Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Halfway home in the SoCon season

Furman's John Davis has scored 37 points and hit 6-of-9 3-pointers
over his last two games. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Whoa, we're halfway there in the Southern Conference regular season. It appears ETSU has everyone else livin' on a prayer in the chase for the regular season championship. After surviving a scare at The Citadel Monday night for their 13th straight win, the Buccaneers improved to 10-0 in the league. Wofford and UNC Greensboro are 2 1/2 games back in the standings at 7-2, while Furman is alone in fourth place at 6-3.

At the halfway point of the conference season, those top four teams have kind of separated themselves. They are the only SoCon teams with a winning record - in league play or overall. It's hard to imagine ETSU losing three of its final eight games and someone else winning out to claim the regular season title, but you never know. The most important part of the season is still the first weekend in March in Asheville at the SoCon Tournament. Obviously, positioning for it is also important.

The Paladins wrapped up the first half of league play with a 100-66 win over Western Carolina Saturday. Furman's fifth 100-point performance of the season followed probably its poorest game of the first half in a 71-61 loss at UNCG.

"Sometimes when a team goes through adversity, you want to sit there and talk about the things you don't do well. ... That's human nature. What we tried to figure out the past two days was 'what are our strengths' and let's get back to them," Furman coach Bob Richey said in Saturday's postgame. "Tempo, ball movement and making sure that we're trying to bring fatigue to the game through our speed. I think those are things that we have to be able to do."

Reigning SoCon Player of the Year Devin Sibley got back on track with a 23-point performance Saturday, John Davis scored 18, and every Paladin starter had at least three assists as the team finished with 21 versus just seven turnovers. Geoff Beans came off the bench and generated the biggest ovation from the Timmons Arena crowd with an eye-popping dunk. Richey said 3-point specialist provides much more that fans don't get to see.

"What Geoff did this week individually behind-the scenes and the way he led this team ... was incredible. I wish people could see it. This program is indebted to him in a lot of different ways," Richey said. "This team has dealt with a lot of adversity here lately and it's been neat to see and convince these players that that's a life lesson as well. Adversity is not what defeats you, it's the response to that adversity.
"I was really pleased with seeing these guys come through that, getting their head up and shoulders back and saying, 'hey, let's go get back to who we are and march forward.' I appreciate Geoff's involvement with that."

Going into the second half of the SoCon, the Paladins will look to maintain that momentum with a couple of intriguing road games this week. Furman plays at Mercer Thursday before taking on rival Citadel Saturday. The Paladins beat the Bears by three and the Bulldogs by 40 earlier this season in Greenville.

Since the 2014-15 season, each of the eight Furman-Mercer games have produced single-digit final margins. The Paladins have won the last four games, the last three of which have been decided by three points or less.

Furman has also won its last four against Citadel. While those wins have been in a much more convincing fashion than the Mercer series, last year's 99-91 win in Charleston was an adventure. The Paladins led 68-40 in the second half before the Bulldogs whittled Furman's lead down to three with 1:30 left. While Citadel is 2-7 in the league, it just missed upsetting ETSU in a 73-71 loss Monday and used a 51-point second half to win 76-74 at Mercer on Saturday.

Richey said whatever happened the first time around against SoCon opponents shouldn't be overly valued in the rematches.

"The second time's always different from the first. ... You're much more fixated on your first game and adjustments off that game," Richey said. "You'll still watch their previous games, but it's more about what you did well and did poorly, what adjustments you can do and what adjustments they could potentially do.
"You'd be amazed at the new wrinkles teams put in - new sets, new lineups sometimes. Usually when you play them again, it's never the same game."

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Paladins bounce back with rout of Catamounts

Furman's Devin Sibley had 23 points and 7 rebounds in the Paladins' 100-66
win over Western Carolina Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Furman followed up arguably its poorest game of the season Wednesday with arguably its finest on Saturday. Devin Sibley scored a game-high 23 points to lead the Paladins to a 100-66 win over Western Carolina at Timmons Arena. The win comes a season after Furman topped the Catamounts 85-37 on their last trip to Greenville.

After a 71-61 loss at UNC Greensboro Wednesday in which Furman had a season-low six assists and 14 turnovers, the Paladins had 21 assists and 7 turnovers Saturday. Every Furman (15-7, 6-3 Southern Conference) starter had at least three assists and five Paladins scored in double figures.

"I thought the guys played with incredible spirit and a few smiles on their faces. We were much more connected out there from the beginning, on both ends of the floor," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "The biggest thing is in the last six games, we haven't had a game over 32 percent from three. We've got really, really good shooters. We had to make sure that just because you shoot poorly in a game it doesn't have to carry over into the next game.
"I thought that first possession of the game really set the tone. The ball movement was incredible."

That first possession saw Furman work the ball in-and-out and side-to-side, and seemingly had three "extra" passes before Daniel Fowler found John Davis, who knocked down an open 3-pointer.

Sibley then began working on an overdue spectacular performance, hitting his first jumper. He then had a steal, drove to the hole and drew a foul for what felt like the first time in ages. Sibley, who's struggled at the foul line in SoCon play, hit both free throws. He went to work on all parts of his stat line, with a blocked shot, a rebound and a 3-pointer that gave Furman a 13-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.

"The pressure from not making some shots from the perimeter has given us a little bit more of a weighted approach to offense. We just haven't played with the sense of freedom that we had out there tonight," Richey said. "We've just worked on it a lot the last two days, just trying to get back to who we are.
"To start the game like that tonight, after some of the adversity that this team's dealt with, I think that's a credit to our leadership. It's a credit to the courage and really just the guts of this team."

Sibley finished 7-of-12 from the floor Saturday, marking the first time he shot over 50 percent from the floor since a 26-point performance against The Citadel on Jan. 4. He also had a team-high seven rebounds and three assists. For the second game in a row, Sibley wasn't called for an offensive foul after being whistled for at least one - and a combined total of 15 - in 10 consecutive games against Div. I opponents.

In pregame warmups for his second game back since dislocating his right little finger, Sibley stayed on the court for a few minutes longer than usual after his teammates went to the locker room.

"That's what I usually do, but it probably did help a little bit today. John (Davis) did too and he was tremendous," Sibley said. "I guess we need to start doing that way more now."

After roaring out of the gate, the Paladins never slowed down the rest of the half, leading by as many as 33 before taking a 58-28 lead into halftime. Furman hit 10-of-20 3-pointers, had 12 assists and one turnover in the first half. Sibley had 16 points and six rebounds before halftime.

In addition to Sibley, Davis (18), Matt Rafferty (13), freshman Clay Mounce (11) and Fowler (10) scored in double figures for the Paladins. Playing without the services of reserve center Jalen Williams (back spasms), Mounce and Geoff Beans (9 points) stepped up at the post position.

An alley-oop dunk by Mounce brought the biggest roar from the home crowd Saturday until Beans - a 3-point specialist throughout his career - threw down a dunk later. The crowd got one more big thrill when walk-on Seve Stavroff scored his first collegiate point to get Furman to 100. It's the fifth time this season the Paladins have reached the century mark. The last time Furman had five 100-point games came in the 1977-78 season.

"I thought (Mounce) was phenomenal today. He really ran the floor, got out in transition and rebounded the ball well," Richey said. "I think it's just something that we can continue to build on because he's going to be a very good player here."

Matt Halvorsen scored 15 points to lead the Catamounts (9-12, 4-4).

Furman begins the second half of the SoCon season Thursday at Mercer. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Sloppy Paladins fall at UNCG

John Davis had 19 points and seven rebounds in Furman's 71-61
loss at UNCG Wednesday night. Photo courtesy of Furman.
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Furman went nearly eight-and-a-half minutes without a field goal down the stretch Wednesday night as UNC Greensboro pulled away for a 71-61 win in a key Southern Conference game at the Greensboro Coliseum.

How cold were the Paladins (14-7, 5-3) down the stretch? The Spartans (15-5, 6-1) recorded the double-digit win without making a field goal over the final 7:22 of game time. UNCG hit 14-of-19 free throws during that stretch. Meanwhile, Furman was 5-of-11 from the foul line in the second half.

"To go 1-for-7 on free throws down the stretch, you're going to have a tough time. With some of those misses being front ends ... they're called free shots for a reason," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "It's hard to go up there and miss that many free throws and stay in the game.
"We had some just uncharacteristic, ridiculous turnovers dribbling into tough spaces and just trying to do too much. That's not who we are. We've got to play together."

Despite not playing all that well in the opening half, Furman took a 34-32 lead at the break after a buzzer-beating putback by Daniel Fowler. When Fowler hit a 3-pointer with 9:54 left, the Paladins had matched their biggest lead of the night at 54-50.

By the time Furman hit its next field goal - a jumper by John Davis - there was only 1:27 left to play and Davis' shot cut UNCG's lead to 67-57. In the 8:27 between field goals, the Paladins went 0-for-8 from the floor, 1-for-6 from the foul line and were outscored 17-1.

Coming off a 16-assist, five-turnover performance as a team in Saturday's win over Samford, Furman had six assists and 14 turnovers Wednesday. It was the first time all season that the Paladins didn't reach double figures in assists. Furman also had only six steals, it's lowest total since five at UNC-Wilmington on Dec. 17.

"We didn't play as connected as we needed to be. That's what they (UNCG) do. They're in the top five percentile in the country on defense. ... They can really make you just play 1-on-1 ball and we got caught in that," Richey said. "We got some finishes at the rim, but we didn't get fouled enough like we needed to do to get their pressure to condense.
"It was a bad night, but we'll regroup, get home and figure out what we need to do to get better. We will try to get these guys back to playing connected because that's when they're at their best."

Davis had a game-high 19 points, seven rebounds and two steals to lead the Paladins, while Matt Rafferty scored 14. Playing with the last two fingers on his right hand taped together, Devin Sibley returned to the lineup after missing Saturday's game with a dislocated little finger. Furman's leading scorer had six points on 3-of-11 shooting before fouling out.

The Paladins opened the game 2-of-10 on 3-pointers and went 6-for-23 (26.1 percent) from beyond the arc for the game. Furman hasn't hit more than 32.1 percent of its 3-pointers since The Citadel game on Jan. 4. The Paladins finished 9-of-15 (60 percent) from the foul line.

"This time of year is tough. As a player, you've got a lot coming at you - scouting reports, practice, class. You've got to find time to get in the gym. Shooters find time to shoot. ... You've got to make free throws and when you get an open 3-pointer, you've got to be ready to knock it down," Richey said. "As much as we get in all the schematics as fans and even as coaches, this game is still about can you make shots and keep people from making shots."

Francis Alonso led four Spartans in double figures with 17 points and he also had four assists. UNCG was 21-of-28 from the foul line and hit 40 percent (6-of-15) of its 3-pointers.

Furman returns home Saturday to host Western Carolina at 4 p.m.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Steady Paladins knock off Samford

Furman freshman Alex Hunter had nine points and played a crucial role
defensively in the Paladins' 78-67 win over Samford Saturday.
No reigning Southern Conference Player of the Year proved to be no problem for Furman Saturday. After dislocating his right little finger Thursday, leading scorer Devin Sibley didn't dress out for the Paladins' game against Samford Saturday. Furman was unfazed though and recorded a business-like 78-67 win before 2,211 fans at Timmons Arena.

Daniel Fowler scored 16 points, Matt Rafferty and Andrew Brown had 15 apiece and John Davis scored 11 as the Paladins (14-6, 5-2) snapped a two-game losing skid. It was the first different starting five this season for Furman as Jordan Lyons replaced Sibley in the lineup. The steady Paladins maintained anywhere from a three- to 12-point lead for seemingly the entire game.

"I thought the key to the game was when they cut (the lead) to three and called timeout. Our huddle was very calm. There was no panic. We ripped off five straight points and got the game back to eight and basically kept it there," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We handled their pressure late, didn't turn it over and got to the free throw line. Everybody should be happy because we were 17-of-20 there tonight.
"We missed Devin today. I love Devin and he's an unbelievable player, but I was excited about the possibility of seeing guys in some extended roles that were ready to step up. I thought they did today."

No one stepped up more than freshman point guard Alex Hunter. It was fitting that on a day the Paladins had a season-low five turnovers, Hunter posted career highs in scoring (9) and minutes (21). One turnover Saturday gave Hunter eight this season in 261 minutes of action.

"I just tried to come in and bring a spark like I usually try to do," Hunter said. "That's my role."

One thing that won't show up in Hunter's stat line was the he did containing Samford's Justin Coleman at a key time in the second half. Coleman, a University of Alabama transfer, was terrific Saturday with a game-high 20 points and eight assists. Of the Bulldogs' 24 made field goals, Coleman had a hand in 16 of them. That included Samford's first six made field goals of the second half.

However, after Coleman's jumper cut Furman's lead to 52-46 with 11:57 left, he didn't have another basket or assist for the next eight minutes. By the time Coleman scored again with 3:58 left, Furman had built an 11-point advantage.

"The play of Alex Hunter was just tremendous," Richey said. "We were trying to figure out how to keep Coleman out of the paint. We kept changing the matchup and when we put Alex on him, all of a sudden it calmed down. It wasn't perfect, but for a true freshman to go out there and have to deal with an Alabama transfer, that's commendable."

Rafferty added, "It started in the summer for (Hunter). He's the hardest-working freshman I've ever seen. He was building coaches' confidence in him since the day he got here."

The Bulldogs (7-13, 3-4), who are still without key injured players Christian Cunningham and Wyatt Walker, had one other double figure scorer in Alex Thompson (17). Samford leading scorer Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, who entered Saturday averaging 14.6 points per game and making 42.9 percent of his 3-pointers, had three points on 0-of-5 shooting from the floor.

Last season, Furman consistently beat Samford's full-court press in sweeping the regular season series. When the team's met in the SoCon Tournament semifinals in Asheville, the Bulldogs didn't press at all and upset the Paladins. On Saturday, Samford only pressed when they fell behind by a sizable margin.

That and other factors led to Furman scoring no fast-break points. That's unusual for the Paladins, who've turned many deflections and steals this season into transition points. To still be able to score 78 points and win by double digits without those fast-break buckets has to be encouraging moving forward.

"We'll have to talk to the statistician about that," Richey joked. "We have a delayed break as well. We've been playing a little too fast lately in some ways. The ball has been coming up the court so fast that we haven't been able to stretch the court with our shooters quick enough. ... So we've intentionally tried to slow the break down a little bit to let the court get stretched and then be able to attack."

In addition to his scoring, Fowler had a game-high eight rebounds as Furman had a 34-23 edge on the glass. Meanwhile, Rafferty seemingly spent as much time at the top of the key finding guards down low as he did in the post. Rafferty finished with seven assists, six rebounds, two steals and no turnovers.

"Their bigs were kind of playing in the paint and off me, so there wasn't much ball pressure," Rafferty said. "That allowed to see the court well and guys were doing a great job of cutting."

Furman returns to action Wednesday for a key SoCon game at UNC Greensboro. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Paladins drop a heartbreaker to ETSU

John Davis had 12 points, including 10 in a 13-2 second-half
run, in Furman's 62-61 loss to ETSU Thursday.
Desonta Bradford made a beautiful up-and-under move before hitting a floater with 4.5 seconds left to lift East Tennessee State to a 62-61 win over Furman at Timmons Arena Thursday night. The Buccaneers spent no time celebrating, pressuring the Paladins up the court before Daniel Fowler's hurried 3-pointer bounced away no good.

It's a huge road win in the Southern Conference race for the Bucs (15-4, 6-0), who are the lone team without a conference loss. As his team began to leave the court, ETSU coach Steve Forbes called them back out to salute the big crowd of fans behind the Bucs bench who made the trek to Greenville. It's just the second loss in the last 21 SoCon home games for Furman (13-6, 4-2).

"Obviously, a tough ending there, but that's sports," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "The guys battled back hard and I thought they showed a lot of courage and heart.
"(Bradford) made the shot. He's a really good player. We had Daniel (Fowler) on him and we'd done a good job for the most part. It was a nice pivot and nice play on his part."

A 3-pointer by ETSU's 7-foot senior center Peter Jurkin 10 seconds into the game sort of set a tone for the night. It was the only shot Jurkin took as foul trouble limited him to nine minutes, but ETSU made 42.9 percent (9-of-21) of its 3-pointers for the game.

It's the second game in a row that Furman's opponent has excelled from the perimeter. Going into the Wofford game Saturday, the Paladins led the SoCon in 3-point defense at 29.6 percent before the Terriers made 45.8 percent of their 3-pointers.

"They caught us a lot - especially in the first half - with our hands down," Richey said. "We were so worried about their penetrators - and they do have four guys that can just deck it - a lot of times the tendency is to give them that gap. But you can't give them that gap with dead hands.
"It felt like they hit three or four late in the shot clock and those are just heartbreakers."

The teams traded 3-pointers early on. Fowler's 3-pointer with 10:18 left in the first half gave Furman a 20-16 before the Paladins went ice cold. Furman didn't hit another shot from the floor until Fowler's jumper with 58 seconds left in the half. By then ETSU had built an 11-point lead. Fowler added a pair of free throws with 24 seconds left, cutting the Bucs lead to 34-27 at the half.

That lead grew to 12 early in the second half and was 11 with 12 minutes left when John Davis hit a back-to-back 3-pointers to begin a Furman comeback. Davis made a pair of free throws and a jumper to cap the 13-2 run as the Paladins tied the game 53-53 with 7:46 left.

The lead changed six times and there were two ties over the final 5:43. Matt Rafferty's layup gave Furman a 59-58 lead with 2:55 left. The Paladins' next four possessions resulted in two missed shots and two turnovers however and ETSU took a 60-59 lead on Bo Hodges' layup with 1:03 left.

After Hodges missed a 3-pointer, Rafferty got the long rebound. The former high school quarterback immediately fired a bomb to a streaking Andrew Brown who had his layup blocked, but it happened after the ball hit the glass. That resulted in goaltending giving Furman a 61-60 lead with 20 seconds left.

After Bradford's game-winning shot, John Davis dribbled under pressure by ETSU before finding Fowler. Fowler had no time to set and fired up a prayer that bounced off the backboard no good.

"When I caught I looked up and there was 0.6 (seconds) on the clock, so I kind of had to heave it," Fowler said. "You've got to take them one game at a time and in this league, one day at a time. We've got to come to practice tomorrow even more focused than we were for this game and detail oriented."

Richey chose to not call a timeout because he didn't feel ETSU's 1-3-1 defense would allow the Paladins to get the ball up the court and a shot off in 4.5 seconds.

"We wanted to quick out it, but we wanted to get our floor spaced much quicker," Richey said. "We failed to do that and didn't really get a good look there."

Furman made 5-of-10 from beyond the arc to start the game, but those two by Davis 39 seconds apart in the second half were sandwiched in between 14 missed 3-pointers for the rest of the game. After committing 17 fouls in the game, including nine in the second half, ETSU magically had zero over the final 8:25. Meanwhile, the Paladins were whistled for seven fouls over the first 33 minutes of game time before being called for six over the final 6:51.

That last ETSU foul with 8:25 left also resulted in Devin Sibley being knocked out of the game with an injury to his right little finger. He came back out of the locker room with 1:35 left, but didn't return to the game as his finger was heavily taped up.

"We'll found out more tomorrow," Richey said. "There's nothing specific or concrete at this point."

Rafferty had 13 points and eight rebounds to lead Furman, while Fowler added 12 points and eight rebounds. Davis also scored 12 points, while Sibley tallied 11.

Bradford and Jalan McCloud had 12 points apiece for ETSU, while David Burrell scored 11. McCloud also had six assists.

There's little time to fret over a rare home loss for Furman. The Paladins host Samford Saturday at approximately 4:30 p.m.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Late Wofford run sinks Paladins

Devin Sibley had 17 points in Furman's 79-70 loss
at Wofford Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
SPARTANBURG - Big runs have been a part of all of Furman's Southern Conference games this season. That continued Saturday night at Wofford, but for the first time - this one went against the Paladins. The Terriers rallied from a five-point deficit with a 14-0 run late in the second half and went on to a 79-70 win in front of a standing room only crowd at Richardson Indoor Stadium.

That run gave Wofford a 71-62 lead with 3:43 left. Three-pointers by Devin Sibley and Andrew Brown, and a pair of Daniel Fowler free throws cut the lead to 74-70 with 1:50 to play. On Wofford's ensuing possession, sharpshooter Fletcher Magee missed a 3-pointer but Nathan Hoover got the offensive rebound and was fouled. Hoover hit both free throws as the Terriers (12-5, 3-1) made 5-of-6 foul shots over the final 1:23 to seal the win.

"We didn't have the focus early and to be honest, it wasn't much better coming out of halftime. But your sitting there at the eight-minute media (timeout in the second half) and your up five," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "You feel like if we continue to guard and pressure, that we'd have a chance. To Wofford's credit, they got freed up on a wing right there for a three. Then Fletcher hit another that was heavily contested, but that's what he does.
"They went on that quick run, the crowd got into it and we did a poor job closing. In the last stretch of the game, we lost vision and containment. In games of this magnitude, you just have to be more focused in those moments to be able to close these games out."

Trevor Stumpe and Cameron Jackson scored 20 points apiece to lead Wofford to a key SoCon win in front of the second sellout crowd at the Terriers' new home arena. Jackson also had four steals and two blocked shots despite playing just 24 minutes due to foul trouble.

"You've got to win at home and we put a lot into this one. We admire their team, players and how they conduct their business," said Wofford coach Mike Young, who applauded the home crowd as he left the court postgame. "This was a great night for us and a lot of fun."

The Terriers raced out to a 12-3 lead just over four minutes into the game. They took advantage of five turnovers by Furman (13-5, 4-1) during that opening stretch. The Paladins had just five turnovers the rest of the night to get back in it.

Midway through the first half, Jordan Lyons came off the bench to score eight consecutive points for Furman. Geoff Beans and Lyons then connected on back-to-back 3-pointers giving the Paladins their first lead 24-22 with 7:50 left in the first half. Wofford shot 60 percent from the floor in the opening half, including 7-of-13 3-pointers, but only led 41-38 at the break.

That lead stretched to eight before Furman started chipping away. While the Paladins were missing 3-pointers left and right, they found a spark driving to the basket. Sibley hit back-to-back layups to give Furman a one-point lead. After Wofford answered, Brown, Sibley and Matt Rafferty made consecutive layups staking the Paladins to a 62-57 lead with 7:48 left.

Coming out of a media timeout, Hoover drained a 3-pointer to tie the game at 62-62. After Lyons missed a 3-pointer, Magee hit one to put the Terriers on top for good. During the 14-0 run, Furman went 0-for-6 from the field, including 0-for-3 on 3-pointers.

"Nathan Hoover's shot was huge, then he had a huge offensive rebound," Young said. "That (tying 3-pointer) kind of propelled us and got the wind back under our sails."

While Furman entered Saturday's game as the SoCon's best team at defending the 3-pointer (29.6 percent), the Terriers countered with the No. 2-ranked 3-point shooting team in the country (44.8 percent). Wofford won that battle Saturday as it connected on 11-of-24 (45.8 percent).

The Paladins dogged Magee defensively, holding the SoCon's leading scorer to "only" 17 points on 5-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-11 from beyond the arc. But others stepped up. Stumpe hit 4-of-6 3-pointers, while Hoover made 3-of-3 and finished with 13 points. Meanwhile inside, Jackson once again terrorized Furman. Over his last three games against the Paladins, Jackson has totaled 64 points, 25 rebounds and seven steals.

Furman shot 32.1 percent from beyond the arc (9-of-28) and 64.3 percent from the foul line (9-of-14). Sibley led the Paladins with 17 points, while Lyons finished with 14.

"I thought Daniel did a really good job on Magee, but I thought we did a poor job on some of their other guys," Richey said. "As we all know, the 3-ball is a big deal in the college game. The whole momentum can (quickly) shift. It's why they like the 3. It's why we like the 3.
"I congratulate Wofford. That was a heck of a college basketball game tonight in a great environment and great arena and they closed."

Furman faces another stiff test Thursday when the Paladins host the lone team without a SoCon loss in ETSU (14-4, 5-0). Tip-off at Timmons Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Matchups highlight Furman-Wofford clash

Furman's Daniel Fowler shoots over Wofford's Fletcher Magee during
last season's game at Timmons Arena. Photo courtesy of Furman.
After winning at Chattanooga Wednesday for the first time in his seven years on the Furman men's basketball coaching staff, first-year head coach Bob Richey goes on a similar quest Saturday. The Paladins are set for a 7 p.m. showdown at Wofford, seeking their first win in Spartanburg since the 2010-11 season.

Furman (13-4, 4-0 Southern Conference) will be going for its first 5-0 start in SoCon play since the 1979-80 season, when the Paladins won their first 11 SoCon games - and made their last trip to the NCAA Tournament. Furman enters having won 9 of its last 10 games, while Wofford (11-5, 2-1) has won 8 of its last 9, including wins over North Carolina and Georgia Tech.

This will be the Paladins first trip to Wofford's beautiful new Richardson Indoor Stadium and the atmosphere should be electric. As of Friday afternoon, only balcony tickets were still available. The Terriers have won eight consecutive games at home since opening the facility with a loss to South Carolina.

There are some key matchups that should factor into Saturday's game.

The scorers
Thinking of Furman and Wofford, the first two players likely to come to mind are the prolific scoring guards for each team.

Furman's Devin Sibley is the reigning SoCon Player of the Year. He's currently fourth in the SoCon in scoring at 15.2 points per game. Sibley has made a team-high 35 3-pointers this year and is one of three Paladins shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc.

While Sibley's the preseason favorite to repeat as the league's Player of the Year, Wofford's Fletcher Magee may be the early season favorite. Magee leads the SoCon and ranks ninth nationally at 23 points per game. Magee is fourth in the country in 3-point percentage (52.2) and No. 2 in free throw percentage (97.9).

The bigs
Perhaps the most intriguing matchup could come down low Saturday. The similarities between Furman's Matt Rafferty and Wofford's Cam Jackson are striking. While neither may get the kind of attention Sibley and Magee deservedly receive, the 6-foot-8 juniors are vital parts of their respective teams.

Jackson averages 12.1 points per game, while Rafferty scores 11.6 points per game. Rafferty is second in the SoCon in rebounding at 7.9 per game, while Jackson ranks fifth (6.9). Rafferty leads the league in field goal percentage (65.3), while Jackson is fourth (59.5). In blocked shots, Jackson is third in the SoCon (1.5 per game), while Rafferty is seventh (0.9)

With the amount of talented guards in the SoCon, it's pretty remarkable that Jackson and Rafferty rank 1-2 in steals. Jackson averages 2.1 per game, while Rafferty is tied with teammate John Davis and ETSU's Desonta Bradford at 1.7.

Rafferty's guard-like abilities extend beyond steals though. Despite having three turnovers Wednesday at UTC, Rafferty still easily leads the SoCon in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.0. That ranks No. 22 nationally. Among the top 117 players in the country in that category, Rafferty is the only one taller than 6-5. Rafferty has also knocked down 9-of-21 (42.9 percent) 3-pointers.

The secret weapons
So what happens if Sibley-Magee and Rafferty-Jackson sort of all cancel each other out? Both Furman and Wofford have others who've shown the ability to step up when needed.

Daniel Fowler was the hero in Furman's lone close SoCon game, with 21 points in a 74-71 win over Mercer last Saturday. Fowler's averaging 11.9 points per game, while Davis is scoring 11.5 per game. Also for the Paladins, reserve Jordan Lyons' game has elevated as he's averaged 13.8 points per game and made 13-of-28 (46.4 percent) 3-pointers in SoCon play. Meanwhile, Andrew Brown is coming off a 16-point performance at UTC in which the usual perimeter shooter put on an impressive display of driving to the basket.

For Wofford, sophomore Trevor Stumpe is averaging 17 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in three SoCon games. Freshman Storm Murphy has done a solid job thus far of filling the huge shoes of graduated point guard Eric Garcia.

As always, defense will be a key for Furman. Deflections leading to steals leading to offense have led to some large runs in each of the Paladins' league games thus far. Defending the perimeter will obviously be a key Saturday night. A total of nine Wofford players are shooting at least 35.1 percent from beyond the arc, and seven Terriers are shooting at least 40.4 percent. Wofford ranks No. 2 nationally in 3-point shooting at 44.8 percent.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Paladins pull away from scrappy Mocs

Furman's Andrew Brown had 16 points and four assists in the Paladins'
73-55 win at Chattanooga Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Matt Rafferty and Andrew Brown combined for 33 points and made some big shots down the stretch to help Furman pull away for a 73-55 win at Chattanooga Wednesday night. It's the first regular season win at UTC for the Paladins in 10 years. Furman (13-4), which has won nine of its last 10 games, improves to 4-0 in the Southern Conference for the first time since the 1986-87 season.

Facing a depleted UTC squad that had only seven players (five on scholarship) available due to injury, the Paladins raced out to a 27-11 first half lead. With less than three minutes left in the first half, the Mocs (6-11, 0-4) had the lead down to two, then cut it to three on three separate occasions in the second half but Furman never lost the lead.

"We got off to a good start ... then I think we kind of let our guard down and didn't really get our tempo up," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We got to halftime and knew we had to guard better ... and had to make a few adjustments on ball screen coverage.
"Give our guys credit. We only made seven 3-pointers, but we had a lot of layups. Matt did a great job around the paint and we got some good cuts off the ball screen."

UTC's Nat Dixon hit a pair of free throws to cut the Paladins' lead to 49-46 with 9:47 left before Furman displayed that "spurtability" that it has so often shown lately. John Davis drilled a 3-pointer before Brown hit back-to-back layups to push the lead back to 10.

After a jumper by the Mocs' Joshua Phillips, Rafferty drained a 3-pointer. After a steal by Brown, Rafferty hit another long jumper that was ruled a two to make it 61-48 Paladins with 4:57 left. A Rafferty steal led to a three-point play by Jordan Lyons before Daniel Fowler capped the run with an offensive putback that pushed the lead to 66-48 with 3:42 left.

"We stepped up when the game was on the line and put it out of reach," Richey said. "I've been here seven years and never won there, so we're not taking that for granted. I don't know how many 18-point road wins we've had in the league."

Furman has had a stretch of double-digit to nothing scoring in every SoCon game this season. The Paladins have had runs of 29-0 at VMI, 17-0 vs. Citadel, 11-0 vs. Mercer, 11-0 in the first half Wednesday before the 10-0 run down the stretch that sealed the win.

Rafferty had 17 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals for Furman, while Brown had 16 points and four assists. Devin Sibley was held to nine points, but he had 10 rebounds as the Paladins enjoyed a 34-21 advantage on the boards. Fowler also scored nine.

A Furman team that had forced 54 turnovers in its first three SoCon games combined, forced just three in the opening half Thursday but 11 after halftime. Despite the teams having 14 turnovers apiece, the Paladins had a 26-6 edge in points off turnovers. Furman shot 55.4 percent from the floor.

"We got a lot of live-ball turnovers which allowed us to get out and run," Richey said. "During that run, we were much more simple and made better decisions in our transition."

Dixon scored a game-high 21 points for UTC. Rodney Chatman had 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while Phillips scored 12 points also for the Mocs.

The victory sets up a big showdown at Wofford's new Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium Saturday. The Paladins and Terriers (11-5, 2-1), who pulled out a thrilling 63-62 win over Harvard Wednesday, are scheduled to tip-off at 7 p.m.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Fowler carries Paladins past Mercer

After opening Southern Conference play with 30- and 40-point wins, the Furman men's basketball team knew they wouldn't all be easy. On Saturday, the SoCon coaches' preseason favorite, Mercer, provided the big test the Paladins expected. In the end, the SoCon media preseason favorite, Furman, did what it had to do to pass.

Daniel Fowler helped fuel a second-half rally with a personal run of 10 consecutive points to lead Furman to a 74-71 win over the Bears. It's the fourth straight win over Mercer for Furman (12-4, 3-0), the last three of which have been decided by a total of seven points.

"It wasn't our prettiest performance of the year in a number of ways, but our guys dug deep late. A lot of times in a 40-minute game, that's what it comes down to," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "To Mercer's credit, I think they beat us to a lot of balls and rebounds for most of the night. They took advantage of their size and played more physical.
"But in those last eight minutes, it changed. Once we were able to clean up the boards and get the loose balls, we played a little more simple offensively. That's when you saw the run take place and we were able to close it out."

The Paladins held a 37-36 lead at the half before Ria'n Holland opened the second half with a jumper that gave Mercer the lead. The Bears held that lead for more than 13 minutes of game time. It grew to as large as nine with less than nine minutes to play when Furman began chipping away.

The Paladins, who used a 29-0 run to blow out VMI last Saturday and a 17-0 run to blow out The Citadel on Thursday, had another double-digit run to get back in it against Mercer. Fowler's 3-pointer tied the game at 59-59 with 6:18 left. Fowler capped an 11-0 Furman spurt with a pair of free throws 34 seconds later.

After Mercer came back with a Marcus Cohen layup, Fowler drove through the traffic and dunked to whip the Timmons Arena crowd of 2,002 into a frenzy. Mercer's Desmond Ringer tied the game on a layup before Fowler gave Furman the lead for good on a 3-pointer with 2:53 left.

"It (the tying 3-pointer) was a great call by (assistant) Coach (Trey) Meyer. We confused them on the switch, then Matt (Rafferty) set a great screen and I was wide open at the top," Fowler said. "I just let it fly and made it. Through the course of that run, my teammates kept giving me great looks and made my job easy."

Devin Sibley gave Furman a 68-63 lead with 1:21 left on a layup and a foul. He missed the ensuing free throw though and the Paladins missed two more in the final minute to allow Mercer to hang around. However in the final 17 seconds, Furman connected on all six of its foul shots - four by Fowler and two by Jordan Lyons.

Fowler finished with a season-high 21 points, four assists, four rebounds and two steals, along with just one foul and one turnover.

"Tonight, I think Daniel saw that it wasn't one of Devin's best nights. He saw that he was going to have to step up and boy did he," Richey said. "He was fantastic."

Even though the bigger Bears had 40 points in the paint and won the rebounding battle 37-24, including 12-8 on the offensive glass, Furman had an 11-10 advantage in second-chance points. The Paladins also had 15 assists (on 25 field goals) and a season-low eight turnovers. Meanwhile, Furman forced 16 turnovers and had 10 steals.

Two of those offensive rebounds came on the same critical possession that saw Furman's lead increase from 66-63 to 68-63.

"I thought we played harder in those last eight minutes than we played the whole game," Richey said. "When it was a three-point game and they had the ball, Daniel looked at me and gave me a thumbs up like 'coach, we got it.' That's the confidence that we've seen this program start to play with the last couple of years.
"We've beaten a lot of people in this league and we've won close games, so this team should have confidence in those situations. It's just fun to watch them gut another one out."

Fowler was one of five Paladins in double figures for the second game in a row. Rafferty had 12 points, seven rebounds and three steals, while Lyons had 12 points and two steals off the bench. Sibley was 1-of-6 on 3-pointers, 0-of-6 from the foul line, had four turnovers and received quite possibly the worst charging call in basketball history, but still had 11 points and three assists. John Davis added 10 points and two steals for Furman.

Ringer was 7-of-8 from the floor, 8-for-8 from the foul line, and finished with a game-high 22 points and seven rebounds for Mercer (7-8, 0-2). Holland, who entered Saturday averaging 21 points per game and converting an NCAA-best 58.2 percent of his 3-pointers, was 0-for-6 beyond the arc as the Bears hit 3-of-17 3-pointers overall. Holland had 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists, but didn't register in any of those categories over the final 12:20 of the game.

Furman returns to action Wednesday at Chattanooga at 7 p.m.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Furman shatters assist record in rout of Citadel

Another early deficit. Another big run. Another rout of a military school.

Furman used a 17-0 first half run to take command of rival The Citadel and the Paladins went on to a 107-67 win at Timmons Arena Thursday night. The victory comes on the heels of an 87-57 win Saturday at VMI in which Furman rallied from an nine-point deficit with a 29-0 run.

The Paladins (11-4, 2-0 Southern Conference) had a single-game record 31 assists in winning for the 18th time in their last 19 SoCon home games. After missing its first six 3-pointers, Furman ended up with 17 to tie the school record for the most against a Division I opponent. It was the highest point total for the Paladins in SoCon play since a 107-75 win over VMI at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium on Feb. 18, 1980.

"On Saturday, we came out a little bit slow in our intensity, but in this game we were erratic early. The whole message going into this game was it was going to be simplicity vs. chaos," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Early, it was chaos. ... Once we settled in on both sides of the ball, you saw a little bit more of what we're accustomed to.
"The assists record is a credit to the kids we have, how connected they are, and how much they care about each other."

On Thursday, Furman trailed 14-6 just over six minutes into the game. The Paladins got back in it and there was a stretch of seven lead changes. But with Furman down 30-29 and 5:55 left in the first half, Jordan Lyons was fouled on a 3-point attempt. Lyons sank all three free throws and that was the last lead change of the night.

Devin Sibley had a layup to put Furman up 34-30. Fourteen seconds later, another Sibley layup. Thirty seconds later, Lyons drained a 3-pointer. Seventeen seconds later, another Lyons 3-pointer and suddenly Furman led 42-30.

It was part of 17 consecutive points for Furman. Andrew Brown's buzzer-beating 3-pointer capped what was a 27-3 run over the final 5:55 of the first half and the Paladins led 56-33 at the break. Furman held the Bulldogs to 0-for-4 shooting from the floor and forced six turnovers over the final 6:17 of the half.

"Our ability to guard, our willingness to move the ball and make shots - I think that's a formula for putting up quick points," Richey said. "Can't make runs if the other team is scoring, so they always start on the defensive end of the floor."

After seeing a 27-point halftime lead cut to three last year in Charleston, there was no let up after halftime for Furman Thursday. The Paladins led by as many as 41 points in the second half.

While Furman had only one fewer turnover that Citadel's 18, the Paladins had a 26-6 advantage in points off turnovers. Even though they hit 17 3-pointers, the Paladins also had a 44-20 edge in points in the paint.

"When we started to turn them over a little more, we were able to get out and run in our transition offense," said Matt Rafferty, who had 10 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and two blocked shots. "We got some easy buckets, which got us going. We started hitting some 3's after that."

Sibley led five Paladins in double figures with 26 points, to go along with 10 rebounds and five assists. Sibley moved into 12th place on Furman's all-time scoring list with 1,609 career points. Jordan Lyons had a career-high 20 points off the bench. Andrew Brown had 12 points and six assists. Matt Rafferty had 10 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and two blocked shots.

"What makes it even better is that everybody's improved from last year," Sibley said. "Even our shooters from last year, like Jordan Lyons. That makes it easier for everybody to play off each other."

Quayson Williams had 15 points to lead the Bulldogs (5-9, 0-2).

• Prior to the men's game, the Furman women's team gritted out a 45-41 win over Samford. Cierra Carter scored a game-high 19 points, including 14 in the second half to lead the Paladins (10-5, 1-0 SoCon).

The win improved Furman to 7-0 at home this season heading into Saturday's showdown against reigning SoCon regular season champion Mercer. The women's game will be the first part of a doubleheader again beginning at 2 p.m., with the Furman and Mercer men to follow at approximately 4:30 p.m.