Furman gets back on track with win at Western Carolina

Furman senior guard Mike Bothwell

Furman got a game-high 25 points from senior guard Mike Bothwell, while classmate Alex Hunter chipped in with 23, as the Paladins snapped its first three-game SoCon losing streak since the 2015-16 season, with a 103-85 win over Western Carolina in Southern Conference action Wednesday night at the Liston B. Ramsey Center.

With its 13th-straight win in the series, the improved to 18-10 overall and 10-5 in Southern Conference play, while the Catamounts fell for the fifth-straight time, falling to 9-19 overall and 3-12 in league play. 

Bothwell and Hunter were two of four Paladins in double figures, with J.P. Pegues coming off the bench to add 15 points, while Conley Garrison added 13 points, six rebounds, and handed out a pair of assists. Of particular note was Garrison’s work on the offensive glass, snagging three of Furman’s season-high 20 offensive boards, which led to a 22-16 advantage in second-chance points. 

Bothwell finished the night connecting on 6-of-12 shots from the field, including having gone 2-of-4 from three-point range, and was 11-of-13 from the free throw line. He also corralled five rebounds and dished out three assists in the Paladin win. 

Hunter finished out his career in fine fashion at the Liston B. Ramsey Athletic Center by connecting on 8-of-15 shots from the field, including 7-of-14 from three-point range, which accounted for his 23 points. 

Additionally, the super senior finished the night by dishing out three assists, bringing down three rebounds, and recorded a steal. 

For Hunter’s career at the Ramsey Center, he finished going 21-of-39 in his career from three-point range, which converts to a 53.8% shooting clip inside Western Carolina’s Catamount lair. 

Pegues, a freshman guard out of Nashville, Tenn, was solid off the bench all night for the Paladins. After posting a career-high 18 points in the initial meeting with the Catamounts this season, which resulted in an 88-50 win for the Paladins at Timmons Arena,  last month. In his 15-point effort in the second meeting with the Catamounts at the Ramsey Center, Pegues finished the night by connecting on 5-of-7 shots from the field, including going 1-of-3 from three-point range. Pegues added two assists and a pair of rebounds. 

Garrison was influential as usual on a night in which he celebrated his Birthday. The graduate transfer from Drury University finished scoring his 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and was 2-of-5 from three-point range and knocked down his only foul shot of the night. 

Garrison was a major part of the Paladins dominance on the boards on both ends, as Furman won the battle of the boards by 13, out-rebounding the Catamounts, 41-28, on the evening. Three of his six rebounds came on the offensive end, which were part of a night that saw the Paladins pull down a season-high 18 boards. He also dished out a pair of assists. His 13-point scoring effort saw Garrison cross the 2,000-point threshold for his standout career. 

Western Carolina placed five players in double figures, led by a career-high 15 points from Marlow Gilmore, while Tyler Harris and Vonterius Woolbright added 13 points apiece off the bench. Marvin Price and Cameron Bacote finished off the night by adding 12 and 11 points, respectively, to round out the Catamounts in double figures. 

Gilmore finished out his career night by connecting on 6-of-7 shots from the field and was 3-of-4 from the foul stripe. Gilmore also had four rebounds and blocked three shots

After seeing its fair share of struggles shooting the basketball in each of the past three games, the Paladins shot the ball pretty well the entire evening, connecting on 44.7% (17-of-38), which included a 51.5% (17-of-33) from the field in the second half. The Paladins knocked down 41.7% (15-of-36) from three-point range. 

Western Carolina finished the night by connecting on 49.2% (29-of-59) shots from the field, which includes connecting on 42.3% (11-of-26) from three-point range. 

“I think our group did a good job of not worrying about all the noise and what everybody’s focused on but just hey we gotta go find a way to win this game tonight by one point…and um we’re going to put all energy on that and trust our process. And not get caught up in this and that and we can’t make shots and the losing streak and all this stuff…like just go play the game…and I thought we did that,” head coach Bob Richey said. 

Furman finished the night by owning advantages in points in the paint (38-30), second-chance points (22-16), fast-break points (18-11), total rebounds (41-28), offensive rebounds (20-9) and total assists (17-16).  The Paladins turned the ball over just six times on the night, while forcing seven Western Carolina miscues. 

The two teams were even in points from turnovers (6-6), while the Catamounts owned a 48-26 advantage in bench scoring. Woolbright returned for the first time in five games for the Catamounts, playing a good portion of the second half, while leading scorer Nicholas Robinson logged just 2:46 of court action in the contest. 

How it happened:

In Saturday’s loss at Chattanooga, Furman started well on the defensive end, made a few shots, but couldn’t seemingly make enough shots to pull away from a talented Mocs basketball team, leading by only seven at the break in what turned out to be a six-point homecourt loss last time out. 

On Wednesday night, the Paladins faced a dangerous mid-week game against a Catamount team, which had already upset Chattanooga in a mid-week contest earlier in the season, while also ending a 14-game losing streak to East Tennessee State in a mid-week contest just a couple of weeks ago.

With knowledge of that, Furman was intentional in how it started, and its efforts, particularly on the offensive glass early in the contest, would see the Paladins impose their will on the game, not letting the Catamounts have more than a fleeting moment or two of momentum throughout the game. 

The quick start would see Furman get out to a 10-0 lead just 3:08 into the contest, as Mike Bothwell and Conley Garrison  combined for a couple of threes, while Bothwell added a jumper in the paint, and Slawson added a couple of foul shots, leading to an early Western Carolina timeout to help head coach Justin Gray’s Catamounts try and stop the bleeding from a Furman team that came to Cullowhee locked in on both ends, particularly on chasing down rebounds on both ends of the floor. 

“I thought we came out with an element of freedom to us that we needed…The ball was moving and I thought defensively we did a much better job in the first half than in the second half and we were able to push the margin up pretty quick and got on top of the game and kept the lead from there,” Richey said. 

Furman’s lead would grow from there, as a pair of J.P. Pegues free throws put the Paladins on top 22-6 inside the first seven minutes of action. That solid defense early had limited the Catamounts to just a pair of three-pointers, which were knocked down by Joe Petrakis and Marvin Price III in the opening six-and-a-half minutes for the Catamounts.

A pair of Bothwell free throws with 7:15 remaining in the opening half saw the Paladins cap a 10-0 run to push their lead to the largest of the night, at 42-15. However, Western Carolina would close the half strong, using a 21-9 spurt over the final portion of the opening half, including a 14-2 run over the final five minutes, cutting the Furman lead to 15 points, at 51-36, as the two teams headed to the half. 

In the early moments of the second half, the Paladins would push their lead back out to 18, at 59-41, using eight-straight points by Alex Hunter, which included two of his seven three-pointers in the contest. 

One of those Hunter threes was a snapshot of Furman’s effort on the offensive glass for the entire contest, as the first of those two triples saw the Paladins outwork the Catamounts on the glass to provide a second-chance and even a third-chance opportunity. Garrett Hien would grab the first offensive rebound of the possession, and after Jalen Slawson’s layup attempt was blocked out of bounds by Marlow Gilmore, the ball would eventually find Hunter, who found his range from the right elbow to make his first of two threes in the opening two minutes of the second half.

The Catamounts continued to fight, however, and a 10-3 run, which started with a Tyler Harris jumper at the 17:13 mark of the second half and ended with a Vonterius Woolbright jumper at the 15:28 mark, suddenly had the hometown Catamounts back to within a manageable distance on the scoreboard, as Western had cut the Paladin advantage to just 11, at 62-51. 

After a Bothwell jumper put the Furman lead back at 13 on the ensuing possession, the Catamounts cut it to 11 once more when Cameron Bacote knocked down a left elbow jumper, making it a 64-53 game with just under 15 minutes remaining. 

However, it would be as close as the Catamounts would get on the scoreboard the rest of the night, as Furman would push the lead quickly back to 16 on a three-pointer on the ensuing possession and a pair of Bothwell free throws and following a missed jumper by Bacote, as Furman pushed its lead to 69-53 with 14:06 remaining. 

Western Carolina would get back to within 13 following a Marcus Banks triple, making it a 69-56 game with 13:12 remaining, but quick transition layups from Garrison and Pegues had the margin back to 17, as Furman continued to answer every Catamount attempt to steal momentum on their home floor.  

Furman’s push came despite Slawson and Marcus Foster getting into early foul trouble in the second half, with Foster charged with his fourth personal foul at the 12:03 mark of the second half, while Slawson’s fourth came with 11:45 remaining in the contest. 

Furman’s lead would eventually grow to as much as 24 in the second half, at 89-65, following another Hunter three with just over seven minutes remaining. The Paladins were able to close out the game with 103 points, which marks the third time they have reached the century mark this season, and the 103 points are the most achieved against NCAA Division I opposition this season, eclipsing the 102 posted against The Citadel back on Feb. 2. 

Up Next:

Furman will play its final home game of the season, with senior day being celebrated at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in downtown Greenville, as the Paladins battle arch-rival Wofford (16-11, 8-7 SoCon). Tip-off is set for 12 p.m. EST. 

SoCon Hoops 2021-22: Mid-February update

Furman guard Alex Hunter is recognized before for scoring 1,000 points in his career prior to Furman’s non-conference battle with Appalachian State

The season is coming at us fast and furious as we head down the stretch, and with Chattanooga’s 64-58 win in Greenville this past weekend, it would appear a fierce battle is ensuing for No.2-10 heading towards Asheville.

Of particular interest is the middle of the league, which sees four teams knotted in the loss column with UNCG, Samford, Wofford and Mercer all having dropped seven games this season.

Sunday saw Mercer get a monumental 73-64 win at UNCG, which could prove pivotal in tiebreaker scenarios in the battle between No. 3-6 in the league standings. Here’s a look at some of this week’s storylines.

Bob Richey’s New Challenge

When Bob Richey began his press conference following Saturday’s 64-58 loss to Chattanooga, he started by making a point that the narrative spun by most scribes of late had detailed the Paladins struggles shooting the basketball, which is in fact, accurate.

Richey took full responsibility for the team’s struggles in preparedness during this stretch of late, which is something always refreshing to see. It’s always easy to blame someone else when things don’t go according to plan in anything in life and so hard to take responsibility for to bear the full weight when they do.

As Richey as well other coaches have often said, things aren’t usually as bad as they seem in the moment, and when things go well, not as good as you make them in the moment.

That’s probably true in this sense. From the outside looking in, it’s probably that anyone that excels in anything at a high level in anything that the self scrutiny is much more magnified to that person, than it is from the outside in. Shooting is only part of basketball, but its lack of shots falling that seemingly reveals where the problems in basketball truly reside, which is exactly what the fifth-year Furman head coach meant when he said ” shots not falling was not the narrative.”

It’s been a serum to reveal how detailed Furman must be defensively and on the glass in games when shots don’t fall. In essence, a team like Chattanooga is good because it excels, not in the shots falling category, but the other two.

Ultimately for Richey, it may be a turning point to look back as that refining moment at the end of the season, however, that’s something you can’t exactly know in the moment, but can only be looked back to at the finish. It will be defining moment at that point.

I’ve always said a good shooting basketball team, which I think the numbers over the season as a whole prove Furman’s is just that–a good shooting basketball team–will shoot the ball well in 75% of its games each season. In the other 25% of its games, it will need to rely on the other areas and play at higher level than normal to be able to win games. The key to it is figuring out how to consistently get that defense and rebounding night-in and night-out.

It seems as simple as intentional effort. Truth to that. The 358 or whatever figure that make up NCAA Division I college basketball ordinarily give physical effort, but a lapse in mental effort in basketball is often costly and unintended for a majority of the ones that don’t exceed at a high level.

If you look at preseason favorite Chattanooga, it is the prime example of just that. The Mocs have found ways to overcome bad shooting at times this season, and certainly a 37.0% effort in the opening half against the Paladins was a prime example of that.

The Mocs were not so far behind that a comeback even on the road wasn’t possible, trailing by just seven, despite scoring a season-low 20 points in a half this season in the, as the Mocs moved a step closer to a regular-season Southern Conference title and No. 1 overall seed in Asheville.

Furman’s Jalen Slawson blocks UTC’s Josh Ayeni for one of his three shot denials in Saturday’s setback for the Paladins

While Furman has been playing strong defensively in Southern Conference play, as of late through its first 14 league games as a whole, it has been inconsistent at times, and those inconsistent times have proved costly.

Furman has most alarmingly, though, struggled more on the glass, especially in defensive rebounding percentage (7th/72.7%) and rebounding defense (8th/23.9 RPG) in conference games.

Mocs trendy defending against the ‘Dins

Furman has been a really good perimeter shooting basketball team under head coach Bob Richey, but one team that the Paladins have had to find other ways to win a basketball game, it’s typically come against the gritty, tough Mocs.

In fact, Paris had lost seven of the eight games he had faced off against Furman entering Saturday’s showdown at Timmons Arena, with the lone win coming earlier this season–a 71-69 win at Chattanooga in what was a thriller.

Another close game played out Saturday in Greenville, with the Mocs coming away with a 64-58 win to sweep the regular-season series against the Paladins for the first time since the 2014-15 campaign.

The tenth-seeded Paladins would end up upsetting the No. 2 seed Mocs in the conference tournament, 69-67, charting one of those wins that signaled the Furman basketball program was starting to turn the corner into building a winning culture.

Despite the fact the Mocs held Furman to a season low four made three-point field goals, it’s not the first time the Paladins haven’t shot the ball well in a game against a Mocs team coached by Lamont Paris.

In a 58-53 win over the Mocs two years ago, which marks the last time Chattanooga paid a visit to Timmons Arena for a game after COVID-19 canceled last season’s scheduled matchup, the Paladins made even less, connecting on just 3-of-13 from long range. In two matchups with the Mocs during the 2019-20 season, the Paladins were just a combined 7-of-32 from long range. Both games yielded wins, however, for Furman.

The 2020 meeting at Timmons Arena between the Mocs and Paladins had plenty of the same similarities between the two disciplined defensive teams. Even the game attendance of 2,432 was similar to the 2,502 on-hand Saturday.

So that team did different things to reach the desired result, winning game that was almost anti-Furman over the past seven seasons, which is winning a grinder. In that day, Furman shot just 40.4% from the field and found a way to win and it was not at all based on how effective the Paladins were shooting the ball or even overall offensive efficiency.

While Furman connected on a very modest of its shots in that five-point win, the Paladins held a 24-18 lead, which is almost exactly the same as Saturday’s halftime score, as the Paladins were on top 27-20 when the two teams went to the locker room.

In fact, in each of the previous five meetings with the Mocs, the Paladins have hit no more than nine threes in any of those clashes with the Mocs, including making just a combined seven triples in two meetings back during the 2019-20. The Paladins were 7-of-32 in two meetings against the Paris-coached Mocs teams, yet despite those paltry

In Saturday’s setback to Chattanooga, who came into the contest as the SoCon’s second leading rebounding team in the Southern Conference in rebounding margin, one of those issues that has been prevalent as of late was once again evident for all to see. The Paladins were out-rebounded by 13 on the boards in (38-25), including 11 offensive rebounds and a 13-5 advantage in second-chance points.

The shots will eventually fall for the Paladins, but the defense as well as rebounding must be consistent. As Richey alluded to in his postgame press conference, it wasn’t good defense if you don’t close out the possession by boxing out and keeping your opponent off the boards.

That said, there’s time to fix things over the next four games, but those games suddenly look a little tougher than they once did, with both Wofford, who visits the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, as well as Furman’s visit to Samford looking a little tougher than maybe they might have two weeks ago. Both Wofford and Samford are playing some good basketball at the moment.

The one thing Richey and the Paladins have in their favor right now—time to refine.

Chattanooga guard and Player of the Year favorite Malachi Smith

Slawson and Smith:

In my opinion, this past weekend I witnessed the two best players in the Southern Conference, with Chattanooga’s Malachi Smith and Furman’s Jalen Slawson once again putting on a show.

Both were outstanding when facing off against each other last week, with both playing at such a high level right now.

In the first meeting between the Mocs and Paladins, it was Smith that paced the Mocs by posting 21 points, nine rebounds and an assist. He connected on 7-of-14 shots from the field and was 2-for-4 from three-point land. Fittingly, it was Smith’s two free throws late that helped give the Mocs their final two points of the game, as Chattanooga closed out a 71-69 win.

In Saturday’s 64-58 win by the Mocs, Smith countered by scoring 20 points, ripping down nine boards and dished out seven assists, helping the Mocs take a major step towards the regular-season Southern Conference title, as he knocked down 9-of-14 shots from the field, including going 1-for-3 from three-point range.

However, the most important production came from Smith in the opening half, as his 10 points in a half, which saw the Mocs post a season low in points (20), making a majority of his shots contested in the opening half while Furman was playing its best defense of the game. It allowed the Mocs to get to the locker room with a manageable seven-point deficit.

The 20-point effort by Smith was his 16th performance this season in which he has posted 20 or more points.

Unless something unforeseen happens, I can’t imagine how Mali-World isn’t the Player of the Year. As good of a player as Smith is, he seems to be a better person. Though I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him, I visited his twitter account earlier this season and I was impressed by how grounded the young man is. It’s no wonder he’s the type basketball player he is, as his priorities certainly seem to be in the right place. Hard not to root for a guy like that.

Furman senior forward Jalen Slawson

Meanwhile, Furman’s Jalen Slawson wasn’t on anyone’s all-conference team or for that matter, anyone in the media’s radar coming into the season. However, I must say I noticed flashes of what he could be in a 75-69 win at Western Carolina. There were other performances as well, such as his effort in a big road win at College of Charleston.

What Slawson lacked last year in the form of consistency, he has this season. What’s more amazing is that the former Pinewood Prep in Summerville, S.C., ever ended up as a Paladin. He wasn’t offered by any Division I school until Furman’s staff saw a literal diamond in the rough.

His patience and develop as a complete person have been truly a neat thing to see over the past four years. In Furman’s loss to the Mocs, Slawson was once again sensational. He set the tone with a big-time dunk off a feed from Bothwell, as well as posting all three of his blocks in the opening half to help set the tone for the Paladins on that end of the floor as well.

He also led the Paladins on the glass, with eight boards, while dishing out a team-leading four assists. He rounded out his day with a steal. Fourteen of Slawson’s 24 points came prior to the half.

Slawson ranks in the league’s top 10 in eight different categories, and if you wanted to add a ninth, he currently is 12th in the league in assist/turnover ratio. He has an amazing 104 assists this season as a post. The next closest big man is Jake Stephens of VMI, who has 87.

Through 27 games this season, Slawson has charted 23 double-figure performances, the school’s first-ever triple double in an 85-80 loss at Winthrop, posting 15 points, 10 rebounds and dished out 12 assists. He had a career-high 33 points and 13 boards in an overtime win over College of Charleston.

Currently, Slawson ranks eighth in the SoCon in scoring average (15.3 PPG), fourth in rebounding average (7.6 RPG), fifth in field goal percentage (50.5%), sixth in assists-per-game (3.9 APG), 10th in free throw percentage (76.6%), first in steals (2.0 SPG), third in blocks (1.8 BPG), and second in defensive rebounds (6.2 RPG).

That said, I also must acknowledge Jake Stephens, who is currently third in the SoCon in scoring (19.1 PPG), while leading the conference in rebounding (9.4 RPG), as well as field goal percentage (55.5%).

But the separating point for me is the way Slawson can affect the a game as a disruptive force with his length get into passing lanes, and his ability to steal the ball and take it coast-to-coast with his ball-handling ability are two things that I haven’t seen any big man in the league do better this season.

All three deserve their fair share of applause this season, as all three have put up numbers. But with my eyes, I can tell you that from what I have seen, both Smith and Slawson have made some plays that simply are jaw-dropping. To me, no one affects a game with emphatic blocks chasing in transition or dunks on folks in transition quite like Slawson.

His passion and emotion are contagious.

Smith reminds me a little of former College of Charleston standout Andrew Goudelock although isn’t quite the volume perimeter threat that Goudelock was. But his power off the dribble and fade-a-away jumper are as good as anyone I have seen in a long time in the SoCon. He’s almost impossible to guard.

Madness in the Middle:

With Furman’s loss to UTC Saturday, it makes second place even not out of the realm of possibilities for someone, with VMI sitting just a game back in league play with four to play, at 8-6, however, missed a big opportunity to tie the standings with the Paladins by knocking off arch-rival The Citadel this past weekend in Lexington.

The Keydets and Paladins have already finished up their season series against each other, but there is still four games left for both. In the event of a tie between the two in the standings, the Paladins would likely hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their win season sweep of Mercer.

But the Keydets and Paladins will likely find themselves in a fight for second and third, while behind the Keydets, its sheer chaos in the standings. With Mercer’s 73-64 win at UNCG yesterday four teams are now tied with seven losses in the standings, with Samford just a half-game behind Wofford, UNCG and Mercer in the league standings having played one less game.

Samford point guard Ques Glover (photo courtesy of Samford Athletics)

But there might not be a hotter team in the SoCon right now than the Bulldogs, who have won two-straight and five of the past six games. This past weekend, Samford went on the road and got a huge win at East Tennessee State, snapping a 12-game skid in the series.

The win on the road saw the Bulldogs improve their overall record to 16-9 overall and 6-7 in Southern Conference play with five league games remaining. Samford has four of its final five games in the friendly confines of the Pete Hanna Center where Samford has won nine of 11 games this season.

The Bulldogs followed up a thrilling 65-60 home win over Wofford to get an absolutely huge road win in Johnson City. with Ques Glover returning to his nearby stomping grounds of Knoxville, pouring in 23 points back in his home state for the first of two trips to the Volunteer State to close out the season, with a trip to take on Chattanooga in the regular-season finale.

Glover finished the outing with 23 points on 10-of-14 and went 2-for-5 from three-point range, with two assists and a steal. Also helping key the streak-snapping 12-game series skid against the Bucs, as Jermaine Marshall notched his ninth double-double of the season, with 15 points and 10 rebounds. With his ninth double-double of the season, Marshall is now tied for the league lead in double-doubles this season.

The Bulldogs finish out the season with home games against VMI (Feb. 17), UNC Greensboro (Feb. 19), The Citadel (Feb. 21), and Furman (Feb. 23) before heading out to take on Chattanooga (Feb. 26) to close out the season.

ETSU guard Jordan King (photo courtesy of ETSU athletics)

Will East Tennessee State have to play on opening day in Asheville?

One of the things that we aren’t used to seeing is for East Tennessee State to be playing in the opening round in the Southern Conference Tournament, but that’s exactly what might happen, as the Bucs fell below .500 (13-14) overall and with their fifth loss in in its last six games, four games below .500 in SoCon action (5-9) after the 77-73 home loss to Samford this past Saturday.

Desmond Oliver Bucs, who entered last week riding a five-game losing streak by a combined 15 points, got a potential momentum-building 75-71 win over Furman at Freedom Hall, which could have offered a potentially been the turn-key game for the Bucs heading down the stretch of the season, however, the loss to Samford makes things difficult.

Then came this past weekend’s hiccup at home against Samford, and the task ahead to garner a top six finish in the Southern Conference standings just became all that much more difficult. If you’re wondering the last time the Bucs had to open the SoCon Tournament by playing on the opening day of the tournament it was the 2004-05 ETSU squad which had to do so, as the Murry Bartow-led Bucs, who opened the tournament with a win over Furman (W, 87-84) before being eliminated against eventual SoCon Tournament champion Chattanooga (L, 70-77) at McKenzie Arena.

The Bucs have their work cut out for them, but the struggles have had nothing to do with how Jordan King has been playing as of late, as he ranks sixth overall in the league in scoring in conference games, averaging 16.1 PPG. He’s been shooting the well from the perimeter, as he currently ranks fourth in the league in overall three-pointers made (83), and the Bucs enter Wednesday night’s contest at Mercer ranking sixth overall in the SoCon in three-pointers made (250) so far this season.

Against Samford on Saturday evening, King once again led the Bucs in scoring by totaling 19 points following a solid 12-point effort to open last week in the win over Furman, with all off his points netted from beyond the arc.

Each of the past seven games for the Bucs have been decided by seven points or less, as ETSU has gone 1-6 in those games and allowed the opponent to shoot at a 50% clip or better in each of those games, with the lone game in which the Bucs were able to overcome that and get a win coming against second-place Furman.

The biggest seemingly for the Bucs has been on the defensive end since conference play started in the new year. The Bucs currently rank sixth in scoring defense (75.7 PPG), as well as ninth in field goal percentage defense (45.9%) since league play commenced.

The Bucs need to win their final four SoCon games just to secure a .500 record in Southern Conference play. In last season’s 13-12 COVID-19 shortened season, the Bucs finished a game above .500 in SoCon play, posting an 8-7 mark to just squeeze in the top six in the SoCon, finishing with the No. 5 seed.

The Bucs last finished below .500 in Southern Conference play in their first season after returning to the league as a member, as the Bucs went to Asheville for the tournament following an 8-10 mark in league play. That would end up being good enough for ETSU to garner a No. 5 overall seed for the Southern Conference Tournament.

Would an 8-10 mark be enough to ensure the Bucs avoided having to open the tournament on Friday night? It’s going to be especially close down the stretch, and it would likely come down to tiebreakers. ETSU probably needs to hope Furman locks up the No. 2 and wins the rest of its games in league play, as the Paladins would lock up season series sweeps of Samford and The Citadel, which could be crucial in tiebreaker scenarios.

The Paladins probably need to remain ETSU’s signature win because the Paladins have swept Mercer, and another win Saturday over Wofford would give the Paladins the series sweep of Wofford. It’s going to be close, and it may well come down to a “winner-take-No.6-seed” type game between ETSU and UNCG in the regular-season finale at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Bear of a challenge

Mercer got a key season sweep of UNCG with 73-64 win Sunday (Photo courtesy of Mercer athletics)

As teams start to battle for positioning for the upcoming Southern Conference Tournament down the stretch this season, Wofford, UNCG and Mercer remain tied with 7-7 records in the league standings, trailing VMI by just a game for third in the league standings.

One of the interesting scenarios that is setting itself up down the stretch is how meaningful this head-to-head series are becoming. For instance, Mercer’s 73-64 win at UNCG this past Sunday was simply huge for the Bears, who are tied with both Wofford and the Spartans in the league’s overall standings. That win comes especially important when it comes to season-ending tiebreaker scenarios, which could be crucial in the No.3-6 battle to avoid having to play on the dreaded extra game in the tournament.

The nine-point win would give the Mercer the tiebreaker for fourth as it stands at the moment, as the Bears have now swept UNCG and have a thrilling come-from-behind win over Wofford earlier this month.

Along with the ETSU-UNCG game, which is slated for Feb. 28, another game to have circled on the SoCon fans calendar is the Feb. 26, as that is the date when Mercer will travel to face Wofford in another potential “winner-take-all” type game for type game.

Mercer overcame as much as a nine-point deficit down the stretch to garner a 67-62 win over Wofford on the final day of January. If Mercer can find a way to navigate its way through its final four games, which includes a Wednesday night contest vs. ETSU at Hawkins Arena, a tricky trip to Cullowhee to face Western Carolina on Feb. 19 before closing out the home slate on Feb. 23 against The Citadel, and then a trip to Spartanburg to face Wofford to close out the season, they could probably lock up no worse than a No. 4 seed and potentially the No. 3 by going 3-1 down the stretch.

If the Bears should do that, and get Neftali Alvarez back at the point guard position in some capacity, it could be bad news to face the Bears as the No. 6 or No. 5 seed in the tournament heading towards Asheville, but I realize that is looking way ahead.

If Mercer could lock up no worse than a No. 5 seed and can get Alvarez back, they might be might dark horse pick to get back to the title game if the season ended tomorrow. That being said, let’s take a peek at the crucial mid-week schedule ahead.

SoCon Schedule for Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022

ETSU (13-14, 5-9) at Mercer (14-13, 7-7 SoCon), 7 p.m. EST

Furman (17-10, 9-5 SoCon) at Western Carolina (9-18, 3-11 SoCon), 7 p.m. EST

Wofford (15-11, 7-7 SoCon) at The Citadel (11-13, 5-8 SoCon), 7 p.m. EST

Furman fades in second half against league-leading Mocs

Darius Banks (24 pts) and Malachi Smith (20 pts) fueled the Mocs efficient second half. charge in a 64-58 UTC win at Timmons Arena

Chattanooga 64, Furman 58

For the 11th time in 27 games this season,  Chattanooga was forced to overcome a second-half deficit,  as the Mocs used a complete effort, which saw the duo of Darius Banks. (24 pts, 9 rebs, 2 assists) and Malachi Smith (20 pts, 9 rebs, 7 assists) combine for 44 of the Mocs 64 points,  18 of of their 38 rebounds, and nine of the team’s 12 assists, with Chattanooga able to overcome as much as an 11-point second half  deficit to post its fifth-straight win with a 64-58 victory over Furman before a rowdy “white out” crowd of 2,502 fans Saturday afternoon in a key Southern Conference game at Timmons Arena. 

With the win, Chattanooga improved to 22-5 overall and 12-2 in Southern Conference play, while Furman fell for the third time in succession, as the Paladins dropped to 17-10 overall and 9-5 in league play. 

A week after the Spartans held the Paladins to season-lows for points (56), made threes (6), and field goal percentage (30.2), the Mocs’ defensive effort may have been even more impressive considering they were playing in a venue in which Furman has a combined 84 wins over the past seven seasons, as Chattanooga held the Paladins to a modest 44.2% on (23-of-52) from the field, while holding the Paladins to a just a 17.4% (4-of-23) shooting clip from long range.

The four made three-pointers eclipsed the previous season low of six, which the UNCG limited the Paladins to in last Saturday’s 58-56 Spartans win at The Well.

The nation’s leader with 316 three-point field goals, and shooting at a 39.3% clip coming into Saturday’s matchup, Furman has seen its shooting share of shooting struggles over the past three games, connecting on 21-of-81 three-point attempts (26%) during that span. The Paladins have been held to less than 60 points in two of the past three games, and are averaging 61.6 PPG during the current three-game skid.

In the five-game winning streak prior to the current three-game losing streak, the Paladins had knocked down 81-of-187 from long-range (43.3%), and boasted an average margin of victory of 25.4 PPG, while averaging 84.8 PPG during that stretch. 

The Mocs have now won five-straight, including four in an eight-day span. Furman has now lost three-straight Southern Conference games for the first time since the 2015-16 season, when it dropped games at Wofford (L, 73-77), at East Tennessee State (L, 75-80) and at Western Carolina (L, 62-73) to close out the regular-season and heading into the SoCon Tournament in Asheville. 

The win by the Mocs almost assures a regular-season Southern Conference title and No. 1 overall seed for the Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville next month, as well as running their nation-leading true road wins total to 11. The Mocs were able to claim their first road win at Timmons Arena since Feb. 2, 2015, when the Mocs were 74-71 victors at Timmons Arena. It also marked Chattanooga’s first season sweep of Furman since that very same season. The Paladins dropped a 71-69 contest to the Mocs back on Jan. 15, 2022 in the Scenic City. 

While Smith was right on-par with his season scoring average, dropping in 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and 1-of-3 from beyond the arc, while just missing a double-double with nine rebounds.  Smith played all but 52 seconds of the 40-minute war between the league’s top two teams in the standings, clocking in at 39:08 in floor time at Timmons Arena on Saturday.  

All told, it marked Smith’s 16th 20-point scoring effort this season. He also played a role as a facilitator in the game, dishing out seven of team’s 12 assists in the contest.

However, it was Darius Banks, much like Ledford in the first matchup between the two at McKenzie Arena last month, who scored 13 points off the bench in the absence of David Jean-Baptiste, saw Banks, a transfer from James Madison, post a season-high 24-point effort, tying for game-high scoring honors. Banks’ big-time effort came without Silvio De Sousa in the lineup once again Saturday, as he missed his third-straight game with an injury. 

Banks came into the contest with the Paladins averaging 7.5 PPG and 4.8 RPG, but far exceeded those totals against the Paladins, posting 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and a 1-of-3 effort from three-point range and a 3-for-4 effort from the line, making some key charity shots in the latter part of the game. Banks was also key down the stretch on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, respectively in both matchups.

Like his backcourt teammate, Banks was also excellent on the glass and just missed a double-double with nine boards, including five on the offensive glass. 

The effort by Banks and Smith on the glass helped lead to an eight-point edge in second-chance points (13-5) and a total +13 on the backboards, as the Mocs’ held a 38-25 edge on the boards, with 11 of those coming on the offensive glass. 

Furman finished with three in double figures in the loss. After posting 22 points in the first meeting with the Mocs this season, senior big man Jalen Slawson continued his strong play against the Mocs, posting 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field, including going 2-for-6 from three-point land and was also 2-of-2 from the charity stripe. 

Additionally, Slawson added eight rebounds and dished out four of the team’s 13 assists, while blocking three shots and positing a steal. It was Slawson’s 23rd double-figure scoring effort of the season, including his sixth game of 20 or more points in 2021-22. 

Slawson was joined in double figures by both Mike Bothwell and Marcus Foster, who added 11 points apiece. The trio of Slawson, Foster and Bothwell combined for 46 of Furman’s 58 points in the loss. 

The Mocs finished the night connecting on 46.6% (27-of-58) from the field, while limiting the Paladins to 44.2% (11-of-27) for the game, and after the Paladins took a 27-20 into the halftime locker room, the Mocs would go on to out-score the Paladins 44-31 in the second half to come away with the six-point win in the all-important tilt between the league’s two top teams.

Neither team shot the ball well at all from three-point range, connecting on a combined 16.3% (7-of-43) from three-point range in the game.

The Mocs finished the contest holding advantages in points in the paint (40-36), second-chance points (13-5), bench points (6-4), total rebounds (38-25), and offensive rebounds (4). The Paladins ended up holding advantages in total assists (13-12), steals (6-5), fast-break points (6-0) and points from turnovers (10-8). 

How It Happened:

For a little over 28 minutes Saturday afternoon inside Timmons Arena before 2,502 fans, the confines couldn’t have been any friendlier inside the boisterous home venue for Furman, which was playing its final game in its on-campus facility this season—a place it has won 84 games, including 49 league games over the past seven seasons.

However, on this day, despite holding the lead most of the way, Furman faltered in the final seven minutes, as the Mocs would eventually take control of the game after assuming their first lead on a Josh Ayeni three-point play the old-fashioned way with 7:18 remaining, which gave the Mocs their first lead of the day, at 44-41.

From there, the Mocs grew the advantage to as much as seven points before eventually picking up one of its most impressive and important road wins of the season, becoming just the seventh Southern Conference team to come to Timmons Arena and come away with a win since the start of the 2015-16 season, as UTC left Timmons Arena with a 64-58 win. 

The win saw the. Mocs overcome what was as much as an 11-point second half advantage for the Paladins to post 11th come-from-behind win this season. The Mocs closed the final five minutes strong after Furman had tied the game, 47-47, following a Conley Garrison layup in the paint with 5:15 remaining. 

Following Garrison’s layup, the Mocs’ five-consecutive made field goals on five offensive trips included a Darius Banks tear-drop jumper in the paint, a David Jean-Baptiste three-pointer, and two more layups by Banks and one by Malachi Smith as a part of a quick 11-4 spurt that would prove pivotal and result in a 58-51 Chattanooga advantage—its largest of the afternoon—following a 

It wasn’t just what the Mocs did in that short stretch offensively either, as the Mocs would get stops on two of Furman’s next four possessions, which included a key blocked shot by Smith against Furman’s Mike Bothwell that proved to be part of a championship-level defensive performance over the final five minutes of game action, as Chattanooga finished out its fifth-straight win. 

Though Furman committed only 10 turnovers in the contest, most of those proved especially untimely. Three of those miscues came in the final five minutes of action, with the last one—a mis-communication between Garrison and Slawson with nine seconds remaining—rendering the result academic and the comeback attempt over for the Paladins. Six of Furman’s 10 turnovers in the game came in the second half. 

The Mocs would make next four shots from the field and made five of their final six of the game to finish the contest on a 17-11 scoring run to claim the win.  In one key stretch early in the second half, Furman’s Jalen Slawson bucket in the paint helped Furman assume its largest lead of the game at 36-25, with 15:25 left.

As all good teams do, Chattanooga made its charge. With 10 comeback wins in the second half this season already in its back pocket for Lamont Paris’ team, when to make the charge for the Mocs had almost become instinctual. 

Chattanooga launched a 12-1 run over next 3:19 to tie the game, 37-37, following a corner triple from Banks, tying the game, 37-37, with 12:06 remaining and forcing the Paladins into a 30 second timeout. Neither team could score for the next two-and-a-half minutes, with a Slawson layup in the paint with 9:32 remaining allowing the Paladins to assume the lead, at 39-37, once again.

Following another Slawson layup, which gave Furman is final lead of the game at 41-39, Chattanooga’s veteran savvy in the form of college basketball’s oldest player, Nigerian-born Josh Ayeni became a Nigerian nightmare for the Paladins, scoring five-straight on a layup off an offensive rebound, and a three-point play the old-fashioned way, turning the game at its crucial point when it was hanging in the balance. It would be Ayeni’s only five points of the game before fouling out of the game. 

Furman would tie the game only once more on Garrison’s layup, 47-47, with  5:14 remaining. The Paladins  got as close as two points down the stretch, trailing just 60-58, with a pair of made Foster free throws, however, the Mocs closed out the win by making their final six foul shots, with Banks connected on four of them, while Jean-Baptiste connected on two. 

The second half, which saw the Mocs shoot 54.8% from the field on 17-of-31 made field goals, including all three of its made three-point field goals, was in direct contrast of a poor shooting performance in the opening half, thanks in large part to Furman’s dedication from the jump on the defensive end of the floor. 

The Mocs had been held to just 37.0% (10-of-27) in the opening half, including going 0-for-9 from long range. Both defense, which held the Paladins in check, limiting the Paladins to just 40.7% (11-of-27) from the field, including 21.4% (3-of-14) from three-point range, and Malachi Smith, who scored 10 of the Mocs 20 points in the opening half, as the Mocs went to the half with their lowest point total for a half in a game this season, yet trailing by just seven, as the Paladins 27-20. 

Also key in the first half to help keep the Mocs with a fighting chance on the road was a strong performance on the glass, out-rebounding the Paladins 19-14 in the opening frame, using four offensive boards to lead to six second-chance points. The 20 points in a half is three fewer in an opening frame than Chattanooga’s previous season low of 23, which the Mocs recorded in.a 76-68 road loss to the Bruins back on Dec. 15.

Meanwhile, it marks the third time in five SoCon losses to date that the Paladins have surrendered a halftime lead, with the Mocs able to overcome deficits of five and seven in the two regular-season meetings, while VMI was able to overturn a seven-point halftime deficit early in league play in Lexington. Furman dropped to 14-3 in games it has led at the half this season. 

Like UTC’s Smith, Slawson logged much of the offensive load in the opening 20 minutes for the Paladins, posting 14 of the Paladins’ 27 points in the opening half. His electrifying two-handed slam off a feed from Mike Bothwell got the place jumping from the start, giving the Paladins an early 4-0 lead. The opening half advantage grew to as much as eight on two occasions, with the last coming at 24-16 following coming after a pair of made foul shots from Slawson with 3:17 remaining in the half.

Postgame Press Conference:

Furman head coach Bob Richey discusses the loss to the Mocs with local media

Up Next:

Furman heads back on the road to face Western Carolina with a 7 p.m. tip-off time set for the Ramsey Center in Cullowhee on Wednesday night. The Paladins won the previous meeting 88-50 last month at Timmons Arena, which commenced a five-game winning streak for the ‘Dins. The Mocs return to the court on Wednesday night when they host UNC Greensboro in a 7 p.m. contest at McKenzie Arena.


SoCon Hoops 2021-22: Chattanooga hosts Western Carolina in a rare four-game week

RS-Junior guard A.J. Caldwell/photo courtesy of Chattanooga athletics

Western Carolina (9-16, 3-9 SoCon) at Chattanooga (20-5, 10-2 SoCon)

Date and location: Feb. 9, 2022/Chattanooga, Tenn

Venue: The Roundhouse/McKenzie Arena (10,995)

Last Time They Met: Western Carolina 70, Chattanooga 59 (Jan. 12, 2022/Ramsey Center/Cullowhee, N.C.)

Series: 99th meeting/Chattanooga leads 68-30

Preview: Fresh off what was one of the most thrilling mid-major basketball games of the 2021-22 season, Chattanooga will look to regroup and find a measure of revenge when it squares off against Western Carolina on the Southern Conference Wednesday night in a rare league mid-week clash.

It’s one of two games slated for tonight, with another clash being especially important, as league teams start to fight for positioning heading down the stretch towards Asheville, as Wofford (14-10, 6-6 SoCon) will be at the Pete Hanna Center to take on Samford (14-9, 4-7 SoCon) at the Pete Hanna Center, with tipoff slated for 8 p.m. EST.

An undermanned UTC team headed to Macon to face Mercer for the second time in a 48-hour span to take on the Mercer Bears this past Monday night, leaving with a 74-72 win over the Bears in overtime, courtesy of a corner buzzer-beating triple from Mr. old reliable literally in A.J. Caldwell (5.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.4 APG).

If you’ll remember it’s been a little over a year to the day since the Mocs went into arch-rival East Tennessee State and picked up what was a 67-65 thriller, as he three with one second remaining helped the Mocs snap an 11-game series losing skid to the Bucs.

Monday evening already saw UTC playing short-handed without the services of Silvio De Sousa (11.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.2 BPG) and K.C. Hankton (3.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG) due to minor injuries, with Hankton returning to the rotation last time out against the Bears, while De Sousa could be in the lineup tonight, but my guess is that the timetable for his return will be about the time the Mocs’ bus driver literally parks the bus behind Timmons Arena for Saturday’s monster league clash.

That said, like the first matchup with Mercer in Macon just a little over 48 hours earlier, it forced an uncommon performer in terms of offensive production to emerge, which has almost become a theme at times for the Mocs during league play this season.

Senior post Josh Ayeni (4.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG) was the player called upon to do that in the first matchup in a 48-hour span between the Mocs and Bears to deliver in a big moment when the Mocs needed him, as his career-high 18 points helped the league’s leading team hold off the Bears, 77-68, in Macon.

In Monday night’s gritty road win for the Mocs it was Avery Diggs (4.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG), who turned up and showed up big for the Mocs, as his 22 points were a big reason the Mocs were able to pull off the gutsy road win, as he posted a career-high 21 points in a game the Mocs had to battle from behind nearly the entire way.

The Mocs were similarly able to find that extra scoring punch for the first time during conference play this season just after the first matchup between the Catamounts and Mocs this season, which saw UTC drop a 70-59 setback to Western Carolina.

After playing without one of the best guards in mid-major basketball against the Catamounts in Cullowhee, in veteran David-Jean Baptiste (15.0 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.2 SPG), the Mocs found a way to get guys like Grant Ledford (4.2 PPG, 1.6 RPG), the aforementioned Caldwell, and wing Darius Banks (7.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG) to step up and find some offensive firepower in what was a thrilling 71-69 win over Furman in front a rowdy crowd on-hand at the Roundhouse to see the win.

In that win over Furman, it was the first time we as on-lookers in the media got a chance to see just how deep this Mocs team truly is, with Ledford coming off the bench to chip in 16 points, while added an important six points, hitting two key threes in the win over the Paladins.

It is interesting that Caldwell ended up returning to the starting lineup for the first time since that Furman game in Monday night’s road win over Mercer. And the senior more than delivered.

But this team will go as its main engine goes, and that main engine is, of course, Malachi Smith (20.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG), who is the leader in the clubhouse for SoCon regular-season player of the year should the Mocs hold on down the stretch to capture its first regular-season league crown since the 2015-16 season.

In my opinion, this game will be important for Chattanooga for one main reason, and that is–all jokes aside–because of “load management.”

This time of year is when legs start to become heavy during a basketball season, but the basketball gods never distribute depth equally, which is a luxury the Mocs will need both tonight and in Saturday’s monumental clash at Furman.

Getting off to a fast start and a big lead might be especially important Monday night, as the Mocs have that game against Furman Saturday, which will mark its fourth game in a seven-day span. Emphasizing that point even further is the fact that the Mocs needed an extra five minutes to get the final push it needed to overcome Mercer.

That being said, this offers the Mocs a chance to have a nice trial run for Asheville, as it offers a chance to prepare for the dreaded three games in three days scenario–prepare the rotation accordingly.

Smith is as good as any guard in mid-major or power-five basketball, and when he isn’t, Jean-Baptiste has usually been there to show is talents off to rest of the league, and posted a career-high 31 points 10 days ago in the Mocs loss at Samford.

The 59 points by UTC in the first clash with the Catamounts marked the second-lowest points total of the season, bested only by the 56 points the Mocs used to gut out its biggest win (at least according to the NET rankings) of the season, in a 56-54 road triumph at Atlantic 10 power VCU.

The 31.5% shooting effort by the Mocs without the services of Jean-Baptiste, which included a woeful 4-of-25 effort from three-point range, is easily the worst shooting effort of the season. The only other game in which the Mocs have failed to shoot the ball below 45% is in the road win at The Citadel, which saw the Mocs connect on just 41.9% of its shots in a 75-62 road win.

The Catamounts are a matchup problem in some ways if you look at recent history in the series between the two, with most of those games being down-to-the-wire type finishes.

The one outlier, of course, is the last meeting between the two, with the Catamounts, which saw the Mocs post their worst shooting night the season.

The Catamounts what its like to shoot the ball poorly, posting just just a 34% shooting effort (18-of-53), including an ice-cold 20.8% (5-of-24) shooting effort from three. As you might expect, those two shooting percentages led to a season-low 49 points in what was a 19-point, 68-49, home setback to the Spartans.

That said, playing the Spartans is discouraging enough, but having to turn around and playing one of the league’s other best defensive squads–especially on the road against the preseason favorite and a team that the Catamounts blasted in Cullowhee earlier this season–is probably not how first-year head coach Justin Gray would have drawn it up, however, COVID-19 changed everyone’s plans.

In terms of how it affected scheduling around the league, the pandemic was certainly no respecter of league regular-season title or tournament seeding aspirations, but then again I guess that’s how it is now. Everyone has to adjust.

For Chattanooga, it could turn out to be a built-in luxury, as UTC will play three of its final four league games in the friendly confines of McKenzie Arena after Sat–a place the Mocs are 10-1 and 5-0 against league foes this season–following its trip to Furman Saturday.

The only road game remaining on the schedule after Saturday’s test at Furman will come on the road on Feb. 23 at Freedom Hall, as the Mocs head to Freedom Hall to take on East Tennessee State–a team the Mocs opened league play by charting a 30-point, 81-51, win against.

The truth is, the Mocs have lived up to the preseason hype coming into the season. But the margin of how much better the Mocs are than other teams heading to Asheville next month isn’t maybe like what ETSU was in 2019-20, or perhaps the better example being like Wofford was in its historic run to the league regular-season and tournament crowns during the 2018-19 season.

The Catamounts are battling to stay out the dreaded Thursday night tournament play-in round. Getting a win tonight at McKenzie will require a herculean effort. Especially when you consider the Catamounts are just 6-38 in the Scenic City all-time.

If Western is going to do it, they must shoot an extraordinary percentage from three-point range. It will take 12 or more threes tonight for Gray’s club to be able to put itself in position to win a game like this away from Cullowhee.

With a player of Nicholas Robinson’s (15.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG) ability, the chances the Catamounts could actually pull off something unthinkable like a win at the Roundhouse is all the more possible.

Robinson is the reigning SoCon Player of the Week after posting a 37-point effort in a home win over ETSU last 10 days ago, while finishing the week with a triple double of 19 points, 13 rebounds and dishing out 10 helpers en route to capturing SoCon Player of the Week honors.

When the Catamounts have hit it big this season, Robinson has been able to get much needed scoring help from teammates, like center Joe Petrakis (8.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG), who offers a similar challenge to that of say Felipe Haase of Mercer did or a guard like Vonterrius Woolbright (9.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG) off the bench. In fact, it was Woolbright’s 14 points and 11 boards that actually proved vital in the first meeting with the Mocs this season.

Tyler Harris (7.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.1 APG), who is the only holdover from the Mark Prosser era that logged a big role in the Catamounts rotation, has been a streaky long-range shooter all season, but did manage to go 6-for-11 from long range in an 18-point effort in what was a recent road loss at VMI. To me, Harris is a player that, in many ways, is the key that turns the ignition for the Catamounts.

Although not always the case, if he’s playing well, the Catamounts are usually in position to win basketball games. Harris was held to just six points in the first meeting between the Catamounts and Mocs this season.

For Gray’s Cats, the lack of a true inside presence outside of Petrakis has caught up with Western Carolina more often than not this season. With that said, if the Catamounts can limit a team to 31.5% shooting from the field for the game, as it did in the first meeting between the two last month in Cullowhee, it nullifies the need to have that presence on the offensive end.

Despite their overall experience due to the transfer portal, the assessment that often is striking for Western Carolina this season is that I think something that Lamont Paris can relate to when he arrived at Chattanooga, or even the other two new head coaches in the league this season when they arrived to be the head coaches at ETSU and UNCG, respectively, this season.

That is rather than saying have this is the identity and this is who we will be as a basketball team as long as I am here, its to take a look at the talent returning and taking the pieces you have and using their strengths to your advantage.

Perhaps no one has done that as well to this point in year one than Mike Jones at UNCG, who knows his team is good enough defensively to give them a change to “ugly up” the game enough to win ball games. It’s brilliant coaching in my opinion.

When Paris arrived at Chattanooga, it wasn’t all too much different that what happened in Cullowhee with the mass exodus prior to Gray taking the reins of the program. He was left to pick up and put back together a mess left by Matt McCall in more ways than one.

In that respect, Paris was patient and he built it into a formidable program. It’s why I have so much respect for guys like Paris, Jones, Gray and to a major extent Desmond Oliver at ETSU, who has to do most of his managing of that same thing in-season–Not easy!

Gray went out and got what he did, and put together a team, which probably isn’t designed to win the league, but is one that can keep the Catamounts in most any game because of the potential for a big night from long range. That, to me, is also brilliant foresight for such a young head coach in my estimation.

That said, I think Chattanooga will coast to a revenge win tonight in front of the home folks before heading to Timmons Arena Saturday for a clash with Furman.

Furman drops second-straight at ETSU

Garrett Hien finished with 10 pts off the bench in road loss to Bucs

East Tennessee State got a balanced scoring effort, as LeDarrius Brewer posted a double-double of 20 points and 10 boards to lead five Bucs in double figures, as the Bucs snapped their five-game losing streak with a 75-71 win over Furman in a heated Southern Conference basketball contest before a boisterous crowd of 4,305 fans on-hand at Freedom Hall.

With the win, ETSU improved to 13-13 on the season, including upping its mark to 5-8 in league play, while Furman fell for the second time in succession, as the Paladins now sit at 17-9 overall and 9-4 in league play.

In combination with Chattanooga’s 74-72 overtime win at Mercer, the Paladins are now a game-and-a-half out of first-place, with a game in hand.

Brewer was joined in double figures by his brother Ty Brewer (12 pts, 8 rebs), Jordan King (12 pts, 2 stls), Jaden Seymour (11 pts), and David Sloan (10 pts, 6 asts). 

Furman also placed five in double figures, with both Jalen Slawson and Mike Bothwell leading the way with 15 points apiece, while  Conley Garrison, who scored 22 second-half points in the first meeting, finished with 14. Marcus Foster added 10, while Garrett Hien came off the bench to provide yet another solid effort, matching Foster’s total with 10 points.

Slawson, a candidate for Southern Conference Player of the Year, recorded his 22nd double-figure effort of the season on 7-of-14 from the field, including 1-of-5 from long range before fouling out of the contest late. The senior from Summerville, S.C., also added six rebounds, three blocks, dished out three helpers and recorded a steal in another strong effort. 

Bothwell, a senior from Cleveland Heights, OH, added his 15 point effort on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and 2-for-3 from long range and was 1-for-2 from the charity stripe. He added a steal, team-leading four assists and two rebounds.

The Paladins finished the contest connecting on 51.9% (28-of-54) from the field, which included a 36.7% (11-of-30) effort from three-point range. 

ETSU shot an almost identical clip to that of the Paladins, making 50% (23-of-46) of its shots from the field, which included a solid 52.6% (10-of-19) from three-point range. King led the effort going 4-for-8 from downtown, with all 12 of his points coming via the trifecta. 

Both teams took good care of the basketball, with both teams committing just seven turnovers, however, ETSU held a slight edge when it came to take advantage of those miscues, out-scoring the Paladins 9-7 in the points from turnovers category. 

ETSU finished the night with advantages in total rebounds (27-23), second-chance points (11-5), while the two teams finished deadlocked in total assists (17-17), fast breaks (10-10), bench points (10-10). Furman held a narrow 26-22 edge in points in the paint.

ETSU finished19-of-25 from the line. Furman went 4-for-6  from the line, getting outscored 19-4 at the charity stripe over the duration of the game. The Bucs would end the game with 25 attempts to Furman’s six, with Furman not attempting a free throw in the second half. 

Mike Bothwell goes up to try and deny a LeDarrius Brewer shot attempt

How It Happened:

I’ve said it before during this very season. Sport can be fickle at times if you let it. Certainly over five games, East Tennessee State did not let it become such.

Now, with Furman’s 75-71 loss at Freedom Hall at ETSU, head coach Bob Richey hopes his team takes the same approach.

The Bucs came in loser’s of five-straight by a combined 15 points, and prior to Saturday’s loss to UNCG, Furman had won five-straight by an average of 25.4 PPG.

But while ETSU grew from being humbled to gain a four-point win over a legitimate SoCon regular-season and tournament favorite, Furman’s hopes to win at least a share of regular-season title took a major hit in the four-point loss in Johnson City, it seemed the Paladins were still dwelling on Saturday’s tough defeat to UNCG—at least for the first half. Credit to the Bucs for starting and finishing the game in strong fashion.

In the past two first halves against Furman, the Paladins have seen opponents UNCG and ETSU shoot a combined 28-of-49 from the field, averaging out to 57.1%. Both the Spartans and Bucs have connected on a combined 9-of-16 shots from three—point range in  each of the past two, averaging out to 56.2%, with the Bucs going 7-of-10 from long-range to start the game Monday night.

The Paladins have struggled to find their shooting touch in each of the past two opening halves, connecting on a combined 20-of-57 shots, which averages out to a 35.1% clip from the field, while making just 9-of-32 three-point shots, which is just a 28.1% conversion rate. In both losses, Furman came into the second halves of each of its last two contests knowing it would have to expend a lot of energy just to get back into the game.

ETSU brought a measure of confidence into the game that saw it play loose from the jump, which might have been the type of hooping we anticipated from the perennial league title contender coming into the season.

In Saturday’s home loss to UNCG, the Paladins trailed by 17 points with just over six minutes at ‘The Well’ to the Spartans (55-38), while in the opening half against the Bucs on Monday night, Furman found itself trailing by as many 18 (36-18) before, like Saturday, launching an all-out onslaught in the second half and eventually taking the lead briefly only to see the Bucs come back and find their game down the stretch to do something they hadn’t done in the previous five game’s, which is close strong.

The Bucs looked more like the veteran team Monday night in latter portions of the game. They didn’t give the indication to the naked eye that they were a team that had faltered down the stretch in five-straight games, surrendering leads in most.

“My job is to stay positive…and for me to be tough and when I realize they are about to fold a little bit and fall apart…you know…huddled and muddled and then tough again…it’s my job to fix that,” ETSU head coach Desmond Oliver said.

“But its for the player’s to decide mostly. The example I use is that you are in a bar…well I shouldn’t use bar because these are college kids but you’re at a college function where there is some kool aid being served and some chips and a bad element breaks out and you have to protect yourself and I say…it’s one thing…in the first half you’re fighting the good fight  but the big brother ain’t home yet…so you win  the fight but you say ‘wait until my big brother gets home’ …’he’s coming home in the second half so what are we going to do’…and big brother came home and tied the game up in the second half, but they fought back,” Oliver added.

The Bucs exorcised some demons that were evident in late-game situations in the previous five games, while Furman’s haunts to start the against UNCG carried over and followed the Paladins on the road to Johnson City.

ETSU came out and established its presence early in the first half, concluding the frame by connecting on 59.1% (13-of-22) of its shots from the field, including 70% of its three-point attempts (7-of-10) to take a 43-30 lead into the half. 

In contrast to the Bucs bringing the fight, the Paladins were for a second-straight game were on the receiving end of haymakers thrown and landed by the opposition…The Bucs were the aggressor from the jump.

ETSU came out firing on all cylinders, connecting on their first four shots from the field to race out to a 10-2 lead at the 17:21 mark on a layup by leading scorer LeDarrius Brewer.

Brewer was simply unstoppable in the opening half for the Bucs, as he scored 19 of his game-high 20 points in the opening half of play alone, and was a large part of why the Bucs entered the halftime locker room on ‘Gold Out’ night at Freedom Hall with a 13-point lead. He made 5-of-9 shots from the field, including 2-of-3 from three-point land. He was also a perfect 7-for-7 from the charity stripe. 

A David Sloan three-pointer with just under six minutes remaining in the opening half staked the Bucs to their biggest lead of the night at 18 points, as his triple gave ETSU a sizable 36-18 lead with 5:58 to play in the opening frame.

Furman mounted a bit of a rally over the final portions of the half, out-scoring ETSU, 12-7, from there, to take some measure of momentum into the half. 

With the Bucs up 17 (39-22) following a pair of Mohab Yasser foul shots with 2:59 remaining in the half, Furman responded with six-straight points on back-to-back threes from Conley Garrison and Mike Bothwell to get the deficit to 11, at 39-28, with 1:57 remaining in the half. 

ETSU responded with five-straight—all from Brewer—as he connected on a pair of foul shots to extend the lead back to 13 with 90 seconds to play in the opening half, and then following a missed shot on a triple attempt, which was off the mark from Garrison, Brewer brought the loud crowd to its feet with one of the more athletic plays of the night.

Following one of Jalen Slawson’s three blocks in the contest, as he batted away a Jordan King layup attempt, LeDarrius Brewer caught the blocked shot and skied high to flush it home bringing the crowd to its collective feet in the process and giving the Bucs the 43-28 lead with 30 seconds remaining in the half.

That could have given the Bucs all the momentum entering the halftime locker room, however, on one of its biggest possessions of the night, the Paladins were able to salvage a little hope heading into the half, as Hunter drove down the lane and in traffic made a tough layup off the right window, cutting Furman’s deficit to 13, at 43-30, with 13 seconds remaining in the opening stanza. That’s how the score would remain entering the half. 

In the second half, Furman didn’t wait until six minutes to start driving its way back into the contest. It started from the outset of the second half, setting the tone like any big brother might when they get home. A Garrison three was him stepping one foot in the door, cutting ETSU’s lead to 10 quickly, at 43-33 a little over 30 seconds into the second frame. 

Sloan answered with a three and layup in transition for the Bucs to widen the margin back to 15, at 48-33, with 17:56 left in the half, but it was clear, this wasn’t going to go according to script for ETSU in the second half as it had in the first for the Bucs. Furman was locked in and intent on continuing to throw haymakers of its own for the duration of the second half. Big brother had gotten home and discovered there was no purple kool-aid left. 

After a Charlie Weber hook shot got the Bucs lead back to 15, at 50-35, and following a Sloan floater in the paint with 16:52 left, which kept kept the lead at 15 (52-37), the Paladins launched a furious rally. The Paladins scored 17 of the next 19 points of the contest, tying the game 54-54 on a Garrison triple with 11:58 remaining. 

King then perhaps made two of the biggest shots of the night for the Bucs with the game teetering on the brink of what could be best described as shots that were late in the shot clock, and with ETSU staggering offensively from those punches landed by the older brother. Two out of sync threes with one of those being well-guarded by Furman helping ETSU hang on to its balance before complete going down.

King’s first three gave the Bucs a 57-54 lead with 10:36 remaining. However, Furman’s Garrett Hien played big brother on the next trip down the floor for the Paladins, connecting on a corner three to tie the game, 57-57, with 10:20 left. 

With the Bucs out of sync offensively once again and the shot clock winding, King offered up another prayer with a high-archer three from the left elbow…good! The Bucs went back in front 60-57 with 9:53 remaining, and a pair of Mohab Yasser foul shots would extend the ETSU lead back to five, at 62-57 with 9:31 left.

However, big brother wasn’t going anywhere, and in fact, hadn’t even had the best of the fight yet. The Paladins got five straight of their own to tie the game, 62-62, following another Garrison triple and a hunter left elbow mid-range jumper, tying the score with 8:46 left.

ETSU’s Jaden Seymour would then get fouled on the other end, as Mike Bothwell picked up his third personal foul. His 1-for-2 effort at the stripe saw the Bucs take a 63-62 lead. 

With just under eight minutes left, big brother landed its best punch of the night in the form of Bothwell, as his layup in traffic allowed Furman to take its first lead of the night, at 64-63. Although the lead came much earlier in the second half than it did in the UNCG game, the game was playing out in a similar fashion.

Another crucial opportunity presented itself for the younger brother, and he waited until the very last to realize he had the fight left to finish the job. With the shot clock winding down once again and the Bucs seemingly out of sorts offensively, David Sloan made something similar to what looked like a shovel pass in football to Seymour left of the lane with one second left on the shot-clock, and Seymour’s one-handed tomahawk slam gave the Bucs a 65-64 lead.

Following a Slawson missed layup on the other end, ETSU got another key basket in the paint from Seymour to stretch its lead back to three, at 67-64. 

Furman responded with four of its own points to regain the lead, 68-67, as Hien connected on a layup in the paint, which was followed by a Slawson layup in transition with 5:18 remaining. 

The Bucs then put the lockdown on the big brother, not allowing the Paladins to score over the next 5:16 to close out in a fashion it hadn’t been accustomed to. ETSU finished the game much like Furman did against UNCG, with a defense that held the Paladins without a point for over five minutes, finishing off Furman with an 8-3 run to seal the win and snap the five-game skid. 

LeDarrius Brewer, who scored 19 in the opening half, fittingly scored the final point of the night for the Bucs, as his free throw with 2.9 seconds remaining allowed the Bucs to seal the game with a hard-fought 75-71 victory.

For Furman, it’s been a week that started with highs of talking of NET rankings, reaching 66 following to a 102-83 win vs. The Citadel last Monday night, while now being humbled two straight nights. Like I said, sport is fickle. But while basketball can sometimes be a cruel game, the game for both teams can be what they want it to be. 

So many times in the past, a successful Furman program has let a result or two let it be a defining moment dwelled upon instead of a refining one going forward. For ETSU, it could be the spark it needs to find down the stretch to see itself back into the league race as a worthy and viable contender in Asheville. 

But the neat thing is, both will choose how to define this game, rather than how the game with define them the rest of the season. We aren’t so lucky to be privy to that in every area of life, but life lessons can be learned in fickle moments…humbling ones. ETSU knows first-hand, and now, it’s Furman’s turn to try and find a way back to its feet before league-leading Chattanooga invades Timmons Arena for a 3 p.m. tip-off before a nationally televised audience on CBS Sports Network.

“All losses are tough you know…I’ve never had a loss that wasn’t tough and our defense has taken a step back these last two games and with that we’ve also not been shooting the ball as well, specifically the last two games and we have to figure that out and which one matters most…is it I have to make shots to play hard defense…is it we have to get down 16 to play hard defense…or are we going to go out there from the jump and play the defense from the jump like we were doing just a few weeks ago,” head coach Bob Richey said. 

ETSU will be host Samford Saturday at Freedom Hall in a 4 p.m. contest.

Up Next for Furman:

Furman returns to the floor Saturday to face a Chattanooga team that was one of the first in college basketball to claim a 20-win season, following a 74-72 come-from-behind overtime on the road at Mercer Monday night. With the win, the Mocs improved to 20-5 overall and 10-2 in league play. 

SoCon Basketball 2021-22: Chattanooga re-takes lead atop league standings

Furman and Chattanooga battle Saturday in a crucial potential league title determining tilt

When we look back at the 2021-22 Southern Conference regular-season, it may prove that the No. 1 seed upon arrival will point to the Week of Feb. 7-14 as being the one that ultimately decides the top overall seed when the teams head to Sky City next month.

With either Chattanooga (19-5, 9-2 SoCon) or Furman (17-8, 9-3 SoCon) likely to claim the regular-season crown, and with the two slated to meet for a second time in the regular-season on Feb. 12 at Timmons Arena, Monday night’s games for both the Mocs and Paladins could go a long way in being a deciding factor in the championship chase as well.

Furman will be on the road at a place that they don’t often win, when Chattanooga will be facing the same team that it had to battle for much of the afternoon to come away with a win for much of the day in the Roundhouse on Saturday afternoon.

The Paladins will be on the road at East Tennessee State trying to put behind them a 58-56 home loss to UNC Greensboro at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena Saturday afternoon, snapping what had been a five-game winning streak, spending less than 48 hours atop the SoCon standings. But that’s basketball.

Furman was woeful offensively, as it was held to season-lows in points (56), shooting percentage (30.2%), three-pointers made (6) and three-point field goal percentage (21.4%).

Nothing about this season has seemed quite normal for what I still think is a talented Bucs basketball team under first-year head coach Desmond Oliver. However, when the Paladins arrive at Freedom Hall Monday night for their ESPNU clash, they will meet a Bucs team riding a five-game losing streak following a 62-60 loss at Wofford Saturday.

The five-game skid marks the longest losing streak the Bucs have endured since joining the Southern Conference in the 2014-15 season. Furman hasn’t had too much success over the years at Freedom Hall, and prior to that, the Memorial Center.

In 30 games all-time in Johnson City, the Paladins have charted 12 wins, with a 12-18 record all-time on the road against the Bucs. Furman hasn’t claimed a win at Freedom Hall since the 2017-18 season, which came on a late four-point play by Devin Sibley, which is Furman’s only win inside that venue since the Bucs re-joined the SoCon.

Neither Furman nor ETSU have been able to sweep the regular-season series since the 1993-94 season, as the Bucs claimed wins of 105-76 at the Memorial Center, while downing the Paladins, 82-79, at the Memorial Auditorium in downtown Greenville.

The one positive that came out of Furman’s setback to UNCG last time out was Alex Hunter’s two triples against the Spartans giving him 289 three-point field goals in his career. He surpassed former Paladin Jordan Lyons (2017-20) in the process of Saturday’s setback to UNCG.

In now the fifth season under the direction of head coach Bob Richey, the Paladins have knocked down 1,508 triples in 4,188 attempts, which averages out to a 36.0% shooting clip from three under Richey. The 338 triples made in the 2017-18 season is a school record.

Furman starts its week with the aforementioned Tennessee two-step, facing the two gold standards of SoCon basketball, which oddly enough, has a gold-related theme in each when facing the Paladins this season. Furman lost its 71-69 game at Chattanooga, on “Gold Rush” day, which saw the Mocs don new uniforms, featuring the talons/claws of a Mockingbird.

ETSU is promoting its annual “Gold Out” which it did in successful fashion last season with a 71-62 win over the Paladins. Furman faces Chattanooga back in Timmons Arena this upcoming Saturday, where they are 84-13 overall and 49-6 against SoCon foes since the start of the 2015-16 season. The Paladins are 10-1 against all competition this season, and 5-0 against league foes inside the friendly confines this season.

Whatever the promotion, gold has been the elixir against Furman hoops in recent times, as it has proven to be as more like fool’s gold for Furman when seeing the color on the road in search of a win.

That’s a testament more to the tradition and talented basketball programs at both UTC and ETSU, however, and not a color themed promotion. Gold rush at Chattanooga? A pirate’s treasure chest full of gold at ETSU? There are similarities worthy of mention though.

Tip-off for Monday night’s game in Johnson City is slated for 7 p.m. and is nationally-televised on ESPNU, while Saturday’s game vs. Chattanooga is also a nationally-televised game, as CBS Sports Network will broadcast the 3 p.m. contest between the two top teams in the league’s overall standings.

“Three-ville” under Bob Richey:

2017-18 338-of-950

2018-19 321-of-889

2019-20 302-of-858

2020-21 242-of-708 (only 25 games)

2021-22 305-of-783 (leads nation)

While the Paladins have anything but an easy task in Johnson City against the Bucs, the Mocs will be in Macon to take on Mercer (13-11, 6-5) in another of the league’s toughest road venues. The Mocs had to gut out a nine-point win in what was a gritty effort by the Bears Saturday in Chattanooga.

The Mocs are 15-27 all-time against the Bears in Macon. The Mocs have lost their last three games at Hawkins Arena, having not won in the venue since the 2017 season.

The Mocs are a little thin right now, with the injury bug having bitten both Silvio De Sousa, who didn’t play vs. Mercer due to an apparent abdominal injury. The Mocs also had wing K.C. Hankton go down with about eight minutes remaining in the win over the Bears last time out with an apparent elbow injury.

There’s a good chance that either ETSU or Mercer will pull the upset over the top two teams in the league, or perhaps both get wins Monday night. It won’t be easy navigating the course to Saturday’s monumental meeting at Timmons Arena in Greenville, which will likely go a long way in deciding the regular-season league champion and the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.

UTC has one extra game on Wednesday night from a game that had to be re-scheduled due to COVID-19, facing Western Carolina at home in a 7 p.m. contest before heading to Furman on Saturday.

A quick review of Southern Conference history tells us that the past four champions and subsequent NCAA Tournament berth.

But while Chattanooga and Furman should be exciting to see who ends up ultimately wins the 2021-22 league regular-season title, its just as exciting to figure out how the next four in the league standings will finish out.

VMI (14-10, 7-5 SoCon) is starting to play some solid basketball once again, and have leap-frogged Mercer in the league standings for third-place overall in the league standings.

Since a 79-64 loss at Furman a couple of weeks ago, the Keydets have managed to win three-straight and are suddenly one of the hottest teams in the SoCon. The Keydets continue to be led by what I would call one of the three players in the running for the league title, in center Jake Stephens (18.7 PPG, 9.7).

He’s been outstanding all season, and without him being the fulcrum of head coach Dan Earl’s offense, and its why VMI ranks so highly among the SoCon and national leaders, thanks in large part for his ability to be a dependable and accurate passer of the basketball.

The Keydets currently rank third nationally in three-pointers made per game, having connected on a total of 296 triples this season. Much of that offensive production from beyond the arc has come from Kamdyn Curfman (16.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG), who became the 42nd player in Keydet basketball history to surpass the 1,000-point plateau in his career. Curfman should easilly finish as the school’s all-time three-point field goals leader by the time he graduates next season.

VMI played a strange league game on a Friday night, as the Keydets went on to down Western Carolina, 76-69, in Lexington for a third-straight win. VMI had to do so in come-from-behind fashion at Cameron Hall, trailing 69-65 with 3:23 remaining, but closed out the contest with a 11-0 run to claim the win.

Mercer is right behind the Keydets in the league standings and will look to draw even with the Mocs in the season series Monday night at Hawkins Arena. Despite being without their best player, in point guard for the entirety of SoCon play, the Bears have found a way to win games and put themselves in position for a strong finish to the regular-season heading to Asheville for the tournament.

Like Furman and Chattanooga, the Bears might be ready to embark on their two most important games of the season, with games at home vs. UTC before taking on VMI in a critical game at Cameron Hall in Lexington on Saturday in a contest that could go a long way in deciding the No. 3 seed heading the Asheville. The Bears had to hold off a furious rally to get 97-91 win over the Keydets earlier this season at Hawkins Arena.

Sitting just a half-game behind the Bears in the loss column with a game in-hand is Wofford (14-10, 6-6), which was able to hold off East Tennessee State, 62-60, in Spartanburg Saturday to garner a key season sweep of the battle-tested and tradition-rich Bucs. It, of course, marked the first time the Terriers were able to sweep the regular-season series against ETSU since that magical 2018-19 season for the Terriers.

It was a good response from the Terriers, who lost a tough game on the road on Monday night, dropping a key 67-62 contest to the Bears to fall below .500 in the league.

In the win over the Bucs Saturday, the Terriers were led by three veteran players in double figures, with Max Klesmit leading the way with 15 points, while BJ Mack and Isaiah Bigelow rounded out the double-figure scorers with 14 points apiece.

Wofford has a tricky road test mid-week when it faces Samford at the Pete Hanna Center, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. before returning home to face Western Carolina Saturday at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium.

Currently hanging on to the No. 6 position in the league standings is defending Southern Conference regular-season and tournament champion UNC Greensboro (13-10, 5-6 SoCon) is a half-game behind the Wofford in the wins column.

The Spartans snapped a two-game skid with arguably their best win of the season on Saturday, claiming a.road win over SoCon leading Furman, 58-56, at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, holding the Paladins to season lows for points (56), field goal percentage (30.2%) and total threes made in a game (6).

UNCG guard and leading scorer De’Monte Buckingham reached the 1,500-point total for his standout career, scoring most of those points at Cal State Bakersfield prior to transferring to UNCG.

The Spartans will be on the road at Western Carolina Monday night with a 7 p.m. tipoff time slated with the Catamounts at the Ramsey Center on Monday night. the Spartans return home to take on The Citadel Thursday evening, with tip-off with the Bulldogs slated for 7 p.m.

Samford (14-9, 4-7 SoCon) and The Citadel (10-12, 4-7 SoCon), who just faced off against each other this past Saturday, are tied for seventh-place In the league standings and sit just a game behind UNCG in the league standings.

In the clash between the two this past Saturday, The Citadel was able to pick up a hard-fought 107-93 win in the Battle of the Bulldogs in Charleston.

The milestone day in the Southern Conference continued in Charleston, as The Citadel freshman guard Jason Roche set the school mark for three-pointers made in a season, surpassing former Bulldog Fletcher Abee’s mark of 80 triples, which was established during the 2019-20 campaign by Fletcher Abee.

Roche finished with a career-high 29 points, eclipsing his previous career-best of 27 established in a win at Pittsburgh to open the season, He went 9-of-15 from downtown and was the Bulldogs’ second-leading scorer in the contest.

Roche wasn’t the leading scorer for The Citadel due to the fact that senior forward Hayden Brown simply made his return to The Citadel lineup following a brief injury a more than memorable one, as he he posted 35 points on a 13-of-18 shooting performance from the field, and completed his double-double performance by ripping down 11 rebounds, finishing just two points shy of his career-best 37 points, which he established last season in a win over Chattanooga.

The performance marked the preseason Player of the Year’s 22nd of his Citadel career. As a part of his 13-of-18 shooting effort from the field, Brown also connected on 3-of-6 from three-point range in the win.

The Citadel returns to action Thursday night when it will face UNC Greensboro at the Greensboro Coliseum in a tip time set for 7 p.m.

Samford started its week in strong fashion, earning a third-straight win with potentially its win of the season, as the Bulldogs knocked off league-leading Chattanooga, 80-72, at the Pete Hanna Center.

It was a strong to the week for Samford point guard Ques Glover, who posted 20 points and five assists in the win over the Mocs. Glover followed that up with career-best day at The Citadel in a losing effort, as he went for 30 points and dished out five helpers in the road loss.

The Citadel’s Brown and Samford’s Glover currently rank second and fourth in the SoCon in scoring, respectively, with Brown now averaging 19.0 PPG, while Glover averages 18.5 PPG.

Samford returns to the hardwood Wednesday night when it faces Wofford Wednesday night in Birmingham, with a tip-off time set for 8 p.m. EST.

East Tennessee State (12-13, 4-8 SoCon), which is seeing Jordan King come on and really shoot the basketball well of late, currently sits ninth in the league standings. The Bucs’ 62-60 loss at Wofford last time out now gives ETSU its longest losing streak since the third year of the Murry Bartow era, which was also the Bucs’ first season as an Atlantic Sun member following their departure from the Southern Conference.

King started the week in strong fashion, dropping in 32 in an 87-84 loss at Western Carolina. He turned around and followed that up with an 18-point effort in a 62-60 loss at Wofford.

The five losses by the Bucs have come by a combined 15 points, and while King’s scoring production has ultimately gone up, the Bucs are a minus six on the glass in the last five games, winning rebounding battles in losses at VMI (34-31) and The Citadel (42-37), but losing the battle of the glass to UNGG (26-29), Wofford (27-32) and Western Carolina (32-38). It all adds up to a minus six margin, as opponents are out-rebounding the Bucs 167-161 during that particular stretch.

ETSU has managed to take pretty good care of the basketball as of late, with no double-digit turnover games during the last stretch of five games, however, only UNCG (10 turnovers) and The Citadel (12 turnovers) have been forced into double-digit miscues during that stretch.

The Bucs shooting night during the stretch of five setbacks was 50% against UNCG, while its lowest performance from the field came in a loss to The Citadel (39.4), with the Bucs shooting above 40% in four of those five setbacks, with higher shooting percentages overall at the conclusion of three of those contests (Wofford, VMI, and Western Carolina). The main outlier is UNCG, which scored 80 points for the only time in conference play and shot a season-best 58% at Freedom Hall in the 80-76 win.

Like Samford, Western Carolina’s (9-15, 3-8 SoCon) week got off to a strong start, with an 87-84 win over a Volunteer State foe East Tennessee State, as the Catamounts currently sit last overall in the league standings.

The win over the Bucs marked a five-season losing streak to ETSU, snapping a 14-game skid in the series. It marked WCU’s first win over the Bucs in Cullowhee since a 76-71 victory over the Bucs since Jan. 26, 1998. A game that was likely also broadcasted by Western Carolina esteemed play-by-play broadcaster Gary Ayers.

Leading the way this week for the Catamounts has been Nicholas Robinson, as he started the week with a 37-point performance in a win over the Bucs. He connected on 13-of-23 shots from the field, including 5-of-12 from three-point land and also finished with 11 rebounds and dished out six assists.

Robinson would record a third triple-double in a three-year span the next time out in a 76-69 loss at VMI on the road. He joins elite company, as along with former guard Mason Faulkner, became the second Catamount to ever accomplish the feat.

In the loss to the Keydets, which saw the Keydets overcome a 69-65 deficit with 3:23 remaining to finish the game on an 11-0 run to win the game, Robinson completed his triple-double by posting 19 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in the win.

Robinson’s triple-double marked the second of the season for a SoCon player, with Furman’s Jalen Slawson having recorded one earlier this season in an 85-80 loss for the Paladins at Winthrop.

An important week looms just over the horizon for Justin Gray’s club, as the Catamounts return to court Monday night when they host UNC Greensboro at the Ramsey Center in a game slated for 7 p.m. The Catamounts snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Spartans last February, with a thrilling 81-80 win over the Spartans at the Greensboro Coliseum.

With so many superlative performances over the past week, I decided to list them in what has been a remarkable week in terms of players putting up ridiculous stat totals.

Check this out for superlatives…

David-Jean Baptiste (Career-high 31 pts in a loss to Samford)

Josh Ayeni (Career-high 18 pts in a win over Mercer)

Jason Roche (Career-high 29 pts vs. Samford on a career-best nine threes)

Nicholas Robinson (Career-high 37 points in WCU’s win over ETSU)

Nicholas Robinson (Recorded a triple-double of 19 pts, 13 rebs, and 11 assists in a road loss to VMI)

Jordan King (Recorded a career-high 32-point effort in ETSU’s 87-84 road loss to WCU)

Ques Glover (posted 20 pts and five assists in Samford’s Monday night upset of UTC)

Ques Glover (Posted a career-high 30 points in a loss at The Citadel)

Hayden Brown (Recorded 35 points and 11 rebs in The Citadel’s 107-93 win Saturday vs. Samford

Furman’s ‘well’ runs dry in loss to UNCG

Marcus Foster chases Keyshaun Langley late, as Furman mounted a furious rally before falling to UNCG for the second time in a three-year span at Bon Secours Wellness Arena

In a 2022 NCAA Tournament venue, the SoCon’s defending NCAA Tournament representative met a red-hot Furman team hoping to end a 42-year NCAA Tournament drought later this season.

For the better part of the 40 minutes on Saturday afternoon at ‘The Well’, it was the defending NCAA Tournament representative from the nation’s fifth-oldest conference that was the aggressor, ultimately handing Furman’s its second home loss of the season and just its third in SoCon play.

Furman held UNCG scoreless for the final 6:25 of the contest, but fell to UNCG 58-56 in a Southern Conference thriller Saturday afternoon at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. It was UNCG’s second win over the Paladins. 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. 

Before a crowd of 3,616 fans on-hand at Furman’s downtown home, the Paladins struggled to find their shooting touch for much of the afternoon, but its stern dedication to intentional defense down the stretch would eventually see the Spartans hanging on for dear life to get a big conference upset win on the road. As it turns out, the winning point total in each of the meetings between Furman and UNCG this season turned out to be 58, with the Paladins claiming a 58-54 in the first meeting between the two last month. 

With the win, UNCG snapped a two-game losing skid, improving to 13-10 overall and 5-6 in Southern Conference play.  Furman fell to 17-8 overall and 9-3 in Southern Conference play. The loss,  coupled with Chattanooga’s 77-68 win over Mercer, sees the Mocs vault the Paladins in the Southern Conference standings, as UTC improved to 19-5 overall, and more importantly, 9-2 in Southern Conference play to pull a half-game ahead in the league’s regular-season title race. 

The Spartans had three players in double figures in the win, with De’Monte Buckingham leading the way with 12 points, while Bas Leyte, who scored the only three points for the Spartans from the foul line in the final six minutes, finished with 11 and Kaleb Hunter, who did not play in the first meeting between the two, finished with 10. 

Buckingham, a transfer from Cal State Bakersfield transfer, posted his 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field, which included a 2-for-4 effort from the beyond the arc. He also added four rebounds, a steal, and a block.. Leyte added 10 points to complete what was a double-double for the Dutchman, marking the fifth different Spartan to post a double-double in a game this season and marked the first of his career. Leyte also added three assists in what was a complete all-around performance. Keyshaun Langley, who finished the contest with four points and five boards, led the the Spartans with four helpers. 

Furman finished the contest with two in double figures, led by Mike Bothwell, who posted 18 points prior to fouling out late in the contest, while Marcus Foster added 10. Bothwell was one of the key factors in helping ignite Furman’s comeback in the final six minutes of the contest, finished with his 18 points on 6-of-16 shooting from the field, including going 2-for-7 from three-point range He also finished a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line. He added five rebounds, three steals, a block and an assist. 

Foster finished the afternoon by hitting on 3-of-11 shots from the field and was 4-for-5 from the line. He also added eight rebounds, an assist and a block. For just the fourth time this season, Jalen Slawson finished with out a double-figure scoring effort, but he was on the cusp of recording his sixth double-double of the season, as he finished with nine points and 12 rebounds. The SoCon Player of the Year candidate also finished with nine points, 12 rebounds, and dished out five of the team’s 11 assists. 

With his six points in the loss, Furman super senior guard Alex Hunter finished the game as the school’s all-time three-point field goals leader, having canned 289 triples in his standout Paladin career. Hunter finished the game 2-of-7 from the field and 2-for-5 from three-point land. His two triples helped him surpass former Paladin great Jordan Lyons (2017-20). 

UNCG finished the game shooting the ball at a 47.2% clip, as the Spartans connected on 25-of-53 shots from the field for the game, including 33.3% (5-of-15) from three-point range. The Paladins connected on just 19-of-63 shots from the field, which equated to a season-low 30.2% shooting effort. The Paladins were just 6-for-28 from long-range, which equates to a season-low 21.4% from long range for the game. 

The Spartans finished with advantages in points from turnovers (18-11), points in the paint (34-18), fast-break points (8-4), total assists (13-11),  total rebounds (41-35) and bench points (18-9).  Furman held a 15-11 advantage in second-chance points, but yielded 12 offensive rebounds to UNCG, with of those coming in timely situations. 

How It Happened:

When Garrett Hien’s three-pointer from the corner gave Furman a 56-55 lead with 59 seconds remaining, Furman held its first lead since the 15:58 mark of the opening half, when the Paladins led 8-6 following a Miles Jones layup. 

Furman’s lead wouldn’t last, however, and following a missed jumper by Keyshaun Langley from three-point range, saw Marcus Foster grab the rebound, however, the ball was stripped away by Bas Leyte, and then he was fouled by Foster, 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, his shot 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, as Furman dropped its second game in Greenville this season. 

Prior to its 18-3 run to close the game, which eventually saw the Paladins retake the lead for the first time since early on in the contest, the Spartans lead had grown to as much 17 points when Mohammed Abdulsalam when after getting an offensive rebound and put-back. That came with 6:25 remaining in the game, and it would be the final points of the afternoon from the field for the Spartans. Abdulsalam’s layup was part of a 16-6 run in the middle portion. Of the second half, which ultimately proved decisive. 

While Furman was the aggressor for the final 6:25, it was UNCG that was the aggressor for most of the day. Mike Jones has put together a team that, defensively, is a team that could very well find itself in the mix once again for the duration in Asheville. The key will be finding a way to grab a top six seed, and a win at Furman will go a long way in determining a potential tiebreaker should it come down to that. 

The old adage is you can’t win a game in the first half, but you can lose one. While that might not have been entirely the case today, it sure did have that feel. The Paladins seemed to start the game well enough, assuming an 8-4 lead following a Mike Bothwell basket and free throw on a three-point play the old fashioned way with 16:46 left. UNCG responded with the its first of two big runs, with one coming in each half. 

The Spartans took control of the game with a 20-8 at 32-20 when Dante Treacy knocked down a triple with 1:37 left remaining in the half before the Paladins closed the half with a Jalen Slawson layup to cut the Paladin deficit to 10 at the half. 

The loss dropped Furman to 3-2 since playing games at ‘The Well’ two years ago. It was just Furman’s second loss in Greenville this season, as the Paladins dropped to 11-2 in its home city this season, with other loss being a 77-66 setback to Navy in late November.

Postgame Press Conference (Head coach Bob Richey):

Furman head coach Bob Richey

Game Stats:

Up Next: 

Furman heads to Johnson City to face East Tennessee State (12-13, 4-8 SoCon) Monday night at Freedom Hall. Tip time is slated for 7 p.m. and will be nationally televised by ESPNU.

Furman heads back to ‘The Well’ looking to maintain upward trend

Game 25: UNCG (12-10, 4-6 SC) at Furman (17-7, 9-2 SoCon)

The Venue: Bon Secours Wellness Arena

Date and Time: Feb. 5, 2022/12 p.m. EST

The Series: 42nd meeting/UNCG leads 21-20

Last Meeting:  Furman 58, UNCG 54  (Jan. 5, 2022)

The Coaches: Bob Richey (106-41/5th yr); Mike Jones (183-157, 10th year/12-10 in 1st yr at UNCG)

Brief Preview of the matchup:

The last time Furman faced UNCG on the college basketball hardwood, Paladins head coach Bob Richey was on the way from a hospital in Greenville to help coach the Paladins against UNC Greensboro at the Greensboro Coliseum with he and his wife’s third child–Jax Berner Richey–just hours old.

Arriving about 90 minutes prior to tip-off, it was enough to help Furman to garner a hard-fought 58-54 win on the road against defending Southern Conference champion UNCG. It was a game that an unlikely hero stepped up for the Paladins, in Marcus Foster, who posted an important 13-point and eight rebounds in the four-point win, which was highlighted by a perfect 4-for-4 effort from three-point land.

A month ago, Furman entered the clash looking to rebound from its first SoCon loss–a 76-67 setback at VMI–while a month later the Paladins head into the clash with the Spartans looking to maintain their hold on first-place atop the Southern Conference, having won five-straight and playing their best basketball now.

Furman has won its last five games by an average of 25.4 PPG, including a 102-83 victory last time out against The Citadel at mid-week.

Saturday’s noon tip-off at Bon Secours Wellness Arena is one that offers a chance to see the two winningest teams in Southern Conference play since the start of the 2015-16 season, with the Paladins having won 85 Southern Conference games during that span is the most conference victories during that span, while UNCG’s 84 wins rank just one game behind in second.

UNCG’s 137 overall wins during that same span ranks as the most overall victories for any SoCon program.

The Spartans are the defending Southern Conference regular-season and tournament champions and come to Greenville looking to put an end to a two-game losing skid, which includes losses at Wofford (L, 66-85) and vs VMI (L, 65-76) last time out.

Since joining the Southern Conference prior to the 1997-98 campaign, Furman has only recorded two wins in a single season once against UNC Greensboro, posting two wins in three meetings during the 2015-16 season.

After splitting the regular-season, Stephen Croone and Devin Sibley combined for 40 points, with each scoring 20 points, respectively, in a battle of two emerging Southern Conference powers, as he led the Paladins to an 80-64 quarterfinal win over the Spartans.

In scheduled regular-season meetings, Furman has never defeated the Spartans twice in the same regular-season. That stat is somewhat skewed, as the teams only faced each other only once during the regular-season season from 1997-98 until the league went away from divisional play following the 2013-14 campaign.

Who To Watch For the Paladins:

Furman has its three-headed monster in guards Alex Hunter (14.3 PPG, 3.3 APG, 2.8 RPG), Mike Bothwell (15.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.0 APG) and Jalen Slawson (15.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.8 BPG, 2.0 SPG), which is as good as any three veteran leaders in all of college basketball.

However, in many ways for the Paladins this season, it’s been as much about the other five or six players that have stepped up to give the Paladins much more depth than it has enjoyed previously in recent seasons.

Player’s like sophomore point guard Joe Anderson, sophomore wing Marcus Foster (7.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG), graduate transfer Conley Garrison (9.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG) and true freshman point guard J.P. Pegues (2.9 PPG, 1.4 RPG) and Furman sophomore forward Garrett Hien (5.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG) have all had their moments in which they have had to step up and be the man in an important moment for the Paladins. Hien posted 18 points and eight boards in Furman’s 80-72 overtime win at Louisville early in the season, and lead the Paladins in scoring with 12 points in a 30-point road win at Mercer last Saturday.

One of the most impressive athletes on the Furman roster has been Tyrese Hughey (3.1 PPG, 3.0 RPG), who had his redshirt removed just prior to conference play. He gives the Paladins extra length on defense, as well as an extra physical presence on the boards.

Since being re-introduced into the Furman rotation after a six-game hiatus, backup point guard Joe Anderson (6.3 PPG, 1.3 RPG) has been playing as well and shooting the basketball as well as any Paladin on the roster.

It’s not all been about the offensive efficiency, however, for the Paladins, but rather, its commitment and intentionality on the defensive end. Since entering conference play, there’s been no one better than the Paladins at defending foes, leading the league in scoring defense (62.0 PPG), field goal percentage defense (41.5%), three-point field goal percentage defense (32.4%), second in overall blocks per game (45 blocks/4.1 BPG) and first in steals (106 steals/9.6 SPG).

The Paladins have turned defense into offense as good as anyone in the nation, and as a team, their 210 total steals this season ranks seventh in all of NCAA Division I college basketball.

The defensive formula was one which was utilized in strong fashion during its run to titles and subsequent NCAA berths in both 2018 and 2021, as the Spartans had one of the best defensive players to ever play in the Southern Conference, in Isaiah Miller.

Miller ended his career second in all-time steals in league history, and finished his outstanding career as the only player in league history to ever win the SoCon Defensive Player of the Year award three times. Miller has moved on to the NBA, however.

Furman’s version of Miller on the defensive end of the floor has been Slawson. The senior forward from Summerville, S.C., may have 21 double-figure scoring games this season, however, its been his league-leading 49 steals (7th nationally) which has perhaps the most important ingredient

Furman has also been pretty good offensively, leading the country with 299 three-pointers made, closing in on the program record of 338 made triples in a single-season, which was registered by Bob Richey’s first team as head coach back during the 2017-18 season. Hunter, a super senior, who opted to return for an optional season afforded him by the COVID-19 pandemic, has made the most of it and needs just two more three-pointers to become the school’s new all-time three-point king.

His 287-career treys ranks him just one behind the school’s all-time record holder, Jordan Lyons (2017-20), who finished his outstanding Paladin career with 288.

Who To Watch for UNCG:

While Isaiah Miller is plying his trade in the NBA and Wes Miller is in his first year head coach at Cincinnati, there is plenty of talent and coaching acumen on the sidelines despite losing such substantial members of UNCG’s tradition build. It speaks volumes to what the two Millers were able to do with the fact that UNCG was able to make such a solid transition.

The Spartans are under the direction of Mike Jones–a former Larry Davis assistant at Furman along with UMBC head coach Ryan Odom–and he was able to build Radford into a perennial Big South power, much the way Miller was able to do in the Gate City with the Spartans before moving on to the Queen.City to head up a rebuild for the Bearcats.

That said, Jones hasn’t let the expectation of championships slip even though there have been growing pains at times this season. Through it all, the Spartans remain a force to be reckoned for everyone in the SoCon, with a 12-10 overall record and a 4-6 mark in league play.

As evidenced by the four-point margin in the first meeting between the two the first time around, there isn’t much difference between the two, and the Spartans have routinely been in close games through their 10 league games to this point.

Two of the biggest additions to the fold have been De’Monte Buckingham (13.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG ) and Dante Treacy (6.0 PPG, 2.7 APG), who have been key performers in the backcourt for the Spartans this season. Both transfers have fueled more of a seamless transition than would have normally been expected with the loss of a player of Miller’s ilk in the backcourt.

Both Buckingham and Treacy have stepped in and been immediate impact players for UNCG, with the duo having started all but one of the Spartans’ games so far in year one of the Mike Jones era.

Buckingham has been the go-to-scorer for the Spartans so far this season, posting 20 or more points 14 times so far since transferring in from Cal State Bakersfield.

Another significant piece to the backcourt puzzle for the Spartans are both Keyshaun Langley (8.4 PPG, 2.1 APG) and Kobe Langley (7.3 PPG, 3.2 APG), who are a pair of lighting quick guards that are probably are most like VMI’s Honor Huff and Tre Bonham in terms of quickness, especially from the first step.

Though Kaleb Hunter (8.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG) isn’t double-figure scorer, he’s the type streaky shooter that can on occasion get the Spartans 20 points at times. Hunter brings great experience and overall basketball savvy to the UNCG backcourt. Hunter was not available for the first matchup against the Paladins this season, and he ranks third on the team in scoring, starting 10 of 20 games this season for UNCG.

In the paint, the Spartans have veteran leadership in the form of Dutchman Bas Leyte (8.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG), who features a skilled game as a passer and mid-range shooter most associated with most players, who hail from Europe.

Another of the most mature players on the UNCG roster is Mohammed Abdulsalam (6.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG), who posted a career-high 14 points earlier this season in an overtime loss to UMass. Abdulsalam had one of his best performances in his UNCG career in the Spartans’ 86-73 win at ‘The Well’ a couple of years ago, as he posted 10 points and a pair of boards off the bench. Abdulsalam has started all 21 games he has played in for the Spartans this season.

The Spartans aren’t an offensive juggernaut, but they defend the ball well all over the place due to their quickness and overall athleticism. They do have one 80-point outing through their first 10 Southern Conference games, posting an 80-76 win at East Tennessee State.

Likewise, Furman’s 58 points in the four-point win at the Greensboro Coliseum last month marked its lowest point total this season. Overall this season, the Spartans rank second in the SoCon in scoring defense (65.3 PPG) and fourth in field goal percentage defense (41.6%).

One thing the Spartans have consistently done well time and time again this season is rebound the basketball, leading the SoCon in rebounding margin (+5.7).

While Furman has seemingly had its way with its last five foes, the Spartans and the way they defend will likely make this game a much tougher win to come by should the Paladins be fortunate enough to do so.

That said, an expected great atmosphere is expected for the high noon battle with students back on campus. In the first trip to well, which resulted in an 81-66 win over Mercer, Furman’s student body had yet to return to campus from Christmas Break.

Saturday’s contest will also be ‘Legends Day’ for the men’s basketball program, as numerous Paladin basketball alumni are expected to in attendance to see the No. 66 team in the latest NCAA NET rankings (highest in the Palmetto State) take the SoCon’s reigning NCAA Tournament representative and overall very talented UNCG team.

Furman’s ‘purple machine’ crushes arch-rival

Furman hammers The Citadel for fifth-straight win to move into first place in SoCon standings 

Furman wing Marcus Foster was one of six Paladins in double figures

The theme for the Purple machine that has become the Furman basketball team as of late has been not just to win basketball games, but to do so that in emphatic fashion. 

That was not surprisingly again the case Wednesday night in a mid-week clash between Southern Conference rivals Furman and The Citadel, and the 216th meeting between the two charter members of the Southern Conference was never really in doubt, with the Furman holding as much as much as a 43-point cushion and ended with a 102-83 triumph over the Bulldogs at Timmons Arena, as the Paladins claimed their fifth-straight win. It was also Furman’s seventh-straight win in the series with the Bulldogs. 

With the win coupled with Chattanooga’s 80-72 setback at Samford, Furman moved into first place by a half game with a game in hand, as the Paladins improved to 17-7 overall and 9-2 in Southern Conference play. The Citadel, which played without preseason SoCon Player of the Year Hayden Brown, who was injured, fell to 9-12 overall and 3-7 in league play. Chattanooga, which held the top spot in the league since heading into the night, fell to 18-5 overall and 8-2 in league play following its road loss at Samford. 

In the past five games, the Paladins now have wins of 38, 25, 15, 30, and 19. That is an average margin of victory of 25.4 PPG in those games. Furman’s 100-point game marked the second time they have accomplished that feat this season, and marked the 12th time that Furman has eclipsed the 100-point plateau in Bob Richey’s five seasons as the Paladins’ head coach. 

In allowing 83 points to The Citadel, it marked just the second time this season the Paladins allowed 80 or more points in a game and came away with a win, as the Paladins also allowed 88 points in a 91-88 win over College of Charleston in an overtime game win back in early December. Furman had yet to allow a SoCon foe to score 80 points in any of their previous 10 SoCon games. 

The 17th win eclipses the win total for the entire COVID-19 shortened 2020-21 season, and helped the Paladins improve to 84-13 overall and 49-6 at Timmons Arena since the start of the 2015-16 season. The win also saw the Paladins improve to 11-1 in Greenville this season, including 10-1 inside the cozy confines of their on-campus facility. Furman has won 35.6% of its 234 wins all-time in 25 seasons since the start of that 2015-16 campaign. 

The Paladins placed six players in double figures in the contest, paced by SoCon Player of the Year candidate Jalen Slawson, who posted 17 points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal en route to his 21st double-figure scoring effort in 24 games this season for the Paladins. 

Slawson connected on 6-of-8 shots from the field, which included a 3-for-4 performance from three-point range and was 2-for-2 from the charity stripe, seeing just 16:27 of court action in the win. Joining Slawson in double figures were graduate senior Alex Hunter, who splashed in 16, as he appears to have regained the shooting touch which helped him fashion such strong start from the perimeter as the national leader in three-pointers made towards the end of non-conference play, while Joe Anderson and J.P. Pegues were responsible for 26 of the team’s 37 bench points, adding 14 and 12 points, respectively. Marcus Foster and Mike Bothwell added 13 and 12 points, respectively to round out the six in double figure for the Paladins.

Hunter’s performance saw him knock down 6-of-8 shots from the field, including going 4-for-6 from three-point range, which moved him to within two of setting a new career Paladin record for three-pointers made, as his four triples on the night give him 287 for his Furman career, and within one of the school’s current record-holder,  Jordan Lyons, who made 288 triples in his outstanding four-year career for the Paladins from 2017-20.   In addition to his outstanding night shooting the basketball, Hunter also recorded two rebounds, one assist, and a steal in just under 20 minutes of floor action. 

Furman’s lopsided win overshadowed what was otherwise an outstanding night shooting the basketball for The Citadel’s Jason Roche, who led all scorers with 22 points and his seven three-pointers and was just one shy of matching a career-best eight triples, which came in the Bulldogs’ season-opening win at ACC member Pittsburgh. 

Roche, who is a prime candidate to garner the SoCon’s individual accolade as the league’s Freshman of the Year, connected on 7-of-10 shots from three-point land to highlight is team and game-leading scoring night. 

Roche was one of three Bulldogs in double figures, as center Stephen Clark added16 points and team-leading six boards and dished out a team-high five assists, while Rudy Fitzgibbons rounded out the Bulldogs in double figures, adding 11 on 4-of-8 shooting from the field, including 3-for-7 from long-range. 

Furman, which shot the ball at a blistering 63.6% (21-of-33) and 70% (14-of-20) from three-point range en route to 63 points in the opening half, cooled down in the second half, finishing the game connecting on 54.9% (39-of-71), including connecting on 50% (16-of-32) from three-point range for the game. The Paladins boasted as much as a 43-point lead in the second half before eventually coasting to the 19-point win. 

The Bulldogs , which won the second half 52-39, finished the contest connecting on 43.3% (26-of-60) from the field and finished the contest by making 46.9% (15-of-32) from three-point land in the second half. The Citadel connected on 10 of its 15 three-pointers in the second half. 

The Paladins held advantages in points in the paint (44-22), points from turnovers (23-13),  bench points (37-36), and total assists (22-16). The Bulldogs posted advantages in second-chance points (15-6), total rebounds (38-32), and fast-break points (12-11). 

How It Happened:

For the opening 15 minutes of Wednesday night’s win over The Citadel, Furman looked every bit of an NCAA Tournament team on the defensive end of the floor, and it led to a 23-5 lead following a Joe Anderson triple just a little over a minute following the under 16 media timeout. Furman was coasting early against its coastal foe from the outset.

By the time the second media timeout with 11:44 remaining in the opening frame, the Paladins had already increased its lead to 20, at 31-11. The Paladins were shooting a mind-boggling 73.3% (11-of-15) from the field and a 75% (6-of-8) shooting clip from three. Eight of Furman’s 11 made field goals during that first eight minutes and change of action were assisted. 

Even more impressive was how impressive the Paladins were guarding the basketball on the other end, seemingly flying around and making life difficult with tremendous defense both in transition and in the half-court against the sharp-shooting Bulldogs. In the opening eight minutes, the Bulldogs were just 4-for-15 (26.7%) from the field and had connected on just two of eight triples  (25%), with the Paladins already having forced the Bulldogs into three turnovers, which included a pair of steals. 

Mike Bothwell dunk

With Furman leading 37-14 with nine-and-a-half minutes to play in the opening frame, senior guard Mike Bothwell took a pass  from Alex Hunter off a curling cut down the middle of the paint, and his one-handed tomahawk dunk over a Bulldog defender offered yet another example of both Furman’s confidence and its pressure-free exuberance on both ends of the floor as of late. The Paladins having increased its lead by over half The Citadel’s point total of 31, at 63-31, playing near-flawless basketball, putting together maybe its best half of hoops of the season. 

In the second half, Furman would grow its lead to as much as 43 points when Joe Anderson connected on one of his four three-pointers with 12:16 remaining. The Citadel’s Jason Roche scored 19 of his 22 points in the second half, which included connecting on six three-pointers in the frame. 

Postgame press conference:

Furman head coach Bob Richey
Alex Hunter (left) and Mike Bothwell (right)

Up Next: 

Furman will be back downtown in its home away from home to take on the UNC Greensboro Spartans (12-10, 4-6 SoCon) at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, with tip-off slated for high noon.

Furman overpowers Mercer

Furman’s fury unleashed in full measure against Mercer, but there’s a cautionary story to be told

Furman and Slawson went wild in the Bears Den Saturday evening

By John Hooper

Furman’s 80-50 road win at Mercer on Saturday night got me thinking…Good and bad…I’ve told this story the other way round, too. But this is what happens when Goliath’s story is told through a ‘David’-son lens.

This isn’t the recap you would or should expect if you really wanted a possession-by-possession breakdown of that 30-point blowout that took place in Macon last night, but its the one I am going to write. I am usually matter of fact in the ‘how it happened’ following each Paladin game.

But today we take a trip down a road of memories, paved with plenty of heartbreak.  There have been others like the 25-win App State team in 2006-07 season, which had its NCAA dreams dashed at the fingertips of a 38-point night from Dontaye Draper for CofC in an 89-87 thriller at the North Charleston Coliseum. 

Led by a young and energetic head coach, in Houston Fancher, that Mountaineer team had wins over Virginia, Central Florida and Vanderbilt to win the San Juan Shootout, and even went as far as to take out a half-page ad in the Indianapolis Star newspaper—home of the NCAA headquarters—and that still wasn’t enough to see a second team kick down the door as an at-large breakthrough in March.

It’s a warning all should very wisely heed, especially SoCon team’s like Chattanooga and Furman, swiping aside league foes quicker than a potential significant other on a digital device on one of those catfish apps, or whatever the kids call it when one of these things doesn’t match the other. 

I might not know a lot about basketball and all the Xs and Os and analytics that go into the modern game, but one thing with certainty is that a suddenly aging scribe of all things SoCon does know about is I’ve seen teams get absolutely heartbroken. Trust me, this wasn’t Furman, or even an era when the Paladins threatened all that often. There was a time when teams like Davidson and Appalachian State had to swallow the bitterest pill of all…The finality of losing in March despite a gaudy season of record-setting win totals. There truly is nothing like March Sadness in a one-bid mid-major.

I’ve watched my share of hoops. I’ve seen some great teams just miss it and fall flat. I remember not long after Davidson’s 1996 season reading an article, detailing how that was particularly hard for Bob McKillop to overcome in his coaching career. 

That team was flat out loaded. Stars abounded….Stars and veterans like Chris Alpert, Brandon “Ozone” Williams, Narcisse Ewodo, Ray Mineland and Jeff Anderson to name the core group. The internet is a great thing. Go look up those margins of victory and tell me only an un-wise person would have ever picked against those ‘Cats to lose to the other ones. But it happened in a shocker that, in truth, probably only Western Carolina could deliver. 

Mineland and Ewodo hailed from Cameroon, and they were indomitable Lions of the hardwood as a part of some of those early McKillop teams in the early to mid-1990s in the SoCon. The duo hailed from Yaounde, which is the largest city in a nation of nearly 27 million. But while their homeland was known more for their performance in the soccer World Cup in 1990 in Italy, it was guy’s like Ewodo and Mineland that were trying to help Davidson get back to its success it enjoyed in the SoCon in its previous stint. 

As it has been for so many before, it was the end of the road for McKillop’s mighty Wildcats, who boasted an average margin of victory of 18 points in league games that 1996 season. But the way it happened was unreal. If we’re talking power fives, we’re talking almost to Chaminade over Virginia unreal when Anquell McCollum’s Catamounts left the Greensboro Coliseum the unlikeliest of victors. 

A blank-faced McKillop could only look on as Jarvis Graham, Scott Scholtz and the smattering of WCU fans that believed enough to intermingle before Davidson’s ‘roman-like’ crowd in the Coliseum for what was sure to be a coronation more than a basketball game.

After all, the Wildcats entered the tournament title following a 92-77 shellacking of Billy Donovan’s Marshall Thundering Herd, who, like Furman’s current outfit, boasted one of the most prolific perimeter shooting team’s in all of college hoops. 

It was not quite the 106-57 beatdown Davidson issued in Huntington at the Cam Henderson Center, but it was certainly more than enough breathing room to clear the exits and aisles long before the throngs of Green and White rugby wearing fans had hoped. As great as Dononvan would go on to be as a head coach to be at Florida, his Herd were more like grasshoppers when facing McKillop’s ‘Cats.

Western Carolina’s 69-60 ultimate title game upset ended a 19-game winning steak, relegating the arguably the greatest team in SoCon history to not win the title begrudgingly to an NIT meeting with South Carolina’s sharp-shooting guard tandem of Larry Davis and B.J. McKie. The Wildcats weren’t all that interested anyway, losing by their largest margin all season—a 27-point thrashing in Columbia (L, 73-100).

The Wildcats had won a total of 16 Southern Conference games without defeat—most by double digits—with ironically only bottom-feeder Furman at the time being able to stay within 10 points of the Wildcats in the two meetings during the 1995-96 campaign. The first was a 102-97 setback for Joe Cantafio’s ‘Dins, as fans wildly rocked their yachts out on Lake Norman and a loud roar was heard throughout the outskirts of the Queen City…That was a long-winded joke, however, it was only the second league game for Davidson. 

It had disposed of a struggling ETSU basketball program by 32 in their league opener. It wouldn’t be until the final game in the Brown Box on Feb. 26, 1996, which would see Davidson see a team come within 10 points of them. This time the Wildcats needed OT to get past the 10-win ‘Dins in their final valiant performance in their rocking castle downtown, defeating the Paladins 88-79 before heading for Greensboro. 

It wasn’t all that easy for McKillop when College of Charleston entered the league in 1999, and then App State hired Buzz Peterson in 1996-97. The Mocs still had some guy named Mack McCarthy, who led his Scenic City to sights not seen and the Sweet Sixteen a year later. Davidson broke through to beat a gritty App State team in that same house of horrors in the Gate City in 1998. 

But it would be another hiccup in 2005 that would be the precursor to Davidson’s current success. Despite all the accomplishments that Davidson would attain in the SoCon and is now attaining in the A-10, it’s like the SoCon motto says “titles are forever” but then again, so are heartbreaks. No matter the success, that ’96 team and its unfinished business probably still stings for players, coaches and fans who remember it.

That being said, it should keep anyone humble. My writing doesn’t do the justice needed to describe how unlikely an upset that was. In terms of shock value, if we’re truly honest about it,. It’s probably second to only Michigan’s win over App State in football.  That’s how good Davidson really was. 

Davidson’s 1996 schedule

Back to present day events…Defense’ again traveled well 

The story above is for anyone thinking that Chattanooga or Furman or just going to run roughshod to Asheville and through Asheville next month, so I had to share. I am constantly also reminded of March’s possibilities due to that very upset by the Catamounts. 

Furman claimed its fourth-straight win by double digits, including its 15th-straight against Mercer, as the Paladins have now claimed wins in their last four outings by an outrageous average of 27 points-per-win, downing the Bears in emphatic fashion on the road, with an 80-50 win on Alumni Day at Hawkins Arena. 

With the win, Furman improved to 16-7 overall and 8-2 in Southern Conference action, while the Bears fell for a second-straight outing, falling to 12-10 overall and 5-4 in league action.

At 8-2, the Paladins remain a half-game back in the loss column to Chattanooga, following the Mocs’ 75-62, win over The Citadel in Charleston to remain a half-game in front in the standings in league play.

While Furman’s win was something that is becoming a trend, it’s going to be a different kind of recap from me. It’s hard to write a whole lot of stuff about a 30-point win.

Let’s be honest, Mercer didn’t play its best game, and head coach Greg Gary, who I think is one of the premier coaches in mid-major basketball, knows just that. Mercer has good players.

The Bears have good chemistry, but they also have had some tough luck injury-wise in now what is Gary’s third season at the helm in the ‘Mo Town’ of the South.  There’s no denying the fact that standout all-conference point guard Neftali Alvarez changes the dynamics of that team in terms of balance and leadership. 

However, while Mercer will have little time to lick its wounds or sulk in a 30-point home loss, Gary would probably agree that’s the best thing. The Bears turn around in less than 48 hours to face Wofford for the first time this season in a matchup of the SoCon’s last two No. 7 seeded runner’s up in the SoCon title game in Asheville. 

Three straight threes to open the game from Conley Garrison, Jalen Slawson and Marcus Foster set the tone for what kind of night it would be.

That energetic shooting bonanza to by the Paladins start the game would only be threatened mildly by the Bears the rest of the half, and for that matter the game, as it was Slawson’s dunk, in similar fashion to the one he had just a week earlier at Wofford that seemingly sent the type of message to the Bears in their den as the Terriers in had received in their pin a week earlier, which was that Furman would be the aggressor on both ends.

As Slawson goes, they seemingly go. And they seemingly go to keep Slawson’s emotions in check. He gets a tad bit excited on occasion.

That’s what leader’s do. But even Louisville tried to cut the head off that snake, and at the end of one of his three single-digit games this season, it still wasn’t enough for the power conference  foe. His tomahawk one-hander delivered with an emphatic efficiency befitting of the emotional Furman’s 6-7 emotional rudder, as the Paladins continue to navigate their way through a tough league. 

Over the past four games, Furman has been stellar defensively, seeing an uptick on that end of the floor through the first 10 Southern Conference games, ending the night by leading the league in virtually every defensive category when looking at conference only statistics.

That didn’t change Saturday night against the Bears, and in fact, it was a season-high in some categories, including total ball deflections, which equaled a season-high of 37 during his postgame wrap-up with play-by-play broadcaster Dan Scott on the Paladin postgame show. 

The defense led to some other massive differentials than the one seen on the scoreboard at Hawkins Arena at the game’s final buzzer. Like points off turnovers. A stat that Furman has been able to use to its advantage more often than not during the 2021-22 season. 

With Furman’s current play during this four-game stretch, one can’t help but get the feeling that this team is starting to emerge at just the right time, however, there is much basketball yet to be played.  However, even a casual basketball fan would only need a grade school understanding of mathematics to know that these type of wins and the margin by which they come, aren’t the norm in the rugged Southern Conference—a league known for its close basketball games over the past several seasons. 

In fact,  three of Furman’s eight conference wins have come by 30 or more points, with five of their eight league triumphs coming by 20 or more points, and a total of six have come by double digits. In fact, including early road setbacks in league play at first-place Chattanooga (L, 69-71) and VMI (L, 67-76), as well as close victories over UNC Greensboro (W, 58-54), East Tennessee State (76-67) account for league games—at least one way or the other—that have been decided by 10 points or less.

It was once again a Furman team, which unlike previous seasons which it had been heavily reliant on a solid core group of floor veterans while others mature and worked while they waited, the 2021-22, at least to this point, has offered an unexpected blend of youthful enthusiasm, mature leadership from a trio as good as any in college basketball, and a rare find on the transfer trail, which has led Furman just past the midway point of its 2021-22 Southern Conference slate.

The 16 wins already equals last season’s entire haul of victories in a COVID-19 shortened campaign, while the Paladins need just two more league wins to equal last season’s final total of 10-league wins. Giving credence to Furman’s kaleidoscope of talent, which on any different night, might offer a different, yet bright and colorful hue. That was the case once again on Saturday night in Macon—it came in the form of Hugh—ey…as in true freshman Tyrese Hughey, as well as sophomore Garrett Hien. 

Hughey posted a career-high 11 points, while Hien became the seventh different Paladin to boast a game-high scoring total this season, however, it wasn’t without a significant push from the aforementioned Hughey, as well as Slawson, who equaled Hughey’s point total, while also threatening a second triple-double in school history in the process.

Slawson got the school’s first-ever earlier this season in an 85-80 loss at Winthrop, as he posted 15 points, 12 assists and 10 boards.  The third Paladin to hit 11 was Marcus Foster, who hit three threes to get Furman’s first nine of the night in the nationally-televised contest on CBS Sports Network. 

The senior from Summerville continued to offer his argument for SoCon Player of the Year consideration alongside guy’s like VMI’s Jake Stephens, The Citadel’s Hayden Brown, and of course, Chattanooga’s phenomenal guard Malachi Smith.  He’s having a season that would probably make a guy like Matt Rafferty smile from ear-to-ear, as he has shown a Rafferty-like ability to fill out a score sheet in nearly every category, and perhaps even one further should be added.,..poster dunks.

That’s an element that even Rafferty, who is as good as any big in Furman’s recent basketball history, wasn’t able to say. I think I actually only remember Rafferty ever dunking a basketball twice in a game that I witnessed, but that wasn’t his style. He was crafty and tough. 

For Furman fans that go back a little ways, I’ll throw a name—see if it sticks. Slawson’s combination of athleticism, grace and skill reminds me of a Furman player that, like Slawson, probably never got the attention he deserved in his career, although for a different reason than Slawson.

For the French-born scoring talent Karim Souchu, he was a scoring and dunking machine, but in terms of overall team success, as talented as Furman was internationally, with point guard Brazilian-born Guillherme Da Luz also setting the school’s record for all-time assists, while Souchu was converting most of those Da Luz dimes into points to finish in the top five in school history in scoring. 

While Souchu was an outstanding talent on some mediocre basketball teams during his four years as a Paladin, Slawson has had to wait his turn. However, when Noah Gurley bolted for the portal and wound up in Tuscaloosa via a process much less dramatic than in Star Trek, Slawson saw his chance. He hasn’t relented. Swatting shots like flies on a Macon summer day—or gnats should you for some unknown reason go to far south and reach Statesboro—and he’s been he could have been Furman’s greatest NIL asset to date with as many proceeds that could come from his poster dunks of late. 

But Slawson is in a way completely focused on the task at hand. Much like the rest of the Paladins, at least at this point in the season. The senior forward finished the contest with his 11 points coming on a 2-of-4 effort from the field and a 1-for-3 effort from three-point land. He added a team-high tying seven rebounds, and led the Paladins in assists (8), steals (5), and blocks (1), rounding it all off with a 6-for-6 effort at the stripe.

Though Hien had 18 points and eight boards at Louisville, it could be argued his effort against the Bears was his best of the season. Like Slawson, Hien functioned at a high efficiency on both ends of the floor the entire night. Hien finished the night connecting on 5-of-10 his shooting attempts. He also added three boards and a pair of assists. 

Hughey’s career-best 11 came on 3-of-5 shooting from the field, which included a beautiful high-arching triple from the top of the key in the second half off of one of Furman’s 13 offensive rebounds. Hughey finished 1-for-3 from long range, while also adding seven boards to tie Slawson for team-high honors. 

Foster continued to show his improvements as a shooter by connecting on three three-pointers, going 3-for-6 from downtown, which equaled nine of his 11 points. He finished the night with a 4-for-10 overall effort from the field. Even more impressive than his improvement as an offensive player this season has been the lockdown defense Foster has provided on the other end, finishing with four steals, as he and Slawson combined for over half of Furman’s total of 16 thefts. 

Conley Garrison’s 10 points, which came on the heels of an impressive 22-point, eight rebound performance last time, rounded out the five Paladins in double figures. Garrison added two steals and two boards, and dished out one assist. Senior guards Mike Bothwell and Alex Hunter finished with eight and six points, respectively.

Hunter was creative as usual with three assists, and charted one of those steals. Bothwell had three boards, two steals and an assist. 

Mercer finished with just one player in double figures with point guard Kamar Robertson leading the Bears with 13, with James Glisson III’s seven points being the next highest total for the hometown Bears.. Furman held the Bears to their lowest point total of the season (50), holding the Bears to just 40.9% (18-of-44) from the field, and forced the Bears in to 22 turnovers, leading to a whopping 34-10 advantage in points from turnovers. 

Furman was again stellar in its rebounding, especially on the offensive boards, as well as its perimeter defense. The Paladins ripped down 13 offensive boards which led to a narrow 12-11 edge in second change points. Finally, the Paladins held Mercer to just 3-for-16 from three-point land, which equates to a 18.8% shooting clip from beyond the arc (18.8%) for the game. Furman finished the night with a 34-29 edge on the glass. Furman delivered

Felipe Haase, which was Mercer’s leading scorer coming into the matchup at 15.2 PPG, was held to six. 

Offensively, it was a decent overall performance, highlighted by a 20-assist night on 29 made baskets. The Paladins shot at a 47.5% (29-of-61) from the field, including a 36.4% (12-of-33) effort from three. 

I’ve drank that poisonous Purple kool-aid a time or three in the past, but when its been 42 years since the Paladins have gone with their best Lawrence Welk or Michael Jackson dance impersonation, you understand why that can be akin to Nick Saban’s ‘rat poison.’

I think the Paladins must be aware of that, or if they aren’t, teams like Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, Wofford, VMI and UNCG have a way of keeping you in the moment rather than drifting off into March daydreams. The good book tells us as much…That thing about pride and a fall. 

Staying the course has never been easy for Furman basketball. It’s 42-year drought  from March Madness is one of the longest streaks in NCAA basketball. So, while there’s moments to enjoy from all SoCon basketball, as a journalist, I have seen Furman win…I get what that’s like…

Only a few of us have seen it take place when it was all to play for. I was negative 57 days the last time it happened. In fact, among its SoCon brethren, only VMI, which has been in 45 years, and The Citadel, which has been never in however long the Bulldogs have bounced that orange sphere in the Port City. 

Up Next:

Furman hosts The Citadel Wednesday night with tip-off set for 7 p.m. at Timmons Arena.