Saturday, December 9, 2017

Big runs help Furman cruise past S.C. State

Furman's John Davis III had 21 points and five assists in the Paladins'
101-72 win over S.C. State Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
The turning point of a basketball game is sometimes difficult to pinpoint. In Furman's 101-72 win over South Carolina State Saturday at Timmons Arena, it was crystal clear albeit a little odd considering the final score.

When S.C. State's Justin Jones got free to drain his fourth 3-pointer, the Bulldogs led 20-16 with 10:31 left in the first half. That's when Furman coach Bob Richey vigorously encouraged the Paladins to stick with Jones whether he had the ball or not. Furman proceeded to go on a 25-3 run over the next 7:47 to take a commanding 18-point lead that was never threatened.

"We went back to our gameplan principles and tried to slow him down a little bit," said John Davis III, who scored 21 points and had five assists. "We hang our hat on defense. Whenever anything starts to click, it's predicated on defense. Defense just ignites our offense."

Davis, who was just 7-of-33 on 3-pointers entering Saturday, hit 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. Devin Sibley, who scored a game-high 24 points, was 4-of-5 on 3-pointers as the Paladins were 14-of-33 (42.4 percent) overall on 3-pointers. Sibley, who also had four assists and two steals, moved into 15th place on Furman's all-time scoring chart with 1,516 career points.

The victory avenged a home loss to S.C. State last season. It also marked the first time the Paladins scored 100 points against a Division I opponent since a 103-98 win at Charleston Southern on Dec. 18, 1993.

Richey said the best thing the Paladins did Saturday was collect 24 assists against just 10 turnovers. All five starters had at least three assists. Furman (7-3) also helped force 22 turnovers, collecting 12 steals along the way.

"We knew they were going to throw multiple defenses at us and part of the game plan was to just keep it simple, make sure we know what we want to do on each attack and just keep the ball moving," Richey said. "Credit our guys, 24 is a lot of assists."

S.C. State (2-9) went scoreless over the final 6:24 of that 25-3 first-half run by the Paladins. Furman forced six turnovers during that span, including turnovers on five consecutive possessions. The Paladins stretched the lead to 23 on their final possession of the first half when Davis dribbled on nearly all the shot clock before finding Jalen Williams for a dunk.

After scoring his 14th point less than 10 minutes into the first half, Jones did not get another shot off until a 3-pointer just past midcourt at the first-half buzzer. That cut Furman's lead to 52-32 at the break. The Paladins used an 18-2 run midway through the second half to take its biggest lead of the game at 87-54. The cherry on top came on Furman's final possession when Jonathan Jean threw an alley-oop from midcourt that Clay Mounce dunked.

"I thought we had 30 good minutes of basketball. I wasn't real thrilled about our start in either half. We were just trading baskets with them," Richey said. "But after about the 15-minute mark of each half, we really stepped it up."

The Paladins shot 56.7 percent in the first half and 55.9 percent in the second half. Furman outscored S.C. State 36-22 in the paint, 28-11 off turnovers, 23-7 on fast breaks and had a 33-14 advantage in bench points.

In addition to Sibley's 24 and Davis' 21, Daniel Fowler had 15 points, three assists and three steals. In 19 minutes off the bench, Williams posted career-highs in points (14), rebounds (8) and steals (3).

"Each time I've gotten on the floor, I've gotten more and more comfortable with this being my second year," Williams said. "My goal is to be bring physicality to the game each night and I feel like that's what I did tonight. Whether that's playing five minutes or 19 minutes, I've just got to bring that every day."

Richey felt that Williams, a sophomore from Wade Hampton High, turned a corner and provided a needed presence against the bigger Bulldogs.

"I'm really, really proud of him. They definitely had an advantage on us with size ... and we decided to give Jalen some more minutes. To his credit, he maximized his opportunity," Richey said. "He rebounded at a high level tonight and played with some physicality. Once we put him in there, they weren't getting those easy layups and put-backs."

Jones finished with 19 points to lead S.C. State, while Donte Wright added 15.

Furman wraps up its five-game homestand Thursday when the Paladins host Montreat at 7 p.m.

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