Devin Sibley scored a game-high 23 points and John Davis added 20 as Furman rallied for a 76-67 win over Elon Tuesday night at Timmons Arena. The Paladins won despite shooting 38.5 percent in a battle of top 25 mid-major teams.
Furman (2-0) is ranked No. 17 in this week's CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25, while Elon (1-2) is 23rd. Sibley provided his usual solid output and Davis gave the Paladins a big lift offensively, but this was an ultimate team effort that changed for the better for Furman on the defensive end.
"To beat a team that good with us shooting 38 percent from the floor is a testament to how hard our guys played," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "They challenge you in every aspect of your defense. We knew it was going to be a battle. We're just happy to come out on the positive side."
After hitting four of its first five 3-pointers, Furman went through a stretch of 12 consecutive misses from beyond the arc. That helped Elon take a 29-23 lead. But over the final four minutes of the first half, the Paladins turned up the defensive pressure to a notch that stuck the rest of the way.
"I thought that (defense late in the first half) was the key to the game. That was our only chance. We had to really lock in defensively," Richey said. "Being good defensively wasn't going to be enough. We had to be great. That was the message at that last media (timeout of the first half)."
Elon opened the second half with a Brian Dawkins' jumper that pushed its lead to 38-33 before Furman went on a 10-0 run sparked by Andrew Brown. After 10 minutes of play in the first half with nothing but two fouls to show for it, Brown hit 3-pointers to start and cap the run as the Paladins led 43-38 with 16:02 left.
The Phoenix rose and took a 52-48 lead with less than 11 minutes to play. However, Furman answered with a 17-2 run that was once again started by a Brown 3-pointer. Davis came up with a steal and a layup that gave the Paladins the lead for good and Sibley followed with a steal and layup of his own. Another Sibley layup and Brown's fourth 3-pointer gave the Paladins a total of nine points in a 90-second flurry of scoring that forced an Elon timeout.
"When we get those kick-out looks off penetration, those are the ones we usually make," Brown said. "We started getting those in the second half and they started to fall."
Furman led 63-54 at a media timeout with 6:54 left. The Paladins sealed the win with a pair of huge possessions down the stretch. Coming out of that timeout, Daniel Fowler had a pair of offensive rebounds on the same possession that led to a Matt Rafferty layup and an 11-point lead. Furman shaved 1:09 off the clock on that trip down the court.
With a little over three minutes left, Furman again had a single possession in which Fowler and Sibley had offensive rebounds. It ended with a pair of Sibley free throws. The Paladins hit 9-of-12 free throws the rest of the way to wrap up the win. Furman was 15-of-19 from the foul line overall.
"The whole dynamic of our team changes when we're rebounding well. That's something we focus on every day because we're never going to be the biggest team on the court," Davis said. "We try to use our strength, speed, attention to detail and use those scrappy plays to get boards. That fuels the team."
Fowler had nine rebounds, including six offensive boards. Rafferty had seven rebounds, while Davis and Sibley each had six as the Paladins outrebounded the bigger Phoenix 38-35. Of those 38 boards, 14 were offensive. Davis also had four steals, while Sibley had two.
"We really challenged our guys on the boards and Daniel really responded. ... He was a monster in the second half," Richey said. "For us to win the rebounding edge tonight was huge. We wanted to get three tip-outs and we were able to exceed that. Kris (Acox) used to do that for us where if he couldn't quite grab it, he would just tip it out and extend possessions."
Elon shot 35.5 percent on 3-pointers last season and made 39.7 percent of its 3-pointers over its first two games this season, including 14-of-33 (42.7 percent) against Duke. On Tuesday, the Phoenix were just 5-of-24 (20.8 percent) from beyond the arc.
"When you can defend like that, play that hard and get out and run on people, I thought we brought a little fatigue to the game tonight," Richey said. "When you saw the two airballs late - with as good a shooters as they have - I thought you could see that they got a little winded."