Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Rafferty powers Paladins past UNC Asheville

Furman raced out to a 14-2 lead less than four minutes into the game Tuesday as the Paladins cruised past UNC Asheville 83-72. Furman (6-3) had 14 steals and 20 assists in recording its first win over the Bulldogs (5-4) since 69-67 decision seven years ago.

For the second game in a row, the Paladins stymied a team that was shooting the lights on 3-pointers coming in. On Saturday, Furman held Tennessee Tech to 2-of-19 shooting from beyond the arc. UNC Asheville hit 4-of-13, but didn't connect on its first until 7:36 left in the game when the Paladins were up 68-51. UNCA then hit three of its final four shots from beyond the arc, all over the final 2:41 when Furman led 80-59.

For the Paladins, it's been a case of not overthinking defensively since suffering a 93-74 loss to Winthrop last Wednesday.

"I was so worried about Winthrop's 3-point shooting and we put a focus on it and extended our defense a little bit more and it backfired on us," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "What we realized is that you've got to do what you do."

In the last two games, the Paladins faced Tennessee Tech, which was shooting 40.4 percent on 3-pointers entering Saturday, and UNC Asheville, which entered Tuesday ranked No. 7 in the country at 44.6 percent from beyond the arc.

"For both of them, we strictly focused on our defensive principles - can you disrupt the ball, can you keep the ball in front, can you be in your gaps to support your teammates and can you communicate?" Richey said. "It's just a funny paradox. When you just go out there and play hard, focus on your assignment and play connected, they just don't get the clean looks.
"Whereas against Winthrop, we got extended, they started driving us and it looked like a circus out there trying to rotate and scramble all over the place."

Three layups from Matt Rafferty, an Andrew Brown 3-pointer and a Devin Sibley layup gave Furman an 11-0 lead 2:22 into the game. Alex Hunter's 3-pointer a minute later put the Paladins up 14-2 and they never led by single digits the rest of the way. Less than five minutes into the second half, Furman had an 18-4 run to push its lead to 26.

The Paladins and Bulldogs were each 29-of-57 from the floor - thanks to UNCA making five of its last six shots. The difference came from beyond the arc, where Furman was 8-of-24, and at the foul line, where Furman hit 17-of-22. The 20 assists and 14 steals were season highs for the Paladins.

"I think it started with getting back in transition and on-ball pressure. That really interrupted their offense," Rafferty said. "We got steals off deflections. It was overall a good team defensive performance by us. I think after Winthrop these last two games have been needed to give us some confidence back on defense.
"My job (offensively) was easy tonight. It was the guards that were driving in there and dumping to me for layups, so all the credit to them."

Rafferty had a near perfect game. He was 8-of-9 from the floor and 6-of-6 from the foul line for a career-high 22 points. He also had nine rebounds, three assists, three steals, one blocked shot and no turnovers.

"The guy just literally gets every single drop out of the rag. He just rings it completely out," Richey said. "He never asks for a sub. He never says he's tired. He never misses an assignment. He's just steady.
"We had a season-high 36 deflections tonight and he had 13 of them. So your guy that quantitatively-speaking, probably has the lowest amount of athleticism led our team in deflections. That's because he cares, he anticipates and absolutely plays as hard as he can play."

After getting injured against Winthrop and having an off-day shooting against Tennessee Tech, Devin Sibley bounced back with 16 points and a game-high five assists. Andrew Brown had 11 points, three assists and a game-high four steals, Daniel Fowler had nine points and three steals, and John Davis had seven points and three steals also for Furman.

Kevin Vannatta led the Bulldogs with 18 points.

Furman returns to action Saturday for game four of the five-game homestand. The Paladins host South Carolina State at 4 p.m.

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