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SoCon favorite Furman setting its own expectations

Furman will head into the season as prohibitive SoCon favorite

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NCAA Basketball: Furman at Louisville
Furman senior guard Mike Bothwell averaged 15.7 points per game last season.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Furman has won 153 basketball games since the start of the 2015-16 campaign but is still in search of its first SoCon hoops title since 1980.

The Paladins were ever so close to snapping their NCAA Tournament drought last season, reaching the championship but fell to Chattanooga on “the shot” as it has come to be known around Furman.

Furman finished an impressive 22-11 overall and 12-6 in SoCon play, which was good enough for second place in the regular season.

The influence of former head coach Niko Medved and current lead man Bob Richey have been immeasurable and have put the Paladins in as good of a position as they have been in in 42 years. Richey won his 100th game in Greenville against Mercer last season and heads into year six with a 111-46 overall record. He’s the fastest to 100 wins in Furman hoops history.

Furman welcomes back three starters, which includes two legitimate players of the year candidates: guard Mike Bothwell (15.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG) and forward Jalen Slawson (14.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG).

Slawson was quite simply a stat stuffer last season. He finished ranking second in the SoCon in steals (1.7 SPG), third in blocks (1.7 BPG), sixth in assists (3.7 APG), fifth in field goal percentage (48.4%), fourth in rebound average (7.4 RPG), 13th in scoring average (14.4 PPG) and eighth in free throw percentage (79.5%).

“When you look at this group and what they’ve built and what they’ve done in the last four full seasons…I mean 22-to-25 wins…These guys understand what it takes to win and they understand the process that leads to winning,” Richey said. “We have our own expectations, and when you have your own expectations and your own belief and your own culture and what it’s supposed to look like and how you are supposed to do it, you don’t have to really depend on the outside world to set their own expectations for you.

“Yes, there is an individual element to [expectations], but right now it’s about what we do collectively and how we get better as a team, and are we able to play connected basketball, and can we play complimentary basketball because both sides affect one another. Six practices in and one intra-squad scrimmage down, I am pleased with our effort and I am pleased with how hard they’re playing, but we have to get a lot cleaner and I know that will come.”

With that said, both Bothwell and Slawson lead in very different ways. One with action more than words, while the other usually has to temper his emotions, fostered by an environment of teammates that always make sure he doesn’t let those emotions get the best of him.

“I’ve led with a sense of freedom and a sense of appreciation to be back for a fifth year,” Bothwell said.

He has had joy in patience. It’s a palpable joy that not only is evident in Bothwell but throughout the entire team I came to find as I interacted with them on a couple of occasions this past week.

“Not a lot of guys in the country get the opportunity to play five years of basketball,” Bothwell said. “So me and [Slawson] try to have an appreciation for that with the team. I feel like its pouring in because we are just competing every day, and you don’t really see guys feeling sorry for themselves or taking days off and think that their role is satisfied...Everyone is hungry and looking for more and looking to step up because a lot of other guys are looking to prove themselves too.”

Losing two players like Alex Hunter and Conley Garrison won’t be easy for Richey. After all, the two played significant parts of a Paladin 3-point arsenal that connected on a Southern Conference record 401 three-pointers last season. In fact, Garrison and Hunter connected on 186 of the team’s 401 trifectas, which is nearly half (48.6%) of the team’s trifectas.

Marcus Foster (8.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG) is a key returning starter, as he really started to come on towards the latter half of the season.

Foster and Garrett Hien (5.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG) could be the x-factors for the Paladins this season. Foster is noticeably more polished as a ball-handler and his shot continues to improve from the perimeter. Look out for either Hien or Foster to make an All-SoCon team this season.

Last season several younger players took advantage of expanded minutes: Joe Anderson (4.7 PPG, 1.1 RPG), Tyrese Hughey (2.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG), Alex Williams (3.4 PPG, 0.6 RPG) and JP Pegues (3.3 PPG, 1.4 RPG).

Pegues has also become a straight-up scoring threat from all points on the court, and he’s also one of Furman’s top on-ball defenders. He relishes the opportunity to sit down and guard, especially against accomplished players.

The Paladins brought in a pair of talented 6-foot-7-inch freshman forwards in Ben VanderWal and Davis Molnar.

VanderWal was ranked as eighth and No. 21 best recruit in the state of Illinois by two different publications, while Molnar comes to the Paladins’ basketball program from Fayetteville, N.C. where he was a 3A All-American as a junior.

“We’ve had a whole team really put in the work during the offseason,” Richey said. “When you walk in and see five or six guys getting extra shots up, you kind of start to feel like this is what we do here.

“Iron sharpens iron, and I am a big believer in that. We’ve got a whole crew that we feel like has had a great summer and we’ve seen a lot of guys make progress...I think Pegues is a guy that we really feel like has made a jump this summer...Garrett [Hien] had a really good scrimmage on Saturday which is good to see...We know how good he can be and it’s about doing it consistently.”

Newcomer to Watch:

Carter Whitt (Wake Forest)—The 6-foot-3-inch guard comes to Furman after playing in 50 games over two seasons for the Demon Deacons. He was ranked No. 86 in ESPN’s Top 100 recruits and No. 63 in Rivals Top 150 during his senior season at Leesville Road High School, which is the same program that produced former Furman star point guard Alex Hunter.

Can’t Miss Non-Conference Game: Belmont

Nov. 11 vs. Belmont—The Paladins have a touch non-conference slate, but the showdown with Belmont should draw a lot of attention. The Bruins posted a 95-89 overtime win over the Paladins last season at the Curb Events Center in Nashville, Tenn. Since the start of the start of the 2015-16 season, the Paladins have been nearly unbeatable on its home floor of Timmons Arena with an impressive 84-14 since the start of the 2015-16 season.

Did You Know:

Since Richey took over as head coach in 2017-18, Furman is shooting 39.1% (1,650-of-4,149) from three-point land.

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