When Alex Hunter decided to take advantage of the fifth year of eligibility, he probably figured it allowed him one more shot to make the magic happen with fellow veteran senior teammates and good friends Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson as the trio looks to help Furman to a destination it hasn’t visited in over four decades—the NCAA Tournament.
At 9-6 and 1-1 in the Southern Conference following a 76-67 loss at VMI, there’s work to be done for Hunter, Bothwell and Slawson to turn this extra year into becoming the ultimate Paladin reward. That being said, both individually and collectively, it’s been quite a journey so far for the trio, and we’re just at the midway point of the 2021-22 season.
The trio has raised more than a few eyebrows through the first 15 games of the season, and they’re just getting started.
Each enjoyed a 30-point night at the office. That’s tough to find once in a season by one player sometimes, but it seems almost unheard of for three to do it prior to the end of December!
Slawson also recorded the school’s first-ever triple-double in its tradition-rich history as he posted 15 points, 12 assists in 10 rebounds in an 85-80 loss at Winthrop last month.
After his 33-point, 13-rebound effort against College of Charleston, as you might expect, emotions were high for a lot of different reasons as the senior was playing against a school just down the road from where he grew up.
“In terms of not getting rattled...I owe everything to my teammates,” Slawson said. “I owe everything to Mike [Bothwell], Alex Hunter, Garrett Hien, Conley Garrison...you know they help keep me even-keeled...I am pretty emotional, and when my emotions are really good, they are really good, but they can be really deflating, too, and these guys are really quick to call me out on it as my growth as one of our big-time leaders of our squad this year, I’ve taken it upon myself to listen and listen faster.”
That kind of accountability is the maturity and culture that has become engrained within Furman’s makeup during the Bob Richey era, and even going back to predecessor Niko Medved. Each team has had its different makeup, but all have submitted to the same code and philosophy.
However, the trio of Slawson, Hunter and Bothwell is trying to do something to distinguish themselves within the current winning culture that has been established.
Through the first 15 games, Slawson has been a model of consistency. The Summerville, S.C., native currently ranks seventh in the SoCon in scoring (16.2), third in rebounding (8.3), seventh in field goal percentage (51.7%), sixth in assists (4.1), first in steals (2.1) and third in blocks (1.8).
“God created a special person in Jalen Slawson,” Richey said following the win over College of Charleston. “He cares...He’s got it all...He’s got charisma...He’s got the ability to lead people...He cares about people.”
Hunter hunts down records and establishes his own legacy
Richey was overjoyed when Hunter announced he would be returning to play for the Paladins this season just prior to senior night against The Citadel at the end of last season.
Through 15 games this season, we can see why Richey was elated.
Hunter leads the team in scoring at 16.6 points per game, and with his 30-point effort at in a heartbreaking 69-66 setback at Mississippi State, Hunter became the third Paladin to score 30 or more points in a game during the 2021-22 campaign.
He is shooting 45% from 3-point range, leads the league with 56 made threes and continues to take excellent care of the basketball, leading the Southern Conference in assist/turnover ratio (2.9).
In the 81-49 win over Samford to open SoCon play, Hunter’s four assists helped him surpass 400 career helpers, as he joined elite former Paladin point guards, Hal Henderson (1989-92), Guilherme Da Luz (1999-2002), Ron Smith (1975-78) and Eric Webb (2004-07) as the only players in program history to score 1,000 points and dish out 400 assists in a career.
“Alex [Hunter] is a freaking warrior,” Slawson said following Furman’s win over Presbyterian. “Mentally... physically...I mean you can look at him and tell from his body language and emotions that he’s a freaking warrior.”
The win was the 97th Hunter had been a part of in a Paladin uniform, which made him the winningest player in Furman basketball history.
Hunter is on pace to go down as maybe the best point guard to ever put on a Paladin basketball uniform. His 261 career 3-pointers put him with him 28 away from becoming the school’s all-time record holder Jordan Lyons.
Hunter’s 406-career assists rank him fifth on the school’s all-time assists ledger.
Big Shot Bothwell
At times, Bothwell struggles with consistency as a top scorer in the league. He dropped 30 against Louisville in the second game of this season. He also went for 32 in a win over East Tennessee State in an early SoCon victory last season.
But for the most part, Bothwell has had to adapt and adjust to how teams defend him, which has led to some tough nights offensively, such as going scoreless against Mississippi State. However, for the most part, he’s been able to score the basketball in different ways. He has scored over 20 four times this season.
Because of that versatility, he might be the player who worries opposing head coaches the most simply due to the fact that he can drive the basketball if his shots aren’t falling from beyond the arc.
If there’s one thing that Bothwell has become known for, however, it’s the ability to knock down big shots in the clutch. It’s been the case since very early in his Paladin career.
Furman has been in four overtime this season, and in each of them, Bothwell has been a major influencer in keeping the Paladins alive or helping them to the victory in each of them.
In Furman’s double-overtime win at High Point, he made a crucial layup with time winding down to force the first overtime and then again in the extra period to a second OT. The Paladins held on for a 74-70 win. Despite these heroics, he finished with 11 points on just 5-for-20 shooting.
If the High Point game wasn’t enough for one to believe in Bothwell’s big-shot prowess, one need look no further than the College of Charleston game for further evidence. He hit a bank shot with time winding down to tie the game and ultimately send it to overtime in a game when Furman had trailed nearly the entire night. This was probably the best example of what he can do with the game on the line.
Like Hunter, Bothwell joined the 1,000-point club in non-conference play, achieving the feat in a home win over Appalachian State.
Entering Wednesday night’s game against defending SoCon champion UNCG, Bothwell is averaging 15.1 points per game, ranking third on the team in scoring, and 4.3 rebounds per game. He heads into the tilt with the Spartans having scored in double figures in three-straight games, and he’s starting to find his rhythm once again. Bothwell’s work as a defender is underrated as well.
What does the future hold for this trio?
Beyond Furman, one would imagine this trio has a bright future on professional basketball courts somewhere in the world should the three pursue that path going forward.
When this trio is functioning at a high level, no one in the SoCon can seemingly compete. It will be tough to tame them in Asheville in March.