Razorbacks expect big test from Furman

Furman guard JP Pegues (1) talks with head coach Bob Richey, right, during the second half of a first-round college basketball game against Virginia in the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks hope their second basketball game against a Southern Conference team this season goes better than the first.

North Carolina-Greensboro, picked to finish second in the Southern Conference this season behind Furman in a preseason poll, beat Arkansas 78-72 at Bud Walton Arena on Nov. 17.

Razorbacks coach Eric Musselman had been 58-0 in home non-conference games at Nevada and Arkansas.

Furman (4-4) plays Arkansas (5-3) at 7 tonight at Walton Arena.

“We’ve pointed it out for sure,” Musselman said Saturday of making sure the Razorbacks are aware they’re playing the Southern Conference favorite. “We’ve still got 48 hours [before the game], and we’re going to continue to point that out.”

Bob Richey has a 143-59 record in his seventh season as Furman’s coach and last season he led the Paladins to a 28-8 record and their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1980.

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Furman was a No. 13 seed and beat No. 4 seed Virginia 68-67 at Orlando, Fla., on JP Pegues’ three-point basket with 2.4 seconds left after a steal by Garrett Hien.

Pegues, a 6-1 junior guard, and Hien, a 6-9 senior forward, are among three returning starters for the Paladians this season. They also have seven of their top nine scorers back from last season.

Marcus Foster, a 6-4 senior guard and returning starter, is averaging a team-high 19.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Pegues is averaging 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists. Hien is averaging 7.0 points and 4.6 rebounds.

Furman is 54-24 since the start of the 2021-22 season.

“This is a team that’s got some returning players that have won a lot of games,” Musselman said. “Furman is one of the best-coached teams in the entire country. They do a great job playing off their elbows [on the lane] with their big men. And then they do a great job of backdoor cutting.

“They have great shooting at the 1, 2, 3 and 4 spots. Their big guy [Hien] does a great job rim running.”

The Paladins are averaging 82.3 points, 8.8 three-point baskets and 8.1 steals.

“They play with great pace off makes and misses,” Musselman said. “Their point guard [Pegues] does a great job of controlling pace.”

Furman 6-5 junior forward Alex Williams, averaging 11.3 points, is from Cincinnati Arch Bishop Moeller — the same high school as Arkansas senior guard Jeremiah Davenport.

PJay Smith, a 6-0 junior guard averaging 10.6 points, leads the Paladins in three-point shooting, hitting 16 of 40. Pegues has hit 14 of 43 and Foster 15 of 53.

Furman lost 70-69 on Saturday at Princeton, which improved to 8-0.

The Paladins led 67-58 with 3:18 left, but turned the ball over on their next four possessions as Princeton rallied and won on Matt Allocco’s three-pointer with 4.2 seconds left.

Furman shot 49% (25 of 51) and hit 8 of 23 three-pointers, but had 19 turnovers. Princeton outscored the Paladins 28-2 in points off of turnovers.

The Razorbacks are coming into tonight’s game off an 80-75 victory over No. 7 Duke in the ACC/SEC Challenge played in front of a Walton Arena-record crowd of 20,344.

Thousands of fans stormed Nolan Richardson Court after the game and celebrated with the Razorbacks.

The challenge for Musselman and his staff is to make sure the Razorbacks are focused on Furman after the emotional high of beating Duke.

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“Practice and demand and have accountability and demand a little bit more and try to demand a little bit more after that,” Musselman said of the keys of getting ready for Furman. “I mean, I don’t know what else to do after that other than prepare the same way we prepared for Duke. That’s the recipe that you want to try to have.”

Kentucky also enjoyed a big victory in the ACC/SEC Challenge when the No. 12 Wildcats beat No. 8 Miami 95-73 at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night in Lexington, Ky.

But the Wildcats played at home again Saturday and lost to the North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks 80-73.

The Seahawks (5-2) play at Arkansas on Dec. 30 before the Razorbacks open SEC play against Auburn.

UNC-Wilmington was picked to finish second in the Coastal Athletic Association preseason poll behind College of Charleston.

Drexel, picked to finish third in the CAA, beat No. 18 Villanova 57-55 on Saturday.

“As we’ve talked about over and over, we try to schedule teams we think can win their league to better position ourselves, if we win games,” Musselman said. “If we don’t win games, it doesn’t help at all.

“But I think if you look at the schools we have on our schedule moving forward, there are some really, really good basketball teams.”

Other upsets on Saturday included Georgia Tech beating Duke 82-78 and Wisconsin beating No. 3 Marquette 75-64.

“We talk every day about how it’s happening across college basketball,” Musselman said of favorites losing. “So you’ve got to really, really be ready to play every single game.”