Saturday, December 8, 2018

Paladins rally past Spartans, improve to 10-0

Furman freshman Noah Gurley scored a career-high 15 points in the
Paladins' 74-60 win at USC Upstate Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
SPARTANBURG - No matter the size of the arena it plays in or length of the trip it makes, the No. 25-ranked Furman men's basketball team continues to be road warriors. The Paladins trailed at the half for just the third this season Saturday night at USC Upstate, but used a 24-4 run early in the second half to roll to a 74-60 win.

It's the 16th consecutive regular season win for Furman (10-0) dating back to last season. The Paladins are the first Southern Conference team to open the season 10-0 since Lefty Driesell's 1963-64 Davidson team won its first 15 games. Furman has won eight consecutive road games for the first time in 86 years.

"Seven of our 10 that played today are underclassmen. Usually what you hear about young teams is they can't win on the road. What I've learned is that it's not about how old or young you are, it's about how mature you are," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "This team is younger than many I've been involved with, but it's a very mature group."

Winning as a favorite on the road is another new lesson Furman has had to learn. Richey said self-inflicted pressure seemed to cause the first-half issues Saturday.

"It was just about our spirit (in the second half). We had to play with more joy. You could see a little pressurized group in that first half," Richey said. "I told them at halftime, 'there's no pressure in being 9-0. The pressure is when you're 0-9.'
"We just had a little bit more fun and I thought you could see that early in the second half."

The other times Furman rallied from halftime deficits this season came before sellout crowds of 4,963 at Loyola-Chicago and 6,501 at Villanova. Saturday's game was a near sellout, albeit in a very different atmosphere from Chicago or Philly. A crowd of 833 packed into Upstate's Hodge Center, which is the smallest basketball venue in Division I with a capacity of 878. There was plenty of purple in the crowd to see the Paladins make their shortest road trip (it's closer than Wofford by two miles) this season.

That crowd saw a back-and-forth first half that featured three ties and seven lead changes. The Paladins shot just 35.3 percent from the floor, including 31.3 (5-of-16) on 3-pointers, for its second-lowest scoring opening half of the season as they trailed 34-30 at the break.

Things changed in the second half as Furman shot 59.3 percent from the floor, including 53.8 percent (7-of-13) from beyond the arc. This came on the heels of the Paladins shooting 66.7 percent after halftime at Elon on Tuesday.

The Paladins got a big swing of momentum right off the bat in the second half. Seven seconds into the half, the Spartans' Malik Moore stole the ball from Clay Mounce and was headed for a dunk. Mounce didn't give up on the play however and got the rebound when Moore's jam missed. After soaring in for the dunk attempt, Moore got tangled up with someone behind the basket. With a 5-on-4 advantage, Furman's Noah Gurley drove to the hole, scored and was fouled. Gurley, who opened the game with a 3-pointer, completed the 3-point play 15 seconds into the second half.

"I think the good Lord helped us there," Richey said. "You go from being down six with the crowd going crazy to instead getting energy and only being down one."

After Jordan Lyons hit a jumper, Matt Rafferty came up with a steal. The led to a Lyons' 3-pointer that gave Furman the lead for good at 38-36 with 17:47 left. Those five points by Lyons started a 12-0 runs for the Paladins capped by Rafferty's putback tip-in that pushed the lead to 45-36 with 15:54 left. Another Lyons' 3-pointer staked Furman to its largest lead at 63-45 with 7:10 left.

Lyons led Furman with 20 points, while Gurley finished with a career-high 15 points. After being held to two points on 1-of-2 shooting in the first half, Rafferty finished with 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocked shots. Alex Hunter was the lone other Paladin in double figures with 10 points.

Moore had 24 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Spartans (2-8).

"In the first half, we were kind of tight and not really us. ... Once we got into our flow, easy buckets started coming," Gurley said. "The way I got going, I just got a pass from Alex for an easy layup. ... We all feed off each other and that's why we've been playing so well. There's not one selfish ego on this team."

Along with his 10 points Saturday, Hunter also had seven assists, seven rebounds, two steals, one blocked shot and no turnovers. Over the last three games, the sophomore point guard has 39 points, 24 assists, 16 rebounds, five steals and just three turnovers in 113 minutes played.

"Putting Alex Hunter out there is like turning water on. Nobody ever goes to the faucet and questions it. You just assume the water's going to come out," Richey said. "You know he's going to play hard and with a lot of purpose in what he does. We're just glad he's our point guard."

Brown's back
Andrew Brown had three points in 12 minutes off the bench in his first game back since suffering an injury against Loyola on Nov. 9. Brown drained his first three-point attempt for his lone points.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Team effort helps Paladins thump Elon

Alex Hunter had a career-high 18 points, seven assists and one turnover
in Furman's 98-77 win at Elon Tuesday night. Photo courtesy of Furman
Coming off a double-overtime win on Saturday in which four Furman players saw at least 44 minutes of action, Paladin coach Bob Richey went to his bench early and often Tuesday night at Elon. Plenty of Paladins contributed and seven of them scored at least nine points in 25th-ranked Furman's 98-77 win.

In their last road game nine days earlier at UNC Asheville, the Paladins allowed the fewest points they had in a road game in eight years in a 65-51 win. On Tuesday, the Paladins scored the most points they've had on the road in 25 years. It was the highest road output since a 103-98 win at Charleston Southern on Dec. 18, 1993.

"I think that's one of the beauties of this team. It's really a group that can potentially beat you on both ends of the floor," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "That's what good teams do. It's not are you a good offensive team or a good defensive team. You've got to be complete.
"We thought tempo was going to be an advantage in this game. We wanted to get the ball out quick ... and really see if we could get into their legs in the second half. I thought it worked."

It's the 15th consecutive regular season win for Furman (9-0) dating back to last season, including its seventh straight road victory. To put that in some perspective, the Paladins won a grand total of eight road games over a four-season stretch from 2012-13 to 2015-16.

"To me, basketball's a game of mentality. To go win games on the road, you've got to be that much tougher in your mindset because you've got more things going against you," Richey said. "You've got to make sure that you stick together and battle through adversity."

While the Paladins are obviously having a whale of a season thus far, they entered Tuesday having not shot all that well from the perimeter lately. But Furman knocked down 15-of-32 3-pointers, including 7-of-10 from players coming off the bench. Reserve Mike Bothwell hit a 3-pointer to give Furman a 14-7 lead at the 13:28 mark of the first half, while reserve Jaylon Pugh gave the Paladins their biggest lead of the first half at 21-7 on a 3-pointer less than two minutes later. Pugh went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, while Bothwell was 3-of-6.

Elon (3-6) whittled a 10-point halftime deficit down to three at 55-52 with 12 minutes to go before Furman regained command. The Paladins led 69-61 with 8:26 left when they went on an 18-3 run over the next 3:19. Alex Hunter had nine points during the run as he scored all of his career-high 18 points after halftime. He also had seven assists, four rebounds, three steals and one turnover. Over the last two games, the sophomore point guard has 29 points, 17 assists and three turnovers in 76 minutes of action.

"In two games, 17 assists and three turnovers. Where do see that?" Richey said. "There's just certain people who understand what it takes to win.
"He's just getting better every time he goes out there. I think he's only going to get better and continue to be more aggressive offensively. I'm really happy to see his progress."

Matt Rafferty also had 18 points - on 9-of-11 shooting from the floor. Clay Mounce had 17 points, nine rebounds, four assists and no turnovers. Jordan Lyons scored 13 points and Bothwell had 11. Noah Gurley and Pugh each scored nine points. The Paladins finished with 24 assists, including 17 in the second half as Furman shot 66.7 percent (22-of-33) from the floor after halftime.

"Our ball movement was the best it's been all year," Richey said. "It contributed a lot to the perimeter shots."

Rafferty earns monthly honor
The Southern Conference announced this week that Matt Rafferty has been named the men's basketball player of the month for November. Rafferty led Furman to a 7-0 start in November and was fourth in the SoCon in scoring (18.4 points per game), fourth in rebounding (8.7 per game), third in assists (4.7 per game) and tied for fifth in steals (1.6) and blocked shots (1.3) for the month. No other SoCon player was in the top 15 in more than three of those categories for November

Monday, December 3, 2018

Paladins ranked 25th; Timmons rocking

A packed student section was part of a raucous home crowd at Furman
Saturday for the Paladins' double-overtime win. Photo courtesy of Furman
There have been plenty of "firsts" accomplished by the Furman men's basketball team over the last few years. In Saturday's 90-88 double overtime win over Western Carolina, the Paladins had three players post double-doubles in the game game for the first time since an overtime win against Villanova in December of 1989. It also marked marked Furman's first double overtime win since a 103-94 victory at ETSU in February of 1992.

On Monday afternoon, Furman recorded a first off the floor when it entered this week's AP Top 25 poll at No. 25. It's the first time in school history the Paladins have been ranked. Shortly after the poll was released at noon, Coach Bob Richey's day got off course.

"I'm sitting here watching film on (Tuesday's opponent) Elon and all of a sudden, my phone starts blowing up," Richey said. "You've got to celebrate great moments, but at the same time you've got to make sure you focus on substance, not hype.
"We've got to continue to focus on what got us to this point. If you keep doing things, there will be more 'first times.' If you get caught up in these things, you can set yourself up for disappointment."

Furman is the first SoCon team to appear in the AP poll since a Stephen Curry-led Davidson team was ranked No. 22 on Dec. 15, 2008.

The ranking comes after Furman's off to its first 8-0 start in school history. The start has been marked by thrilling, signature wins over two of last year's Final Four participants in Loyola-Chicago and Villanova, as well as Jordan Lyons' tying the NCAA's single-game record for 3-pointers with 15. After going eight years without an overtime win, Saturday's victory moved Furman to 3-0 in overtime games this season. The last time the Paladins had three overtime wins was in the 1960-61 season.

"This is a great group that has a ton of resolve. We've been fortunate to win a lot of close games in some gritty environments and in some wild circumstances," Richey said. "We're looking forward to continuing to build with this group."

Home court advantage
Furman coaches and players agreed that Saturday's raucous crowd deserved a lot of credit in helping the Paladins pull out the victory. A crowd of 2,131 showed up on Saturday to create an atmosphere not seen all that often at Timmons Arena, but this year's team has certainly earned a home environment like that. Among those in the crowd was nearly 500 Furman students.

"There was a phenomenal energy in the gym today. That was a big-time effort by our students to come out. Besides Wofford (games), I can't remember having students come out like that," Richey said afterwards. "We want to make sure that we thank those students. That means a lot and is really important to us.
"I'm just thankful that we were able to find a way to get a win for them and for the community. It's nice to see that energy coming."

After struggling to hit shots for much of the night, Lyons nailed the game-tying 3-pointer with 22 seconds left to force overtime. He ended up with a game-high 29 points. Matt Rafferty (21 points, 15 rebounds), Clay Mounce (17 points, 13 rebounds) and Alex Hunter (11 points, 10 assists) had double-doubles Saturday.

"The crowd was amazing tonight. This is one of the best home environments that I've been in, if not the best since I've been here," Lyons said. "That really fuels us. In a double-overtime game like this, the fans are rocking and the place is loud. As players, we feed off that energy.
"Hopefully they continue to come out, because they don't even know how much we appreciate it as players. It helps us much more than they know. ... They truly helped us get this win."

Mr. Clutch
Saturday's clutch shot was just another in what's becoming a trend for Lyons this season. In each of the Paladins' four close wins this season, Lyons has had a significant score down the stretch.

  • Furman trailed by at many as 13 in the second half at Loyola. The Paladins came all the way back to pull even on Lyons' 3-pointer with 3:02 left.
  • Against Gardner-Webb, Furman trailed 83-80 when Lyons hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 2:07 left. Just more than 20 seconds later, Lyons had a steal and layup that gave the Paladins the lead for good.
  • Furman trailed Villanova 60-58 with 48 seconds left in regulation when Lyons sank a pair of free throws to help force overtime.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Paladins edge Catamounts in double overtime

Furman point guard Alex Hunter celebrates the Paladins' 90-88 double
overtime win over Western Carolina Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Well, nobody said getting to 8-0 would be easy.

Furman overcame a four-point deficit with 30 seconds left in regulation. It overcame blowing a five-point lead in overtime. In the end, it found a way to gut out a 90-88 double overtime win against Western Carolina in the Southern Conference opener Saturday before a raucous crowd at Timmons Arena.

Tre Clark only had four points off the bench for the Paladins (8-0, 1-0) Saturday, but one of his two shots is the one that put Furman ahead for good. His layup with 2:57 left in the second overtime snapped the 16th tie of the game as the Paladins went up 84-82. The lead stretched to seven on a pair of Clay Mounce free throws with 33 seconds left. While the Catamounts (2-7, 0-1) hit three layups over the final 18 seconds, Furman held on for the win.

It's the Paladins' first double-overtime win since an 89-81 victory at The Citadel on Feb. 16, 1991.

"It was certainly not our best performance, but it's a win. We'll celebrate any win," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "I told the guys in the locker room, 'I love y'all to death, but y'all took maybe a year or two off my life tonight.' But give our guys credit. Down four with a minute to go and they find a way."

Getting to overtime didn't look very promising when Carlos Dotson - who was an unstoppable beast after halftime - hit a layup with 38 seconds left to push Western Carolina's lead to 66-62. After Mounce missed a 3-pointer, Alex Hunter captured the offensive rebound and was fouled with 28 seconds left. Hunter made both free throws before the Catamounts' Onno Steger hit 1-of-2 free throws make it 67-64 with 27 seconds left.

Over the span of the next five seconds, Hunter fired a pass to Jordan Lyons, who nailed the game-tying 3-pointer. WCU's season leading scorer, Matt Halvorsen, missed a 3-pointer with one second left and the game went to overtime.

Prior to that 3-pointer, Lyons was 6-for-20 from the floor including 2-of-11 on 3-pointers. After making their first two 3-pointers 86 seconds into the game, the Paladins hit just 1-of-19 until before Lyons' game-tying shot. Just as he so often has before, Lyons wanted to take the clutch shot and knew it was going down.

"You've got to have a shooter's mentality. You can never worry about your last shot," Lyons said. "I shoot a lot of shots because I every one of them's going in. That's a testament to my teammates and coaches for putting that kind of confidence in me as well."

Lyons opened the overtime with a pair of free throws before hitting a 3-pointer to give Furman a five-point lead with 3:39 left. Hunter's layup with 2:23 left made it 76-71 Paladins. But Western came back to tie it thanks to a steal and 3-pointer by Kameron Gibson with 1:29 left. Furman had a missed layup and a turnover on its last two possessions to send the game to another overtime.

Eleven seconds into the second overtime, Lyons drained a 3-pointer to cap his 29-point night and whip the crowd into a frenzy. He later had an assist on Matt Rafferty's layup with 59 seconds left that pushed Furman's lead to 87-82.

Hunter had eight of his 11 points over the final 28 seconds of regulation and both overtimes. In 45 minutes of play, the sophomore point guard had 11 points, a career-high 10 assists, five rebounds and only two turnovers. Perhaps most importantly, he held Halvorsen to three points on 1-of-15 shooting from the floor, including 1-of-13 on 3-pointers. Entering Saturday, Halvorsen was averaging 14.4 points a game and shooting 44.2 percent from beyond the arc.

"Part of the reason that we were able to have success today was because of Alex Hunter's on-ball defense. It's elite," Richey said. "When you see Matt Halvorsen, who's a phenomenal shooter, go 1-for-15 from the floor, that's because of the pressure (Hunter) had on him. The on-ball defense that he had to endure all night just wears you out."

Hunter was one of three Paladins with a double-double. Rafferty had 21 points, 15 rebounds, four blocked shots, three steals and two assists. He also managed to stay in the game all the way despite drawing a fourth foul with 6:27 left in regulation. Clay Mounce had 17 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and three blocks.

"We found ourselves in a situation that wasn't ideal, but we just stick together," Hunter said. "Sticking together is why we've had the success that we've had so far."

After Western Carolina hit 8-of-17 3-pointers in the first half, it made just 2-of-20 the rest of the way. The Catamounts hung around after being more aggressive inside and getting to the foul line. After one offensive rebound in the first half, WCU had 15 the rest of the way. Dotson had no points and six rebounds in the first half, but the former Dorman High standout finished with 27 points and 14 boards.

Richey said the Paladins should expect more tests like this, especially as long as they stay undefeated.

"As I told the team, a fat pig gets slaughtered. We've got to make sure that we don't start to think that we're something we're not," Richey said. "We've got to show up every day. ... We're going to get people's best shot.
"Western Carolina played really hard and physical. They had a great game plan on both sides and we're fortunate to come out on the good side of it."

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Paladins turn up defense to stay unbeaten

Matt Rafferty had 20 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in Furman's
65-51 win at UNC Asheville Sunday. Photo courtesy of Furman
ASHEVILLE - As it turns out, the Furman men's basketball team can win road games against non-Final Four teams as well this season. After their much-celebrated wins at Loyola-Chicago and Villanova, the Paladins made their third road trip of the season Sunday to UNC Asheville. They left with a 65-51 win to maintain their best start in school history at 7-0.

Sunday's highlights won't be displayed all over ESPN like Furman's other road wins this season. However, earning a convincing, business-like win on the road in an atmosphere more like they will see the rest of the season suited Coach Bob Richey just fine.

"It's really easy to get up for 5,000 people in a sellout (Loyola) and 9,000 people in a sellout (Villanova), but what are you going to do in a regular environment at our level when you've got to bring the energy," Richey said. "We're great teammates through energy. We play defense through energy and move the ball to create energy. ... For the most part, I thought we did that today."

After scoring 22 points in Furman's 83-72 home win over UNC Asheville last year, Matt Rafferty got plenty of attention from the Bulldogs on Sunday. Despite hitting the floor numerous times, Rafferty persevered with 20 points, 11 rebounds and five assists to lead the way. Jordan Lyons was the lone other Furman player in double figures with 18 points.

Despite the physical nature of the game at time, Furman committed just six fouls and forced 18 turnovers. Halfway through the first half, seven different Bulldogs had at least one turnover. The Paladins enjoyed a 21-11 advantage in points off turnovers and dominated down low with 40 points in the paint. The Paladins also had 17 assists on 27 baskets and nine steals.

The 51 points Furman allowed were the fewest given up in a road game since a 60-49 win at North Florida eight years ago. The Paladins held UNCA's leading scorer DeVon Baker, who entered averaging 16.2 points per game, to eight points on 3-of-11 shooting.

"It all starts with our defense. We didn't play the way we wanted to against Southern Wesleyan (on Wednesday) and we knew that," Rafferty said. "We played tough on defense and really locked them down at times. It was a good game overall."

Furman held a 22-18 lead with less than eight minutes left in the first half. Back-to-back layups by Rafferty and a Lyons' 3-pointer started a 16-4 run for the Paladins over the final 7:50 to take a 16-point lead into halftime.

UNCA (1-5) opened the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead to 10. Lyons answered with a 3-pointer to start at 12-2 run as Furman took its biggest lead of the game at 50-30. The Paladins never led by fewer than 14 the rest of the way.

Richey was pleased with much more of a complete effort than what Furman showed last time out against Southern Wesleyan on Wednesday. The Paladins will look to keep up the momentum when Southern Conference play begins Saturday at home against Western Carolina.

"Friday's practice really set the tone for this game. We wanted to have a good, 90-minute intense practice and get back to what we do - being great teammates, flying around on defense and moving the ball offensively," Richey said. "I thought we got back to who we are then ... and I thought we did what we needed to do today."

Richey added that the biggest takeaway from Sunday's game was Furman's need to continue to make its depth better. He said they also have to develop that depth quicker than in past years.

"When I say better I mean they've got be able to execute and know what we're doing," Richey said. "This is the first time we saw the matchup zone. I thought our main guys executed phenomenally on it. We shot layup after layup. All of sudden when we get into our depth, they kind of start looking around wondering what to do. That's the grind of college athletics.
"We're done with November and we're 7-0, which hasn't been done before and I'm proud of these guys. We know what are strengths are and what we're capable of. We know that we can go on the road in big-time venues and get wins. But the key to this thing is, can we be sitting here in a month before the meat of the league schedule and see that we've gotten better? That's going to be the biggest challenge."

• Clay Mounce was limited to 22 minutes Sunday as he took as shot to the back late in the first half. After starting the second half, Mounce went back to the locker room for a bit before returning to the bench then the game again. Richey said Mounce should be fine. Andrew Brown, who's been out with a foot injury since the Loyola game, didn't play Sunday but did dress out for the first time since then. Richey said Brown's progressing well, but they're still playing it safe.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Paladins bewildered by FCS playoff snub

Clay Hendrix looks on during the Furman's 35-30 win at Mercer, which
clinched the Paladins' 14th SoCon championship. Photo courtesy of Furman
Furman football has much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. In Clay Hendrix's second year as head coach, the Paladins won six of their last seven games to earn a share of their Southern Conference record 14th conference championship. The run included a four-game winning streak to end the regular season, three of which came on the road.

Unfortunately for Furman, that's how the season came to an end. The FCS playoff selection committee deemed the Paladins not worthy of at-large bid to the FCS' 24-team postseason. Following Saturday's regular season finales, including Furman's 35-30 win at Mercer, quite a few FCS prognosticators had the Paladins in their projected fields. Going by Sagarin computer rankings would've also put Furman among the 14 at-large tearms. But they weren't even included in the committee's "last three teams out" of the field.

As his team gathered to watch Sunday's selection show, Hendrix used a football analogy to describe the process of watching the selections get revealed to his team.

"When you're a running back and you carry the ball, but when you come up at the end of the play and you don't have the ball. Even though you said you were down and you might have been down, you're putting that in someone else's hands to make that decision," Hendrix said. "I said that's what this (selection show) is - putting it in someone else's hands.
"But I thought we earned our way in."

Afterwards, he tried to console a disappointed group.

"I told them that if this is the worst thing that ever happens to them, they'll have a good life," Hendrix said. "We did all we could do down the stretch, but we got penalized for getting off to a bad start. I'll remember last night (celebrating a share of the SoCon title) much more than today or next week for that matter."

Furman is just the second Southern Conference champion to not make the FCS playoffs. Chattanooga shared the 2013 title with Furman and Samford, but didn't make the field after losing its last two games of the season at Samford and at Alabama. Ironically, both Furman this year and Chattanooga that year had lopsided wins over the SoCon's automatic bid winners. The Paladins beat Wofford 34-14 this year, while the Mocs beat Furman 31-9 in 2013.

The lone other SoCon team to make this year's field was ETSU, which was among the "last three teams in" the field. While times are obviously much different for the once well-respected SoCon, that's not the case for the Colonial Athletic Association. A record six CAA teams made this year's field.

"That's shocking to me," Hendrix said Sunday following the selection show. "If they were all playing each other, they wouldn't be talking about six teams because they would beat each other out.
"Maine played two of the other five (CAA playoff teams) and they get the automatic bid and a seed."

Of the five other CAA teams that made the field, Maine only played Towson and Elon. The Black Bears only conference loss came to 4-6 William & Mary. Maine also lost to 5-5 Yale.

Elon (6-4) played four CAA playoff teams, which included the Phoenix snapping James Madison's 22-game CAA win streak. After losing its starting quarterback and running back to season-ending injuries, Elon lost three of its last five games including its last two.

Delaware (7-4) played three CAA playoff teams. Half of the Blue Hens' losses came to teams that didn't make the field, including a 42-21 home loss to Villanova (5-6) on Saturday. It takes a two-game losing streak into the playoffs.

Towson (7-4) actually played all the other CAA playoff teams - and went 1-3 over the last four weeks against them. As a reward for that performance down the stretch, Towson gets to host the lowest (Sagarin) rated team in the field, Duquesne, in round one.

James Madison (8-3) played three CAA playoff teams. The No. 6-ranked Dukes' resume includes an 11-point loss to 4-7 New Hampshire and non-conference wins over Norfolk State and Robert Morris.

And then there's Stony Brook (7-4), who played three CAA playoff teams. Stony Brook opened the season with a non-conference slate of a 38-0 loss at 4-7 Air Force before wins over Bryant and Fordham. Stony Brook ended the season Saturday with a loss at Albany, which was 2-8 and 0-7 in the CAA entering the game.

"Some of them (CAA teams), there's no question they deserve to be in ... but that's a farce," Hendrix said. "That'd be like us not having to play Wofford and Samford every other year."

The CAA's advantage in its structure is highlighted when looking at the Missouri Valley Conference. Led by No. 1 seed North Dakota State, the MVC has four of the top six FCS teams in the Sagarin ratings. Only three are headed to the playoffs though because all the MVC teams actually play each other, for the most part. It's a 10-team league where each member plays eight conference games, so every team plays all but one team in the league.

MVC member Indiana State (7-4) was the biggest FCS playoff snub per Sagarin. Among the eligible at-large teams, they were the highest-rated at No. 138, followed by No. 139 Montana and No. 148 Furman.

"For us (SoCon) to get two teams in, our league was penalized for being really balanced," Hendrix said. "I guess we should just go to 12 teams and two divisions. ... If you catch it right, you won't have to play the best teams."

The biggest head-scratcher has to be the fact that three Southland teams made the field, including at-large bids for first-time playoff participants Incarnate Word and Lamar. Samford, the SoCon's fourth-place team, had a higher Sagarin rating that any Southland team. Five SoCon teams rank higher than No. 173 Incarnate Word, while seven SoCon teams are ahead of No. 186 Lamar. Lamar's resume includes losses to 5-6 Northwestern State, 4-7 Southeastern Louisiana and a 77-0 loss to FBS member Texas Tech (5-6).

Southland champion Nicholls State gets to host San Diego, who earned the automatic bid out of the non-scholarship, non-defense Pioneer League. At No. 202 in Sagarin, San Diego is the second lowest-rated team in the field and had a strength of schedule that ranked No. 249. San Diego went 9-2 this season, including overcoming a 789-yard rushing performance by Davidson a 56-52 home win. The FCS playoff committee is chaired by Brad Teague, AD of the Southland's Central Arkansas, by the way.

Duquesne, who earned the automatic bid out of the Northeast Conference, ranks No. 209 in Sagarin. It's one of six playoff teams, including four at-large teams, that Furman ranks ahead of in Sagarin.

While there a few teams who will still be playing football the next two Saturdays that had one or more losses to teams with losing records, that wasn't the case for Furman. The Paladins' losses came to Clemson, a healthy Elon team that ended James Madison's 22-game CAA winning streak, SoCon co-champion ETSU and a Samford team that beat all three SoCon champions. Of those four losses, Furman starting quarterback Harris Roberts only played more than half a quarter against ETSU because of injuries. That was also Roberts' first game with any significant snaps in his career.

There's also plenty of playoff teams who don't have a win as impressive as Furman's 20-point win over Wofford, which was ranked No. 4 nationally at the time.

"They say the schedule matters, but obviously it didn't," Hendrix said. "And what does it matter to play your best at the end of the year?
"I just hate it for our kids because I don't know of anybody who had more adversity than we did."

Of all things, the weather could be partly to blame for Furman's snub as well. While Clemson was able to host Georgia Southern at noon on the Saturday that Hurricane Florence threatened, other teams in the Carolinas moved their games up from Saturday. But Colgate didn't want to visit Furman earlier to get in a rematch of a game that the Paladins won on the road, 45-17, last season. So Furman didn't get a chance against a team it led 31-0 less than 20 minutes into the game in 2017, and could find nobody else willing to play on the Paladins' off date.

"I'm sitting there thinking if we had played a Division I non-scholarship team, we'd be in," Hendrix said. "There was a team or two from a league that could've played us and wouldn't play.
"They can say what they want, but we got penalized for the hurricane."

The cancellation certainly didn't hurt Colgate (9-1). Facing a schedule that ranks 223rd-toughest in Division I, Colgate went undefeated against FCS teams to get a No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

Of course, all this could've been avoided for Furman if it had not blown a 27-6 third quarter lead in a 29-27 loss at ETSU. If the Paladins held on that night and everything else went like it did, Furman would've been the SoCon's outright champion and in the playoffs with the automatic bid.

But why does a bad quarter-and-a-half against a conference champion haunt Furman while other at-large teams had losses to teams with losing records? While Elon seems to have received the benefit of the doubt for its late-season injuries, the same courtesy wasn't granted to Furman over its early-season ones.

Some may point at the lack of a impressive non-conference win as what doomed the SoCon on Sunday. But one has to wonder what the Southland's impressive non-conference showing was? Nicholls overtime win at FBS' punching bag Kansas? Surely, you can't be serious.

In terms of national respect for the SoCon, does having the FCS' all-time passing leader, Samford's Devlin Hodges, playing for the fourth-place team not count for anything?

Something's definitely not right here, but there's nothing Furman can do about it now. While it's an especially tough deal for senior leaders such as captains Jaylan Reid, Aaquil Annoor and Roberts, there will be 29 different juniors, sophomores and freshmen who earned starts in 2018 coming back next season. That doesn't include freshman bandit Adrian Hope, who led all of Division I in sacks with 15 despite not making one start.

It's a pretty safe bet they'll be back in 2019 with a big chip on their shoulders.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Paladins improve to 6-0 for first time ever

Tre Clark scored a career-high 10 points in Furman's 74-57 win over
Southern Wesleyan Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman
It wasn't the prettiest encore to one of the biggest wins in school history, but Furman did what was necessary against a Division II opponent Wednesday night at Timmons Arena. Matt Rafferty scored a game-high 18 points - all in the first half - to lead the Paladins to a 74-57 win over Southern Wesleyan.

While Furman improved to 6-0 for the first time in school history, there was nothing else particularly noteworthy Wednesday. A media circus has buzzed around the team for two weeks, hitting an all-time high following the Paladins' overtime win at reigning national champion Villanova Saturday. Following all of that, a ho-hum 17-point win Wednesday was just fine with Furman coach Bob Richey.

"It's a relief to know that we're definitely not going to be on SportsCenter tonight," Richey said with a grin. "All of us have to get off our phones a little bit. It's hard because these kids' phones have been blowing up. ... All of a sudden, it's a lot coming at them.
"We created lifetime memories that will be there forever and we're going to appreciate what we've done, but in this moment we've got to put it behind us a little bit. We've got to get out of some of this external stuff and focus on the task at hand."

Richey said he was looking forward to the team enjoying Thanksgiving Thursday and kind of closing a chapter of the season along with it. With no more non-Div. I opponents left to play, Furman shifts into facing competition similar to what it will see in Southern Conference play beginning Sunday at 4 p.m. at UNC Asheville.

Richey wasn't pleased with sloppy play at times from the Paladins Wednesday. After committing three and six turnovers, respectively, against other non-Division I opponents Bob Jones and North Greenville this year, the Paladins had 15 Wednesday. While Furman limited Southern Wesleyan to 40.4 percent shooting from the floor, the Warriors did connect on 11-of-28 3-pointers (39.3 percent).

Meanwhile, Furman made just 5-of-21 shots (23.8 percent) from beyond the arc. The difference came in the paint, where the Paladins posted a 44-18 advantage. Furman also used 13 steals for a 20-11 edge in points off turnovers and a 14-0 advantage in fast break scoring.

"We didn't shoot the ball as well as we'd like and we let them shoot too well," Richey said. "For whatever reason, some of our starters had a rough night with focus and intensity.
"I knew there was going to be some physical fatigue, but I didn't really expect all the emotional fatigue. I think you could kind of see some of that tonight."

Much like last Thursday against North Greenville, Furman jumped out on top early Wednesday before allowing Southern Wesleyan to get back in it. The Paladins led 23-13 with 10:26 left, but suffered turnovers on each of their next five possessions and the Warriors went on a 9-0 run during that stretch.

A 3-pointer by Lamont Smith gave Southern Wesleyan its only lead of the night at 28-27 with 5:55 left in the half. Furman went a total of 5:34 between field goals until Noah Gurley's layup with 4:52 left in the half. The Warriors tied it for the last time at 30-30 with 4:32 left before Furman closed out the half on a 12-2 run to take a 42-32 lead into halftime.

"It wasn't the way we want to play. That's on me and all the leaders. ... We got the win. That's all that matters, but we've got the flip the page quickly," Rafferty said. "Being 6-0 is exciting and something the program has never done, but like Coach Richey just said, we can think about that stuff after the season. We've got to worry about our next game and just focus on getting better."

Clay Mounce hit a 3-pointer off an assist from Rafferty 12 seconds into the second half. Two minutes later, Rafferty found Mounce for three again. Thirty-five seconds later, Rafferty stole the ball and fired a beautiful beautiful bullet of a pass to Mounce who soared to the basket for a dunk to push Furman's lead to 50-34. The Paladins never held a lead of fewer than 13 the rest of the way.

No starter played more than 23 minutes for Furman. The only Paladin who played more was Tre Clark who came off the bench to score a career-high 10 points in 24 minutes. In addition to his game-high 18 points on 6-of-6 shooting from the floor, Rafferty had four assists and two steals. Mounce finished with 13 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals.

Jalen Williams had nine points and eight rebounds in 13 minutes off the bench, while Mike Bothwell also scored nine. In just 14 minutes of playing time, freshman Jalen Slawson had four points, five rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals.

"Obviously, it wasn't our sharpest performance of the year, but we got the job done and we were able to play 10 guys pretty good minutes," Richey said. "Even though we weren't having the sharpest night, I thought it was important to get our depth some minutes.
"Our young guys brought some energy. Tre Clark brought some energy, Mike Bothwell had his best game of the year and Slawson was really active defensively and made some great plays. Jalen Williams got in there and mixed it up and got physical."