|Jordan Lyons had 17 points in Furman's 63-52 loss
to ETSU Sunday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
But ETSU wasn't interested in Furman's storybook.
The second-winningest senior class in Furman men's basketball history saw their collegiate careers come to an end Sunday as ETSU defeated the Paladins 63-52 in the Southern Conference Tournament semifinals. The second-seeded Bucs advance to face top-seeded UNCG in Monday's championship game at 9 p.m.
A week to the day after Furman spoiled the Bucs' Senior Day, ETSU avenged that setback in a major way. The third-seeded Paladins (23-10) shot 31.7 percent from the floor, it's poorest shooting day since Dec. 22, 2015 when Furman lost at Navy 62-49. Furman, which led the SoCon in assist-to-turnover ratio, had a season-low five assists (on 19 field goals) and 12 turnovers.
"First off, credit to Coach (Steve) Forbes and ETSU. I thought they played with tremendous energy and came out with the right defensive mentality," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "They brought a lot of pressure to the game early and it got to us. By the time we settled in and started to get some rhythm on offense, unfortunately we couldn't make any shots."
Sitting alongside sophomore Jordan Lyons and senior Daniel Fowler at the postgame press conference, Richey ended his opening statement by reflecting on Fowler and fellow seniors Geoff Beans, John Davis III and Devin Sibley.
"I'm not going to let tonight take away from what this group of guys has done for this program. I'm really proud of this group and this program, and proud to be the coach of this program," Richey said. "There's been three programs in the history of Furman that have won 23 games (in a single season) and the guy down to my left, Daniel Fowler, has been on two of them. They've changed the whole identity of this program and how people view it. For that, I'm extremely proud.
"We will mourn tonight, but the sun will come up tomorrow and we look forward to trying to continue to build this program and make it the best it can possibly be."
Lyons' 3-pointer at the 17:38 mark was Furman's only make out of its first 11 field goal attempts. The Paladins' next points came on Lyons' 3-point play at the 13:44 mark. The next came with 11:47 left on Jalen Williams' layup. By the time Sibley's jumper got Furman in double figures, the Paladins were 3-of-18 from the field, trailed by 10 and there was just a little over eight minutes left in the half.
The Bucs led by as many as 15 in the first half before taking a 32-19 lead at the break. Furman had more turnovers (eight) than field goals in the opening half as it shot 24.1 percent (7-of-29).
"The energy got pretty high in the building and their defensive energy created that. With the amount of fans they had in the building, they started to flow off of that a little bit and started to get a lot of stops," Richey said. "Combine that with us not being able to connect and it was a bad combination.
"When you fall behind to a team that talented and athletic, that's been here before, it's usually not a good recipe. I will say this that our guys continued to fight. It wasn't pretty, but they didn't quit."
ETSU led by as many as 23 in the second half. Furman got the lead down to 13 three times and 12 once on Beans' 3-pointer with 3:33 left, but the Bucs had an answer every time. Davis' jumper with 1:01 left and Fowler's layup in the final seconds provided the final margin of 11.
A week after hitting 10-of-20 3-pointers in the win at ETSU, the Paladins were just 4-of-26 from beyond the arc on Sunday. While the Bucs finished with one more turnover than Furman, ETSU enjoyed a 15-4 advantage in points off turnovers. Many of those turned into momentum-grabbing dunks that sent the partisan crowd for ETSU into a frenzy.
"I just feel like they increased their pressure," Fowler said of the difference between last Sunday and this Sunday. "Other than that, I think the game plan was pretty similar."
SoCon Player of the Year Desonta Bradford had a game-high 20 points, eight rebounds and four steals to lead ETSU (25-8). Devontavius Payne added 12 points and seven rebounds, while Mladen Armus had 10 points and 12 rebounds also for the Bucs.
Lyons was the lone Paladin in double figures with 17 points.
"These four seniors we have are the best role models and leaders, on and off the court, that I could have for my first two years here at Furman," Lyons said. "They all bought in the day they got here and this class is legendary. No one can ever take away what they've done and how they've changed this program.
"What they've done for me is something I can use to keep the standard at where it needs to be for my last two years. I'm forever thankful for them. Basketball is fun, but it's only temporary. The relationships that I've built with these four will last a lifetime."