Saturday, February 16, 2019

Gurley leads Paladins to rout of VMI

Noah Gurley scored a career-high 19 points in Furman's 96-62
victory over VMI Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Given VMI's position of last place in the Southern Conference, and its position on Furman's schedule of sandwiched between games against second-place UNCG and first-place Wofford, Saturday's contest might have been referred to as a "trap game" for the Paladins by those who get paid to say such things.

As it turns out, the Keydets got the same team that's been laser-focused for the past three weeks. Once again, Furman's defense was stifling and the Paladins led from start to finish in a 96-62 victory at Timmons Arena. It's the sixth consecutive win for Furman (22-5, 11-4), which remains tied with ETSU (21-7, 11-4) for third place in the SoCon but is just a half-game back of UNCG (22-5, 11-3) following the Spartans' loss at Wofford (23-4, 15-0) Saturday night.

The victory ties the school record for most wins in a regular season set last year. Of the 240 minutes played in the winning streak, Furman has trailed for a total of 22 minutes and 42 seconds. UNCG led for 19:13 of those.

"We had a good, clean game for the most part and did what we needed to do. We hit a lot of our marks with our measurables that we look at, so that was good to see," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "I had a quite a few people warning me to stay focused but there was no need to worry (about focus).
"These guys (VMI) went to Johnson City and lost by three (to ETSU), played Greensboro really close at home and present a lot of problems offensively. We knew that we were going to have to be locked in."

It was a "spread the wealth" kind of night for Furman offensively. Noah Gurley led five Paladins in double figures with a career-high 19 points and did so in just 20 minutes as the starters got quite a bit of rest.

After having only three players score in the first 33 minutes of the UNCG game on Thursday, it was the polar opposite Saturday. When Mike Bothwell hit a layup with 13:28 left in the first half, he was the sixth different Paladin to score. That basket also gave Furman a 21-10 lead and the Paladins never led by fewer than double figures the rest of the way.

Even the end of half possession, which hasn't been pretty at times this year for Furman, went perfectly Saturday. Jordan Lyons drained a 3-pointer in the final seconds to push the lead to 53-29 at the break. Eight different Paladins scored in the first half as the team shot 62.1 percent from the floor, made 9-of-17 3-pointers, and had assists on 14 of its 18 made baskets.

"Coach always tells us that 'consistency builds confidence,' and we've been working in the gym. When I got on offense today, it just felt natural. There was no doubt in my mind what I could do out there," said Gurley, who scored 14 in the first half. "Having a good week of preparation built me for this."

Gurley's first-half was highlighted on a play where was trapped in a double-team in a corner. Losing possession for a split-second allowed him to dribble again. When a bit of space opened along the baseline, Gurley needed just two dribbles to get to the basket for a dunk.

"It was pretty much an incredible play," Richey said. "I think because of how we play and operate, I don't think our guys get in too much of a panic when they're trapped."

Perhaps the only question in the second half would be if Matt Rafferty would play long enough to capture what was believed to have been Furman's first-ever triple-double. Rafferty had six points, seven rebounds and five assists in the first half, then had four points, a rebound and two assists just over four minutes into the second half.

Alas, that feat wasn't mean to be Saturday. After checking out at the 15:55 mark, Rafferty came back in for all of 3:37. Rafferty hit a pair of free throws with 10:11 left and got the rest of the day off. The senior captain finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds - for his 13th double-double, to go along with seven assists, one blocked shot, zero fouls and zero turnovers in 25 minutes.

"I was tempted to play Matt a few more minutes, but I thought it was the right thing to let our depth play," Richey said. "It's that time of year where you want to keep rounding your edges. Anytime we can get our depth out there to prepare for what we've got to do down the stretch, I think that's a very important deal."

Clay Mounce finished with 13 points, two of which came on one of the highlights of the game. After Mounce used his long wing-span to block a 3-point attempt by SoCon leading scorer Bubba Parham, Alex Hunter looked like a volleyball player spiking the loose ball to the other end of the court where Mounce reeled it in for a dunk. Just 42 seconds later, Rafferty also spiked a loose ball to a teammate. Gurley caught this one and drained a 3-pointer to make it 66-37.

Bothwell had a career-high 13 points, two blocks and two steals, while fellow reserve Tre Clark had 12 points, two blocks and three steals. Lyons, Alex Hunter and Andrew Brown finished with nine, eight and seven points, respectively.

Despite only having two assists over the final 15:54, Furman finished with 20. It's the sixth time this season the Paladins have recorded at least 20 assists.

"I think I needed the rest and it was good to get other guys some playing time," Rafferty said about his early exit. "Obviously, I love being out there but giving other guys some opportunity is even better.
"Our ball movement was great. Twenty assists is huge going up against a matchup zone. Moving the ball and sharing with each other, not caring who scores - that's our recipe."

Furman also went 21-of-28 from the foul line, which are season highs in both makes and attempts.

"The free throws were great to see," Richey said. "That's something that's been a little bit of a weakness for us this season."

Defensively, Furman held VMI (7-19, 1-13) to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor. While the Paladins didn't shut down Parham quite like they have other teams' best shooters during this winning streak, they still held him below his 20.8 points per game average.

Parham was the lone VMI player in double figures with 16 points and three assists. He hit 4-of-10 3-pointers, including a pair of really long ones in the second half. In the two games against Furman this year, Parham scored a total of 22 points.

The win sets up a showdown against Wofford next Saturday on Senior Day at a sold-out Timmons Arena. Each team will have the full week off to prepare, just as they did prior to the classic played Jan. 19 in Spartanburg. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Paladins fall to Morehead in season opener

Rightfielder David Webel makes a diving catch to end the top of the fourth Friday
during Furman's 6-3 loss to Morehead State. Photo courtesy of Furman
Morehead State starting pitcher Dalton Stambaugh tossed five good innings and reliever Alex Garbrick followed with four great ones as the Eagles dealt Furman a 6-3 loss in the season opener for both teams Friday at Latham Stadium. Stambaugh allowed two runs on five hits, while Garbrick gave up one run on one hit. The duo combined for 11 strikeouts and five walks.

Furman starter Nik Verbeke allowed one unearned run on four hits in four innings. After 76 pitches, Verbeke was relieved by Jordan Beatson. Beatson (0-1) gave up four runs on five hits in 1 1/3 innings to take the loss.

Morehead State took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Layne. Furman freshman centerfielder Jordan Starkes prevented another run from scoring with a terrific running catch in the right-centerfield gap to allow just the sac fly.

Starkes helped the Paladins answer in the bottom of the third when he laid down a perfect bunt with two outs for Furman's first hit of the season. Freshman Banks Griffith followed with a bloop double to tie the game. The Paladins took their only lead an inning later when David Webel grounded out to second with the bases loaded and one out.

That lead was short-lived however as the Eagles scored a pair of runs in the fifth. Jake Hammon's run-scoring infield single was followed by a Bryce Hensor sac fly that gave Morehead State a lead it never relinquished. Hunter Fain and Dom Peroni later added solo home runs for the Eagles, who belted 83 homers as a team last season in winning the Ohio Valley Conference championship.

Logan Taplett was the lone Paladin with multiple hits as he went 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI-double in the eighth inning that cut the lead to 6-3.

In his Furman debut, junior transfer catcher Dax Roper walked in all four of his plate appearances. Roper didn't get a chance to tie Ryan Presnell's single-game school record for walks in a game (set on Feb. 16, 2001). The Paladins were retired in order in the ninth leaving Roper in the hole.

Another newcomer that was solid for Furman was freshman reliever Rob Hughes. Hughes didn't allow a hit over the final two innings. He had one walk and two strikeouts.

Game two of the three-game series is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m.

Furman baseball set to open 2019 season

Brett Harker's third season as Furman baseball coach begins
Friday against Morehead State. Photo courtesy of Furman
The Furman baseball team enters the 2019 season with modest - at best - expectations from outsiders. Coming off a 24-28 season and with a quite a bit of roster turnover, the Paladins are picked to finish sixth (media) and seventh (coaches), respectively, in the Southern Conference preseason polls.

On the eve of Friday's season opener against reigning Ohio Valley Conference champion Morehead State, Furman coach Brett Harker said those expectations serve as nothing more than motivation for his team.

"This is the most excited I've ever been about being picked seventh because of the identity of this team. This team has a chip on its shoulder and its unity and leadership is the best I've ever been around," Harker said. "So you have that mixed with people overlooking you? What a sweet recipe to have a big year.
"We don't have any big names at the start of the year, but I think we're going to have some big names at the end. ... It's been a lot of fun to show up at the ballpark every day and we haven't even played a game yet."

While 17 lettermen are back this season, Furman will look to replace seven of its top 11 hitters from last year. Two of those seven were unexpected as freshman All-American centerfielder Ben Anderson transferred to Georgia shortly after last season and Jake Crawford suffered an elbow injury that will sideline him for the entire 2019 season.

Crawford will red-shirt this year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, but will still contribute as the team's first base coach. That will allow new assistant Andrew Cox to serve as a "bench coach" alongside Harker in the dugout.

First pitch of game one of the season is scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday. Saturday and Sunday's games are each scheduled for 1 p.m. starts - weather permitting.

The lineup
Harker said the biggest change he expects to see offensively is the's team overall speed on the basepaths. He believes Furman has legitimate basestealing threats in six spots in the lineup (No. 1-5 and 9). Here's a look at the Paladins projected starting nine:

  1. Jordan Starkes CF: After Anderson led off last season, another true freshman centerfielder will lead off this year. Starkes was a two-sport standout at Northwestern High. He helped the baseball Trojans go 29-4 and win a state championship in 2017. In his high school football career, Starkes had 2,303 yards receiving, including a 74-yard touchdown catch in Northwestern's 2015 state championship victory.
  2. Banks Griffith 2B: Another freshman will follow Starkes in the lineup, but the last name is familiar as he's the younger brother of former Paladins, Ryan and Sims. Banks Griffith comes to Furman after starting all four years at Class 6A Gainesville (Ga.) High, where he's the all-time leader in hits.
  3. Dax Roper C: While one former Belton-Honea Path High standout is out of this year's lineup in Crawford, another one is in with Roper. Roper is a junior transfer, who hit .355 with seven home runs and 38 RBIs in 42 games at Florence-Darlington Tech last season. Harker believes Roper has the across-the-board tools to be a SoCon Player of the Year contender.
  4. Trent Alley DH: After going 2-for-17 at the plate in 2018, Alley has made perhaps the biggest strides in the offseason. Harker said Alley's hit close to .375 with some big power numbers in fall ball. "He's really made the jump we've been looking for him to make," Harker said.
  5. Jabari Richards LF: After hitting .255 with six homers and 32 RBIs last season, Richards is a preseason All-SoCon second team selection. With 22 career home runs, Richards is just three shy of entering the top 10 in school history. Harker said Richards has had consistently good at-bats this offseason.
  6. Logan Taplett 3B: For the second year in a row, Taplett will be filling the shoes of an injured player as he takes over for Crawford at third base. Taplett hit .273 last season and was a catcher for much of the year as Jason Costa's injuries limited him to DH duties.
  7. John Michael Boswell 1B: Harker said Boswell won the first base starting job this offseason, but fellow senior Deon Sanders and freshman Anthony Fontana should contribute there as well. Boswell hit .239 in 26 games last season and was 7-for-11 (.636) as a pinch-hitter.
  8. Bret Huebner SS: Huebner is set for his third season as starting shortstop and was one of two Paladins to start all 52 games in 2018. After hitting .143 over his first 10 games last season, Huebner finished the year with a .293 average, one homer and 22 RBIs.
  9. David Webel RF: After earning the opening day start as a true freshman in 2017, injuries have limited Webel's availability ever since. Harker said the "little sparkplug" is completely healthy and ready to cause havoc on the basepaths. Harker added that it's like having leadoff-type batters at the top and bottom of the order.
The rotation
The Paladins return two of three regular starting pitchers, but will have to replace Grant Schuermann. Schuermann, who led Furman in innings pitched (81 1/3) and strikeouts (53) in 2018, has graduated and spending his final year of playing eligibility at Central Florida.

"This is the most confident I've ever been for our guys going out and making you hit the ball and throwing the ball in the strike zone," Harker said of this year's pitching staff.

Here's a look at the Paladins' projected starting pitchers this season:

  • Friday - Nik Verbeke: Harker's "most competitive pitcher" gets the opening day start this season after sliding into the Friday starter role for much of last season. A second-team All-SoCon preseason pick, Verbeke fought through some nagging injuries last season to go 5-5 with a 4.50 ERA that was lowest among the starters. In SoCon play, Verbeke went 2-2 with a 3.50 ERA.
  • Saturday - Matt Lazzaro: After earning a spot as a weekend starter to open last season as a freshman, Lazzaro is back and the southpaw gives Furman a righty-lefty-righty weekend rotation. Lazzaro went 3-4 with a 4.85 ERA before being shut down - outside of one relief appearance - over the final six weeks due to arm fatigue. He had 34 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 52 innings.
  • Sunday - David Dunlavey: After going 12-1 with a 3.58 ERA at USC-Lancaster in 2017, Dunlavey was expected to compete for a starting spot last year before missing the season following Tommy John surgery. "He's come back stronger than ever and is a dominant force with a three to four-pitch mix," Harker said. "He's gives us some velocity we haven't had in awhile."
  • Midweek - John Michael Bertrand: After missing the 2017 season with an injury, Bertrand went 5-3 with a 4.88 ERA in 16 appearances (seven starts) last season. The left-hander had just 12 walks in 51 2/3 innings and earned the team's Carter Grote award as the "heart and soul of the team."
  • Midweek - Rob Hughes: Hughes is a 6-foot-3, 220-pound freshman right-hander who was a teammate of Starkes at Northwestern. Hughes was 8-1 with a 1.30 ERA as a senior, went 11-1 with an 0.50 ERA on the Trojans' state title team in 2017, and went 5-0 with four saves as a sophomore. "The kid's got electric stuff," Harker said. "He's going to have a really special career for us."

The bullpen
The Paladins must replace Tyler Kimbrell, who led the 2018 team in ERA (3.79), appearances (25) and saves (6), Heath Hawkins, who had a solid career as a reliever the past four seasons, and Crawford.

Sophomore Jordan Beatson appears to be in line to get the first shot as closing games this year. Beatson had an ERA under 4.00 until mid-April before struggling over the final month last season. He finished 2-2 with a 6.45 ERA and was second on the team in appearances (21) and opposing batting average (.275).

Harker is also counting on left-handed juniors Andrew Holweger, Hank Nichols and Jeremiah Garcia. Nichols and Garcia are new Paladins this season, but not new to the local area. Nichols is a 6-foot-5 transfer from South Carolina, who played at J.L. Mann. Garcia is a sidearm pitcher who played at Woodmont High and transferred in from USC-Lancaster. Bertrand and Hughes will also obviously be available out of the bullpen as needed.

The schedule
One noticeable thing over the first two years under Harker has been some pretty cool games on the schedule. After playing a weekend series at traditional power Wichita State last season, the coolest part of this season's schedule is a unique minor league ballpark tour series against Wake Forest.

Game one will be held March 1 at the minor league home of the Winston-Salem Dash. The next day, the teams will face off at the Charlotte Knights' beautiful new ballpark before wrapping up the series at the Greenville Drive's Fluor Field.

That's one of six regular season games this season scheduled for Fluor Field, which has become the Paladins home away from home. This includes five consecutive games on the schedule from March 3-10 and a game there against South Carolina on March 19. While it's fun to play in a gorgeous minor league park, Harker said it doesn't exactly hurt recruiting either.

"Fluor Field has our logo on the home dugout for a reason. ... Obviously, if we want to win SoCon championships, that (Fluor Field) needs to be our home and we've got some good games there," Harker said. "I use downtown Greenville in addition to Fluor in recruiting. I was born and raised here, so I have a ton of pride in Greenville."

The schedule also features Big XII member Kansas visiting Furman for a three-game series over the last weekend in April during the Paladins' off weekend from SoCon play. The Paladins also visit former SoCon foe and Harker's alma mater, the College of Charleston, March 15-17.

"I could say that would be just another series, but I'd be lying. ... That will be a whole lot of fun returning there and facing their really good ball club," Harker said. "It's a challenging schedule, but it gives us a great opportunity to show what we're made of.
"It's not all going to be roses, but this team has the mentality to be able to weather the storms. I'm excited to get in the foxhole with them and start competing."

Paladins down UNCG for fifth straight win

Jordan Lyons scored 22 points as Furman handed UNCG its second SoCon
loss this season with a 67-57 win Thursday. Photo courtesy of Furman
There's been one obvious factor during the Furman men's basketball team current win streak - tenacious defense. On Thursday night against UNCG, that was again the case and it couldn't have come against a more symbolic opponent.

In the first showdown between these two members of the Southern Conference's "big four" this season Jan. 12, Furman shot 52.9 percent from the floor, 55.6 percent (10-of-18) on 3-pointers, and 88.2 percent from the foul line. All that offense was wasted though as the Paladins left Greensboro with a 10-point loss.

On Thursday, Furman shot 43.1 percent from the floor and hit just 7-of-23 (30.4 percent) of its 3-pointers. This time around though, it was the Paladins who sent the Spartans home with a 10-point loss. Furman held UNCG to 35.5 percent shooting from the floor and limited the Spartans to their third-lowest scoring output this season in a 67-57 win.

"I'm so proud of this group. ... We had to go on the road to these top of the league teams three times (in the first half of the SoCon schedule). ... I told our guys, 'this thing's going to balance out. You've just got to stay with it and keep getting better.' We just had to keep improving and man, have we," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Just watching that game tonight, what a fight. Both teams played their hearts out. It was a war for every ball and every pass. That's a championship level basketball game right there.
"We were fortunate enough to make the plays down the stretch. ... We had a clean finish those last few minutes after taking the lead."

The win extended Furman's win streak to five games, while snapping UNCG's eight-game winning streak. The victory also marked the Paladins' first win over the Spartans in their last five meetings.
Furman (21-5, 10-4) remains tied for third-place in the SoCon with ETSU (20-7, 10-4), while second-place UNCG (22-4, 11-2) is now two losses back of Wofford (22-4, 14-0) in the league standings. The SoCon is currently the only conference in the country with four 20-win teams.

Just as they did against Citadel's Matt Frierson, Mercer's Ross Cummings, Western Carolina's Matt Halvorsen and ETSU's Patrick Good during the win streak, the Paladins controlled the opposition's best shooter again. UNCG's Francis Alonso, who entered averaging 17.2 points per game and  hitting 38.2 percent of his 3-pointers, was held to 10 points Thursday. He hit 2-of-7 shots from beyond the arc and committed six turnovers.

As a team, UNCG hit six 3-pointers Thursday. While that's the most allowed by Furman during its win streak, the Spartans only made 26.1 percent of its 3-point tries. In the first meeting, UNCG sank 11-of-24 3-pointers.

"We know that defense is our ticket. I think we did a great job of following that defensive gameplan tonight," said Jordan Lyons, who scored 22 points. "We did a great job of fighting through the highs and lows and sticking together through everything.
"Alex Hunter did an unbelievable job of chasing Alonso everywhere tonight. But one thing we've understood that it's never just a one-on-one matchup (against an opponent's best shooter). It's a whole five, team mentality. Everybody's bought in to the task at hand when it comes to guarding these prolific shooters."

In the first half, Furman only had three players with any points and only three with any rebounds, but clung to a 27-25 lead. It was still a tight game in the second half before the Spartans went on an 8-0 run to take a 42-36 lead with 11:58 to play.

After a Furman timeout, Matt Rafferty answered UNCG's run with a personal 7-0 run of his own to put the Paladins back in front. That was the first of five consecutive lead changes. The fifth one came on Rafferty's layup with 7:07 left to give Furman a 47-46 lead.

"We quit giving the ball to them. We ignited their run with turnovers and they did a great job pressuring us," Richey said. "There were also four, five or six (offensive) trips where Matt didn't touch it. So in the timeout, it was, 'take care of the basketball and make sure our big fella gets it.' ... I think we did that from that point forward and played a much cleaner game."

At that point, Lyons, Rafferty and Clay Mounce were still the only Paladins in the scoring column. As it turns out, the scoring of fellow starters Noah Gurley and Alex Hunter simply iced the cake. After Hunter got a steal on UNCG's ensuing possession, Gurley became the fourth Paladin to score on a layup with 6:49 left.

On Furman's next possession, the Paladins - who got beat up on the boards in the first half - got three offensive rebounds before Rafferty's layup. Just 29 seconds later, Lyons drilled a 3-pointer and Furman's lead was suddenly eight with five minutes to play.

Gurley hit a 3-pointer to put the Paladins up by nine with 4:10 left, then hit a layup a minute later to put them up by nine again. The win was sealed when Hunter became the fifth Paladin to score. As Furman ran off 29 seconds of the shot clock, Hunter soared to the basket for a layup with 1:06 left to make it 63-55.

"They don't do much, quote-unquote, on the stat sheet for 33 minutes, but they stay engaged enough to make some big-time, high-level plays down the stretch," Richey said. "You've got to stay mentally engaged and that was the key for this group tonight."

Rafferty recorded his 12th double-double this season with a game-high 26 points and 10 rebounds, while adding five steals. Mounce had eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks. Gurley had five blocks and Hunter had four steals. While Furman's reserves were outscored 3-0, Jalen Slawson made the most of his five minutes off the bench with three rebounds and a steal.

"I think this group's physicality and toughness has been questioned by a couple of people," Richey said. "You don't hold teams that are that good offensively under 60 without being physical and tough."

Isaiah Miller, who went off for 25 points in the first meeting, led UNCG with 16 points and four steals Thursday.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Vaughn promoted to defensive coordinator

Duane Vaughn is Furman's new defensive coordinator.
Photo courtesy of Furman
Two years after being retained on the Furman football coaching staff by Clay Hendrix, Duane Vaughn has earned a promotion from Hendrix. On Tuesday, Hendrix announced that Vaughn would be taking over as the Paladins' new defensive coordinator. Vaughn's promotion comes following the departure of Chad Staggs, who left to coach linebackers at Coastal Carolina.

Vaughn came to Furman in 2011 as part of the new staff for Bruce Fowler, who Vaughn played for at Vanderbilt. Over the last eight seasons, Vaughn has coached the Paladins' tight ends, safeties and - for the past two seasons - outside linebackers. He's also served as Furman's recruiting coordinator the last two years. In a corresponding move to Vaughn's promotion, Hendrix announced that inside linebackers coach Ken Lamendola is taking over that position.

"It's just a natural progression for Duane (to be the defensive coordinator). He's been here eight years now and everything I've ever given him to do, he's just been exceptional at," Hendrix said. "He's smart, a Vandy grad. He has a good rapport with the kids and has a good grasp on what we're doing defensively.
"I've been pretty pleased with the progression we're making (defensively) and I think this gives us the best chance to continue that."

When word started to get out about Staggs leaving, Hendrix said he heard from plenty of coaches in replacing him. For Hendrix, Vaughn "checked all the boxes," just as he did two years ago when he and Brian Bratton were retained from Fowler's staff.

"He's a guy that could've left since I've been here," Hendrix said. "I think he wanted to move up the chain here. It's funny how that works sometimes. Guys will pass up opportunities, keep working, and get a chance."

Staggs departure for Coastal Carolina following Chadwell being named head coach there should not come as a shock. He worked as Chadwell's defensive coordinator at both North Greenville and Charleston Southern previously.

A few days after Staggs left, Furman also lost cornerbacks coach Addison Williams, who departed for a position at Auburn. Hendrix said while the Paladins may do some different things on defense, there wouldn't be any dramatic shifts from what Furman has been doing defensively.

"If you have good coaches and you do well, you're probably going to lose some of them. That's the nature of the business," Hendrix said. "I've learned in this job, you better be looking ahead and always planning."

Staggs' two seasons as defensive coordinator was highlighted by an aggressive style of defense. After Furman totaled 20 sacks over 22 games in 2015 and 2016, the Paladins piled up 61 sacks in 23 games over the last two years. One of the big contributors to that sack total was one of Vaughn's players, Adrian Hope. Hope led the country with 15.5 sacks as a freshman last season.

"Chad did a great job here. I appreciate his hard work. He had a huge hand in changing the culture of our defense from the time he got here," Hendrix said. "At the end of the day, he left it much better than he found it."
"Addison's a young guy who had a chance to go work at an SEC school. He did a really good job here as well. I think he struggled with the decision a little bit, but I'm happy for him. ... I wish both of them nothing nothing but the best."

Ojong joins staff
On Wednesday, Hendrix announced one of two new assistant coaching hires set to be made. Rod Ojong officially joined Hendrix's staff as the new cornerbacks coach. Ojong previously served as cornerbacks coach at Austin Peay last season. Prior to that, Ojong was a defensive graduate assistant in the 2016 and 2017 seasons at North Carolina.

Ojong also gained coaching experience at Memphis, West Georgia, Lindsey Wilson and Monmouth (Ill.) College. The Brooklyn native was a team captain as a senior linebacker at Monmouth in 2011 and he recorded a team-high 104 tackles that season.

"I met him several years ago and was impressed with him from the start," Hendrix said. "He's had some tremendous mentors and comes highly recommended from some of the best coaches in all of college football."

Hendrix said the final assistant to fill out his coaching staff would likely be hired after spring practice, which is set to conclude on Feb. 26.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Furman shines in all phases in rout of ETSU

Andrew Brown hits one of his five 3-pointers in Furman's 91-61 win over ETSU
Saturday. Brown scored a season-high 17 points. Photo courtesy of Furman
Even though Furman took a nine-point lead into halftime against ETSU Saturday, there had to be some doubts about what was coming in the second half. Facing an ETSU team that held the Paladins to 37 percent shooting in the first meeting back in December, surely Furman couldn't maintain its 59.1 percentage from the floor in the first half, especially its 63.6 percentage (7-of-11) on 3-pointers. On the other end, surely an ETSU team that hit 43.8 percent of its 3-pointers against Furman the first time around wouldn't be held to 16.7 percent again in the second half.

Well, as it turns out the Paladins could do all those things even better after halftime. After a pretty darn good first half, Furman played one of its best halves of basketball ever in the second half to roll to a 91-61 victory before a sold out crowd at Timmons Arena.

In avenging a 79-56 loss at ETSU on Dec. 29, Furman recorded its most lopsided win in the series. The Paladins (20-5, 9-4 Southern Conference) also matched the "fastest to 20 wins" record set by the 1952-53 Furman team. No other team in school history reached 20 wins before Feb. 15.

"I'm proud of our team and our program. We're playing as hard as we've played all year on the defensive end and they've just bought into it," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "That goes from top to bottom - everybody in the program. We obviously had to make some adjustments after what they did to us in Johnson City and I thought we stuck to the game plan.
"There's a certain way we have to play and when we do that, we're really good."

It took Matt Rafferty all of 49 seconds to get his first steal Saturday. That gave him the school's single-season record as it snapped a tie with Guilherme Da Luz, who had 64 steals in 2001-02. But the view quickly changed for Rafferty after being whistled for two fouls in the first five minutes.

When those two fouls sent Rafferty to the bench at the 15:20 mark, Furman led 12-7. After an intitial surge by ETSU that saw it take the lead 17-15, Alex Hunter, Noah Gurley and reserve Andrew Brown started cooking. When Rafferty returned to the floor at the 7:38 mark, the Paladins led, 27-21.

"That's being a team and a program. That's understanding the game plan and having belief in each other," Richey said. "Matt will be the first to tell you that he can't do it without these guys either."

Furman's lead reached 13 down the stretch of the first half before it took a 41-32 lead at the break. The Paladins had a pretty nice lead despite Rafferty being limited to just eight minutes of action and Jordan Lyons being held scoreless. Clay Mounce, who opened the game with three 3-pointers, and Brown had 11 points apiece to lead Furman in the first half.

Those doubts about what might happen in the second half crept up a little when ETSU, which scored four points in the final 29 seconds of the first half, scored the first four points of the second half to cut the lead to 41-36. When Tray Boyd hit the Bucs' only 3-pointer of the second half with 14:31 left the lead was down to 49-43.

It took 24 seconds for Andrew Brown to answer ETSU's second 3-pointer with his fourth. A little more than a minute later, he drained his fifth and Furman never led by single digits again the rest of the way. Brown finished with a season-high 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting.

"It was one of those nights where the ball just kept going in. It's fun when that happens and it hasn't happened a lot for me this year," Brown said. "Credit to my teammates, who just kept finding me. Whenever I was open, the ball was in my hands."

With every 3-pointer drained, it just made the raucous home crowd roar louder and the Paladins noticed.

"We had an unbelievable crowd tonight," Brown said. "ETSU is a really good team and we needed that kind of support. I just want to thank them for everything they do for us, especially tonight."

After Rafferty put back his own miss with 12:13 left, it started a string where Furman made 12 of its next 14 shots. The Paladins also hit 7-of-8 free throws during that stretch to turn a 55-44 lead into an 89-55 lead with 2:47 left. Furman shot 67.9 percent in the second half, including 5-of-7 (71.4 percent) on 3-pointers, to finish with a season-high 64 percent (32-of-50) from the floor.

Rafferty scored 14 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, while Lyons scored all 14 of his points after halftime to lead the second half onslaught. Rafferty finished with five assists and three steals, and Lyons also had three steals. Mounce had 15 points and Alex Hunter had 11 to go along with five assists, two steals and no turnovers. Gurley had nine points, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal with no turnovers.

"When you've played for four years, it's pretty easy to predict where the ball's going to go or what plays are going to be run - especially if you start to know the systems," Rafferty said of his single-season steals record. "Getting hands on passes, rolls and post-ups, turning the ball over and getting out and running. I think it helps our team a lot."

Much of the Paladins' offensive success Saturday came off of the tenacious defense that only seems to be getting better and better during Furman's current four-game winning streak. After holding ETSU to 1-of-8 (14.3 percent) on 3-pointers in the second half, Furman hasn't allowed more than five 3-pointers to any of its last four opponents. It's 3-point defensive percentage during that stretch is 22.4 percent (17-of-76).

"We just kind of keyed in on some of the guys that were hitting shots up there," Hunter said. "We were connected and had each other's backs defensively. That led to us getting steals and playing a fast-pace game, which is when we're at our best.
"That carries over into my assists. When we can get up and down the floor, it's easy to find shooters like AB and Jordan. Clay was on fire too. Then you've got a big guy like Raff, who makes reads so well he can find you as much as you find him."

Jeromy Rodriguez had 21 points and "only" seven rebounds to lead ETSU (19-7, 9-4). The junior forward entered Saturday ranked sixth in the country averaging 11.3 rebounds per game. The Bucs rank first nationally in rebounding margin (+12.5), but only had a 26-23 advantage on the boards Saturday.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Best defensive showing of the year lifts Furman

Matt Rafferty had 13 points, 10 rebounds and tied Furman's season steals record
in the Paladins' 64-45 win at Western Carolina. Photo courtesy of Furman
CULLOWHEE, N.C. - Prior to the Furman men's basketball game at Western Carolina Thursday night, the Furman women's team set a school record on the same court. The Lady Paladins allowed the fewest points they ever have in a Southern Conference game in a 53-28 win over the Catamounts.

For the first half of the game two of the doubleheader, it appeared the Furman men might do the same. After taking a 26-13 lead into halftime, the Paladins went on to a 64-45 win. While it's not the school's modern-era SoCon record set two years ago in an 85-37 home win against the Catamounts, it is the fewest points allowed this season by Furman. WCU's 31.4 field goal percentage for the game is also the lowest allowed by the Paladins this season.

"Defense is what we have to do. We've got length and athleticism and we've got to use it," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "On the road especially, you can't worry about making or missing shots, you've got to go out and play as hard as you can and play as a unit. We did tonight.
"I think that's the first time we've (drawn) three charges this season and had a lot of verticality at the rim. I thought we did a great job of protecting the basket tonight."

Thursday's win capped a 3-0 roadtrip for Furman that followed an extremely tough home loss to Samford on Jan. 26. The Paladins (19-5, 8-4 SoCon) won all three games by double digits. While Furman trailed a game for the first time on the road trip Thursday, that lasted all of two minutes and two seconds.

The struggle was real for both teams to open the game. After Western Carolina took a 2-0 lead a little more than two minutes in, Matt Rafferty got Furman on the board at the 15:48 mark. Thirty-six seconds later, Alex Hunter's 3-pointer gave the Paladins the lead for good.

After the reigning SoCon Player of the Week, Onno Steger, scored at the 17:50 mark, Western Carolina's next field goal came at the 7:19 mark and it cut Furman's lead to 16-5. The Catamounts (6-19, 3-9) made 5-of-26 shots (19.2 percent) in the first half, including 1-of-7 on 3-pointers.

"It starts with our toughness. For the past three road games, we knew we were going to have to be tougher than we had been and we did that," Rafferty said. "Defense comes with toughness and we've really been locked in the past three games. That's kind of propelled on offense as well."

Western Carolina cut the lead to 10 a little under two minutes into the second half, but never got closer. In a six-minute stretch midway through the second half, Furman went on a 15-5 run to take its biggest lead of the night at 54-29 with 8:04 left and remove all doubt. The Paladins forced a season-high 22 turnovers and scored 29 points off those.

Noah Gurley had 14 points to lead the Paladins and also a pair of big blocked shots. Rafferty posted his 11th double-double this season with 13 points and 10 rebounds. He also had a steal to tie Guilherme Da Luz for the school's single-season record of 64. Alex Hunter was the lone other Paladin in double figures with 10 points.

Gurley and Rafferty's defensive effort down low frustrated Carlos Dotson, who had 27 points and 14 rebounds in Furman's 90-88 double overtime win against WCU in Greenville back in December. On Thursday, Dotson again had 14 rebounds. While six of those were offensive, he only finished with seven points on 3-of-8 shooting and had five turnovers.

"It was all about limiting his touches today," Rafferty said. "He's a great offensive rebounder, but others helped me and Noah on the boards by crashing down. ... Our guards also did a great job shutting down their shooters."

While Gurley and Rafferty controlled things down low, Jordan Lyons and company continued to make life miserable for WCU sharpshooter Matt Halvorsen, who entered Thursday having made 60-of-170 3-pointers this season. After going 1-for-15, including 1-for-13 from beyond the arc in Greenville, Halvorsen was 1-of-7, including 1-of-5 on 3-pointers, Thursday. Halvorsen scored all four of his points on a four-point play with 2:37 left.

Furman also held Steger, who totaled 51 points over two games last week, to eight points on 3-of-10 shooting.

"It (defense) starts on the ball. ... I thought we did a really good job with our pressure and we also contained the bounce pretty well tonight," Richey said. "We weren't necessarily as clean as I'd like. We finished with 14 turnovers. That's too many for us, but we will continue to work on that. We didn't shoot it that great from three, but when we guard with that effort, energy and intensity, we're tough."