Thursday, February 1, 2018

Paladins run win streak against Mercer to five

Jordan Lyons scored 12 points in the second half to help Furman
defeat Mercer 85-73 Thursday night. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Furman won its fifth consecutive game in its series against Mercer Thursday night in Macon, Ga. Unlike the previous three meetings, which were decided by a total of seven points, the Paladins were able to breathe a little easier down the stretch of this one. Devin Sibley was one of five Furman players in double figures with a game-high 21 points as the Paladins won 85-73.

Coming off a 21-assist, 7-turnover effort in a 100-66 win over Western Carolina, Furman had 18 assists and eight turnovers Thursday. The Paladins made 15-of-30 3-pointers, marking their first game of shooting at least 50 percent from beyond the arc since an 87-57 win at VMI on Dec. 30.

"It was really good to see the guys continue to play with confidence. I just thought they played with a great belief on offense, and continue to move and share the ball," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "It's been nice to get back to that the past two games."

Combined with Wofford's loss at The Citadel Thursday, the victory puts the Paladins (16-7, 7-3 Southern Conference) in a third-place tie with the Terriers in the conference standings.

Despite the Bears (10-13, 3-7) not having injured standout guard Ria'n Holland, a back-and-forth game could've been expected given the series history and the game being held at Hawkins Arena. It was back-and-forth for all of nearly six minutes. Sibley's 3-pointer at the 14:09 mark of the first half gave Furman a lead it never relinquished.

Among the Paladins' 15 3-pointers were some very timely ones. A 3-pointer by Andrew Brown gave Furman its biggest lead of the first half at 34-25 with 6:46 left. An 8-0 Mercer run shaved the lead down to one, but the Paladins didn't allow a point over the final 2:27 of the half. The only points of the final 2:16 came on Geoff Beans' 3-pointer with 50 seconds left that gave Furman a 41-35 lead at the half.

Jordan Lyons' 3-pointer with 9:52 left gave the Paladins their first double-digit lead of the night. Furman's next two field goals were another 3-pointer by Lyons and one by Sibley that gave the Paladins their biggest lead at 70-54 with 7:11 left. Mercer never got closer than nine the rest of the way. After Furman ran out nearly the entire shot clock, John Davis sealed the win on a rainbow 3-pointer that made it 83-71 with 1:17 left.

Sibley's 21-point effort moved him into a tie with Mel Daniel for ninth-place on Furman's all-time scoring list with 1,707 career points. He was one of five Paladins in double figures. John Davis continued his hot streak with a brilliant line of 14 points, seven assists and one steal. Davis was one of four starters who didn't commit a turnover.

"Turnovers have been a key for us. Playing on two feet and moving it before the trouble comes. Once you see a second defender come, move it," Richey said. "We've done a really good job of that."

Lyons, playing about 80 miles from his Peachtree City, Ga. home, had 12 points off the bench - all in the second half. Brown had 11 points, Matt Rafferty scored 10 and Beans hit a season-high 3-of-5 3-pointers for nine. Daniel Fowler had eight points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals.

"Jordan made some big plays. He's got that ability and he continues to grow as a player," Richey said. "He had a big game last year down in Macon as well. It's encouraging to see his growth because that just makes us more dangerous."

Jordan Strawberry led five Bears in double figures with 18 points, to go along with six assists, five rebounds, one steal and no turnovers. Desmond Ringer, who had 22 points and seven rebounds in Furman's 74-71 win in Greenville earlier this season, was limited to 10 points and two rebounds Thursday.

Mercer, which entered Thursday's game ranked second in the SoCon in 3-point shooting percentage at 38.8 percent, made 5-of-26 (19.2 percent) from beyond the arc Thursday. When the teams met in Greenville this season, the Bears hit just 3-of-17 (17.6 percent) 3-pointers.

The Paladins headed to Charleston following Thursday's win ahead of Saturday's 1 p.m. game at rival The Citadel.

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