furman had suddenly lost Matt Rafferty to a significant injury for an extended amount of time during the 2018-19 campaign. Even with Stephens, however, life had been pretty difficult to start league play for first-year head coach Dan Earl’s Mocs. With Stephens, the Mocs were 3-4 in league games, with three losses coming to the three teams tied for first in the SoCon standings. Without Stephens, the Mocs have lost two of their last of three, however, the good news for Mocs fans is that UTC will head to Furman for Wednesday night’s clash having seemingly started to at least figure some things out without their all-everything big man against league arch-rival East Tennessee State in a Southern Conference road tilt this past Saturday. Following an afternoon, which saw the Mocs shoot a blistering 52.2% (12-of-23) from three-point range, helping off-set a modest 41.8% (23-of-55) overall shooting clip in Saturday’s 73-64 win over the Bucs, the Mocs will look to carry that momentum into a huge league tilt against the Paladins at Timmons Arena Wednesday night. More consistency will be required by guard Jamal Johnson (13.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG) and forward Demetrius Davis (8.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG) if UTC hopes to close the season strong, as Stephens is expected to miss an indefinite amount of time due to the significance of his injury. The Mocs are efficient offensively and shoot the three ball as well as any team in college basketball, ranking tied for first nationally in three-pointers made per game (11.5) along with Cornell heading into the midweek clash against the Paladins. That area we become an even bigger focal point without the reliable Stephens to throw to in the paint. The makeup of this Mocs teams is eerily similar to the 2019-20 Mocs, which were uber efficient offensively, with three-point shooting acumen as good as any in the SoCon, however, outside Stefan Kenic, who himself favored a more perimeter-oriented game, lacked a true post presence. That is essentially where the Mocs currently find themselves on the first day of February heading to Furman for a midweek clash with the Paladins. The final month of the season will tell us a lot about all 10 teams in the SoCon, however, perhaps no team more than the defending champions. Following Wednesday night’s battle in Greenville, the Mocs will head to Cullowhee to face Western Carolina for a 2 p.m. clash with the Catamounts at the Ramsey Center.
  8. East Tennessee State (8-15, 4-6 SoCon)–It’s now or never for Desmond Oliver’s East Tennessee State Buccaneers. A loss Wednesday night at home to Wofford wouldn’t necessarily be the final nail in the coffin for hopes of a top six finish in the regular-season, however, there are trends that, should the Bucs come out on the wrong side of the scoreboard for a ninth-consecutive time at Freedom Hall, that would be very concerning heading towards March Madness in Asheville. The most alarming of those trends is in the previous sentence, which is having dropped eight-straight on the home hardwood. What is so shocking is that the Bucs had essentially fortified Freedom Hall as mid-major basketball’s most difficult road venues for visiting teams under Steve Forbes. ETSU will take the floor against Wofford Wed night looking for its first home win since Nov. 30 against Mars Hill! The Bucs have a 3-9 record in Freedom Hall this season, having gone 1-9 against NCAA Division I competition. ETSU’s lone win over a Division I foe inside the suddenly unfriendly and quite frankly foreign confines of Freedom Hall came against Arkansas Little Rock (W, 84-76). In fact, this season “Freedom Hall” might as well have been re-named after some satellite Siberian gulag or prison camp that thrived during the Cold War when the former Soviet Union exerted its “sphere of influence.” With all that said, head coach Des Oliver has had his hands full in his two seasons in Johnson City, and his own mettle has been tested at times, with everything from unforeseen injuries, player departures and having to take some disciplinary action against others, as he tries to piece together a basketball culture that has been ravaged after the departure of Forbes and debacle that ensued after Jason Shay was unceremoniously shown the door after just one season as the head coach. That would be difficult for Bill Self or Tom Izzo to overcome. With that said, the Bucs have strengths and also glaring weaknesses. A strength is its post play, and if Jalen Haynes (13.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG) could have had a healthy Brock Jancek (5.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG) and Josh Taylor (8.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG) alongside in the paint for the entire season, the Bucs’ fortunes likely would have been a lot different. What’s hard to figure for Bucs fans is why ETSU continues to have such a poor shot selection when it comes to long range attempts. The 453 attempts aren’t a bad volume of shots, and in fact, is the second lowest in terms of attempts among the 10 league members. Only Mercer’s 385 attempted threes are less. A big reason as to why ETSU has struggled shooting from long range is due in large part to Jordan King (13.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG) struggling to connect from long-range this season after such a dynamic shooting performance in his first season as a Buc. After making 95 and shooting them at a 42% clip a year ago, the Bucs’ leading scorer has knocked down just 28.7% (45-of-157) from long-range this season. The good news is ETSU has a chance to garner a season sweep against Wofford to open college basketball’s most critical month before heading for league-leading Samford Saturday.
  9. The Citadel (9-14, 4-6 SoCon)–Ed Conroy’s first season has had its share of “ups” and “downs” in his return to the Lowcountry, and Monday night’s peculiarly placed game against WAC doormat Chicago State. That will be a game The Citadel fans will hope no one noticed, as the Bulldogs dropped a 76-75 home setback to the Cougars, with the ultimate buzzer-beating dagger Monday night being delivered by former Bulldog Brent Davis, who hit a runner in the lane as time expired to help the Cougars notch just their second road win of the season, with the other one also coming along the South Carolina coastline, as CSU also posted a 74-70 win at Sun Belt member Coastal Carolina exactly a week earlier. The former win over the Chanticleers snapped a 21-game road losing skid for the Cougars, so at least the Bulldogs won’t have to endure being the team CSU originally snapped the long road losing skid against. For the most part, the Bulldogs have been a tough out at McAlister Field House, and when the threes are dropping like they have at times this season, the Bulldogs have been tough to beat in any building. However, even having veterans like guards Austin Ash (15.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG) and Elijah Morgan (7.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG), who come from big-time winning programs at the highest level, the challenge of winning consistently in the SoCon for the Palmetto State’s military school has proven too much to overcome. Still, the Bulldogs remain in the thick of the race for a top six seed and an opening round bye in the tournament come March. The Bulldogs will host VMI Thursday night at McAlister Field House, and a season sweep of their arch-rival would make Monday night’s embarrassment but a distant memory.
  10. VMI (5-18, 0-10 SoCon)–Nine of the 10 SoCon members are realistically in the hunt for a top six seed, however, the Keydets need to essentially run the table in February to avoid the opening day of the SoCon Tournament and end up with a Top six finish. That simply won’t happen this season, however, avoiding a winless season in the league will be the motivation going forward into the final month of the regular season. For first-year head coach Andrew Wilson, the job is probably every bit as tough as he was told or anticipated when he arrived to take over a program and a job that was already tough without having to replace nearly all of his point production along with four starters, however, that certainly napalmed the situation. VMI also has one of the youngest basketball teams in the nation, and the experience garnered this season will have a priceless pay off three years down the road. The challenge for Wilson is less about coaching now and more team psychologist, as he will look to keep his team focused before having to launch his toughest recruiting pitch to keep the core of that talented freshman signing class around in Lexington for at least one more season.

My All-SoCon teams if the season ended today Feb. 1, 2023

First Team

  1. Jake Stephens (Chattanooga)
  2. Mike Bothwell (Furman)
  3. Logan Dye (Samford)
  4. Jalen Slawson (Furman)
  5. B.J. Mack (Wofford)

Second Team

6. Stephen Clark (The Citadel)

7. Jermaine Marshall (Samford)

8. Tyzhaun Claude (Western Carolina)

9. Jaylyn McCreary (Mercer)

10. Jackson Paveletzke (Wofford)

Third Team

11. Vonterius Woolbright (Western Carolina)

12. Ques Glover (Samford)

13. Keyshaun Langley (UNCG)

14. Keondre Kennedy (UNCG)

15. Jalen Haynes (ETSU)

Player of the Year to this point: Jake Stephens (Chattanooga)

Defensive Player of the Year to this point: Jalen Slawson (Furman)

Freshman of the Year to this point: Jackson Paveltzke (Wofford)

Coach of the Year to this Point: Bob Richey (Furman)

Best impact transfer so far: Tyzhaun Claude (Western Carolina)

Furman ends UNCG’s five-game winning streak; forges tie atop the SoCon standings

With its 69-57 win at UNC Greensboro Sunday afternoon, Furman forged a three-way tie atop the Southern Conference standings with the aforementioned Spartans and Samford following the Paladins fourth-straight victory and fifth-consecutive road win. 

Furman’s win saw it improve to 17-6 overall and 8-2 in league play, while UNCG dropped to 14-9 overall and 8-2 in league action, as the Paladins snapped what had been a five-game winning streak for UNCG. Furman’s four-game winning streak marks the first time all season the Paladins have won four-straight games. 

The win saw the Paladins improve to 2-2 when scoring less than 70 points in a game this season. The Paladins now have wins over both Appalachian State (W, 65-61) and UNC Greensboro (W, 69-57), while having lost games to Western Carolina (L, 67-79) and Penn State (L, 68-73).

The Paladins dictated the rules of engagement from the outset of the game, using a 12-2 run to start the game, and a 10-2 run to open the second half, maintaining control of the game and lead for all but 22 seconds of game action, as Furman picked up its third win in its last four trips to the Greensboro Coliseum. 

For the second-straight Sunday, Furman was paced statistically by point guard J.P. Pegues. A week after scoring a career-high 26 points in a 96-82 road win over Wofford, the sophomore point guard led the Paladins with 17 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field and finished 2-of-3 from three-point land. Pegues also connected on 7-of-11 foul shots in the contest. In addition to his scoring total, Pegues also pulled down three rebounds, dished out four assists in a shade under 32 minutes of playing time. 

Pegues was one of four Paladins in double figures, with Jalen Slawson (15 pts), Mike Bothwell (10 pts) and Marcus Foster (10 pts) also posting double-figure scoring efforts for the Paladins. Furman’s Garrett Hien, who missed a majority of the last two games due to concussion protocol, returned to the Paladin starting lineup against UNCG and he put in a strong effort in his return to the Paladin lineup, as he posted nine points, four rebounds and a steal in 27 minutes of court time. 

UNCG had only one in double figures, as senior Mohammed Abdulsalam ended up having a career day for the Spartans, as he posted a career-high 23 points, eight rebounds, one assist, and one block. Abdulsalam finished the afternoon connecting on 9-of-10 shots from the field and was 5-for-7 from the charity stripe. 

For the game, Furman was able to connect on 48.9% (23-of-47) of its shots from the field, while knocking down 47.1% (8-of-17) from three-point range. Meanwhile, the Paladin defense was superb for a majority of the afternoon, limiting the Spartans to just 43.4% (23-of-53) shooting from the field and just 16.7% (2-of-12) shooting from long-range. 

The two three-pointers by the Spartans were a season-low, eclipsing the four made triples in a recent win over Mercer. The 57 points were the third-lowest scoring total of the season for UNCG, which was topped only by a 56-point outing against North Carolina A&T, and 53 points scored on a pair of occasions in losses to Towson and Hofstra out of the CAA. The Spartans fell to 1-6 on the season when scoring less than 60 points in a game. 

For the game, Furman finished holding advantages in points off turnovers (14-13), second chance points (5-3), fast-break points (7-0), total rebounds (31-23), and total assists (13-10) while UNCG owned advantages in points in the paint (42-28), and bench points (10-8). 

How It Happened:

They say the sign of a good basketball team is possessing the ability to win games in a multitude of ways. Last Sunday, the Paladins used an offensive onslaught to put up 96 points and come away with a 14-point win over Wofford, however, as games usually trend when playing the Spartans, the Paladins and head coach Bob Richey knew the defensive end of the court would be paramount in order to come away with a key road win. 

“You have to be able to win games all kinds of ways and every team is going to present different challenges and all games are going to have different tempos and it’s the fun of it right…and that’s what makes coaching fun and its figuring out the puzzle…figuring out how to solve it…tonight we knew it was going to be a smash mouth game and we knew that the physicality…we were going to have to at least be able to match it and that’s been kind of their deal to us…Just to smash it in the box and to know you know let’s go in there and try and bully them and I thought our guys did a really good job of keeping their poise and um…we made the box harder to access tonight,” head coach Bob Richey said.

In direct contrast to how the proceedings unfolded in Spartanburg, which saw the Paladins start each half by seeing Wofford post 8-0 and 9-0 runs, respectively, it would be the Paladins that would be the ones that would dictate the rules of engagement in each of the two halves in the win at UNC Greensboro. Furman would start each half with runs of 10-2 and 9-2, respectively, to assume and maintain control of the basketball game in each frame..

In the opening half, the Paladins and Spartans  traded buckets by JP Pegues and Mohammed Abdulsalam before the Paladins would eventually reel off 10-straight, starting with a Marcus Foster triple and ending with a Jalen Slawson two-handed stuff in transition, staking the Paladins to the 12-2 lead and prompting UNCG’s Mike Jones to take a timeout.

UNCG would eventually reel the Paladins back in over the next few minutes, and with Furman leading 19-10 following a Mike Bothwell triple with exactly 13 minutes remaining in the half, it would lead to the Spartans putting together a 9-0 run of their own, tying the basketball game, 19-19, following a Dante Treacy layup in the paint with 8:46 remaining in the opening frame.

The Paladins would gradually get their lead back to eight, and following a Mikeal Brown-Jones dunk off a beautiful alley-oop from Treacy, which cut Furman’s lead to 26-23 and prompted a Bob Richey 30-second timeout.

Following the brief stoppage, the Paladins would score five quick points on an Alex Williams left elbow three-pointer and a Jalen Slawson running layup in the lane, allowing the Paladins to assume a 31-23 lead with just under five minutes remaining in the half.

UNCG then scored nine-straight to take their only lead of the afternoon, with Keyshaun Langley starting the run with a layup in the paint, while a Keondre Kennedy would get he Spartans within a point at 31-30 following UNCG’s first of two three-pointers of the night. A Treacy layup following a Furman turnover would give the Spartans a brief, 32-31,  lead with just over two minutes remaining. The Spartan lead would last for all of  22 seconds.

A Ben VanderWal foul shot tied the game, 32-32, and following a short missed jumper in the lane by Treacy from straight-a-way, Tyrese Hughey grabbed an offensive rebound—one of seven totaled by the Paladins in the win—and he managed to convert the layup to give the Paladins the 34-42 lead with just over a minute to play in the half.

After Treacy hit 1-of-2 foul shots following a bonus two-shot foul, the Paladins still held the lead by the slimmest of margins—34-33—with 45 seconds left in the opening frame. Bothwell, who scored a quiet 17, provided a couple of huge momentum shots for the Paladins in the game—one to give the Paladins seemingly all the mojo heading into the half after his layup and free throw to finish off a three-point play the old-fashioned way, allowing the Paladins to take a 37-33 lead into the intermission—the other shot would prove to be a momentum killer for UNCG in the second half when the Spartans were threatening to get back into the game before Bothwell answered with a monumental step-back jumper that deflated UNCG’s comeback hopes and put the Furman margin back to double-digits with just under three to play. 

Abdulsalam, who scored UNCG’s first points of the game, would follow suit in the second half and get the Spartans on the board to open the second stanza on a half-hook in the paint, cutting the Furman lead to 37-35. From there, however, the Paladins would score 12 of the game’s next 14 points to assume what was a 49-37 lead following a JP Pegues trey in transition, and just like he was forced to do in the opening half, UNCG head coach Mike Jones was forced to call a timeout with 15:34 remaining to try and stem the Paladin tide to open the second half.

Over the next nine minutes, the Paladin lead would hover from 7-12 points. However, a Keyshaun Langley made jumper in the lane and an Abdulsalam layup in the paint following a Pegues miss on the other end, got the Spartans to within six, at 56-50, with 6:32 remaining, and the crowd started to come alive inside the Greensboro Coliseum, as UNCG looked to inch even closer. However, on perhaps the most crucial offensive possessions of the afternoon, it would Furman’s veteran all-league duo that would drive the final nail in UNCG’s proverbial coffin. First, Slawson went into the paint and was fouled by Abdulsalam, converting the shot in the process. He connected on the foul shot to complete the three-point play the old-fashioned way, giving the Paladins a 59-50 lead with 5:24 remaining. 

Neither team could find the mark over the next couple of minutes until Bothwell got the ball at the top of the key and stepped back to create some separation before his high-arching jumper hit nothing but net and gave the Paladins a 61-50 lead with 2:58 remaining. Bas Leyte would eventually end a near six-minute scoring drought with his layup with 58 seconds remaining, getting the Spartans to within 12, at 66-54, and after Furman matched its largest lead of the day following a Pegues three-point play the old-fashioned way, making it a 69-54 game with just 26 seconds remaining, Kobe Langley would cap the scoring by connecting on UNCG’s second three-pointer of the game, setting the final score, at 69-57, with 20 seconds left.

One of the most noticeable trends that came away from Sunday afternoon’s win for the Paladins was ultimately their dedication defensively against UNCG’s guards, blanketing one of the top guards in the Southern Conference, in Keyshaun Langley for much of the afternoon. Langley went off against the Paladins in the 88-80 overtime win in Greenville, posting a game-high 24 points, however, on Sunday, the Paladins limited the lightning-quick guard to just four points on just 2-of-7 shooting from the field and 0-for-4 from three.

Collectively, Richey and,  in particular associate head coach Jeremy Growe, defensive game plan to take away UNCG’s talented backcourt by guarding the perimeter hard, meant that by nature, at least one of UNCG’s bigs was going to have a big day, and while Abdulsalam had a big day showing his quality around the basket, it was a sacrifice the Paladins were willing to make against UNCG’s athletic, fast backcourt. The UNCG guards were 13-of-25 from the field collectively, scoring a combined 48 of the team’s 88 points in UNCG’s 88-80 overtime win a couple of weeks ago. In Sunday’s Furman victory, the Paladins collectively showcased the kind of defense it takes to win in March in Asheville, holding the UNCG backcourt to a combined 10-of-36 from the field and just 24 combined points. 

“We did a really, really good job on their guards and we started the game…they started different (no Keyshaun Langley in the starting lineup for UNCG) and they brought the other Langley off the bench and so then we put [JP] Pegues on the point guard and we had a really good start and then when Langley came in…zero…We put JP [Pegues] on him and then their point guard started getting in the paint all the time and so that was one of the big adjustments at halftime was to put JP back on the point guard to try and dissolve some of that middle ball screen stuff that they were killing us on and I thought that was a big adjustment,” head coach Bob Richey said.

Furman returns to action Wednesday night, as the Paladins host Chattanooga at Timmons Arena in a 7 p.m. contest. UNCG will be on the road for a 7 p.m. contest with upstart Mercer.

Postgame Audio:

Furman head coach Bob Richey
Furman point guard JP Pegues

Instagram highlights:

Furman heads to UNCG for another big SoCon test

Date and Time: Jan. 29, 2023/3 p.m. EST

Venue and Location: Norvant Health Fieldhouse/Greensboro, N.C.

The Game: Furman (16-6, 7-2 SoCon) at UNC Greensboro (14-8, 8-1 SoCon)

The Series: 40th meeting/UNCG leads 21-18

Last Meeting: UNCG def. Furman 88-80 in OT/Jan. 14, 2023

The Coaches: UNCG-Mike Jones (31-23 in two seasons at UNCG)/Furman-Bob Richey (127-53/6th season)

Brief Preview: Fresh off a 91-84 overtime win over Samford last time out, Furman heads out on the SoCon road to take on another of the league’s top two teams, taking on a red-hot UNC Greensboro team that has won five-straight. The Spartans and Paladins met just 15 days ago, with the Spartans able to pick up an 88-80 overtime win over the Paladins.

Since that loss, Furman has knocked off Chattanooga (W, 77-69), Wofford (W, 96-82), and Samford (W, 91-84 OT), and when the Paladins visit Norvant Health Fieldhouse on Sunday afternoon in a standalone SoCon basketball game, the Paladins will be in search of their fourth-straight win, which would mark the Paladins’ first four-game winning streak of the season.

UNCG was able to do what few others have been able to do over the past eight seasons, which is win at Timmons Arena. In fact, no other team has had as much success playing on Furman’s home court during that span than the UNCG Spartans, who picked up their third win at Timmons Arena since the start of the 2015-16 season.

UNCG trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half, overcoming that deficit in the final 8:02 of the contest to force overtime and eventually pull off a huge Southern Conference road win in the process. Below is a brief look back at UNCG’s 88-80 overtime win in Greenville a couple of weeks ago.

With Wofford’s 85-77 win over Samford yesterday, Sunday’s game between the Paladins and Spartans will have first-place in the league at stake.

Jan. 14, 2022

UNCG 88, Furman 80 (OT)

UNCG finished with five players in double figures, as Keyshaun Langley put together a second monster game and after scoring a career-high 25 points in a win over VMI last time out, posted 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, including connecting on 4-for-6 from three-point land and 6-for-9 from the charity stripe, equaling his 24. Joining Langley with double-figure scoring efforts for the Spartans were Keondre Kennedy (17 pts), Mikeal Brown-Jones (15 pts), Bas Leyte (14 pts) and Mohammad Abdulsalam (11 pts).

The Paladins were buoyed by their two big game ballers, as Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson combined for 44 points, while Marcus Foster posted his fifth double figure scoring effort in his past six outings, finishing with 15 points, while JP Pegues rounded out Furman’s players in double figures, as he posted 13.

Slawson and Bothwell tied for team-high scoring honors with 22 apiece. Slawson added a team-best 12 rebounds to account for his fifth double-double of the season, and it was the senior from Summerville, S.C. who came alive in the second half, sparking Furman to a 13-point lead by posting 19 of his points in the latter half and overtime. It was the Bothwell show in the first half, as he posted 16 of his 22 in the opening stanza.

Slawson finished by connecting on 6-of-11 from the field, including 2-for-3 from long range and connected on 8-of-10 shots from the line to complete his strong scoring effort before fouling out in overtime. He also dished out a pair of assists and blocked a season-high four shots. Slawson also led the Paladins with three of the team’s six offensive rebounds in the loss.

Bothwell added his 22 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field, including going 1-for-5 from three-point land. He was a perfect 5-for-5 from the foul line. The senior from Cleveland Heights, OH, added six rebounds, three assists and a steal to round out another strong effort. Pegues added three assists to tie Bothwell for team-high honors, while Garrett Hien recorded three of the team’s five steals.

UNCG finished the contest connecting on 45.3% (24-of-53) from the field to go with a 50% (7-of-14) from three-point land. The Spartans were an impressive 80.5% (33-of-41) from the charity stripe in the contest.

Furman finished the contest shooting a near identical percentage, connecting on 45.0% (27-of-60) from the field, while shooting 34.6% (9-of-26) from three-point land. The Paladins were also impressive from the free throw line, making good on 85.0% (17-of-20) of their shots from the charity stripe.

UNCG held advantages in points from turnovers (17-16), bench points (15-5), total rebounds (36-33), total assists (15-9), and fast break points (9-0). Furman finished with advantages in points in the paint (34-30), and second chance points (9-8).

Furman has had some success playing inside the Greensboro Coliseum, however, winning two of its last three contests inside one of college basketball’s most notable venues. Here’s a look back at last year’s 58-54 Paladin win.

Jan. 5, 2021

Furman 58, UNC Greensboro 54

In what was a defensive battle, which featured five ties and six ties, but the Paladins continued to make big shots down the stretch when it looked as if the Spartans might be ready to take control of the basketball game.

A De’Monte Buckingham triple with just under eight minutes remaining brought the Spartans to within a point, at 46-45, however,  a three-pointer by Mike Bothwell put the Paladins back ahead by four, 49-45, with 7:29 remaining. 

After a Buckingham one-handed tomahawk slam off a breakaway made it a 49-47 game with 5:24 left, however, Jalen Slawson raced to the other end, beating Buckingham back down the floor to find himself for an open look at a three-pointer from the left elbow, which he knocked down for his only three of the night, extending Furman’s lead back to five, at 52-47, with 5:04 remaining. 

A jumper by Abdulsalam got the Spartans back to within three with 4:01 left, and neither team scored from the field over the next 2:23 of game clock,  a layup by Mike Bothwell with 1:38 remaining eventually took Furman’s advantage at five, at 54-49, with 1:38 remaining. 

A Dante Treacy three-pointer with 61 seconds remaining made things tense for Bob Richey and the Paladins once again, cutting the Furman lead to just two, at 54-52.

On Furman’s next possession, a top-of-the-key fade-a-way jumper with the shot clock winding down extended Furman’s lead back to four, at 56-52, with 31 seconds remaining. Buckingham’s jumper on the other end made it a two-point Spartans deficit once again, with 19 seconds left.

However, the Spartans still had two fouls to give, and inexplicably waited seven seconds to give the first of those, getting to six team fouls. A second later, Bothwell was fouled to get the Paladins into the 1-and-1, and he went to the line with 11 seconds remaining. He calmly knocked down both foul shots, as Furman made it a 58-54 game. 

A final three pointer was off the mark with four seconds remaining, and Furman ran out the final seconds to claim its first SoCon road win of the season. 

In the opening half, Furman scored the first seven points of the contest, and would maintain a six-point edge when Alex Hunter knocked down a three-pointer to give the Paladins a 21-15 lead with 9:02 remaining in the opening half of play. 

With UNCG trailing 24-19 with 7:43 remaining in the half, a 9-3 run by the Spartans, which started with a pair of Kobe Langley foul shots, and ended with a Treacy jumper in the lane, giving UNCG a 28-27 lead with 1:42 remaining. Marcus Foster’s three with 1:12 left in the opening half, giving the Paladins a 30-28 lead. Furman would maintain that two-point lead heading into the locker room.

Previewing The Spartans:

Obviously anytime a team faces UNC Greensboro, they know they are in for a defensive war. The Spartans take that end of the floor as seriously as any team in college basketball.

The statistics certainly bear that out as well, with the Spartans entering Sunday afternoon’s game against the Paladins leading the SoCon in field goal percentage defense (39.6%), scoring defense (63.3 PPG), steals-per-game (7.4 SPG), three-point field goal percentage defense (30.0%) and turnover margin (2.3).

All told, the Spartans rank 32nd in scoring defense (63.6 PPG), 36th in three-point field goal percentage defense (30.0%) and 54th in turnover margin (2.3). Leading the defensive charge individually includes Kobe Langley, who enters the contest ranking 25th nationally in steals (44), 34th in assist-turnover ratio (2.59), and 49th in steals-per-game (2.00).

On the offensive end of the floor, the Spartans are led individually by Keyshaun Langley (13.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG) and Keondre Kennedy (12.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG), who are two of three Spartans averaging in double figures entering Sunday afternoon’s clash. The third player averaging in double figures entering the contest against the Paladins is Mikeal Brown-Jones (11.1 PPG).

Forward Bas Leyte (7.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG) always seems to come up big in late-game situations for the Spartans when facing the Paladins. The Dutchman came up with a pair of key offensive rebounds to help the Spartans hold off the Paladins with an 88-80 overtime win in Greenville a couple of weeks back, and last season in UNCG’s 58-56 win at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, he had a steal late off a rebound by Furman’s Marcus Foster and had to be fouled, ultimately preventing the Paladins from getting a big Southern Conference home win in early February last season.

Both veteran guard Dante Treacy (7.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG) and forward Mohammed Abdulsalam.(6.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG) also put up solid numbers for the UNCG Spartans.

UNCG Tradition:

UNCG joined the Southern Conference as a basketball member in the 1997-98 season, and have enjoyed a solid tradition during its membership on the men’s basketball hardwood.

Since the start 2015-16 season, no Southern Conference program has enjoyed more success, with the Spartans having won 171 basketball games over that span, which includes having won 97 Southern Conference games. The Spartans have claimed a pair of Southern Conference Tournament crowns in 2018 and 2021, respectively.

Players like Demetrius Cherry, Kyle Hines, Nathan Jamison, David Schuck and Isaiah Miller are among some of the greats to have donned the Navy and Gold during UNCG’s Southern Conference membership, while coaches such as current Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery and current Cincinnati head coach Wes Miller represent some of the coaching legends that have been part of a strong coaching lineage.

Furman’s Tradition

Like UNCG, Furman has had its own share of success over the past eight years on the SoCon basketball hardwood, however, it has yet to yield the ultimate success, which would be a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1980.

With that said, the program closest to UNCG in terms of total wins (169) and SoCon wins (95) since the start of the 2015-16 season is Furman.

The Paladins are one of two of the SoCon’s charter members that are among the current membership. Along with The Citadel, the Paladins joined the SoCon as an original member in 1921.

The Paladins have won five regular-season SoCon crowns and have been to the NCAA Tournament six times. Furman has the lone 100-point scorer in a basketball game in college basketball history, in Frank Selvy, and he was inducted into the national basketball Hall-of-Fame this past November.

Though the Paladins have not made the NCAA Tournament since 1980, much of that proud tradition has been accentuated over the past eight years. Wins over Villanova, Louisville and Loyola Chicago (2) are just three of those aforementioned 169 recorded over that span.

Furman’s Jordan Lyons also tied the NCAA single-game record for three-pointers made (15) in a game when he did so against North Greenville during the 2018-19. Furman also achieved its first-ever national ranking in school history during that same season, rising has high as No. 23 in the ESPN/USA Today poll.

Along with Lyons and Selvy, Furman’s rich tradition of standout players includes guys like Karim Souchu, Devin Sibley, Stephen Croone, Matt Rafferty, Chuck Vincent, and Alex Hunter to name just a few.

Furman survives epic overtime battle with Samford

Furman senior forward Jalen Slawson led the Paladins with 26 points and 11 rebounds in the 91-84 overtime win over Samford

For the second-straight home game, Furman needed an extra session to decide a Southern Conference thriller against one of the top two teams in the friendly confines of Timmons Arena, as the Paladins picked up what was a 91-84 victory over win over previously league unbeaten Samford on Wednesday night before a rowdy crowd of 1,857.

The win sees Furman improve to 16-6 overall and 7-2 in Southern Conference action, while Samford, which saw its eight-game winning streak snapped, fell to 14-8 overall and 8-1 in league action. With UNC Greensboro’s 62-50 win over VMI Wednesday night, the standings atop the Southern Conference are now tied, with the Spartans improving to 14-8 overall and 8-1 in the SoCon following a 62-50 win over the Keydets at the Greensboro Coliseum Wednesday night. Furman will be in the Gate City to take on the UNCG Spartans Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. EST. That game will also be televised by NEXSTAR as a part of the Southern Conference Game of the Week.

The win saw the Paladins improve to 93-16 at Timmons Arena since the start of the 2015-16 campaign, as well as improving to 52-8 against Southern Conference foes inside the friendly confines. The win also marked Furman’s 169th overall win in the past eight seasons, which is second to only UNC Greensboro’s 171 victories over that same span.

Like the UNCG game, which the Paladins wound up losing 88-80 in the extra session, the game wasn’t easy by any stretch for the team that entered the season as the consensus favorite to win the Southern Conference, and it looked the Paladins were going to drop consecutive games to the SoCon’s top two teams according to the standings in back-to-back fashion on their home floor, however, when Jalen Slawson’s step-back three went down with 30.1 seconds remaining tied the game, 76-76, eventually forcing the extra session.

It was all part of a huge night for Slawson, as he posted a game-high 26 points and pulled down 11 rebounds to notch his sixth double-double of the 2022-23 season. Additionally, Slawson recorded three steals, dished out a pair of assists and blocked a shot. Slawson finished the night connecting on 6-of-12 shots from the field, including 1-of-4 from three-point range and was an impressive 13-of-15 from the charity stripe. Slawson was one of five Paladins in double-figures for a second-straight game, and his 26 points marked a season-high, eclipsing the 25-point effort he put together in a home win over Winthrop.

The 26-point scoring effort by Slawson marked the third time in the past four games that he has scored 20 or more points in a game. Joining the super senior in double figures in the win were Mike Bothwell (17 pts), JP Pegues (15 pts), Alex Williams (13 pts), and Marcus Foster (11 pts).

Samford finished the contest also placing five players in double figures, with Logan Dye leading the Bulldogs with 19 points. Dye finished the night knocking down 7-of-10 shots from the field, which included a 2-for-5 shooting effort from three-point land. He also connected on 3-of-4 shots from the charity stripe. The senior also finished with six rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks to round out another outstanding performance. Joining Dye in double figures for the Bulldogs were AJ Staton-McCray (16 pts), Glover (15 pts) and Bubba Parham and Jaden Campbell, who added 10 points apiece in the setback.

It wasn’t a particularly great shooting night for the Paladins. Furman finished the game knocking down 40.0% (28-of-70) from the field, including just 23.5% from three-point range (8-of-34), however, the Paladins did manage to connect on 79.4% (27-of-34) from the free throw line to close out the night.

The Bulldogs finished the contest shooting an impressive 55.2% (32-of-58), including 35.0% (7-of-20) from three-point range. The Bulldogs connected on 68.4% (13-of-19) from the charity stripe.

Furman finished the contest holding advantages in total assists (18-11), total rebounds (40-35), second-chance points (23-8), fast-break scoring (17-1) and points from turnovers (10-6). Samford held advantages in points in the paint (46-36) and bench scoring (26-9). One of the big keys to Furman’s mid-week win over the previously league unbeaten Bulldogs was Furman’s outstanding job on the offensive glass, as Furman’s 17 offensive rebounds directly led to those 23 second-chance points.

How It Happened:

Wednesday night’s game was a memorable one for Southern Conference basketball fans, and especially, Furman basketball fans, and it may well be a game that Furman fans look back on as a turning point should the Paladins go on and achieve their ultimate goal of winning the Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville in March. While that is still over a month away, Wednesday night’s win by the Paladins could muddy up the water at the top of the league standings, and what it did do was forge a tie for first place in the league standings between Samford and UNC Greensboro.

Furman had multiple different players show up in big moments for the Paladins in a gritty Southern Conference win over the Bulldogs. And the Paladins had to win it once again shorthanded, without the services of Garrett Hien, who suffered a concussion in the win over Wofford, and with Ben VanderWal limited due to illness.

The Paladins were just 5-of-31 from three-point range the entire night before knocking down three-straight to close the game and close out the win. The first came from Slawson, whose step-back triple with 18 seconds remaining ultimately forced overtime, tying the contest, 76-76.

In overtime, Marcus Foster connected on another three-pointer with 30.1 seconds remaining to give the Paladins an 87-84, ultimately proving to be the game-winning shot for the Paladins. The other monster triple for the Paladins came in regulation with Samford holding a 73-70 lead, and Furman point guard JP Pegues found an open Alex Williams in the left corner for an open three, and he knocked down the shot to tie the game, 73-73, with just 1:03 remaining. However, the Bulldogs responded with a huge shot of their own, as AJ Staton-McCray canned a three from the right corner to give Samford a 76-73 lead with 38 seconds remaining. That would set the stage for Slawson’s game-tying triple some 20 seconds later, tying the contest, 76-76. That would remain the score as the two teams headed for the extra five minutes of basketball.

In the extra session, Furman would retake the lead when Jalen Slawson knocked down a pair of foul shots following a foul on Logan Dye, giving the Paladins a 78-76 lead. However, Bubba Parham would match the Slawson foul shots on the other end after knocking down a pair of free throws after he was fouled by Furman’s Marcus Foster.

With the game tied 78-78, Parham committed his fifth personal foul and was, as a result, disqualified. That sent J.P. Pegues to the line for a pair of free throws, and he knocked down both offerings to put the Paladins back ahead by two points, at 80-78. After Pegues fouled Samford’s Ques Glover on the other end, he went to the line and went 1-for-2 from the stripe, leaving the Paladins clinging to a one-point, 80-79, lead.

Mike Bothwell missed a three-pointer on the other end, but Foster grabbed a key offensive rebound, and the ball eventually found its way into the hands of Bothwell once again and he was fouled. Bothwell knocked down both free throws to put the Paladins ahead by three, 82-79, with just under three minutes remaining.

Samford would answer with a Glover layup in traffic to get back to within a point of the Paladins. Foster missed a three on the other end, however, Slawson was there for another key offensive carom for the Paladins. Furman couldn’t make good on the series, however, as Pegues three-point attempt was also awry and Staton-McCray cleared the rebound for Samford. A Glover layup in the paint gave the Bulldogs an 83-82 lead with 1:44 remaining.

The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Alex Williams answered with a layup off a missed three pointer by Foster, and Furman regained the lead, 84-83, with 59 seconds remaining. Foster then fouled Jaden Campbell, as he picked up his fourth personal foul. Campbell followed by making the first free throw, but missed the second to lead the contest tied, 84-84. Foster grabbed the board, and Furman quickly advanced the ball into the forecourt where Foster then connected on a triple from the right corner, giving the Paladins an 87-84 lead with 30 seconds left—it would be a lead Furman would not relinquish the rest of the way.

On the ensuing Samford possession, Bothwell made arguably the defensive play of the night on Glover, as he drove to the basket looking for the layup to bring the Bulldogs to within a point. However, Bothwell appeared to get the slightest piece of the ball to alter Glover’s shot, and the ball was rebounded by Alex Williams, who was immediately fouled. He knocked down both foul shots to increase Furman’s lead to 89-84 with 17 seconds remaining. After Logan Dye missed a three-pointer on the other end with 10 seconds left, Slawson grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled. He knocked down both foul shots to provide the final margin of victory on the other end for the Paladins and complete what was by all accounts one of the more memorable wins in recent memory at Timmons Arena. The win was somewhat reminiscent of last year’s non-conference, 91-88, overtime win over the College of Charleston.

In the opening half of play, Furman was able to maintain the lead throughout the opening frame, taking as much as a 12-point lead, at 25-13, following a three-pointer by Carter Whitt with 9:13 to play in the opening half. The Bulldogs would out-score the Paladins 21-13 the remainder of the half, cutting Furman’s lead to four with Glover’s buzzer-beating jumper to end the half.

The Bulldogs would carry that spark out of the locker room in the opening minutes of the second half, scoring the first 11 points of the second half, and included with the final four points Samford scored to close the opening half of play, the Bulldogs had a 15-0 run spanning two halves, eventually taking as much as a seven-point lead, at 45-38, following a Logan Dye layup in the paint.

Furman returns to action Sunday afternoon, taking on another of the SoCon’s top teams, as the Paladins will battle UNC Greensboro at the Greensboro Coliseum. Tip-off for that contest is set for 3 p.m. EST. Samford returns to action Saturday afternoon, with a 2 p.m. EST battle at Wofford.

Postgame Press Conference:

Furman players Jalen Slawson and JP Pegues
Furman head coach Bob Richey

Furman hosts Samford in monster midweek SoCon game

The Day and Date: Jan. 25, 2023

The Game: Samford (14-7, 8-0 SoCon) at Furman (15-6, 6-2 SoCon)

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

Coaches: Samford–Bucky McMillan (41-31, 3rd season)/Furman–Bob Richey (126-53/6th season)

Series: 34th meeting/Furman leads 23-10 (Last meeting: Furman 71, Samford 68/SoCon semifinals in Asheville, N.C.)

Brief Preview: A lot will be determined as Furman and Samford play their final game in the first round of round robin games in league play. Furman, which was the consensus pick to claim the 2022-23 SoCon basketball crown, takes the floor against a Samford team, which is the team that currently leads the league, perched atop the standings with a perfect 8-0 conference record, which includes a 4-0 mark in road league games. Below is a look back at that classic meeting between the two last March in Asheville, which determined who Chattanooga’s opponent would be in the 2022 Southern Conference Tournament title game.

Furman 71, Samford 68 (SoCon Semifinal No. 2 2022)

Sunday March 6, 2022—The penultimate hurdle for No. 2 seed Furman would prove to be a tough one, as the Paladins faced No. 3 seed Samford it had lost to in Alabama the previous week, and one that had just survived a feisty UNC Greensboro club, nearly surrendering a 22-point halftime lead before eventually holding on for a too-close-for-comfort 66-64. Realistically, the Bulldogs, who exhausted themselves the previous night in the win over the Spartans, should have been the more fatigued of the two teams. But things seemingly never play out the way they should in a tournament setting, and its been said before many times that the semifinal stage in any tournament in any sport is often the hardest game. That may or may not be true, however, the penultimate challenge to get to Monday night’s championship game for Furman proved to be a worthy one, as a pair of teams with 21 wins battled it out to see who would meet top-seeded Chattanooga in Monday night’s championship contest. Samford would open the game as the fresher of the two teams in the second semifinal, and it would be Bucky McMillan’s Bulldogs that would take the game to the Paladins, building as much as a 15-point lead in the opening half of play before Furman would eventually gain its bearings. Jalen Slawson, who would go on to finish with 17 points, helped set the tone in terms of shooting and on the defensive end of the floor, as Slawson scored 17 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field and was also a crucial 7-for-9 from the charity stripe, as he was one of three players in double figures, with his 17 points tying Mike Bothwell for team-high scoring honors. The Bulldogs jumped out to an early 9-3 lead, with sharp-shooting, and it was Ques Glover’s three-pointer that helped the Bulldogs to the early six-point edge. Glover led all scorers with 23 points. Samford seized that momentum almost shockingly to the onlookers at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center, and it would be Slawson that would answer Glover’s triple with a long trey from the top of the key, and then had a word or two with Bulldogs’ talented sophomore Jermaine Marshall, which yielded a technical foul both ways. Samford would eventually build its lead to 28-13 with 6:01 left following a Jaden Campbell triple, and it appeared the Paladins were in real trouble. Furman would get a three from Conley Garrison and then two foul shots from Garrison got the Paladins quickly back within 10. A steal and a monster dunk from Tyrese Hughey would be the momentum play that literally changed the complexion of the proceedings the rest of the way for Furman. Hughey’s dunk had gotten the Paladins back to within eight, and Furman would end up maintaining that distance at the half, as Samford held a 35-27 at the break. In the second half, Furman would begin to find its rhythm after the halftime break, and inside the final 11:30, the game would see seven lead changes. After the Bulldogs built a 50-43 lead following a Marshall triple with 11:51 left, Furman would reel off the next eight points to take a 51-50 lead with 9:20 remaining following a Slawson layup. Marshall answered with a triple to put Samford back in front, 53-51, with 9:09 remaining. The teams would trade blow for blow over the next eight minutes until Slawson’s layup gave the Paladins a 66-64 lead with 1:24 left. After Glover connected on 1-of-2 foul shots on the other end, cutting Furman’s lead to a single point (66-65) with half-a-minute remaining. The two teams would combine for nine down the stretch, with Slawson making four-straight to help Furman hold off Samford, 71-68. The win meant the Paladins would be making their 11th appearance in a Southern Conference Tournament title game, as the Paladins would face Chattanooga in Monday night’s 7 p.m. contest set for ESPN at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center. Samford would finish off its 2021-22 season with a 21-11 overall record. Aside from Glover’s game-high 23-point effort, Marshall added 22 and Jaden Campbell added 14 points. Slawson would be joined by Bothwell with 17 points, while Garrison added 10 and Alex Hunter finished with nine. The victory saw the Paladins improve their overall record to 22-11 heading into Monday night’s title clash against Chattanooga.

2022-23 Bulldogs have a lot of bite

Following last season’s semifinal defeat to Furman, Samford head coach Bucky McMillan made sure to drive home the point to the media that Samford was here to stay as a league title contender. For now at least, that seems to be all bark and all bite, as the Bulldogs have left eight foes in their wake to start SoCon play.

And for the second-straight game, they will have the services of talented point guard Ques Glover, who missed almost two months with a foot injury. The Bulldogs had to learn how to play without the dynamic Glover, and even weathered a seven-game losing streak, which was followed by a seven-game winning streak before he took the floor for his first action since Nov. 30 in a loss at Depaul last time out against Western Carolina.

He was part of what was another solid 74-65 win over Western Carolina–one of the two SoCon teams to defeat Furman–and Glover did his part in helping lead the Bulldogs to the home win, as he posted 20 points on a 6-for-10 shooting performance from the field.

Like Furman, however, the Bulldogs are more than just Glover in terms of the offensive threats they present opposition.

Glover is one of four Bulldogs that were on the preseason All-SoCon team, as the talented guard was joined by junior forward Jermaine Marshall (11.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG), senior forward Logan Dye (13.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG) and graduate senior guard Bubba Parham (9.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG) on the preseason 10-man all-league team.

Glover and Marshall are to Samford what Furman’s Mike Bothwell (19.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG) and Jalen Slawson (15.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG) are to the Paladins. But like Furman, it’s about the ancillary parts for the Bulldogs, or the supporting cast, that makes Bucky McMillan’s bunch such a dangerous, well-rounded basketball team.

Players like A.J. Staton-McCray (6.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG), Jaden Campbell (9.1 PPG, 1.8 RPG), Achor Achor (6.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG), Nathan Johnson (5.5 PPG, 2.7 RPG) and Jaron Rillie (5.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG) all know their respective roles, and have learned to play them well.

An offensive showcase…

Statistics through eight conference games suggest Wednesday night’s battle should be a high-scoring, up-and-down basketball game.

Since the start of Southern Conference play, Furman and Samford represent the league’s two top offensive teams. Furman ranks first in the SoCon in scoring offense (82.1 PPG), while the Bulldogs are right behind in second (76.4 PPG). For the third time in eight conference games, the Paladins posted 90 points in a league game through their first eight, posting 96 in Sunday’s 14-point win at Wofford. The Paladins have been getting big-time production from point guard J.P. Pegues (9.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG), who posted a career-high 24 points in the win over the Terriers last time out.

Pegues will have his hands full trying to slow Glover, however, on the other end, Pegues figures to put plenty of stress on Glover to stop him.

The two teams also rank as the top two shooting teams in the SoCon, with Furman leading the league and ranking 12th nationally in field goal percentage (49.3%). In league games, the Paladins are shooting a slight bit lower, at 48.1%, while Samford is right on Furman’s heels at 47.1%.

Shooting the three isn’t a problem for either, as Samford is leading the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage (39.4%), while Furman is right behind in second in that same category, connecting on 37.7% of its shots from long range.

Defensively speaking…

The two teams have played pretty well defensively since the start of league play, with Furman ranking third in field goal percentage defense (42.5%), while Samford is fourth (43.0%). Samford ranks second in scoring defense (66.8 PPG), while Furman enters ranking sixth in the league in scoring defense (71.8 PPG)

Furman ranks third in three-point field goal percentage (31.8%) defense, while Samford is seventh in three-point field goal percentage defense (35.3%).

Furman overwhelms Wofford in Sunday matinee’

Furman sophomore guard JP Pegues scored a career-high 24 points in Furman’s 96-82 win at Wofford Sunday afternoon.

Furman scored its most points on Wofford’s home floor in nearly half a century, as the Paladins claimed their third-straight win in the series with a 96-82 win over the Terriers in Southern Conference action.

The win came exactly a year ago to the day to when the Paladins posted a demonstrative 75-50 win over the Terriers in the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium, which accounted for Wofford’s largest home loss in facility history.  The big road win was highlighted by a second half which saw the Paladins come to life with a full offensive onslaught, connecting on 56.7% (17-of-30) from the field, as Furman out-scored the Wofford 52-39 in the latter half after taking just a 44-43 lead into the halftime locker room.

The win saw Furman improve to 15-6 overall and 6-2 in SoCon play, while Wofford fell to 11-10 overall and 3-5 in SoCon play. 

The 96 points in Sunday’s win before a nationally televised was the most points scored on Wofford’s home floor by a Furman team since the Jan. 8, 1970, as the Paladins posted a 109-86 over the Terriers on that occasion. Furman’s back-to-back wins in Spartanburg marks the first time since the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons that the Paladins have claimed back-to-back wins over the Terriers in the Hub City. 

Furman placed five in double figures in Sunday’s win, and it also marked the third time the Paladins have scored 90 or more points in a Southern Conference game this season, having won all three. The Paladins also improved to 83-9 when scoring 77 or more points in a game during the Bob Richey era. 

The Paladins got a career-high 24 points and eight rebounds from point guard JP Pegues, who has played some solid games previously in his career as a Paladin against Wofford and on Sunday, connected on 8-of-17 shots from the field and connected on 4-for-9 from three-point range, as well as going a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Pegues also added four assists, which also led the team. 

Mike Bothwell, who is a leading candidate for SoCon Player of the Year, added 20 points, as did Alex Williams, as his 20 points represented a new scoring high. Bothwell did most of his damage from the charity stripe in the win, connecting on 13-of-14 from the line, posting a 20-point scoring effort for the 10th time this season, as well as for the third-straight game and for a fourth game in the Paladins’ eight SoCon games thus far. In addition to his 13-of-14 effort from the line, he also went 3-for-7 from the field, including 1-of-2 from three. He also added three rebounds and an assist. 

Williams posted his 20 on 7-of-11 from the field and 4-for-8 from long-range, while also connecting on both of his foul shots. Additionally, the talented sophomore from Cincinnati also finished with five rebounds and had one steal. 

Rounding out the double figure scorers for the Paladins was Ben VanderWal, who finished with his first-ever double double, posting 11 points and a career-high 11 boards. VanderWal finished 5-of-9 from the field and 1-of-4 from three-point land. In the absence of Garrett Hien, who left the game early and didn’t return with an apparent concussion, and with Tyrese Hughey missing the contest due to illness, VanderWal and Williams helped pick up the short-handed Paladins by combining for 31 points and 16 rebounds off the Paladin bench. 

Furman super senior Jalen Slawson was huge in the second half before eventually fouling out of the contest, as he scored 14 of his 17 total points in the second half, with several highlight-reel dunks along the way. He finished the afternoon by connecting on 7-of-10 shots from the field and was 3-for-6 from the charity stripe. He also finished with three assists, three rebounds and blocked a shot.

Wofford finished the contest with two players in double figures, as both freshman Jackson Paveltzke and senior BJ Mack combined for 46 points, with the freshman finishing with a game-high 25 points and the senior adding 21. Paveletzke finished connecting on 9-of-14 shots from the field, including going 1-for-3 from long-range and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe. Paveletzke also dished out three assists.

Mack completed his afternoon by connecting on 9-of-15 shots from the field and was 3-of-7 from three-point land and added a rebound and a steal to Wofford’s overall cause in the win. 

Furman finished the contest connecting on connecting on 50% (31-of-62) from the field, while Wofford made 49.2% (31-of-63) of its shots from the field. The Paladins knocked down 35.5% (11-of-31) from three-point land, while the Terriers connected on 38.1% (8-of-21) from downtown. Rounding out the shooting totals, the Paladins finished 79.3% (23-of-29) from the charity stripe, while the Terriers made 70.6% (12-of-17) from the line.

Furman finished holding advantages in bench scoring (31-15), fast-break points (4-2), total rebounds (42-30), offensive rebounds (13-7), and second-chance scoring (21-8), while Wofford held the slight advantage in points in the paint (44-38). Both teams ended the contest with a total of 10 assists. 

Making the win especially impressive is the fact that Furman played nearly the whole game without two of its post men, with one of those, Hien, being a starter. Furman’s ability to dictate the battle of the boards, thanks in large part career high rebounding efforts from both Pegues and VanderWal were two major keys in Sunday’s road win–the Paladins fifth true road victory of the season.

“Garrett took a big hit early and we basically played the game with one post man, and we knew we had to help him out and everybody just had to raise the stakes and had to step up,” Furman sophomore point guard J.P. Pegues said.

Furman seemingly also did it when it needed to on Sunday. It seemed that in big moments and with Wofford making a charge back after Furman created a little bit of a cushion, whether it be a layup or dunk in transition, or a timely three, the Paladins seemingly had the answer all afternoon before a boisterous crowd of nearly 3,000 fans on-hand at the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium.

“We did a great job of staying together and not breaking,” Furman freshman forward Ben VanderWal said of Furman’s adversity after being two players down vs. Wofford early.

“Even when things really didn’t go our way we really stuck together as a team and it’s all about making that play…the offensive rebounds, the diving for loose balls…the charges…those swing the tide…those change the energy of the game and that’s what we want and we track ‘energy given behaviors’ and we want to bring as much energy to this game as we can,” VanderWal added.

Upon observation of Sunday’s offensive showcase, it wouldn’t take a casual observer or even a novice of the game too long to recognize one of the keys being transition runouts and baskets off of Wofford made field goals in transition being a major key for head coach Bob Richey’s team. It was particularly noticeable in Furman’s big men…Jalen Slawson, Alex Williams and Ben VanderWal, as well as the recognition of guards JP Pegues and Carter Whitt to find one of those aforementioned players in stride with pin-point accuracy.

“It just puts stress on the rim,” head coach Bob Richey said of his big men running the floor seemingly all afternoon.

“At the end of the day, we’re always trying to put pressure on the rim…whether that be through the cut or whether that be from running the floor or whether that be off the bounce and I think one of the big keys to the game…I think we were up four and we threw it over the top to Slawson and then he got two huge drives late and got the and-one right there late to put us up eight and I feel like that play…when they score and we throw it over the top to Slawson or that play when they score and we throw it ahead to Ben [VanderWal] and we put it off the board and we score that…those are just demoralizing plays,” head coach Bob Richey added.

How it Happened: 

Wofford got out to a strong start in the rivalry matchup with Furman, as the Terriers scored the first eight points of the contest and led 8-0 before the first media timeout and carried that into first media timeout. 

Furman’s first basket would come from Alex Williams off an offensive put-back to make it an 8-2 game and stop the bleeding momentarily.Kyler Filewich converted a layup to make it 10-2 Terriers. After an offensive foul on Wofford’s BJ Mack, Furman used a pair of Mike Bothwell charity shots to cut the Wofford lead to six and a Williams triple got the Paladins to within three.

After a flagrant foul was whistled against Wofford’s Messiah Jones, as he caught Furman’s Garrett Hien with an elbow, Jalen Slawson went to the line and knocked down 1-of-2 free throws to make it a 10-8 game and following a Paladin stop, Bothwell gave the Paladins their first lead at 11-10 with a top-of-the-key three. The Paladins would finish the 20-3 run with a JP Pegues triple, prompting a Wofford timeout and the Paladins leading 20-11 with 11:43 remaining in the half. 

Late in the half and with Furman leading 32-29, Chase Martin canned a three from the corner and was fouled by Mike Bothwell with 4:10 remaining in the half to give the Terriers the lead, 33-32, and after Pegues missed on one end, he would commit a foul on the other, as Jackson Paveletzke connected on a layup, increasing Wofford’s lead to 36-32 following the foul shot. 

Furman closed the half with a 12-7 run and took a narrow 44-43 lead to the break, with Mike Bothwell and JP Pegues combining for 28 of the Paladins’ 44 points in the opening 20 minutes. Bothwell did most of his damage in the opening half from the charity stripe, having gone 7-of-8 from the stripe. Pegues did a majority of his damage from three-point land, connecting on 4-of-7 shots from long distance. 

Threes by Jackson Sivills and Paveletzke as well as a three-point play the old-fashioned way saw the Terriers out-score Furman 9-0 in the opening two-and-a-half minutes of the second half, giving the Terriers and early eight-point, 52-44, lead in the second stanza. 

Off the timeout, Slawson responded with a strong two-handed stuff, and after a Mack missed three, Pegues found VanderWal cutting on a break for a layup to make it a four-point game. Mack then connected on a left elbow triple which was matched by a three from the same spot on the other end by Marcus Foster, and the Paladins trailed 55-51 less than five minutes into the second half. 

Furman used a 9-3 spurt to regain the lead, as VanderWal hit a three, and converted a layup, while Pegues also added a layup. Wofford got a triple from Carson McCorkle during the Paladin spurt, as Furman held a 60-58 lead with just under 12 to play. 

A 13-2 Furman run gave the Paladins a double-digit lead, as Alex Williams connected on his second three during the run to stake the Paladins to a 73-62 lead with just over eight minutes left, however, Paveletzke answered with a bank shot off the right side of the lane got it back under double digits for the Terriers, at 73-64. A McCorkle three got Wofford to within six with 7:18 left, but Bothwell answered with a bucket in the paint.

The back-and-forth battle continued, as Paveletzke answered with a short baseline jumper, which banked off the glass from the right side to get the margin back to six, but Furman got a quick run-out and on the other end, Slawson connected on a half-hook shot off the right side to get the lead back to eight, at 77-69. 

Paveletzke’s top of the key jumper cut the Terrier deficit to exactly six with six remaining, at 77-71, and then after a VanderWal missed three on the other end, the Terriers would get even a little closer, cutting the Furman lead to four when Mack knocked down a fade-a-away jumper from the left baseline to make it a 77-73 contest with just over five minutes left.

Furman, however, would score the next four points on a Slawson two-handed dunk in transition following the Mack make, and then Corey Tripp missed a layup for the Terriers, Slawson took it strong to the basket once again and slammed it home with two hands and was fouled by Messiah Jones in the process. Slawson’s foul shot gave the Paladins an 82-73 lead with 4:31 remaining. 

Following a McCorkle missed jumper in the paint, VanderWal ripped down one of his 11 boards and he found Williams at the top of the key, and the sophomore connected on a fade-a-way jumper to make it a double-digit lead for the ‘Dins, at 84-73 with just under four remaining.

Furman would extend their lead to their largest of the day following a Kyler Filewich missed foul shot and subsequent turnover by Jackson Sivillis following an offensive rebound, as Pegues came up with the steal and found a streaking VanderWal, who missed his initial layup attempt, however, followed his own miss and followed it up with a successful layup to make it an 86-73 contest with 3:20 left. 

Wofford cut the Paladin lead to 10 three times inside the final three minutes, with the latest coming when Paveletzke’s layup in the paint made it a 92-82 game with 1:22 remaining, however, the Terriers could not get any closer, as Pegues and Williams finished out Furman’s scoring going 4-for-4 over the final 82 seconds of the game to close out the Paladins’ 96-point scoring effort and provided the final margin of 14. 

Furman will return to action Wednesday night, welcoming red-hot Samford to Timmons Arena for a 7 p.m. EST contest. The Bulldogs have won eight-straight and are a perfect 8-0 in SoCon action. The Bulldogs and Paladins met in a thrilling SoCon semifinal contest last March, with Furman claiming a narrow 71-68 semifinal win over the Bulldogs to advance to Monday night’s SoCon championship game in Asheville. The Paladins claimed two out of the three meetings between the two last season.

Wofford will return to the hardwood with a game on the road at Chattanooga Wednesday night, with tip-off at the Roundhouse slated for 7 p.m.

Postgame Interviews/Audio

Furman head coach Bob Richey
Furman freshman forward Ben VanderWal
Furman sophomore guard JP Pegues

Whitt’s crucial three fuels Furman’s late winning run at Chattanooga

Furman senior guard Mike Bothwell

Mike Bothwell scored 22 points and classmate Jalen Slawson added 21, as the two super seniors added another superlative in their respective Furman careers by doing something few other Paladin players have in theirs, finishing off a final appearance inside one of SoCon hoops’ most-revered homecourt venues with each posting marks of 4-1 inside Chattanooga’s “Roundhouse” (McKenzie Arena), in leading Furman to a 77-69 win over the defending SoCon champion Mocs in a key mid-week Southern Conference basketball contest.

The win saw the Paladins improve to 14-6 overall and 5-2 in Southern Conference play, while the Mocs fell for the second-straight game and are now 11-9 overall and 3-4 in Southern Conference play.

It was a rematch of the 2022 Southern Conference Tournament championship team, one team—Furman—was essentially the same team, while the other—Chattanooga—was almost entirely a different team from the one that handed Furman the ultimate heartbreak of a 64-63 buzzer-beating defeat last March in Asheville. However, it is a new season, and for the Mocs, it was a team that had one player, in A.J. Caldwell, who saw significant playing time in that game some 318 days ago.

Furman didn’t care about how many of those players off that team were still around, it had this game circled on the calendar, not necessarily because of the heartbreak last March, but mostly because Chattanooga was one of those handful of teams expected to compete for the Southern Conference regular-season and tournament titles this season. Add that to Furman coming off an 88-80 overtime home loss to UNCG last time it took the floor, and its collective backs were likely against the wall when facing the defending champion Wednesday night before 3,402 fans at a rowdy Roundhouse.

Wednesday night’s battle was also one that had the likely winner of the SoCon Player of the Year, with Chattanooga’s outstanding center Jake Stephens, while Furman’s Bothwell being his closest competition. On this night at least, it was Bothwell that once again that stepped up and had a huge game inside the Roundhouse.

It was kind of a full circle moment for Bothwell, who four years ago, had his breakout game as a Paladin in the same facility, scoring 27 points in what was a 73-67 win for the Paladins back in December of 2019. In Bothwell’s last four games inside the arena in which he has played meaningful minutes, he’s scored a combined 83 points, which converts to an average of 20.7 PPG in those four contests.

In Wednesday night’s Paladin victory, Bothwell connected on 7-of-11 shots from the field and went 2-for-4 from three-point range,  while also connecting on 6-of-7 shots from the charity stripe and added one rebound and an assist. Slawson finished with his 21 on 6-of-15 shooting from the field, which included a 1-of-5 effort from three and an 8-for-10 effort at the line. Slawson also added seven rebounds, two steals, two assists and a block to round out another complete performance.

J.P. Pegues finished with 11 points, six rebounds, three assists, and a block, while Marcus Foster posted his fifth-straight double-figure scoring performance by adding 10 points, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal to round out the Paladins in double figures.

Chattanooga was led by Stephens, who posted 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field, however, was 0-for-2 shooting the ball from three-point land in the contest. It marked only the third time this season that Stephens has managed to be held scoreless from the perimeter, which also came with 0-of-2 performance in a lopsided win over Oakland City back on Nov. 10, and another lopsided win over Non-Division I Johnson back on Dec. 10, which saw Stephens go 0-for-4.

Stephens scored 12 of his 18 total points in the opening half of the contest on 4-of-6 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 from the charity stripe. In the second half, the senior from Bunker Hill, WVa, went 2-for-5 from the field and was a perfect 2-for-2 from the stripe. He also added a team-leading eight rebounds, blocked three shots and added a pair of assists. Jamal Johnson is the only other Mocs player to finish in double figures, adding 10 points, five rebounds, and a pair of steals.

Furman finished the contest connecting on 43.1% (25-of-58) from the field, which included a 25.9% (7-of-27) effort from long-range, while Chattanooga knocked down 40.7% (22-of-54) from the field, and finished with a 27.6% (8-of-29) shooting clip from three-point range.

The Mocs finished the contest holding advantages in total rebounds (35-31) and bench points (18-13), while the Paladins held advantages in points off turnovers (21-9), points in the paint (36-26), total assists (8-7), second chance points (20-16), and fast-break points (17-11).

The game was physical, as expected between two very good basketball teams, and the even disparity of fouls and free throw attempts was an accurate representation of that. Furman finished connecting on 20-of-25 charity shots (80%), while Chattanooga connected on 17-of-25 free throw attempts (68.0%). Furman improved to 82-9 under sixth-year head coach Bob Richey when scoring 77 or more points in a game.

Whitt’s Winning Moment

Furman sophomore guard Carter Whitt

However, it was one player that wasn’t one of the four Paladins to score in double figures that had a profound impact on the ultimate outcome of the huge SoCon tilt in the Scenic City. That player was sophomore guard Carter Whitt. The Wake Forest transfer has been struggling to find his fit with his new team in Greenville at Furman, however, on Wednesday night, Whitt, who scored just five points in 21 minutes, gave Furman a of confidence it has needed at times this season in big games, and when his own individual moment came in crunch time Wednesday night against the Mocs, Whitt didn’t shy away from it and showed no hesitation in it. He embraced it and stepped into that pressure and opportunity with confidence.

With the game tied 66-66 with a little less than three minutes left, starting point guard JP Pegues, who himself ended the night with 11 points, six rebounds and three assists, had an open shot from the right elbow when he received the pass, however, Carter Whitt was in the right corner and had a better one. Pegues whipped a pass to the corner and Whitt caught it and stepped into his shot not thinking twice. It swished for Furman’s eighth triple of the night, giving the Paladins a 69-66 lead and would ultimately spark the run that ended up winning the game, as the Paladins outscored the Mocs 11-3 during the final 2:42 to garner what is the Paladins’ fourth true road win of the season. It was a complete 180-degree difference of how things transpired in overtime at Timmons Arena last Saturday against UNCG, with the Spartans out-scoring the Paladins 11-3 in the extra session.

“Carter has been through a lot of adversity you know,” senior guard Mike Bothwell said. “He hadn’t been playing as much coming in from a high major program and people were asking him what’s been going on and to his credit, he’s just stuck with it and stayed in the gym and never really questioned why but just kept being a good teammate and coach Richey said he was going to give him an opportunity and to shake things up and we needed to play more people to stay fresher and he met the opportunity and made a bunch of big plays and probably made the play of the game hitting that three when it was tied. He’s an example of what this program has been about,” Bothwell added on Whitt’s performance Wednesday night.

In Furman’s loss to UNCG, Furman starting point guard JP Pegues was left exhausted and unable to finish the game with leg cramps. On Wednesday night, the plan was to give Pegues a little help by giving Carter Whitt his opportunity. By the nature of that decision, Pegues played calmer and with even more confidence himself, and for a good stretch in Wednesday night’s game, the two found themselves on the floor at the same time. Not since the opening two games of the season has Whitt found himself seeing as much floor time, and not since the Belmont game, which Furman claimed an impressive 89-74 win over the current Missouri Valley Conference leader, has Whitt played in a game in which the outcome of it was hanging in the balance. Part of that has been a hamstring injury, which has kept his action limited to an extent. All told, he logged 21:48 of floor time in Wednesday night’s road win.

“It makes me look like a bad coach, right…But it’s been a new place and it’s a new way of doing things and he was battling an injury here recently as well, but he just keeps showing up and the way he’s handled this has increased his hunger and it’s made him work harder and we’ve seen it coming and we saw it in practice and we decided to give him a run tonight and man…his ‘and-one’ and obviously his huge three were huge plays in the game,” head coach Bob Richey said of Carter Whitt’s performance in Furman’s win over Chattanooga.

How It Happened:

Furman found itself facing adversity more than once in Wednesday night’s thrilling Southern Conference road game at Chattanooga, however, found a way to get the job done in what was a tough eight-point, 77-69, road win against defending champion Chattanooga.

The Paladins found themselves trailing, 66-64, following a pair of made Jake Stephens foul shots with 4:28 remaining, however, the Paladins scored the next nine points of the game to assume a 73-66 lead. Mike Bothwell started the run with a driving layup off the right side to tie the game 66-66. Furman got two important defensive stops on the next two Mocs possessions, and after Carter Whitt’s three from the right corner with 2:42 remaining put Furman ahead 69-66, the Paladins never looked back and never wavered in ending a three-game losing skid to the Mocs and picking up wins 14 overall and five in league play.

Following Whitt’s right corner three, Furman’s perimeter defense was excellent, forcing Chattanooga to two more launch prayers from long range, with both missing badly. Eventually, it was Bothwell, who allowed Furman to extend its lead to two possessions with another driving layup following a timeout by Furman head coach Bob Richey, likely knowing points at that juncture were crucial and would go a long way in helping Furman to a big league road win if it could get them. Bothwell’s layup with just under a minute left gave Furman a five-point, 71-66 lead. After Chattanooga missed a hurried three-pointer, JP Pegues was immediately fouled. He went 2-for-2 from the line to extend Furman’s lead to seven, at 73-66. The Mocs would get a bucket from AJ Caldwell and a free throw from Brody Robinson in the final 36.9 seconds, while Jalen Slawson went 4-for-4 down the stretch, as the Paladins made all their foul shots inside the final minute to close out the win.

Furman managed a 40-37 halftime lead, but trailed by as many as seven in the early moments of the contest, falling behind 11-4 after a pair of made threes from Jamal Johnson, a layup by Demetrius Davis and three made foul shots by Jake Stephens after he was fouled shooting a three. The Paladins missed their first eight threes, however, answered by connecting on their next five to claw back into the contest, assuming as much as a nine-point lead (36-27) before settling for the three-point halftime edge, as the Mocs closed the half with a 10-4 run, capped by a Stephens buzzer-beating layup to give UTC some momentum heading to the locker room, trailing just 40-37.

In the opening minutes of the second half, Furman assumed a 57-50 lead following a Slawson layup with 14:05 left, but were held scoreless from the field for eight minutes, which would eventually be enough to see the Mocs re-take the lead to take a 60-58 lead following a pair of Brody Robinson free throws with just under nine minutes remaining. A pair of Bothwell free throws tied the game, 60-60, before UTC’s Sam Alexis was fouled by Garrett Hien and he went to the line and connected on 1-of-2 shots to give the Mocs a one-point, 61-60 lead with 7:09 left. Hien exited the game and Slawson, who had four personal fouls, re-entered the contest with 7:09 remaining. He was able to stay disciplined enough, playing within himself to not commit his fifth and against a player like Stephens that demands attention all the time, might be as impressive as what he was able to do on either end of the floor the entire night.

Whitt answered with a driving layup and he was fouled in the process. He couldn’t, however, complete the three-point play the old-fashioned way, but Furman still had a 62-61 lead with 5:49 remaining. Chattanooga then got a long three, which banked in, from Brody Robinson with 5:22 remaining to bring a raucous noise from the better than 3,400 in attendance at The Roundhouse. Slawson then missed a layup and UTC had a chance to take a two-possession lead, however, Pegues blocked Robinson’s driving layup attempt, corralled the rebound, and found a streaking Slawson down in the forecourt for an uncontested two-handed slam to tie it at 64 with 4:50 remaining.

Stephens would be fouled on the other end but gave Chattanooga their final lead of the night with his two foul shots with 4:28 left. A little less than two minutes later and a full three minutes after giving Furman a 62-61 lead, Whitt had another opportunity to give the Paladins a second lead in the final six minutes, and after making a huge three with 2:42 remaining, 69-66, Furman would not relinquish that advantage the rest of the night.

“Coach Richey’s message to us before the game was to keep our joy and there’s a lot of things in life that are bigger than this ballgame and he took the pressure off us by saying ‘guys we don’t have to win this game and this game won’t dictate our season and this game won’t dictate your life so if things don’t go your way don’t put too much pressure on yourself that you really don’t need to’  and I feel like tonight a couple of times when the crowd got into it and they cut our lead and they took the lead and we were able to just stay poised and we’ve struggled with that in a lot of our losses and we kind of freaked out when a team came back on us or a team took the lead on us especially on the road but today we were able to just keep our focus on just trying to do the next right thing,” senior guard Mike Bothwell said.

Furman returns to league action Sunday facing Wofford on the road in a nationally televised contest on ESPNU. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium. Chattanooga will return to action Saturday, hosting rival East Tennessee State at 3 p.m.

Postgame Interviews/Audio:

Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson
Head coach Bob Richey

IG Highlights:

Furman heads to Chattanooga for huge SoCon Matchup

The Date and Time: Jan. 18, 2023, 7 p.m. EST

The Game: Furman (13-6, 4-2 SoCon) at Chattanooga (11-8, 3-3 SoCon)

The Venue and Location: Chattanooga, Tenn./McKenzie Arena (10,995)

The Coaches: Furman-Bob Richey (124-52, 6th yr)/Chattanooga-Dan Earl (84-147, 8th yr)

Series: 95th all-time meeting/Chattanooga leads 57-37

Brief Preview: Furman and Chattanooga both are coming off heartbreaking losses as the two teams blew double-digit second half leads in setbacks to UNC Greensboro and Samford, respectively, as both the Paladins and Mocs dropped a little further behind in the Southern Conference standings. With Furman’s loss to the Spartans, it makes Wednesday night’s game against the Mocs a paramount game, as the consensus league favorite will look to fall no further behind in the SoCon standings.

Chattanooga surrendered what had been a 19-point second-half lead only to drop a heartbreaking 75-74 contest to Samford, while Furman saw UNCG whittle away its 13-point second half lead and eventually overcame the Paladins, 88-80, in overtime before a sellout crowd at Timmons Arena.

The Paladins lost all three games to the Mocs last season, which included a 64-63 setback in the championship game of the Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville. The Paladins also fell in matchups in Chattanooga (L, 69-71) and Greenville (L, 58-64). Prior to those three-straight losses last season, the Paladins had put together one of its best runs in the all-time series between the two, having won eight-straight in the series. In fact, when former Chattanooga head coach Lamont Paris led to Chattanooga to a 71-69 win over Furman in the Scenic City last season, it marked Paris’ first-ever win against Richey in what was his fifth season at the helm of the Chattanooga basketball program.

Though the Mocs have had plenty of transition–both in leadership and among players that have either graduated or transferred out of the program–they still remain among the SoCon’s elite basketball programs, having been picked to finish second in the conference by the league’s media, while the coaches selected the Mocs to finish fourth in the preseason poll.

The Mocs lost a total of four starters: G-Malachi Smith (19.9 PPG, 6.7 RPG), G-David Jean-Baptiste (14.3 PPG), C-Silvio De Sousa (11.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG) and Darius Banks (8.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG) to either graduation or transfer. The Mocs also graduated the oldest player in college basketball, in Josh Ayeni (4.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG), who was invaluable in last season’s championship run. Smith entered the transfer portal in late April of last year and ended up at Gonzaga, where in his most-recent game led the Bulldogs with 27 points, which included seven three-pointers, in what was a resounding 117-75 win over the Portland Pilots. Smith, who was the 2022 SoCon Player of the Year, is averaging 8.9 PPG and 3.5 RPG this season for the ‘Zags and is averaging 20.2 minutes-per-game for the Bulldogs, however, has yet to make a start in 19 contests this season.

Chattanooga is of course under new leadership this season, as following the Mocs’ NCAA Tournament loss to Illinois a year ago, Lamont Paris moved on to become the head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks, UTC Director of Athletics Mark Wharton moved quickly to get his man to take over the basketball program, as he found his coach within the Southern Conference, in former VMI head coach Dan Earl.

Earl and the Mocs, much like Furman, have been through their fair share of ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ this season. And while the Mocs have plenty of new faces, there are still some key holdovers from that championship team of last season. Players like Grant Ledford (1.6 PPG, 1.1 RPG), AJ Caldwell (4.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG) and KC Hankton (2.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG) were three key pieces of that title team of a year ago, with only Caldwell and Hankton seeing quality minutes for Chattanooga this season.

While Caldwell has started all 19 games this season for the Mocs, both Ledford and Hankton have battled injuries and now that they are healthy, have struggled to find minutes. Both Ledford and Hankton have had big games against the Paladins in the past, with Ledford posting a key 13 points off the bench in last season’s meeting in Chattanooga, as the Mocs prevailed, 71-69, while Hankton had a key game against the Paladins in late December of 2020 in the meeting in the Scenic City, as he posted 17 points in 24 minutes of action of the UTC bench in what was a 77-73 Furman win.

The focus of this Mocs team, however, is centered around its center-literally-and that is Jake Stephens (21.9 PPG, 10.3 RPG, ), who is the leading candidate to claim SoCon Player of the Year honors this season. Stephens has already won the league’s Player of the Week award six times this season. If he indeed follows through and wins the SoCon Player of the Year Award, he will become the second-straight Moc to accomplish the feat, with Smith garnering both the coaches and media SoCon Player of the Year honor last season. It would mark the first time in Chattanooga’s rich Southern Conference history that it has had a player to earn the honor in back-to-back years.

But first things first, and while Stephens leads the SoCon in scoring and rebounding, he would be the first to tell you I’m sure that winning and more importantly, helping the Mocs defend their Southern Conference title is important. Just like he was the previous three years at VMI, Stephens is once again the main cog of Earl’s motion offense. For Furman fans, a better and accurate comparison I think is Matt Rafferty. Stephens is a taller version, and a better perimeter shooting version of the former Paladin star.

Stephens even has back-to-back 35-point, 10-rebound games this season, accomplishing that rare feat in back-to-back wins over VMI and Western Carolina. He became the first time since 2019 to pull off that rare accomplishment. Against his former team, Stephens posted 37 points and 15 rebounds in what was an 85-78 win over the Keydets a week-and-a-half ago. Last week against Western Carolina, Stephens posted 35 points and 10 rebounds in the 95-76 win over the Mocs. All told, Stephens has scored 30 or more points in four games this season for the Mocs.

In addition to what he does as a scorer in the paint and on the glass, he is also a proficient long-range shooter, having connected on 42 three-pointers already this season, ranking seventh in the SoCon in that particular category. His 41.6% (42-of-101) shooting clip from long range this season also ranks Stephens ninth in three-point field goal percentage. Stephens is also an outstanding distributor of the basketball for the Mocs, as he is averaging 3.6 assists-per-game.

From a national perspective, Stephens ranks up there with some of the best centers in all of college basketball. For instance, Stephens is the only player in NCAA Division I college basketball to average 20 or more points, 10 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game not named Zach Edey (Purdue).

If the season were to end right now, Stephens would be the first player in NCAA Division I basketball to finish a season averaging 20 PPG, 10 RPG, 3 APG and 2 BPG since Wake Forest big man Tim Duncan was able to accomplish that feat during the 1996-97 season (special to thanks to UTC Sports Information Director Corey Belonzi for that stat via OptaStats).

When Stephens and the Mocs are working with cohesion, Chattanooga can play some beautiful offensive basketball at times, which is a far cry from some of the grinders Mocs fans might have become accustomed to under Lamont Paris.

Stephens is coming off another solid performance in Chattanooga’s most recent road setback at Samford, posting 19 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three blocks and a pair of steals.

While Stephens draws most of the attention, the supporting cast for the Mocs is also pretty good. And to find that supporting cast, Earl had to do something he wasn’t all that accustomed to doing, which is finding talent from the transfer portal.

He brought in the well-traveled Jamal Johnson (13.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG), who has spent time in his career at both Auburn and UAB. Johnson loves the three ball and is not shy about letting them fly from long range. So far this season, no Moc has shot more (129) or made more (51) three-pointers this season.

The 6-5 senior guard averaged 9.4 PPG during his time at Auburn and transferred out of UAB after not getting the desired amount of playing time. He finds himself as an integral part of the backcourt for the Mocs this season and has started all 19 games for the Mocs this season. He is shooting an impressive 39.5% from long-range this season.

Rounding out the backcourt for the Mocs as a part of the starting five will be point guard Dalvin White (9.2 PPG, 3.2 APG), who transferred in from USC Upstate, as well as the old reliable AJ Caldwell. If there was an award for the league’s top “glue guy”, Caldwell would your guy. He can shoot and he’s also one of the team’s top defenders.

Rounding out the starting five for UTC will be Demetrius Davis (8.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG), who has a good combination of athleticism and a soft touch around the basket. Davis is highly skilled and like Stephens, a good distributor of the basketball.

White is an underrated point guard in a league that has several really good ones. Like Stephens, he is a tremendous facilitator and those two keep the ball snapping around and rarely do you see Dan Earl’s teams get stagnant offensively.

Off the bench, the Mocs look to basically four guys off the bench. Houston Baptist transfer and junior guard Khristion Courseault (5.8 PPG, 1.2 RPG), forward Randy Brady (4.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG), guard Jamaal Walker (5.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG), and wing KC Hankton (1.9 PPG, 0.5 APG) are the primary players off the bench for UTC. Walker was a member of last year’s team but had to sit out most of the season due to blood clots.

Statistical comparisons

The Mocs bring in one of the top offensive teams in the Southern Conference into the midweek clash with the Paladins. The Mocs rank second in the SoCon in scoring offense (79.4 PPG), as well as entering Wednesday night’s contest ranking fourth in the league in field goal percentage (46.5%).

What do the Mocs do well offensively? Dan Earl-coached teams never shy away from shooting the three, and this season has been no different no matter the locale being a little different. Much like his VMI teams over the past few years, Chattanooga finds itself ranking first nationally in three-pointers made-per-game (11.9), while its 226 made triples this season ranks tied for first nationally with the Liberty Flames. The Mocs also rank 26th nationally in three-point field goal percentage, knocking down 38.3% (226-of-590) from three-point range land this season. The Mocs attempt 31.1 three-point field goals per game, which is second nationally.

On the defensive end of the floor, the Mocs enter Wednesday night’s contest sixth overall in the SoCon in scoring defense (69.6 PPG), while boasting the league’s second-best field goal percentage defense, as the Mocs are surrendering just 41.6% from the field to opponents through its first 19 games this season. The Mocs rank sixth in the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage defense (34.6%).

Furman on the other hand brings a team to the Scenic City, which ranks 19th nationally and tops overall in the Southern Conference in scoring offense (81.9 PPG), sixth nationally and tops in the SoCon in assists-per-game (18.6), while also ranking fourth in the nation in effective field goal percentage (57.8%). The Paladins also rank 11th nationally and top the SoCon in total field goal percentage (49.6%), 14th overall and third in the Southern Conference in three-pointers made per game (9.9/189 triples) and also lead the SoCon and rank 14th nationally in assist/turnover ratio (1.5).

Defensively, the Paladins ranking eighth in the SoCon in scoring defense (72.2 PPG), ninth in field goal percentage defense (45.3%), and ninth in three-point field goal percentage defense (35.9%) through 19 games this season.

Due primarily to having Stephens in the middle alone, the Mocs bring the league’s top rebounding team into the clash, leading the SoCon in rebounding margin (+5.6), while the Paladins rank seventh among the league’s 12 teams so far this season in the same category (+2.3).

Miscellaneous

-Chattanooga is 7-0 this season when shooting 40% or better from three-point range and just 4-8 when being held to less than 40% shooting from long-range.

-Furman is 81-9 under head coach Bob Richey when scoring 77 or more points in a game.

Losses: at The Citadel (L, 92-100 OT/Feb. 1, 2018)

at UNC Greensboro (L, 79-89/Jan. 12, 2019)

at Auburn (L, 78-81 OT/Dec. 5, 2019)

at Alabama (L, 80-83/Dec. 15, 2020)

vs. VMI (L, 90-91 OT/Mar. 6, 2021)

at Belmont (L, 89-95 OT/Nov. 15, 2021)

at Winthrop (L, 80-85/Dec. 7, 2021)

vs. Old Dominion (L, 77-82/Nov. 18, 2022 at Charleston Classic)

vs. High Point (L, 82-85/Dec. 6, 2022)

vs. UNCG (L, 80-88 OT/Jan. 14, 2023)

–Furman is 12-4 in the 2022-23 season when scoring 70 or more points, while having posted a 1-2 mark when falling short of the 70-point threshold this season.

UNCG battles back for important SoCon win over Furman

UNCG guard Keyshaun Langley led all scorers with 24 points

Some games tell one story, while others are several wrapped up in one final result. Saturday’s SoCon showdown between Furman and UNC Greensboro was one of the latter.

Despite holding as much as a 13-point second half lead, Furman could not sustain it, and it was UNC Greensboro’s know-how and maturity that shined through down the stretch, forcing overtime and then out-scoring the Paladins, 11-3, in the extra session, as the Spartans escaped with a win in Greenville for the third time in four seasons, capturing an 88-80 Southern Conference triumph before a sellout crowd on hand at Timmons Arena.

The series over the past few years has had some crazy finishes, especially each of the last two in Greenville. Last February, Furman held UNCG scoreless for the final 6:25 of the contest but fell to UNCG 58-56 in a Southern Conference thriller at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. In last season’s clash, it was the Spartans’ complete defensive effort held Furman to season-lows for shooting percentage (30.2%), three-point field goal percentage (21.4%), three-pointers made (6), and points (56). Despite Furman closing the contest on an 18-3 run, it wasn’t enough to overcome a Spartan lead that grew as large as 17 in the second half. 

UNCG’s most recent win in Greenville sees them improve to 11-8 overall and 5-1 in the Southern Conference, while Furman falls to 13-6 overall and 4-2 in league play.

While last season’s clash was a slugfest that saw neither team reach 60, this season’s contest was at times, a foul shooting contest interrupted by good, hard-fought basketball the few times the officiating crew allowed the rhythm of the game and the two teams actually run a complete offensive set, or two. At least that’s the way it seemed, but it’s conference basketball, and while despite the litany of interruptions, especially in the second half, it was evident that two high-caliber Southern Conference basketball teams were duking it out in a high stakes regular-season battle on Saturday.

If one didn’t know better, it could have been mistaken for a game in March with the type atmosphere, despite being marred by the combined 45 fouls, with UNCG drawing 28 fouls and connecting on 33-of-41 foul shots, which included connecting on a total of 24-of-30 from the line in the second half and overtime.  UNCG was 9-of-11 from the stripe in the opening half.

By contrast, Furman connected on 17-of-20 free throws for the game, drawing 17 fouls. The Paladins went 6-of-7 from the line in the opening half and went 11-of-13 in the second half and overtime to finish out the contest. While the disparity on the line was clear to all who witnessed it, it was UNCG effort on the offensive glass that ended up winning the game late, and ultimately why the Spartans handed Furman just its eighth Southern Conference home loss since the start of the 2015-16 season, with UNCG responsible for three of those wins, which is tops among the 10 SoCon schools. Wofford has two of those wins, while East Tennessee State, Samford and Chattanooga own the other three.

Furman is now 81-9 under head coach Bob Richey when scoring 77 or more points in a game. The Paladins had 77 in regulation today, which in most cases, would almost be an assured win, especially in the friendly confines of Timmons Arena. However, UNCG is responsible for two of those nine losses over the past six seasons when the Paladins have scored 77 or more points. Winthrop, Alabama, Auburn, High Point, VMI, Belmont, Old Dominion and The Citadel are responsible for the others. Five of those losses came in overtime (Belmont, Auburn, VMI, The Citadel, and UNCG).

Three of those 10 losses have come this season, and five of those 10 have come in the past two seasons, however, UNCG is the first SoCon team to that since the 2018-19 when the Spartans first accomplished the rare feat with an 89-79 win in Greensboro. The only other Southern Conference teams to defeat Furman over the past six seasons when the Paladins have scored 77 or more points are both VMI and The Citadel, with both games going to overtime.

The Keydets garnered a 91-90 come-from-behind win in the 2021 Southern Conference Tournament, while in head coach Bob Richey’s first season, the Paladins surrendered as much as a 17-point second half lead to drop a 100-92 overtime contest in Charleston.

UNCG finished with five players in double figures, as Keyshaun Langley put together a second monster game and after scoring a career-high 25 points in a win over VMI last time out, posted 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, including connecting on 4-for-6 from three-point land and 6-for-9 from the charity stripe, equaling his 24. Joining Langley with double-figure scoring efforts for the Spartans were Keondre Kennedy (17 pts), Mikeal Brown-Jones (15 pts), Bas Leyte (14 pts) and Mohammad Abdulsalam (11 pts).

The Paladins were buoyed by their two big game ballers, as Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson combined for 44 points, while Marcus Foster posted his fifth double figure scoring effort in his past six outings, finishing with 15 points, while JP Pegues rounded out Furman’s players in double figures, as he posted 13.

Slawson and Bothwell tied for team-high scoring honors with 22 apiece. Slawson added a team-best 12 rebounds to account for his fifth double-double of the season, and it was the senior from Summerville, S.C. who came alive in the second half, sparking Furman to a 13-point lead by posting 19 of his points in the latter half and overtime. It was the Bothwell show in the first half, as he posted 16 of his 22 in the opening stanza.

Slawson finished by connecting on 6-of-11 from the field, including 2-for-3 from long range and connected on 8-of-10 shots from the line to complete his strong scoring effort before fouling out in overtime. He also dished out a pair of assists and blocked a season-high four shots. Slawson also led the Paladins with three of the team’s six offensive rebounds in the loss.

Bothwell added his 22 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field, including going 1-for-5 from three-point land. He was a perfect 5-for-5 from the foul line. The senior from Cleveland Heights, OH, added six rebounds, three assists and a steal to round out another strong effort. Pegues added three assists to tie Bothwell for team-high honors, while Garrett Hien recorded three of the team’s five steals.

UNCG finished the contest connecting on 45.3% (24-of-53) from the field to go with a 50% (7-of-14) from three-point land. The Spartans were an impressive 80.5% (33-of-41) from the charity stripe in the contest.

Furman finished the contest shooting a near identical percentage, connecting on 45.0% (27-of-60) from the field, while shooting 34.6% (9-of-26) from three-point land. The Paladins were also impressive from the free throw line, making good on 85.0% (17-of-20) of their shots from the charity stripe.

UNCG held advantages in points from turnovers (17-16), bench points (15-5), total rebounds (36-33), total assists (15-9), and fast break points (9-0). Furman finished with advantages in points in the paint (34-30), and second chance points (9-8).

Leyte-Game Heroics in Greenville?

Bas Leyte must like late-game situations in Greenville, S.C., or kalm onder druk as it translates in his native language of his homeland–The Netherlands.

Leyte, who was born in Bergen op Zoom Netherlands, probably will look back with a great deal of fondness with the role he played in a pair of big Southern Conference victories against a Furman when he looks back on a fine college basketball career spent at UNC Greensboro at some point in the future. The fact is, he played a big part in handing Furman a Southern Conference loss in Greenville each of the past two seasons, with this one probably even a little sweeter being that it came at Furman’s home venue—Timmons Arena—a place it had lost only seven times to league competition and had just 15 total losses against 92 victories coming into Saturday afternoon’s mid-January SoCon showdown.

The Spartans got two huge offensive rebounds to ultimately force the game into the extra session. Both came from one of UNCG’s Bas Leyte, who seemingly has been huge and each of UNCG’s last two wins in Greenville the past couple of seasons. At the Bon Secours Wellness Arena last season, it was Leyte who helped UNCG hold off Furman furious rally in eerily similar fashion. He stripped away a rebound that Marcus Foster had apparently corralled in last season’s contest and was fouled. He knocked down four crucial free throws late in that game to affect the outcome for the visiting Spartans. It was the flying Dutchman that would come through once again in late going for the Spartans, allowing them to force the extra session.

The first offensive rebound came following a J.P. Pegues layup, which gave Furman a 75-71 lead with 1:55 left, however, after Keyshaun Langley clanked a three late off the front iron, it was Leyte that out-fought two Paladins, forcing Alex Williams to commit his third foul and with Furman already in the double bonus, found himself in a familiar situation in Greenville late in a Southern Conference game. Leyte made both foul shots to bring the Spartans within two points, at 75-73, with 1:31 remaining.

Following a Mike Bothwell missed shot, it was Leyte that came up with a defensive board on one end and then, following a Mikeal Brown-Jones missed jumper in the paint, Leyte came up with another offensive rebound, and again, it was Williams who committed the foul, resulting in his fourth personal and putting the veteran Spartan back at the stripe. He calmly made both of the double bonus charity offerings to tie the basketball game, 75-75 with 38.9 seconds left. After VanderWal scored a follow-up layup on a Jalen Slawson miss with just 13 seconds remaining, Slawson attempted to steal the ball from Keyshaun Langley, however, picked up his fourth personal foul late, and Langley converted both of the double bonus foul shots to tie the game, 77-77. Bothwell had a shot to win the game late, however, Keondre Kennedy came up with a big block to allow the Spartans to force overtime on the road. All told, UNCG’s final six points came from the line

Last season at The Well, Furman’s Garrett Hien’s three-pointer from the corner gave the Paladins a 56-55 lead with 59 seconds remaining, it would be Leyte that came up huge to help the Spartans secure another huge SoCon road win in Greenville. It was Furman’s first lead in the game since it was 8-6 at the 15:58 mark of the opening half of play. That lead would be very brief, thanks to a clutch play by Leyte.

Following a missed jumper by Keyshaun Langley from three-point range, which was rebounded Marcus Foster, however, Foster had the ball stripped away by Bas Leyte, and he had to then be fouled by the sophomore guard, putting him at the line for a one-and-one opportunity. Leyte connected on both ends to give the Spartans a 57-56 lead with 32.7 seconds remaining. 

On the ensuing possession by the Paladins, Furman would get a good look on a left elbow three-point attempt by Foster, however, but his caromed out and the ball was rebounded by Leyte, who had to be fouled with 6.6 seconds remaining. Following a timeout by Furman’s Bob Richey, Leyte knocked down the front end before missing the second, as Furman quickly found Foster, however, his attempted tear-drop layup as time expired was short and the Spartans held on for the 58-56 win almost 11 months ago.  

In the 2022 win over the Paladins in Greenville, Leyte recorded his first-career double-double, posting 11 points and grabbing 10 boards and remains one of two in his career as a Spartan. This season, Leyte finished with 14 points and tied for the team lead with seven rebounds.

How It Happened:

UNCG got out to a fast start and took a 17-10 following a Mohammed Abdulsalam layup at the 12:41 mark of the opening half. However, the Paladins came back to score five-straight to get within a couple, as Marcus Foster splashed in a three-pointer and a JP Pegues offensive rebound and putback off his own miss.

The Spartans stretched the lead back to five, at 20-15, following a foul on Dante Treacy by Mike Bothwell with 9:09 remaining in the opening half. Treacy knocked down all three foul shots to give the Spartans a 20-15 lead. The Paladins would take their first lead since it was 2-0 when JP Pegues drove in for an uncontested layup to give the Paladins a 26-24 lead with 6:05 remaining. The Paladins would see its lead grow to as much as five points, at 32-27, when Foster connected on another triple. UNCG hit back with five-straight on a Keondre Kennedy layup in the paint and a three-pointer from Keyshaun Langley to tie the game, 32-32, with 2:43 left in the opening half.

With the UNCG holding a one-point lead, at 34-33, Bothwell drew a foul driving to the basket, missing the layup, however, but knocked down the lead to give the Paladins a 36-35 lead. After Abdulsalam tied the answered on the other end, Bothwell again drove to the basket and this time scored and was fouled once again. He made the ensuing foul shot to put the Paladins back in front 38-36 with 1:17 left. However, the Spartans would score the final four points of the half, as Treacy connected on 1-of-2 foul shots from the line and then Abdulsalam made good on a three-point play the old-fashioned way to stake the Spartans to a 40-38 halftime edge.

In the second half, the Paladins overturned the two-point halftime deficit by using a 17-6 run midway through the half to assume what was a 69-56 lead following a Pegues deceptive layup, flashing past a Spartan would be defender with a layup to increase Furman’s lead to its largest of the afternoon, at 69-56, with 8:02 remaining in the game.

But the Spartans would manage to whittle way at the Furman lead over the final portions of the game, connecting on 10-of-11 shots from the charity strip over the final five minutes and change, eventually tying the game, 77-77, after a pair of Keyshaun Langley foul shots with 13 seconds remaining.

By the time overtime started, the Spartans were energized with a second wind, while Furman looked exhausted and in the extra session, Slawson would get fouled going to the basket and knocked down one free throw to give Furman a 78-77 lead. After Keyshaun Langley took a pass from his brother Kobe Langley, he would put the Spartans ahead with a right elbow triple to make it an 80-78 contest with 3:47 remaining. The Spartans wouldn’t trail the rest of the way, and Furman went scoreless from the field in the extra session, which is evidence of their exhaustion level, which had staked them to a 13-point second half lead.

Furman returns to action Wednesday night for a huge league battle on the road at Chattanooga. Tip-off for that contest is set for 7 p.m.

Post-game press conference:

head coach Bob Richey
Jalen Slawson (right) and Mike Bothwell (left)

SoCon Hoops 2022-23: Weekend Preview Capsules (Part 2)

Date and Time: Jan. 14, 2022/6 p.m. EST (ESPNU)

Game: Chattanooga (11-7, 3-2 SoCon) at Samford (11-7, 5-0 SoCon)

Venue and location: Pete Hanna Center (5,000)/Birmingham, AL

Coaches: Chattanooga-Dan Earl (84-146, 8th yr)/Samford–Bucky McMillan (38-31, 3rd yr)

Series: 108th meeting/Chattanooga leads 66-41

Brief Preview: Defending Southern Conference champion Chattanooga heads to Homewood, AL., to take on a Samford basketball team that is hopeful of removing Chattanooga’s crown and placing upon their collective heads by the end of the season, and the two will square off in a huge Southern Conference basketball game Saturday evening before a nationally-televised contest on ESPNU.

Bucky McMillan’s Bulldogs, who won six-straight to open the season before losing seven-straight, have since won five-straight since opening league play. Still following? The seven-game losing streak for the Bulldogs happened to coincide with injuries to both point guard Ques Glover and sharpshooter Cooper Kaifes, and then the current five-game winning streak has followed in line with this new lineup having gained a certain chemistry and the evolution of Jaron Rillie (6.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG) and Bubba Parham (9.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG) understanding their respective roles running this basketball team while Glover is on the mend.

Glover is expected to return sometime this month, which also has Samford basketball fans excited about the prospects of a magical run down the stretch this season, much the same as the Bulldogs had down the stretch into the Southern Conference Tournament last year, which saw the Bulldogs win nine out its its last 11 games to close out the 2021-22 campaign entering the tournament in Asheville.

The Bulldogs have continued that momentum garnered on the SoCon hardwood down the stretch last season and parlayed that into a strong start in league play this season. In fact, Samford’s last home defeat to a Southern Conference team was 364 days ago, as the Bulldogs dropped an 88-85 contest on the Pete Hanna Center home hardwood to East Tennessee State on Jan. 15, 2022. Since that lost, all the Bulldogs have done is win its last nine games against SoCon foes on the home hardwood, and one of those homecourt wins last season came against the eventual champion Mocs, 80-72, handing the Mocs one of their five SoCon regular-season losses last season.

Supplementing the strong start to league play for the Bulldogs this season has been solid play on both ends of the court. Offensively, the Bulldogs rank second in scoring offense (78.6 PPG) and lead the league in field goal percentage offense (50.4%), as well as three-point field goal percentage (43.4%) and three-pointers made per game (12.4).

The Bulldogs are also getting the job defensively, ranking fourth in the league in field goal percentage defense (43.0%) since the start of conference play. The two pillars offensively with Glover out have been Logan Dye (13.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG) and Jermaine Marshall (11.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG), and that duo has stepped up their play even more since the start of Southern Conference play, with Dye playing like a contender for Southern Conference Player of the Year, ranking second to only Chattanooga’s Jake Stephens (22.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 3.7 APG), averaging 19.6 PPG through five league contests.

The bench is contributing for McMillan’s Bulldogs, too, and that was a knock-on Samford last year, which was they had as good of a starting five as anyone in the league, but their depth wasn’t what some of the other top conference teams had. They problem has addressed this season, and Samford is getting better than adequate production in that department, with A.J. Staton-McCray (6.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG) giving the Bulldogs minutes off the bench.

In an interesting twist, Samford’s Parham, who was recruited by Chattanooga’s Dan Earl to play at VMI when Earl was the head coach of the Keydets, now faces his former head coach as a Samford Bulldog.

For Earl’s Mocs, it’s about the here and now. Anything accomplished last year seems like a distant memory, as the Mocs chase another SoCon crown this season. It’s almost a completely different team, but it has a similar look to Southern Conference fans, with former VMI head coach Dan Earl on the sidelines, and former VMI standout center Jake Stephens being the centerpiece of pretty much everything the Mocs do on the offensive end of the floor.

He’s the main cog of the wheel in the Mocs’ motion offense, and he was a big reason the Mocs shot it at such a high percentage last time out, as the Mocs made 60.8% of his shots from the field last time out against Western Carolina. Stephens himself has put together back-to-back games of 35 points and 10 rebounds, as he posted 35 points, 10 rebounds and dished out five assists in the Mocs’ 95-76 over Western Carolina. It was the first time a Mocs player has posted back-to-back 30/10 games since that great 1993-94 Chattanooga team and sharp-shooting guard Chad Copeland turned the trick for the eventual Southern Conference champions. Perhaps Stephens doing that this season is a good omen for UTC this season.

Like Samford, Chattanooga is excellent offensively, ranking second in the league in scoring offense (79.7 PPG), as well as three-point field goal percentage (38.8%) and three-pointers made (216/12.0 PG).

Like Marshall and Dye for the Bulldogs, Stephens has what has proven to be an outstanding supporting cast this season, with transfer guards Dalvin White (8.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG) and Jamal Johnson (13.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG), as well as wing Demetrius Davis (8.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG) contributing most of that offensive production. A.J. Caldwell (4.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG) continues to be the league’s ultimate glue guy. The Mocs are 7-1 when getting to the 80-point mark this season.

This should be an outstanding basketball game, but I think the Bulldogs hold serve in the Pete Hanna Center.

Prediction: Samford 81, Chattanooga 78

VMI (5-13, 0-5 SoCon) at Wofford (10-8, 2-3 SoCon), 7 p.m. (ESPN+)

Series: 30th meeting/Wofford leads 21-8

Brief Preview: These two teams look vastly different than the two teams that met last March, with both even having a new head coach for different reasons. Andrew Wilson has succeeded Dan Earl, who is now the head coach at Chattanooga, and he’s looking to build this VMI team built around defense and shooting the basketball.

Though the Keydets have lost their first five games to start league play, they shoot the three as good as anyone in the league when they have their shooting touch. The Keydets come in ranking second in the league in three-point field goal percentage (38.9%) and also rank second in the conference in three-pointers made (191/10.6 PG). The leader of VMI’s guard-oriented team is one of the few holdovers from a year ago, in Sean Conway (14.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG), who is the mature veteran among one of the youngest teams in Division I college basketball this season.

The Keydets have some exceptional quickness at three of their four guard spots, with Tony Felder (10.1 PPG, 2.1 RPG), Asher Woods (14.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG), and Rickey Bradley Jr. (7.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG) all possessing excellent quickness off the bounce. Woods actually leads the Keydets in scoring this season, , ranking second in minutes played (34.2 MPG) in the SoCon this season.

The Keydets also have a young, but talented big man, in Tyler Houser (11.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG), who is improving with each game. Houser has a higher ceiling in terms of being a more polished talent and where he can rise to developmentally than Jake Stephens when he arrived at VMI.

Stephens’ talents were ultimately a credit to Dan Earl and his staff for seeing something in Stephens those others overlooked in the recruiting process. Houser is the same type of player in that respect, although his post moves seem to be even better than that of Stephens when he arrived in Lexington, and that’s not to mention he’s also a proficient perimeter shooter, connecting on an impressive 39.7% (30-of-68) from three-point land this season.

Wilson, who is a defensive tactician is still in the process of getting the Keydets where he wants them to be from a defensive standpoint, however, as VMI ranks ninth in the SoCon in scoring defense (75.7 PPG) as well as field goal percentage defense (35.7%).

Wofford has played up and down under interim head coach Dwight Perry, and you see flashes of what they can do, as evidenced by the Terriers’ final non-conference win over Texas A&M. Perry was widely regarded as one of the top assistant coaches at the mid-major level even before Jay McAuley resigned as the head coach.

Whatever the full story is with McAuley and the full details of what happened have yet to be revealed, the Terriers have shown they are talented at times, while at others seem disconnected and without good floor leadership. I find myself wondering if some of that arguing between teammates going on in the game isn’t a byproduct of having an in-season coaching change. Whatever the reason, it seems as if other teams hit a scoring run in a game, like Samford did the other night, the Terriers seemingly let things snowball for whatever the reason.

Since entering SoCon play, this team has struggled shooting the basketball from the perimeter. Through five SoCon games, the Terriers have connected on just 24.3% (28-of-115) from three-point land. That has been a hallmark of Terrier teams dating back over a decade to when the Terriers won their first of five SoCon titles in a 10-year span.

The best shooter for Wofford has been freshman Jackson Paveletzke (14.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG), who is a big reason for the Terriers’ win at Texas A&M earlier this season. Paveletzke, in fact, might be the league’s top freshman. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch at all to say the winner of the SoCon Freshman of the Year will likely be on one side or the other this evening at the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium.

Amarri Tice (3.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG) is perhaps Wofford’s most gifted athlete, and has been fun to watch, with some highlight-reel dunks since the start of league play. Tice has replaced Kyler Filewich (6.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG) in the starting lineup.

Teams continue to focus their attention on B.J. Mack (15.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG) in the low post, as he has been the focal point of the Terrier offense with shots not falling from the perimeter with regularity this season. That has made it even tougher on the talented Wofford big man.

VMI is gritty and they’ll hang around for a while in the second half but look for the Terrier to pull away in the final 10 minutes and get a double-digit win.

Prediction: Wofford 72, VMI 58