Thursday, February 8, 2018

UNCG completes series sweep of Furman

On the opening possession of the Furman-UNCG Wednesday night, the Spartans' Demetrius Troy drove hard to the bucket and threw up either a terrible shot or an innovative pass off the backboard. Whatever it was, after the ball bounced straight back to Troy and he laid it in it went down as a layup.

Then UNCG 6-foot-9 forward Jordy Kuiper banked in a 3-pointer and later 6-8 reserve Kyrin Galloway banked in a 3-pointer. And this wasn't even the half that UNCG shot 64 percent from the floor in.

It was that kind of night for Furman. While some fluky shots went down in the first half for the Spartans, there was nothing fluky at all about their 80-67 win. It's the second year in a row that UNCG (18-6, 9-2) has visited Timmons Arena and left with a double-digit victory. In the Paladins' last 24 SoCon games at home, their only other loss came on a last-second, one-point defeat at the hands of ETSU earlier this season. UNCG becomes the first SoCon team to sweep the season series with Furman since the 2014-15 season when the Paladins went 5-13 in league play.

"It was a disappointing performance tonight, pretty much across the board. I didn't think we came out with the intensity that we needed to start a game of this magnitude," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We weren't aggressive enough on either end of the floor to win a game like that."

Coming off seeing a 17-point second half lead evaporate in a tough overtime loss at The Citadel Saturday, the Paladins (16-9, 7-5) came sputtering out of the gate. UNCG led 8-0 before Daniel Fowler's layup just over three minutes into the game. Six minutes in, the Spartans led 16-4. Over eight-and-a-half minutes in, it was 21-7.

Furman clawed its way back to trail 31-29 on Matt Rafferty's layup with 3:23 left in the first half, but the Paladins could never grab the lead. After taking a 36-31 lead into halftime, UNCG's Marvin Smith scored the first five points of the second to push the lead to 10.

Furman shaved that lead to three at the 15:38 mark, but the Spartans answered with a 10-2 run. The Paladins never got within six the rest of the way. After Fowler's layup cut the lead to 55-49 with 9:01 left, UNCG went on a 19-6 run over the next five-and-a-half minutes to take its biggest lead of the night at 19.

"I thought our guys started to play with much more fight (late in the first half) and went to halftime expecting us to come out with more fight and we just didn't," Richey said. "This game's not for the weak-minded. When you're not prepared mentally for fights and to go after people, it can get hard on you quick."

UNCG used its superior length to outrebound Furman 38-17, including 19-5 in the second half. The Spartans had 12 offensive rebounds for a 12-0 edge in second-half points. Despite committing 16 turnovers and only forcing 10, UNCG had a 15-9 advantage in points off turnovers. The Spartans scored 40 points in the paint thanks to a bevy of dunks and layups. In the second half, UNCG shot 64 percent from the floor and made 13-of-16 of its two-point shots.

Meanwhile, UNCG held reigning SoCon Player of the Year Devin Sibley to six points on 2-of-5 shooting from the floor in 29 minutes. It's the fewest shots Sibley has attempted in a game in which he's played at least 24 minutes in since Nov. 21, 2015.

"They've got size and length and play much bigger than we do, but we didn't get outrebounded like this in past games (against UNCG)," Richey said. "I don't care how small you are or how big they are, if you get beat by 21 on the glass, you got whipped."

Smith led five Spartans in double figures with 18 points. Troy and Francis Alonso each scored 12 points and combined for nine assists. James Dickey added 11 points and 12 assists.

After missing Saturday's game with an injury, Andrew Brown returned to the lineup Wednesday and led Furman with 15 points. Fowler was the lone other Paladin in double figures with 12.

In a conference as good as the SoCon is, teams simply can't afford to let a devastating loss like Saturday's beat them twice. Richey wasn't completely sure if that was the case for his team Wednesday, but he said it appeared that way early on

"The only other time this season where I feel like I did tonight about us just not giving the effort that was needed was the Winthrop game. Going into that game, we had some bad practices," Richey said. "The surprising thing about tonight is that we've had a pretty good two days (of practice) considering what we went through (Saturday).
"It definitely looked like it was lingering tonight. I could definitely see that it looked like we came out emotionless."

Furman next hosts Wofford Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

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