Saturday, February 10, 2018

Reconnected Paladins roll over Wofford

In Bob Richey's first season as Furman men's basketball head coach, the keyword has been "connected." That not only entails sharing the ball on offense, but playing together defensively as well.

Facing a Wofford team loaded with offensive weapons all over the court Saturday, team defense was all the more important and the Paladins rose to the occasion. Furman rallied from an early nine-point deficit to record a dominant 76-52 win before a sellout crowd of 2,552 at Timmons Arena.

In holding Wofford to its fewest points since the season opener (52 against South Carolina), Furman pulled even in the standings with the Terriers. Both teams are 17-9 overall and third in the Southern Conference at 8-5.

"I thought we played as hard as we have all year and we were as connected as we have been all year on defense," Richey said. "We got back to the understanding that even though the team has capability to score 80, that's not who we are. ... We've got to go out there and defend and individual defense isn't good enough, especially when you're facing an offense that talented.
"We were great teammates out there today. We flew around on defense and moved the ball. That's what Furman basketball's about."

Coming off a devastating overtime loss at the The Citadel and an uninspired home loss to UNCG, Richey shook things up a bit Saturday. For the first time this season - without an injury being the reason, there was a change in the starting lineup as Jordan Lyons replaced Devin Sibley.

Just over three minutes into the game, it appeared that Furman may be in for another tough day. SoCon leading scorer Fletcher Magee had a layup and a 3-pointer and Wofford had an 11-2 lead when Richey called timeout 3:14 into the game.

"I really just called them down. We'd missed three layups and they hit a couple of transition shots," Richey said. "We had good intent. It wasn't the same as Wednesday (against UNCG) when we got off to a really lethargic start."

The Paladins responded with a 16-0 run, holding the Terriers scoreless from the 16:46 mark to the 9:12 mark of the first half. It became a 37-7 run before Wofford scored the last three points of the half as Furman held a 39-21 lead at the break. Nine different Paladins had at least one assist in the opening half. It was the lowest point total of any half this season for the Terriers, who missed all nine of their 3-pointers in the rest of the half after Magee hit their first attempt.

The bench played a big role in the surge for Furman as they scored 21 points in the opening half. On the first possession after Sibley entered, he immediately drove to the hole and drew a foul from Magee. Sibley, Clay Mounce and Jalen Williams each had six points off the bench in the half. In just his second game action since Jan. 24 after dealing with back spasms, Williams added five rebounds and two blocked shots in seven first-half minutes.

"I felt like I had a chain on or something, because I was ready to get out. It was fun to be out there," Williams said. "I played inspired basketball because of the people in my life and on this team. They're my brothers and my family. I've been going through some tough things off the court and they've really helped me stay the course."

Furman didn't let up coming out of halftime with a 7-0 run. Daniel Fowler, who somehow didn't score in the big first half, had 12 points midway through the second half. His last bucket came on a dunk with 9:16 left that pushed the lead to 62-38. Furman led by as much as 31 in the second half.

Magee was held 13 below his scoring average as he and Nathan Hoover led Wofford with 10 points apiece. Wofford, which entered Saturday ranked No. 1 in the SoCon and No. 5 in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage at 42.1, made 30.4 percent (7-of-23) Saturday. The Terriers shot 35.2 percent from the floor overall.

After Cameron Jackson's 20-point performance in the Terriers' win over Furman in Spartanburg on Jan. 13, Matt Rafferty and Williams held Wofford's terrific post player to four points and seven rebounds. The Terriers had a 39-26 rebounding advantage in that first meeting as well, but just a 36-35 edge Saturday as Furman big men Rafferty, Williams and Mounce all logged significant minutes.

It was the first time all season that Rafferty and Williams were on the court together at the same time. Mounce was also in the game with both for some minutes as well.

"I wasn't real happy about getting outrebounded by 21 on Wednesday night," Richey said. "I just felt like we were able to do some things to go big and just bring some physicality to the game. We probably should've done it Wednesday night and in some other games where we've been dealing with some size, but this team tonight showed that we're capable of doing that."

John Davis scored 13 points to lead the Paladins, while Fowler finished with 12 and three steals. Rafferty had nine points and 10 rebounds. Mounce had eight points and Williams had seven points and six rebounds. Furman had 18 assists and seven turnovers, while forcing 15 turnovers.

"Our connectivity and defense had been slacking lately, but we got it together a little bit today," Rafferty said. "We've got to continue doing that every day, including practice. ... We had to get back to our biggest strength, which is our chemistry."

Furman next hosts Chattanooga Thursday at 7 p.m.

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