Saturday, December 14, 2019

Furman set to host Winthrop at The Well

Senior Jordan Lyons and the Paladins will take on Winthrop at the
Bon Secours Wellness Arena Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
So far this basketball season, only three teams in the country have attempted more 3-pointers thand Furman's 342. On Saturday, the Paladins will look to bang in shots from way downtown - literally from downtown.

Furman (9-3) returns to the Bon Secours Wellness Arena for the first time since it was known as the Bilo Center in the 2006-07 season. The Paladins, who lost to College of Charleston in overtime there on Feb. 19, 2007, host another in-state foe Saturday in Winthrop. Saturday's game, the first of three "Weekends at the Well" for Furman this season, is set for a 6 p.m. tipoff.

Furman coach Bob Richey says it certainly has a bigger feel than a typical non-conference game, but his team can't allow it to necessarily feel that way.

"We don't need to make it any more than it is. The court's going to be the same dimensions and still have 10-foot goals. We're going to go play Furman basketball, but understand that it's showtime," Richey said. "There's a lot of people that will be talking about this and a lot of people that will be looking at us for the first time.
"My biggest hope Saturday is regardless of the hype, that we make it about the substance of how we play and who we are. ... That when those people walk out of the Well, they say 'that's a connected, hard-playing, tough team right there.' "

Saturday will mark Furman's seventh game in 19 days and comes at the end of final exams. The Paladins are coming off a 90-65 win over North Greenville Wednesday in which no starter played more than 24 minutes. Sophomore Mike Bothwell came off the bench to score a career-high 25 points Wednesday.

Furman has four players averaging in double figures this season in Noah Gurley (15.2), Jordan Lyons (14.4), Clay Mounce (14.2) and Bothwell (10.5).

Winthrop (4-6) is led by Josh Ferguson, who's averaging 13.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. D.J. Burns averages 11.5 points per game also for the Eagles.

"They're really good. They beat Saint Mary's earlier this season. They've got a big ole boy who transferred from Tennessee and a guard that's 6-6 and passes as well as anyone I've seen on film," Richey said. "So we're going to have our challenges, but man what an opportunity.
"I'm excited about it and our team is. It's an opportunity to get into the city and hopefully generate some interest from people who haven't seen us play. That will continue to further our brand and our program."

Saturday's Weekends at the Well festivities begin with a fanfest at the Furman Plaza entrance at 4 p.m. There will be giveaways, inflatables, concessions and a DJ. The Furman band and cheerleaders will join fans there to welcome Richey and the Paladins for a Champions Walk at 4:25 p.m. Santa Claus will be on hand inside the entrance from 5-6 p.m. for pictures.

Saturday's game will wrap up the non-conference portion of Furman's schedule. The Paladins open Southern Conference play next Friday at Mercer at 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Bothwell nets career high in Paladins' rout

Mike Bothwell scored a career-high 25 points in Furman's 90-65
win over North Greenville Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Mike Bothwell scored 17 of his career-high 25 points in the first half Wednesday as Furman built a 32-point lead and went on to a 90-65 win over North Greenville. Bothwell's career-high scoring game came three nights after fellow sophomore Noah Gurley put up a career-high 29 points against USC Upstate.

While the Paladins (9-3) won by 12 Sunday, it was an unusual game as USC Upstate shot 56 percent from the field. On Wednesday, it was a more Furman-like defensive effort. The Division II Crusaders shot 39.1 percent, including a 7-of-27 showing (25.9 percent) in the first half as the Paladins built a 52-20 lead at the half.

"We got up 32 and that's what I wanted. I wanted a fast start ... to see if we could get a lot of bodies in and play with some different lineups," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Bothwell obviously had a really good game. ... A lot of guys played really well."

Furman led 14-10 with less than 11 minutes to go in the first half when the Paladins began to turn it on. Alex Hunter hit back-to-back 3-pointers to start a 20-4 run over a stretch of 5:29. Switching to a 1-3-1 zone sparked the defensive side of that spurt.

After North Greenville's Jacob Redding hit a 3-pointer with 4:47 left in the half, the Crusaders didn't make another field goal until the second half. Bothwell had Furman's next 12 points on a three-point play and three 3-pointers as part of an 18-3 run to end the half.

"We met our pass goal today and got a lot of open looks. ... I kinda got going, started feeling good and got in a rhythm," Bothwell said. "My teammates saw that and they just kept finding me. That's what I love about this team. ... This is a great brotherhood we have. We one of us is going off, we all feel like we are."

Furman hit 10-of-17 3-pointers (58.8 percent) in the first half and shot 52.8 percent from the floor overall. Eight different Paladins had at least one assist in the first half, combining for 13 with just three turnovers before the break.

Things weren't as crisp in the second half as North Greenville (4-5) outscored Furman 45-38.

Wednesday's game was Furman's sixth in the past 16 days, so perhaps the most important bonus of the lopsided score was that no starter played more than 24 minutes. Overall, no Paladin played more than 25 as Bothwell averaged one point per minute off the bench.

Freshman Ben Beeker likely would've returned to action after missing the previous two games because of a family issue, but he was injured in practice Tuesday and was in a walking boot Wednesday.

Furman also had a scary moment in the second half when Hunter soared to the basket on a layup, but made contact with the base of the basket support as he landed. After a few minutes on the ground, Hunter limped off to the locker room. He was back on the bench for the end of the game and was able to walk through the postgame handshake line.

"Alex is fine from what I've been told at this point. He could've returned to the game, but I just decided to not return him," Richey said. "Ben rolled an ankle yesterday at practice. X-rays were negative and he will be out a couple of weeks.
"Load management was a big thing tonight. ... With games Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday this week, we wanted to do our job tonight and not max people's minutes out especially with finals (exams) going on. You've got to understand context around here. It was three or four years ago when we won every game at home except for the Saturday during finals against Gardner-Webb."

Bothwell was one of four Paladins in double figures. Jordan Lyons had 14 points, while Gurley and Hunter each scored 11. Jalen Slawson had a career-high 10 rebounds and a pretty remarkable block from behind on a breakaway layup for North Greenville midway through the second half. In a 30-point game, Bothwell dove out of bounds to flip the ball back into play and Clay Mounce corralled it.

The loudest ovation of the night came with just 20 seconds left when Rett Lister drove to the basket for a layup to cap Furman's scoring for the night. The freshman walk-on from Easley is the son of North Greenville coach Chad Lister, who's a Furman alum.

"That whole thing was neat. I played for Chad and now Rett's playing for us. I played at North Greenville and Chad went to school here. There was a lot of commonalities out there tonight," Richey said. "That wasn't by the book to let him go (for a shot) with the shot clock off, but I thought Chad would be alright with that - as long as it was Rett.
"Those guys (walk-ons) don't get a lot of credit and their job is hard. ... There's no glory in it. ... Rett and Rob (Robert Swanson) both played four minutes tonight and both scored. As a coach, that's pretty rewarding."

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Road weary Paladins hold off USC Upstate

Sophomore Noah Gurley scored a career-high 29 points in Furman's
 84-72 win over USC Upstate Sunday. Photo courtesy of Furman
After more than two weeks of road trips sandwiched around coming home for Thanksgiving, the Furman basketball team finally returned to the friendly confines of Timmons Arena. The Paladins first home game in 16 days came against USC Upstate in a rare Sunday game. After tipoff, something even more rare took place.

Despite allowing USC Upstate to shoot 56 percent from the floor, Furman used a game-ending run and a career-high 29-point performance by Noah Gurley to pull out an 84-72 win. It marked the first time in at least 10 years that the Paladins won a game in which the opponent made at least 56 percent of its field goals.

USC Upstate became just the sixth team to shoot that well against Furman in the last four years. Those other five all took place on the road and all were losses for the Paladins by anywhere from 12 to 29 points. The last visitor to Timmons to shoot at least 56 percent was Gardner-Webb on Dec. 12, 2015. The Runnin' Bulldogs left that day with a 73-53 win.

"That's usually not a good recipe ... but we found a way," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "At halftime, we were up 13 and they were still shooting 55 percent from the field and 40 percent from three, so it was an odd formula.
"I will say for the most part, I thought offensively today we played very clean especially in the first half. The ball movement was exceptional. That's what really allowed us to stay the course."

Coming off a heartbreaking overtime loss at Auburn Thursday which saw the Paladins allow a 14-point second half lead to slip away, you had to wonder if there would be any hangover Sunday. There certainly didn't appear to be one when Furman took an 8-0 lead and forced three turnovers in the first 2:10 of the game.

"We couldn't ignore how we felt in that (Thursday) loss. That was a game we felt like we should've won. ... It's hard to push all those emotions down, but today was another opportunity to play the game of basketball," Gurley said. "You can't harp on a loss and miss your blessing today. ... We just wanted to come out with energy and being back in Timmons helped."

When Furman took a 13-point halftime lead against a USC Upstate team that entered with a record of 2-7, it appeared the Paladins were destined for an easy win. However, it was anything but easy the rest of the way.

While the Spartans tried to chip away at Furman's lead, the Paladins were still up by 11 with less than seven minutes to play. All of a sudden, USC Upstate went on a streak where it seemed like the Spartans would never miss again. Cartier Jernigan's layup with 2:40 left was their seventh consecutive made field goal and cut the Furman lead to 72-71.

Just 11 seconds later, Clay Mounce answered with a 3-pointer. That started a 12-1 run to end the game, as the Spartans missed their final four shots, had two turnovers and hit 1-of-2 free throws. On a day when his shooting wasn't at its sharpest, Jordan Lyons he came up huge in that stretch. In the final 88 seconds of the game, Lyons had four rebounds, two steals and hit a pair of free throws.

"We had pitiful drive defense there in stretches and credit to them (USC Upstate), they kept playing and cut it to one. Big shot by Clay Mounce to give us a little breathing room. ... I thought we buckled down and did what we had to do on both ends of the floor to secure the win," Richey said. "I'm really proud of Jordan Lyons' game today. He led us in rebounding, steals and assists. He showed a ton of toughness today to be able to play the game the right way, regardless of how he was shooting from the perimeter. ... The shooting's going to come."

Gurley set his new career high of 29 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the floor, including 2-of-3 on 3-pointers. Mounce had 16 points, six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals, while Lyons had 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Hunter also reached double figures with 11 points and had three assists with no turnovers.

Bryson Mozone hit 6-of-8 3-pointers and led USC Upstate with 22 points in 39 minutes off the bench.

The shooting percentage allowed by Furman wasn't the only unusual stat Sunday. The Paladins dominated the boards, posting a 32-22 advantage that included 11 offensive. It's only the third time this season that Furman has outrebounded a Division I opponent. While there was nothing new about the Paladins scoring 17 points off 15 turnovers, none of those came on a fast break as Furman was blanked 8-0 on break points.

Richey said there's things he would still love to "clean up" from Furman's sub-par showing at South Florida last Monday, but the time schedule due to games and travel hasn't allowed for a traditional practice. It's been nothing but game prep, bus travel and game play since the flight to Tampa last Sunday.

The Paladins will take on North Greenville Wednesday and Winthrop Saturday, before a bit of a break in the schedule ahead of their Southern Conference opener at Mercer on Dec. 20.

"We're going to give them tomorrow off. It's not necessarily what I want to do, but it's what we have to do. It's what's right by our players and their legs. You could see it today in transition defense. We didn't have that gear or speed that this group has," Richey said. "The human body only has so much. We've got to rest up.
"It's the battle of the season. We're all fighting it. There's part of me that wishes we would've played in one less game to get some of these guys some good practice time. At the same time, you can't really replace game experience either. A lot of stuff we got on film today will help these guys in different ways."

Friday, December 6, 2019

Against stacked deck, Furman falls at Auburn

Noah Gurley had a game-high 21 points and eight rebounds in Furman's
81-78 overtime loss at No. 13 Auburn. Photo courtesy of Furman
After beating a pair of 2018 Final Four teams last season, the Furman basketball team had a shot at defeating a 2019 Final Four team Thursday night. But evidently "Saturdays in the SoCon" have nothing on "Thursdays on the Plains."

In what had to feel like a game of five against eight for much of the night, the Furman basketball team saw a 14-point second half lead disappear in an 81-78 overtime loss at No. 13 Auburn Thursday. On a night when the Paladins were already outsized, three of their four tallest players fouled out. The other, 6-foot-9 freshman Ben Beeker, didn't make the trip due to a family matter.

"To see what we had to deal with from an environment standpoint, the momentum changing and swinging against us ... we all would love a few plays back there at the end of regulation, but how could you be down after the fight of that group?," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "Our kids just absolutely battled their tails off and I couldn't be more proud of them.
"What I take away from this is we can play with anybody. ... This team's leadership continues to develop."

The Tigers (8-0) went 19-of-29 from the foul line, while Furman (7-3) was 9-of-13. The Paladins were whistled for 27 fouls, their most in a game in three years. Ironically, Furman also had 27 fouls in an overtime loss at ETSU in the 2016-17 season and 27 in an overtime loss at Citadel in the 2015-16 season.

Despite an all-night buffet of home cooking being served, the Paladins still had their chances to win. Noah Gurley hit a jumper and was fouled with 3:38 left in regulation to give Furman a 63-58 lead, but he missed the free throw. With 3:04 left, Clay Mounce hit just 1-of-2 free throws to push the lead to 64-60. After that, Furman missed a 3-pointer and three consecutive layups before Auburn's J'Von McCormick hit a game-tying jumper with 1:05 left.

Mike Bothwell ventured into the trees of the paint and made a go-ahead layup with 30 seconds left before McCormick answered again with a jumper to tie the game 66-66 with 14 seconds left. Bothwell came all the way down to try to win it as he did eight days earlier against UT-Arlington, but as he drove to the basket he fell to the ground after contact with the defender. Officials ruled that Bothwell traveled and Auburn got the ball back with 5.1 seconds left. After a screen in which Jordan Lyons got annihilated, McCormick soared to the basket but his layup fell off no good as time expired.

"You want to get the last shot and Mike went a little too early, but fortunately it didn't cost us the game. We couldn't hear anything (to call for screens) ... so the best thing to do it spread it out and let him drive like he did versus Arlington," Richey said. "He'd been doing the best job of our guards of driving, landing on two feet and then passing out for a three. ... The best plays usually in those situations are not going to be draw-ups. It's going to be a player going to make a play.
"It was away from me, so I couldn't see what made him lose his balance. Unfortunately, he did lose it, couldn't land and couldn't have a clean finish."

Gurley hit a 3-pointer to give Furman a 69-68 lead 35 seconds into overtime. One minute later, Auburn's Austin Wiley went over Gurley's back for a putback and Gurley was called for his fifth foul.

Mounce's 3-pointer with 1:35 left cut Auburn's lead to 75-73. Thirty-eight seconds later, officials deemed it time for Mounce to go as he picked up his fifth foul on a box out. Wiley hit both free throws to make it a four-point lead.

The Tigers still led by four with 12 seconds left when officials saved their "best" for last. As Alex Hunter passed from near midcourt with a trajectory toward the left corner of Furman's basket, the ball was tipped and sailed out of bounds. After first correctly ruling that the ball deflected off an Auburn defender, officials went to review the video and somehow gave the ball back to the Tigers.

They ruled that Hunter - the point guard who didn't have a turnover for the first five games this season - somehow threw a basketball like a baseball slider as it went straight then broke left. Coming out of the review, Auburn players and coaches were laughing, knowing they'd been bailed out.

While that play was the most obvious example of malfeasance, it really wasn't a difference maker. It didn't hurt Furman nearly as much as Mounce's fourth foul with 10:34 left in the second half when he made no contact on an Auburn layup that cut the Paladins lead to 48-44. Or with Furman leading 59-54 and 5:40 left, when Gurley picked up his fourth foul on an illegal screen after he handed the ball off to Lyons and simply turned around. Poor Jalen Slawson, a sophomore who can find foul trouble in normal officiating situations, didn't have a prayer Thursday. He saw the court for all of eight minutes before fouling out with 9:21 left in the game.

"We dealt with foul trouble all night long. We've got to go back and look at that to see what we're doing," Richey said. "The past couple of games we've fouled a little bit more than typical."

Despite being outrebounded 18-8 and having 12 fouls (three apiece on Gurley and Slawson) to Auburn's five in the first half, Furman took a 39-31 lead into halftime. The Paladins ended the half on a 13-1 run highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers by reserve Jaylon Pugh. As the teams left for the locker room, Auburn's Bruce Pearl stayed on the court a bit longer to rip into an official. Evidently, the 12-0 free throw disparity the Tigers enjoyed in the first half wasn't enough for their notorious snake oil salesman.

Lyons made it an 11-point lead when he popped a 3-pointer 24 seconds into the second half. Furman still led by double figures three minutes later when another maniacal fit by Pearl actually drew a technical foul. Despite three fouls being called against them over the next 1:52, the Paladins still led 48-37 with less than 14 minutes to go.

A key six-minute stretch allowed Auburn to get back in it. From the 16:09 mark to the 10:09 mark, Furman went 0-for-5 from the floor, had five turnovers and saw it's 46-32 lead shrink to 48-45. After a Gurley three-point play stopped the Paladins drought, they missed their next three shots and had a turnover as the Tigers got the lead down to 53-51 with 7:41 to play.

Furman shot 45.9 percent from the floor, but only 33.3 percent in the second half. The Paladins held Auburn to 4-of-25 (16 percent) shooting on 3-pointers and forced 19 turnovers, but were outrebounded 45-25.

Gurley finished with a game-high 21 points and eight rebounds to lead Furman, while Mounce had 14 points, six rebounds and four steals. Hunter, Lyons and Pugh each scored 11 and Hunter had five assists. Bothwell scored nine.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Furman to wrap up road trip at No. 13 Auburn

Clay Mounce had consecutive double-doubles to earn Southern Conference
Player of the Week honors this week. Photo courtesy of Furman
Furman's basketball team will wrap up its longest stretch of games away from home this year with what could be its toughest test all season Thursday. The Paladins take on No. 13 Auburn at 9 p.m. in a game that will be televised by the SEC Network.

In the two weeks since Furman's last home game, there's been a range of emotions experienced on the court. It began with a joyous 36-point win at Elon on Nov. 26. Less than 24 hours later again on Elon's home floor, the Paladins rallied from a 13-point second half deficit for a thrilling one-point win in the final seconds over UT-Arlington. Then there was frustration of Monday night's 65-55 loss at South Florida.

After falling behind 7-2 three minutes in Monday, Furman (7-2) came back to take an 18-11 lead with less than nine minutes left in the first half. It could've been so much more though, as the Paladins missed their first five layups of the game. Meanwhile, a South Florida team that entered Monday shooting 32.3 percent from three-point range shot 60 percent from beyond the arc in the first half to rally for a 34-27 lead at the break.

What ignited the Bulls comeback wasn't a 3-pointer though, it was a crock of a technical foul called against Noah Gurley. Gurley's jumper in the lane gave Furman a 22-19 lead when he was T'd up for "talking" to a USF player after the shot. There was no heated exchange or physical contact. Nobody got up taunting in anybody's face. It was just ... words. That was also Gurley's second personal, so he left and a USF team that had a height advantage at every position got even bigger. The Bulls went on a 9-0 run over the next 1:52 and never trailed again.

"We got up 18-11 and got a steal with a chance to put (the lead) at nine. Unfortunately after that, we had quite a few mental and emotional mistakes that I thought really played into their hands and allowed them to really turn the energy," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "I don't think we responded with the right energy and it just became a very frustrating night in a lot of ways.
"Regardless if you're making shots or missing shots, there's a certain energy you have to bring to the game and we struggled there."

After sitting out the final 6:26 of the first half, Gurley was whistled for his third foul 24 seconds into the second half. The Bulls (4-4) never led by more than 10 the rest of the way, but every time Furman sniffed taking the lead something happened to take it away. Gurley's jumper cut USF's lead to 41-39 and then Alex Hunter made a steal, but the Paladins turned it right back over. The Bulls hit three jumpers to push the lead back to eight.

The most critical portion of the second half occurred with less than five minutes left. After Jordan Lyons' jumper got the lead down to three, the Bulls answered. Then USF's David Collins stole the inbounds pass, hit a layup and was fouled. Collins made the free throw and that stretch of five points in five seconds staked the Bulls to a 60-52 lead with 4:32 left in the game. The only other Furman score came on a Gurley 3-pointer with 49 seconds left.

"We weren't playing one of our better games of the year, and we're on the road at an American (Conference) level gym and with 4:40 to go we've got it (down) to three," Richey said. "Then we give up a bucket, have a quick turnover and give up another bucket. That was a little bit of the nail in the coffin."

Gurley finished with a game-high 19 points in his limited 29 minutes of action. Clay Mounce recorded his second consecutive double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds before he fouled out. Lyons had a tough night as he was held to four points on 2-of-12 shooting. Furman finished shooting 35.7 percent from the floor and hit 7-of-28 (25 percent) 3-pointers.

Xavier Castaneda, who had 31 points all season going into Monday night, led USF with 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers. The final score was eerily similar to other teams Furman is familiar with as the Bulls defeated Loyola-Chicago, 66-55, and Wofford, 69-55, earlier this season.

"There's a certain toughness, edge and connection that you've got to play with when you're facing a team that's bigger than you at every position," Richey said. "The only way you're going to beat those teams is if you're more connected and you stick to your strengths. For us, that has to be our speed, spacing and shooting. After that first 12 minutes of the game where we had decent flow, we just couldn't get our sync back."

SEC challenge
Furman fell to 23-4 in its last 27 non-conference games with Monday's loss. South Florida became the first non-Southeastern Conference school to defeat the Paladins in that span as the other losses came at Tennessee, LSU and Alabama.

Thursday night at Auburn, Furman will be going for its first win over an SEC opponent since a 91-75 win over South Carolina on Dec. 22, 2010.

"We've got to go out there and try to control the things that we can. It starts on the defensive end for us," Richey said. "Monday night, we got hurt in defensive transition a good bit. We've got to make sure we shore that up on Thursday night or else they're going to just run all up and down the court on us.
"Offensively, when teams use their size and athleticism to get out and pressure us, we've got to stay poised. We've got to make sure we stay inside of what we do."

Coming home
After the experience of arriving back at campus around 5:30 a.m. following the loss at Alabama on Nov. 19, the Paladins will be staying overnight Thursday. Furman will have its first home game in 16 days when it hosts USC Upstate Sunday at 2 p.m. That will begin a stretch of three home games next week as the Paladins host North Greenville on Wednesday and take on Winthrop at the Bob Secours Wellness Arena next Saturday.

Mounce honored
Mounce earned SoCon Player of the Week honors for his performance Monday and in the Paladins two wins at Elon last week. Mounce averaged 16 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.7 steals and 2 assists in those three games. For the season, the junior is averaging 14.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game. He's shooting 53.3 percent from the floor, including 44.9 percent from three-point range.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Paladins go out with a whimper

Grayson Atkins just missed a 59-yard field goal Saturday, but made two
others to finish 13-of-15 for the season. Photo courtesy of Furman
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - It's been said that the first five minutes of the second half can be the most important of a football game. That was unfortunately the case for Furman Saturday. No. 17 Austin Peay scored three touchdowns in the first 4:23 of the third quarter and the Governors went on to a 42-6 win over the 16th-ranked Paladins in the opening round of the FCS Playoffs.

Austin Peay (10-3) advances to play at No. 4 seed Sacramento State next Saturday. Furman finishes the season at 8-5 following its second most lopsided playoff loss ever. Only a 54-0 loss at Marshall in 1996 was worse. Unlike that Marshall team, there was no Randy Moss out there for the Governors Saturday. But they did have a big, fast, nasty team that was able to overcome stupid personal fouls as the Paladins offered no counter punches.

"Hats off to the Austin Peay team and Coach (Mark) Hudspeth. ... I knew they were a really talented group with a lot of skill and that was pretty obvious, particularly in the third quarter," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "We wasted some opportunities to get some points in the second quarter and then the third quarter just got away from us."

Saturday's game was played in yet another downpour and the game featured two lengthy weather delays. While the Paladins surely had to be used to playing in such conditions by now, they frankly haven't looked like a playoff team in them against any Division I opponent. That was the case again Saturday.

As has often been the case this year, a Furman opponent marched down the field on its opening drive and scored. And as has often been the case, the Paladins' defense settled in and didn't allow anything else the rest of the half.

After 18 yards of total offense in the first quarter for Furman, Hamp Sisson came on in relief of Darren Grainger and led an 83-yard scoring drive. The drive was aided by a 24-yard pass to Thomas Gordon, a 28-yard run by Devin Wynn and three Austin Peay penalties, including a personal foul when Devin Abrams was shoved to the ground after the whistle. Furman, which had scored so many touchdowns in the red zone this season until the Wofford game, had first-and-five at the eight-yard line, but ended up settling for a 23-yard field goal by Grayson Atkins.

Furman drove from its own 10-yard line to the Governors' 24 on its next drive. But on first down, Wynn was hit immediately and dropped for a six-yard loss. Wynn ran for three yards on the next play, but was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. When the Austin Peay defender stood over him and looked down, Wynn popped straight off and brushed the defender off with his arm.

That led to a third-and-28 and Thomas Gordon couldn't hang on to a pass that would've made for a closer field goal. Instead, Atkins attempted a 59-yarder that had the distance, but sailed wide left and Furman trailed 7-3 at the half.

After that putrid first quarter, the Paladins had 122 yards in the second quarter and the total yardage was even at 140-140 at the break. Still Furman had just three points to show for it.

"You've got to get points," Hendrix said. "We could've been tied or had the chance to take the lead before half."

Everything went wrong for Furman after halftime. The Paladins had allowed just a total of 66 points in the third quarter for the regular season, but gave up 28 Saturday. The Governors needed just 1:18 to drive 70 yards on four plays for a touchdown to open the second half.

After a three-and-out for Furman, Austin Peay's Kentel Williams turned a simple screen pass into a 73-yard touchdown two plays later. On the Paladins' next snap, Sisson was hit from behind and fumbled. Two plays later, the Governors found the end zone again to take a 28-3 lead with 10:37 left in the third quarter.

"They threw the screen and we just couldn't tackle him. ... We had trouble tackling them in space and I knew we would," Hendrix said. "Those first six or seven minutes of the second half was really the game.
"It was one of those games where we were going to have to grind out (offensively) and keep pace with them. ... At that point (in the third quarter), they're just too good to give them a chance to pin their ears back and come after us."

The Paladins finally stopped Austin Peay's next possession with a three-and-out. but the punt bounced off Cally Chizik's chest right into the hands of the Governors at the Furman 28. Austin Peay turned that into a touchdown five plays later to remove any doubt as it took a 35-3 lead to the fourth quarter.

Another unsportsmanlike penalty on Austin Peay aided Furman's only other scoring drive, as the Paladins made a meaningless field goal early in the fourth quarter.

Austin Peay's JaVaughn Craig completed 18-of-23 passes for 264 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Grainger and Sisson combined to go 8-of-15 for 82 yards with one interception. Wynn rushed 14 times for 61 yards to lead the Paladins, who had 82 yards of total offense in the second half.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Paladins set for chance to prove they belong

Devin Wynn has rushed for 1,121 yards and 14 touchdowns
this season for Furman. Photo courtesy of Furman
The bottom line when it comes to postseason play is always the same - survive and advance. That's what No. 16 Furman will look to do Saturday when it begins it's 18th trip to the FCS (I-AA) Playoffs at an 17th-ranked Austin Peay team making its FCS postseason debut.

"(Making the playoffs) is an extremely hard thing to do, and we're certainly excited to have a chance to play for a national championship," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said during his Monday press conference. "We're just trying to find a way to win a football game and extend your season another week. That's our true focus going forward."

But there could something broader at stake for the Paladins Saturday, who've found themselves on the playoff bubble each of the past three seasons. Two years ago, Furman got in and won at Elon of the revered Colonial Athletic Association before falling at Wofford in round two. Last year, the Paladins became the second Southern Conference champion ever to be left out of the field despite a 20-point win over the league's automatic qualifier.

After being ranked in the top 15 most of the season, Furman made it this year but was one of the last four teams to receive at at-large bid. In the glory years of the SoCon, a top three finish meant there was no bubble in sight. You were in. But when Appalachian State and Georgia Southern chose greener ($$$) pastures and Wednesday night football over playing for a national championship any time in the foreseeable future, it seems they took national respect for the SoCon with them.

A better example of how the SoCon is currently viewed nationally may be found in Wofford. The Terriers opened the season in the top 10, had experiments on offense that did not go well and started 0-2 to fall out of the polls. All they've done since is win eight consecutive FCS games by an average of 24.5 points per game. Their only loss since Sept. 14 was at Clemson and except for North Carolina, they scored as many points (14) as anybody else on the Tigers' schedule.

Being one of the hottest teams in the FCS wasn't enough to secure Wofford a national seed though. Instead, a South Dakota State (8-4) team that lost to a then 4-7 South Dakota team on the last day of the regular season got the No. 7 seed, while Central Arkansas (9-3) got the No. 8 seed despite a 34-0 home loss to unranked Southeastern Louisiana three weeks ago. Central Arkansas' resume also included one-point wins over Abilene Christian (5-7) and Northwestern State (3-9).

One would hope that turning the SoCon's national perception around could be boosted by Furman and Wofford winning on Saturday. While the Paladins are taking on the Governors for the first time ever, the Terriers will be hosting Kennesaw State and trying to avenge a second-round loss to the Owls last season.

Conference reputation and the Furman program's playoff experience won't mean a hill of beans when the kickoff happens at 1 p.m. The Paladins will be tasked with stopping what appears to be a high-flying offense.

Austin Peay features the second-leading receiver in the FCS in DeAngelo Wilson, who's caught 68 passes for 1,246 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. While Wilson averages 18.3 yards per catch, teammate Baniko Harley averages 18.2 yards per reception. Harley's caught 43 passes for 782 yards and six touchdowns. Meanwhile, Kentel Williams has rushed for 773 yards and nine touchdowns and quarterback JaVaughn Craig has 547 yards rushing and eight touchdowns for the Governors. Craig has thrown for 2,567 yards with 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

"Schematically, they're a little bit like Western Carolina offensively. They're a shotgun team and the quarterback is athletic," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "(Not allowing big plays) really will be a key Saturday. I think that's the biggest reason we've been so good in scoring defense (18.8 points allowed per game).
"That will continue to be a goal of ours - make them (drive) the length of the field. It's hard to do that (offensively) without something happening - a penalty, turnover or a negative yards play. Hopefully we will continue that trend."

On the other side of the ball, a key matchup will be Furman's nationally fifth-ranked rushing offense (275.8 yards per game) against Austin Peay's nationally sixth-ranked rushing defense (86.5 yards allowed per game).

Furman had already seen some film of the Governors thanks to common opponents, which were played consecutively in September. Austin Peay used a pair of second half interception returns for touchdowns to win 48-34 at Mercer on Sept. 14 before losing at ETSU, 20-14, on Sept. 21. On Sept. 21, the Paladins had a 45-10 win over Mercer and followed that with a 17-10 win over ETSU, which went on to finish in last place in the SoCon.

"They're really talented on both sides of the ball. I was impressed by seeing them then (on film) in all phases of the game and they've certainly had a great year. They won their conference championship, which is always a great feat," Hendrix said. "It will certainly be a challenge for us to go to Clarksville (Tenn.) and play, but I know we're awfully excited about going. We've been a good road team all year. I think our kids do a great job of preparing, which will give us a chance to go play well."