Sunday, February 25, 2018

Paladins beat ETSU for sixth consecutive win

Devin Sibley had 17 points to lead Furman to a 79-76
win at ETSU Sunday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - Facing the best team in the Southern Conference at defending the 3-pointer, Furman hit 10-of-20 Sunday including some critical ones down the stretch as the Paladins beat ETSU 79-76. The Bucs' Devontavius Payne had a good look on a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it bounced away no good as the Paladins held on for the win in front of a packed house of 5,908 fans.

With the win, Furman (22-9, 13-5) wrapped up a third-place finish in the SoCon. The Paladins will play No. 6 seed Western Carolina in the quarterfinals of the SoCon Tournament next Saturday in Asheville at approximately 8:30 p.m. Furman had 100-66 and 76-54 wins over Western this season.

"They (Furman) just answered every bell tonight and just had the 'next play' mentality. It's not about being perfect, you've just got to get to the next play. We're going to have to do that same thing in Asheville," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "All they're going to hear about is how much better they are than Western. I promise you, Western's going to have five or six days to get ready for this game and it's going to be a knockdown drag out."

The game featured eight ties and 13 lead changes, but the Paladins matched their biggest lead at 60-52 with 10:32 left. Desonta Bradford powered ETSU to a 17-4 run matching the Bucs' biggest lead at 69-64 with 4:15 left. Andrew Brown answered with a 3-pointer before Matt Rafferty had a steal and a 3-pointer to give Furman a 70-69 lead. It was tied 71-71 when Devin Sibley hit a 3-pointer and was fouled with 1:26 left. Sibley completed the four-point play.

"Daniel (Fowler) made a good play and a good pass. My defender just slacked off a little and I decided to shoot it," Sibley said of his big shot. "To come into this place on Senior Day, it's a big win."

Bradford's layup cut Furman's lead to 77-74 with 52 seconds left. The Paladins ran off much of the shot clock on their ensuing possession before Fowler missed. However, Fowler came up with a huge offensive rebound and John Davis was fouled with 15 seconds left. Davis hit 1-of-2 free throws then, and 1-of-2 with five seconds left for the final margin of 79-76.

"You can point to a lot of different plays, but the mental toughness is what got it done. We got up eight and they came all the way back and got up five," Richey said. "So you've got a 13-point swing there in a packed house against a team that's playing for a championship and you have the resiliency and mental resolve to stay the course and continue to swing. That's the story of the game.
"I told them before the game 'you're going to win this game because you're more connected,' and they showed that. There were two momentum swings that ETSU got and Daniel Fowler huddled our team twice - once in the first half and once in the second half. That's the growth and that's why we won this game today."

Furman held a 40-39 lead at the half despite shooting just 38.7 percent from the floor in the opening half, while ETSU shot 53.3 percent. The difference came at the foul line, where the Paladins were 12-for-12 and the Bucs were 1-for-2. Thanks to 10 ETSU turnovers, Furman had a 13-4 edge in points off turnovers in the first half.

The Paladins led by as many as eight in the first half with three minutes to go. ETSU reeled off a 13-3 run in a span of just 1:33 to take a 39-37 lead before Fowler's 3-pointer with 41 seconds left put Furman ahead at the half. It was just the second time an opponent held a halftime lead at ETSU this season and the first since Nov. 22.

Furman made 6-of-9 3-pointers in the second half, including each of its last five attempts. Meanwhile ETSU, which entered Saturday making 38.1 percent of its 3-pointers in league play, went 0-for-5 from beyond the arc after halftime. That came after going 6-of-13 on 3-pointers in the first half.

"That was a halftime adjustment because we were losing their (3-point) shooters," Richey said. "That opened the paint a little bit and so Bradford and them just started putting their head down and going to the rim. Then we had to shrink it back and fortunately we were able to slow it down a little bit."

Sibley led five Paladins in double figures with 17 points and six rebounds off the bench. Matt Rafferty had 14 points, six rebounds and three steals. Daniel Fowler and John Davis each scored 12 points and Fowler had five assists. Andrew Brown scored 11 for Furman.

The Paladins finished 21-of-28 from the foul line (75 percent) after entering Sunday last in league play in free throw shooting at 67.2 percent. Furman will carry a six-game winning streak into Asheville as their four seniors take their last shot at a tournament title.

"We've just been working to get better each game and that's why we're playing the way we're playing now," Sibley said. "It's the best way we could script going to the tournament."

Desonta Bradford scored 17 of his game-high 19 in final 10:14 of the game for ETSU (23-8, 14-4), which finished second in the league after home losses to The Citadel, Wofford and Furman to end the regular season.

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