Saturday, January 25, 2020

Paladins turn up defense to whip Citadel

Clay Mounce had 22 points and six rebounds in Furman's 78-54
win at The Citadel Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
CHARLESTON - Furman had a much improved defensive showing in the Paladins' win over Samford on Wednesday. On Saturday at rival The Citadel, Furman took it to another level. The Paladins had as many steals in the second half as the Bulldogs had field goals (seven) as Furman rolled to a 78-54 win.

The Paladins (17-5, 7-2) held a Citadel team that entered Saturday averaging 81.1 points per game to its lowest output since a 67-51 loss to ETSU four years ago. The Bulldogs (6-13, 0-8) shot 36.2 percent from the floor, including 29.2 percent (7-of-24) in the second half. Citadel hit one of its last nine field goals of the game and one of its last 18 three-point attempts. Furman had 13 steals, its most against a Division I opponent since collecting 14 against UNC Asheville on Dec. 5, 2017.

"To be complete, which is what we're fighting for, we've got to be more consistent on the defensive end. ... It was good to see a little bit more of that tonight," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "They only made four threes and we turned them over 21 times and that's what we've got to get back to."

It sure didn't feel like it was going to be that kind of day from Saturday's start. At the first media timeout 4:25 into the game, Citadel held a 12-10 lead and Furman had four turnovers. Fletcher Abee, who entered Saturday averaging 11 points a game, had 10 of those 12 points. But Citadel's pace - and the Paladins' turnovers - slowed down after that opening wave.

When Abee hit his third 3-pointer with 8:27 left in the first half it gave the Bulldogs an 18-17 lead. But that was Citadel's final lead of the day and Abee's final points of the day, as he went 0-for-9 from the floor after starting 6-of-7.

Jordan Lyons was smothered by the Bulldogs for most of the first half as he only managed one shot over nearly the first 18 minutes. But with 2:01 left, Lyons finally got an open look from three and drained it to snap a 29-29 tie and then nailed another three on Furman's next possession.

The biggest chapter of the biggest story of the game came late in the first half. Citadel had the ball with 27 seconds left and the shot clock off. Instead of letting the Bulldogs run down the clock and take the last shot, Furman ran a double team at the ball handler. Citadel worked it around and leading scorer Kaiden Rice got an open look with 13 seconds left, but he missed. Mike Bothwell gathered the rebound and got it to Clay Mounce, who was fouled shooting a three with four seconds left. Mounce hit two of the three foul shots to give Furman a 37-30 lead at the half.

After ending the first half on an 8-1 run, the momentum carried over for the Paladins after halftime. Noah Gurley had a nice up-and-under move for a layup 16 seconds into the second half and got another layup 23 seconds later. One minute later, Alex Hunter blew past his defender for a layup forcing a Citadel timeout, but the rout was on.

"To be able to run at them, not let them drain the clock, force the miss and to get free throws on our end, that was huge," Richey said. "In a game that was back-and-forth, we got a seven-point lead that didn't necessarily feel like seven. Then in the second half, Jalen (Slawson) has two deflections right out of the gate, we get out and run ... and suddenly we're up 13."

Mounce hit a 3-pointer, and Lyons made a jumper and a three to push Furman's lead to 51-30. When Citadel's Kaelon Harris connected on a 3-pointer with 15:44 left, it was the Bulldogs first field goal since the 4:38 mark of the first half. During that span of 8:54 between field goals, Furman outscored Citadel 25-6.

Furman recorded the lopsided win despite only having Gurley on the court for a total of 10 minutes due to foul trouble. Gurley had nine points before fouling out with 11:14 left in the game on an offensive foul that Richey told officials was a "flop all day." That foul was one of just two turnovers the Paladins had from the 4:54 mark of the first half to the 2:01 mark of the second half - when Citadel was still running a full-court press against Furman's walk-ons.

"Adversity is critical for teams, and the more you can deal with adversity in a win, the better," Richey said of Gurley's limited availability. "I think we're going to be able to look at those and see some things that Noah's got to tighten up on. A couple of them were just unnecessary. We want aggression, but disciplined aggression.
"I think it shows the depth and leadership of our team to be able to come on the road and win a game by that margin without him for basically 75 percent of the game."

Mounce finished with 22 points and six rebounds to lead Furman, while Lyons had 17 points, six rebounds, three steals and stellar defense. Hunter finished with 10 points and Slawson, who was playing close to home in Summerville, had eight points and six rebounds.

Rice, who was averaging 14.3 points per game for Citadel, was held to one point on 0-of-3 shooting.

"When you've got a scorer on your team like Jordan, some nights they try to prevent his touches and that opens up stuff for other people. He did a a great job and still playing hard," Mounce said of his scoring day. "He came into halftime and asked to guard Abee. That's an example of his leadership and what he means to this program."

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Paladins bounce back in big way, rout Samford

Noah Gurley had 19 points in Furman's 101-78 win over
Samford Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Between how Furman played last Friday at Wofford and how it played the last time Samford came to town, the Paladins had plenty of motivation to get back on track Wednesday night against the Bulldogs. And boy did they. Furman had more points in the first five-and-a-half minutes (20) than it did in the first half last Friday (18) and rolled to a record-setting 101-78 win.

The Paladins (16-5, 6-2 Southern Conference) bounced back from a 66-52 loss last time out against Wofford and avenged last season's 75-73 home loss to Samford thanks in large part to 17 3-pointers, 30 assists and 21 forced turnovers.

The 17 threes ties the school record for most in a single game against Division I competition, which has been done a handful of times and most recently this season at Elon. The 30 assists was one shy of the modern day school record for a single game. The Paladins had 31 assists - and 17 threes - in a 107-67 over The Citadel two years ago. That was also the last time Furman reached triple digits in points prior to Wednesday.

"Two things we really wanted to focus on was our ball movement and our deflections. We haven't had a 20-assist game (against a Div. I opponent) and tonight we have 30. That was huge," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We had 24 deflections tonight, which does not seem like an extreme number but for us, it's better. We've only had two 20-deflection games in the league. We've been hitting these 13 and 14 totals that we've got to get away from.
"Tonight's a testament to our player-led leadership. Jordan (Lyons), Clay (Mounce), Alex (Hunter) and Tre's (Clark) leadership over these last three or four days has been critical. Their response has been outstanding and I think you saw that out on the court tonight."

Furman controlled the opening tip and 14 seconds in, Mounce missed an open 3-pointer. Hunter chased down the offensive rebound and a few seconds later, Lyons missed an open three. After taking nearly six minutes to put a point on the board last time out, the Paladins could've been rattled by the opening possession.

Instead, it was just the opposite. Richey clapped for his team as it made its way back down the court defensively and verbally praised their opening possession. While Lyons appreciated the encouragement, the senior didn't need it to know why his coach was happy.

"We missed two open threes, but I think everybody touched the ball. We were playing together off the tip and that kind of set the tone for how the game was going to go for us," Lyons said. "You start the game with all five guys touching it and getting two really good looks. Even though they didn't drop then, they more than likely will during the game which they did for us.
"In some of our losses this year, we've had slow starts. We knew that the first four minutes were going to be very important."

After missing those first two threes, the Paladins hit six of their next seven. Four of those belonged to Lyons, who made 6-of-12 threes for the game after going 0-for-8 from the floor last Friday. Jalen Slawson had the sixth three of that spurt to stake Furman to a 20-6 lead with 14:27 left in the first half.

All those looks for three came off the crisp ball movement that has been a staple of Furman basketball the past few years. A Mounce layup was the only unassisted field goal in the first half for the Paladins, who made 17-of-33 field goals (51.5 percent) to take a 49-30 lead into half. Six different Paladins had 3-pointers in the first half as they were 11-of-24 from beyond the arc.

"About a year ago at this time, they made the big run here late and hit the shot to beat us. Samford has talent and (Coach) Scott (Padgett) puts them in some good offensive structures that stretch our defense," Richey said. "To hold an offense like that to 30 points (in the first half), especially for us as we've struggled against them at times, that was critical.
"Were we perfect? No. But I could see we were getting hands on balls, we were more aware on the weak side and that our flow was better. ... We've been good defensively at times, but we haven't been elite consistently. I think we can continue to progress on that side of the floor."

It was more of the same for Furman's offense in the second half. The Paladins went on a 14-4 run early in the second half capped by Hunter's 3-pointer with 17:13 left that made it 63-36. Furman, which had assists on each of its first six buckets in the second half, led by as many as 31 and never led by fewer than 18 the rest of the way.

Lyons had a team-high 21 points to lead six Paladins in double figures. He also had three assists and no turnovers. Seven Paladins had at least three assists, led by Hunter's seven. Gurley had 19 points, while Mike Bothwell had 16 points and five assists. Slawson finished with a career-high 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks and three steals. Hunter and Mounce each scored 11.

"The key for us (big men) is trying not to force anything down in the paint," said Gurley, who had three assists, two steals and one turnover. "Rather than taking a forced two, we'd rather kick out for three. When the ball gets passed around like it did tonight, everybody just feels the energy."

Samford standout point guard Josh Sharkey nearly had a triple-double with 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, but also had eight turnovers. Jalen Dupree had 23 points also for the Bulldogs (8-13, 2-5).

Furman next plays at Citadel at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Friday, January 17, 2020

On big stage, Wofford rolls over Paladins

Mike Bothwell had 13 points in Furman's 66-52 loss
at Wofford Friday night. Photo courtesy of Furman
SPARTANBURG - Friday marked a rare chance for the Southern Conference to showcase two of its elite men's basketball programs in front of a national audience as Wofford hosted Furman on ESPNU. It was a meeting of the two winningest teams in the state over the past five-plus years as the Terriers had 121 wins since the start of the 2014-15 season entering Friday, while the Paladins had 116.

But when the lights turned on Friday, Furman appeared nowhere ready for prime time. The Paladins fell behind 12-0 nearly six minutes into the game and never trailed by less than seven as Wofford cruised to a 66-52 win before a sellout crowd of 3,400 at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium.

"We weren't playing defense at the level we needed to, and they were. Their intensity and their energy was way better than ours. They were getting good looks and we weren't," Furman coach Bob Richey said about the start. "Their plan was to really just send five guys at all our drivers, really flow hard to the ball and flow early. Instead of us just seeing that and making the necessary adjustments, we almost just kind of fed into it.
"The 12-0 run, that happens. ... You can recover from that if you play differently, and unfortunately tonight we didn't."

Two nights after Western Carolina big man Carlos Dotson had 19 points in the second half against Furman, Wofford big man Chevez Goodwin had 10 of the Terriers' first 12 points Friday. The Paladins (15-5, 5-2) finally got on the board when Mike Bothwell hit a 3-pointer with 14:01 left in the first half.

When Clay Mounce hit a 3-pointer with 10:13 left, it cut the Terriers' lead to 17-10. Over the next three minutes, Wofford (12-7, 4-2) went 0-for-4 from the field and had two turnovers. The score at the end of that stretch was ... still 17-10. The Terriers made Furman pay for not taking advantage of its biggest chance to get back in it. Wofford hit three consecutive 3-pointers and the rout was on at 26-10.

When Wofford took a 32-18 lead into the break, it marked the Paladins most futile half of offense since scoring 18 in the first half of a 62-49 loss to Navy on Dec. 22, 2015.

"The key stretch was when it got to 17-10 and we started getting stops, our offense was awful," Richey said. "I thought we played selfish offensively. We didn't have a mentality to go create shots for others. ... I thought they really cost us."

The Terriers stretched the lead to 17 early in the second half before Furman tried to claw back in it. The Paladins cut the lead to 10 twice - with 13:45 left and with 12:04 left, but missed shots on their next possession each time. Furman finally got the lead back down to single digits when Bothwell hit a 3-pointer with 7:06 left to make it 49-41.

Once again, Furman's defense failed inside. After Wofford missed a three on its ensuing possession, Goodwin scored on a putback. Eleven seconds later, Goodwin got a steal that led to a Nathan Hoover 3-pointer and less than a minute after Bothwell's three it was back to a 13-point lead for Wofford. After a pair of missed layups by the Paladins, Trevor Stumpe hit a 3-pointer and while there was still 5:39 left, it sure felt like "game over" as the Terriers led 57-41.

"It's the same thing as last weekend (in the loss to UNCG). You're not going to come back just because your offense wakes up and then you're not going to go guard," Richey said. "You've got to make sure that you're really good in transition defense because they're really good in transition offense."

Noah Gurley was 7-of-9 from the floor and had 15 points to lead Furman, but also suffered four turnovers. Bothwell finished with 13 also for the Paladins. Leading scorer Jordan Lyons finished with five points on 0-of-8 shooting from the floor, and also had four turnovers. It's the second time in his stellar career that Lyons was held without a made field goal (when attempting at least six shots).

Goodwin finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and no turnovers for Wofford, while Hoover had 17 points and no turnovers. Stumpe scored 11, while Storm Murphy posted eight points, six assists and five rebounds. Wofford shot 49.1 percent from the floor for the game and hit 8-of-22 from three (36.4 percent).

"Deflection numbers continue to go down for us. We had 16 tonight and five in the first half. We're talking defense, but we're not doing defense. That's just the bottom line," Richey said. "We weren't the harder playing team tonight. We weren't the aggressive team on either side of the ball. We definitely weren't the connected team and that's how we've won.
"This is three games in a row where our defense isn't where it needs to be. At the end of the day, that's not on them, that's on me. I've got to go get that fixed."

Thursday, January 16, 2020

In first-place fight, Furman outslugs Western

Jalen Slawson had 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in Furman's
83-79 win over Western Carolina. Photo courtesy of Furman
Coming off a 13-point loss last Saturday against UNCG, it appeared that Furman had fixed all that had gone wrong early on Wednesday against Western Carolina. But that was the first half. Once the Catamounts quickly erased a double-digit deficit in the second half, the game looked more like a battle for first place in the Southern Conference that it was.

There were four ties and 10 lead changes after halftime. That 10th one came on a Noah Gurley layup with 4:12 left and Furman held on for an 83-79 win. Gurley was one of six players in double figures for the Paladins (15-4, 5-1) as they handed WCU (12-4, 4-1) its first league loss.

"What a game," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "They evaporated our margin quickly and then we got down by five or six ... but we continued to battle and fight. A lot of guys stepped up.
"If you were in Timmons Arena tonight as a spectator, that had to be fun. That was two teams that just battled the whole night."

The Paladins led by as many as 12 points in the first half before taking a 41-33 lead into halftime. Furman had pretty well contained the SoCon's second-leading scorer, Mason Faulkner, and leading rebounder, Carlos Dotson, as they each had two points and Dotson had two rebounds in the first half.

The lead was back in double digits when Alex Hunter drained a 3-pointer 12 seconds into halftime. But then the Paladins went cold, while Dotson went nuts. That 11-point lead disappeared in four minutes as Furman missed its next six shots - all of which were 3-pointers. Meanwhile the Catamounts hit six of their first seven shots in that four-minute stretch. All six were layups, five of which were by Dotson.

Faulkner's 3-pointer with 12:40 gave WCU its biggest lead at 54-48 before Jalen Slawson pulled Furman back to within one following a tip-in and three free throws after being fouled on a 3-pointer on the next possession.

"I really do think the play of the game was his tip-in. That was a hard play. It set the tone for a second there and energized the building," Richey said. "Then he gets fouled on the three. ... How many No. 5 men do you have going out there, getting fouled on threes and sticking all three free throws?
"Jalen's a competitor and he loves the lights. When the lights turn on and this guy's adrenaline gets going, watch out."

Dotson was fouled by Gurley on his eighth layup - out of eight field goal attempts - in the second half. He finished the three-point play to give Western a 64-62 lead with 6:22 left. On Furman's ensuing possession, Gurley returned the favor. He worked his way inside, hit a jumper and was fouled by Dotson. Gurley's three-point play gave the Paladins a 65-64 lead.

While the Catamounts tied it two more times, they never took the lead again and Dotson never got another shot off again. Instead, the former Dorman High standout committed four fouls over the final six minutes and fouled out with 44 seconds left. After Dotson's fifth foul, Clay Mounce hit 1-of-2 free throws to give Furman a 79-71 lead and Hunter made 4-of-6 free throws the rest of the way to wrap up the win.

"I think we were a little bit tighter in our fronts (on Dotson). You've got to do your work early (denying the ball) on him, because he's just too good. Please he's coming back home and he wants to play well here," Richey said. "I'm just proud of our guys for getting the critical stops. I thought we had a stretch there late where we were able to get multiple stops. I thought that was the key part of the game."

Dotson finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds to lead Western. Faulkner hit a 3-pointer with three seconds left to finish with 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting. That's well below his 18.7 points per game average entering Wednesday. Faulkner, who also ranked third in the league in assists and 11th in rebounding, finished with 10 assists and six rebounds but no boards in the second half.

"He's a heck of a point guard, who's really talented and really ignites them," Lyons said. "When you play really good players, it's never a one-on-one mission defensively. You've got to guard them as a unit, but Alex did a great job fighting him hard defensively. ... I think we did a pretty solid job of being locked in on the gameplan against him."

Lyons and Hunter each bounced back from a tough night last Saturday. Lyons had a team-high 20 points and four assists, while Hunter hit 3-of-6 from three and had 13 points, five rebounds and no turnovers.

Mounce finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Gurley had 13 points, five rebounds and four assists. Slawson posted 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, while Mike Bothwell scored 10 off the bench.

After 17 turnovers against UNCG, it was a much more Furman-like seven turnovers and 16 assists Wednesday. The Paladins also made 19-of-25 free throws (76 percent) after hitting 16-of-27 (59.3 percent) on Saturday.

"When everyone's eating, that's the most fun. That's how runs get started too," Mounce said. "It's not just one guy. ... Moving the ball and getting everyone involved, that's our identity."

There's no time to celebrate returning to first place in the SoCon. Furman travels to Wofford on Friday night for a game that was moved from Saturday so that it could be televised by ESPNU.

"It's another opportunity to showcase our brand. It's a credit to the league that now we're starting to get some national attention and hopefully we can continue to pick up more of these national TV games," Richey said. "It's going to be battle ... and it's going to be fun, but we've got to treat it like its the next game. It's important that we make sure our mentality is right.
"We've got to go play to our standard. We can't worry about the externals. We've just got to focus on the job at hand and I trust that our guys will be ready to do that."

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Spartans deal Paladins first SoCon loss

Noah Gurley drives against UNCG's James Dickey during Furman's
86-73 loss Saturday at The Well. Photo courtesy of Furman
In front of a crowd of more than 4,600 at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena Saturday night, a big stage was set for Furman. Riding a seven-game winning streak, the Paladins had a chance to severely damage the Southern Conference regular season title hopes of one of the contenders. But when trying to hand a UNC Greensboro team that lost a total of three SoCon games each of the past two seasons a third straight league loss this year, Furman couldn't make it happen.

The Spartans scored 63 points over the final 23:06 of game play to pull away for an 86-73 win. UNCG (13-5, 3-2), which entered Saturday ranked last in the SoCon in both three-point percentage and free throw percentage, started 1-of-11 on threes Saturday before hitting six of their last 11. The Spartans also made 13-of-16 free throws (81.3 percent), while the Paladins converted just 16-of-27 (59.3 percent).

"Give credit to Greensboro. They played really, really hard and were the aggressor for most of the game. ... You could feel the pressure and intensity they came to play with," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "The biggest issue tonight was for the most part, we just couldn't get stops. ... They got to get in the press (defense) all night long, because we couldn't get stops.
"As a team, were we ready to defend? I don't think so. That's on me. That's my responsibility."

Neither team was exactly sizzling offensively early on. A 3-pointer by Mike Bothwell followed by a dunk by Jalen Slawson with 3:31 left in the first half gave Furman a 25-23 lead and finally gave the crowd something to get excited about. But UNCG ended the half on an 11-2 run to take a seven-point lead into halftime.

"We had five deflections at halftime, which is a season-low for us," Richey said. "We just didn't have that edge that's critical for our team to have on the defensive end of the floor."

Things got worse in a hurry for the Paladins (14-4, 4-1) in the second half. After Noah Gurley's layup 16 seconds in, UNCG went on a 14-3 spurt to take a 16-point lead with 16:49 left.

Every time Furman could begin to see light out of the hole it had dug, the Spartans threw more dirt in. Clay Mounce's 3-pointer cut the lead to 52-42 with 12:40 left. Ten seconds later, UNCG's Michael Huett hit a 3-pointer. Bothwell's jumper with 8:42 left sliced the lead to single digits at 64-55. Fifteen seconds later, UNCG's Keyshaun Langley hit a three.

With 4:54 left, Bothwell's 3-pointer cut the lead to 69-64. Ten seconds later, UNCG's Angelo Allegri hit a 3-pointer. Gurley got The Well as loud as it was all day when his layup with 2:55 left made it 72-68. Fourteen seconds later, UNCG's Kaleb Hunter hit a 3-pointer. Hunter made a steal 13 seconds later and turned it into a three-point play. That got the lead back to double digits and essentially sealed Furman's fate.

"We finally started solving the press the last 15 minutes of the game," Richey said. "We had momentum, but we couldn't get those critical stops."

The Spartans essentially played like Furman did on its best days of the 2018-19 season. They had 20 assists, 11 turnovers and collected 16 steals. UNCG big man James Dickey had a Matt Rafferty-like performance with eight points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. While Dickey didn't reach double figures, five of his teammates did. They were led by Isaiah Miller, who had 18 points, six steals, five assists and four rebounds.

The Paladins fell despite a heroic effort by Gurley, who had team-highs in points (27), rebounds (8) and assists (4). Mounce and Bothwell each finished with 13 points. Jordan Lyons, who had hit 24-of-44 (54.5 percent) 3-pointers over his last five games, went 0-for-4 on threes Saturday and finished with nine points.

There's no time for Furman to dwell on Saturday's setback. Not with Western Carolina coming to town on Wednesday. With the Paladins' loss, the Catamounts (12-3, 4-0) are now alone in first place as the only SoCon team without a league loss.

"Our guys didn't quit. We had some warriors out there tonight. Noah Gurley played as hard as he could," Richey said. "You've got to take the good with the bad. This an ongoing journey. You've got to learn from this and see what you've got to do to get better.
"Our guys will respond."

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Furman women hit milestones, threes in win

Le'Jzae Davidson had 18 points and moved to fifth on Furman's all-time
scoring list in a 77-69 win over Samford. Photo courtesy of Furman
The Furman women's basketball team made its only scheduled trip to the Bon Secours Wellness Arena this season Saturday. Based on how the Paladins shot, they may want to lobby for more trips downtown. Furman hit 7-of-15 3-pointers and piled up its third-highest point total this season in a 77-69 win over Samford.

Over the Paladins' previous three games entering Saturday, they were just 12-of-52 (23.1 percent) from beyond the arc. Coach Jackie Carson said Furman would have to shoot better from the start against a Samford team that was coming off a 26-point win at Wofford Thursday. That's precisely what happened, actually both times Furman came out of the locker room.

The Paladins hit 4-of-7 from three in a 23-point first quarter, and 3-of-5 3-pointers in a 24-point third quarter to take command. Furman converted 11-of-16 free throws in the fourth quarter to seal the win. The Paladins tied their season high for assists against Division I competition with 20 on its 25 made field goals.

"It was a pretty cool environment and I think they feed off that. The start was everything I thought," Carson said. "We're all about team basketball. If you separate us, we're not very strong. We're not 1-on-1 players, but we're outstanding team basketball players."

It was the Furman women's first game at the building formerly known as the Bi-Lo Center since the 2001 Southern Conference Tournament championship game. On this unique occasion, the Paladins (11-5, 2-0 SoCon) celebrated more than just the win.

Le'Jzae Davidson scored a game-high 18 points and moved past former teammate Whitney Bunn into fifth place on Furman's all-time scoring ledger. The senior has 1,549 points in her career.

Senior Taylor Petty scored 15 points to surpass the 1,000-point mark in her career. The former Dorman High standout is the Paladins top perimeter shooter and has shot more threes than twos this season. But on Saturday, Petty did most of her damage by driving to the basket. She was 4-of-7 from the floor, 1-of-2 on 3-pointers and was 6-of-7 from the foul line.

"They were really trying to close out on our shooters at times and she took advantage of just going to the hole," Carson said. "That's something we've been working on because a lot of people are just closing down on our shooters and collapsing on our bigs. So the driving lanes are going to be open every time."

Tierra Hodges posted her fifth consecutive double-double and ninth this season with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Point guard Milica Manojlovic nearly had a triple-double as she finished with 12 points, a career-high nine assists and eight rebounds. Celena Taborn played just 23 minutes before fouling out, but had eight points and matched her career-high of five blocked shots.

"I call her Milica Carson because she's really like a coaches' child and I get on her the hardest," Carson said. "I have the highest expectations because her basketball IQ is through the roof. ... She really controlled our offense and did a great job today."

Sarah Myers had 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists for Samford (6-11, 1-1).

20 years after title, Carson returns to The Well

Jackie Carson will be on the sideline at The Well Saturday for the first time
since winning the SoCon title there in 2000. Photo courtesy of Furman
Furman basketball's Weekends at the Well series resumes Saturday in downtown Greenville with a doubleheader at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena. The Furman women take on Samford at 4:30 p.m. before the men have a showdown against UNC Greensboro at 7.

If the Paladin women win, head coach Jackie Carson won't be able to celebrate quite like she did after their last appearance at that arena. After all, the baskets will still need nets for the men's game.

Saturday will mark the Furman women's first game at the building formerly known as the Bi-Lo Center since March 5, 2000. On that day, Carson (then Jackie Smith) had game-highs in points (13) and rebounds (10) and the Paladins cut down the nets after defeating UNCG, 68-49, in the Southern Conference Tournament championship.

Carson was the lone senior on that team. She's excited to return to the site of the last win of her brilliant collegiate career. that saw her earn SoCon Player of the Year honors after both her junior and senior seasons.

"It's pretty special. ... I actually have the championship game on video. I looked at it the other day just to see how different the building looks," said Carson, who ranks second on Furman's career scoring list with 1,920 points and second in career rebounds (1,057).
"I've tried to tell the girls there's a lot of memories being made in this building. ... Combined with this being the year that the NCAA Regional will be held here, there's just a lot of women's basketball. It's an exciting time to be associated with it."

That 1999-2000 team rebounded from a 1-4 start to go 20-11 with a loss at Tennessee in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. They finished second in the SoCon and handed Chattanooga it's only league loss that regular season. The Paladins won each of their three SoCon tournament games by double-digits.

"I remember everything about that season like it was yesterday. It was a team that was resilient that knew we were supposed to be there," Carson said. "The crazy thing is, as hard as it would've been, we were kind of bummed when Greensboro beat Chattanooga (in the semifinals) because we wanted to beat them in the finals."

Jackie Carson celebrates Furman's win in the 2000 SoCon Tournament
championship game at the then Bi-Lo Center. Photo courtesy of Furman
The Paladins haven't won the SoCon title since, but in this 20th anniversary season Carson's squad is the preseason favorite to cut down the nets in Asheville. That also has a target on Furman's back and the team felt it during Thursday's SoCon opener against Mercer.

The Bears are a team in serious rebuilding mode with a roster full of freshman and sophomores that entered Timmons Arena with a record of 3-12. However, Mercer looked just like a gritty team that had not lost a SoCon game in three years for much of the night before Furman pulled away for a 62-49 win. That snapped the Bears' 34-game winning streak as their previous last loss came in the 2017 SoCon Tournament championship against Chattanooga.

Le'Jzae Davidson had 15 points and seven rebounds, while Celina Taborn scored 14 to lead Furman Thursday. Tierra Hodges, the SoCon's player of the month for December, recorded her fourth consecutive double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Milica Manojlovic had eight points and a career-high seven assists, while Lindsey Taylor contributed eight points and five rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench also for the Paladins (10-5, 1-0).

"They're still Mercer. A baby shark is still a shark. ... We knew we were going to be in a fight," Carson said. "Nobody on our team had beaten them before Thursday night. It's a huge accomplishment that we don't take lightly.
"We entered that game with a chip on our shoulder after losing to them in the SoCon championship last season. Now we face a Samford team that we ended the season of last year. ... So it's double the target. Wofford was picked second in our league and Samford won there by 26 (on Thursday), so we have to be ready."