Sunday, November 25, 2018

Paladins turn up defense to stay unbeaten

Matt Rafferty had 20 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in Furman's
65-51 win at UNC Asheville Sunday. Photo courtesy of Furman
ASHEVILLE - As it turns out, the Furman men's basketball team can win road games against non-Final Four teams as well this season. After their much-celebrated wins at Loyola-Chicago and Villanova, the Paladins made their third road trip of the season Sunday to UNC Asheville. They left with a 65-51 win to maintain their best start in school history at 7-0.

Sunday's highlights won't be displayed all over ESPN like Furman's other road wins this season. However, earning a convincing, business-like win on the road in an atmosphere more like they will see the rest of the season suited Coach Bob Richey just fine.

"It's really easy to get up for 5,000 people in a sellout (Loyola) and 9,000 people in a sellout (Villanova), but what are you going to do in a regular environment at our level when you've got to bring the energy," Richey said. "We're great teammates through energy. We play defense through energy and move the ball to create energy. ... For the most part, I thought we did that today."

After scoring 22 points in Furman's 83-72 home win over UNC Asheville last year, Matt Rafferty got plenty of attention from the Bulldogs on Sunday. Despite hitting the floor numerous times, Rafferty persevered with 20 points, 11 rebounds and five assists to lead the way. Jordan Lyons was the lone other Furman player in double figures with 18 points.

Despite the physical nature of the game at time, Furman committed just six fouls and forced 18 turnovers. Halfway through the first half, seven different Bulldogs had at least one turnover. The Paladins enjoyed a 21-11 advantage in points off turnovers and dominated down low with 40 points in the paint. The Paladins also had 17 assists on 27 baskets and nine steals.

The 51 points Furman allowed were the fewest given up in a road game since a 60-49 win at North Florida eight years ago. The Paladins held UNCA's leading scorer DeVon Baker, who entered averaging 16.2 points per game, to eight points on 3-of-11 shooting.

"It all starts with our defense. We didn't play the way we wanted to against Southern Wesleyan (on Wednesday) and we knew that," Rafferty said. "We played tough on defense and really locked them down at times. It was a good game overall."

Furman held a 22-18 lead with less than eight minutes left in the first half. Back-to-back layups by Rafferty and a Lyons' 3-pointer started a 16-4 run for the Paladins over the final 7:50 to take a 16-point lead into halftime.

UNCA (1-5) opened the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead to 10. Lyons answered with a 3-pointer to start at 12-2 run as Furman took its biggest lead of the game at 50-30. The Paladins never led by fewer than 14 the rest of the way.

Richey was pleased with much more of a complete effort than what Furman showed last time out against Southern Wesleyan on Wednesday. The Paladins will look to keep up the momentum when Southern Conference play begins Saturday at home against Western Carolina.

"Friday's practice really set the tone for this game. We wanted to have a good, 90-minute intense practice and get back to what we do - being great teammates, flying around on defense and moving the ball offensively," Richey said. "I thought we got back to who we are then ... and I thought we did what we needed to do today."

Richey added that the biggest takeaway from Sunday's game was Furman's need to continue to make its depth better. He said they also have to develop that depth quicker than in past years.

"When I say better I mean they've got be able to execute and know what we're doing," Richey said. "This is the first time we saw the matchup zone. I thought our main guys executed phenomenally on it. We shot layup after layup. All of sudden when we get into our depth, they kind of start looking around wondering what to do. That's the grind of college athletics.
"We're done with November and we're 7-0, which hasn't been done before and I'm proud of these guys. We know what are strengths are and what we're capable of. We know that we can go on the road in big-time venues and get wins. But the key to this thing is, can we be sitting here in a month before the meat of the league schedule and see that we've gotten better? That's going to be the biggest challenge."

• Clay Mounce was limited to 22 minutes Sunday as he took as shot to the back late in the first half. After starting the second half, Mounce went back to the locker room for a bit before returning to the bench then the game again. Richey said Mounce should be fine. Andrew Brown, who's been out with a foot injury since the Loyola game, didn't play Sunday but did dress out for the first time since then. Richey said Brown's progressing well, but they're still playing it safe.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Paladins bewildered by FCS playoff snub

Clay Hendrix looks on during the Furman's 35-30 win at Mercer, which
clinched the Paladins' 14th SoCon championship. Photo courtesy of Furman
Furman football has much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. In Clay Hendrix's second year as head coach, the Paladins won six of their last seven games to earn a share of their Southern Conference record 14th conference championship. The run included a four-game winning streak to end the regular season, three of which came on the road.

Unfortunately for Furman, that's how the season came to an end. The FCS playoff selection committee deemed the Paladins not worthy of at-large bid to the FCS' 24-team postseason. Following Saturday's regular season finales, including Furman's 35-30 win at Mercer, quite a few FCS prognosticators had the Paladins in their projected fields. Going by Sagarin computer rankings would've also put Furman among the 14 at-large tearms. But they weren't even included in the committee's "last three teams out" of the field.

As his team gathered to watch Sunday's selection show, Hendrix used a football analogy to describe the process of watching the selections get revealed to his team.

"When you're a running back and you carry the ball, but when you come up at the end of the play and you don't have the ball. Even though you said you were down and you might have been down, you're putting that in someone else's hands to make that decision," Hendrix said. "I said that's what this (selection show) is - putting it in someone else's hands.
"But I thought we earned our way in."

Afterwards, he tried to console a disappointed group.

"I told them that if this is the worst thing that ever happens to them, they'll have a good life," Hendrix said. "We did all we could do down the stretch, but we got penalized for getting off to a bad start. I'll remember last night (celebrating a share of the SoCon title) much more than today or next week for that matter."

Furman is just the second Southern Conference champion to not make the FCS playoffs. Chattanooga shared the 2013 title with Furman and Samford, but didn't make the field after losing its last two games of the season at Samford and at Alabama. Ironically, both Furman this year and Chattanooga that year had lopsided wins over the SoCon's automatic bid winners. The Paladins beat Wofford 34-14 this year, while the Mocs beat Furman 31-9 in 2013.

The lone other SoCon team to make this year's field was ETSU, which was among the "last three teams in" the field. While times are obviously much different for the once well-respected SoCon, that's not the case for the Colonial Athletic Association. A record six CAA teams made this year's field.

"That's shocking to me," Hendrix said Sunday following the selection show. "If they were all playing each other, they wouldn't be talking about six teams because they would beat each other out.
"Maine played two of the other five (CAA playoff teams) and they get the automatic bid and a seed."

Of the five other CAA teams that made the field, Maine only played Towson and Elon. The Black Bears only conference loss came to 4-6 William & Mary. Maine also lost to 5-5 Yale.

Elon (6-4) played four CAA playoff teams, which included the Phoenix snapping James Madison's 22-game CAA win streak. After losing its starting quarterback and running back to season-ending injuries, Elon lost three of its last five games including its last two.

Delaware (7-4) played three CAA playoff teams. Half of the Blue Hens' losses came to teams that didn't make the field, including a 42-21 home loss to Villanova (5-6) on Saturday. It takes a two-game losing streak into the playoffs.

Towson (7-4) actually played all the other CAA playoff teams - and went 1-3 over the last four weeks against them. As a reward for that performance down the stretch, Towson gets to host the lowest (Sagarin) rated team in the field, Duquesne, in round one.

James Madison (8-3) played three CAA playoff teams. The No. 6-ranked Dukes' resume includes an 11-point loss to 4-7 New Hampshire and non-conference wins over Norfolk State and Robert Morris.

And then there's Stony Brook (7-4), who played three CAA playoff teams. Stony Brook opened the season with a non-conference slate of a 38-0 loss at 4-7 Air Force before wins over Bryant and Fordham. Stony Brook ended the season Saturday with a loss at Albany, which was 2-8 and 0-7 in the CAA entering the game.

"Some of them (CAA teams), there's no question they deserve to be in ... but that's a farce," Hendrix said. "That'd be like us not having to play Wofford and Samford every other year."

The CAA's advantage in its structure is highlighted when looking at the Missouri Valley Conference. Led by No. 1 seed North Dakota State, the MVC has four of the top six FCS teams in the Sagarin ratings. Only three are headed to the playoffs though because all the MVC teams actually play each other, for the most part. It's a 10-team league where each member plays eight conference games, so every team plays all but one team in the league.

MVC member Indiana State (7-4) was the biggest FCS playoff snub per Sagarin. Among the eligible at-large teams, they were the highest-rated at No. 138, followed by No. 139 Montana and No. 148 Furman.

"For us (SoCon) to get two teams in, our league was penalized for being really balanced," Hendrix said. "I guess we should just go to 12 teams and two divisions. ... If you catch it right, you won't have to play the best teams."

The biggest head-scratcher has to be the fact that three Southland teams made the field, including at-large bids for first-time playoff participants Incarnate Word and Lamar. Samford, the SoCon's fourth-place team, had a higher Sagarin rating that any Southland team. Five SoCon teams rank higher than No. 173 Incarnate Word, while seven SoCon teams are ahead of No. 186 Lamar. Lamar's resume includes losses to 5-6 Northwestern State, 4-7 Southeastern Louisiana and a 77-0 loss to FBS member Texas Tech (5-6).

Southland champion Nicholls State gets to host San Diego, who earned the automatic bid out of the non-scholarship, non-defense Pioneer League. At No. 202 in Sagarin, San Diego is the second lowest-rated team in the field and had a strength of schedule that ranked No. 249. San Diego went 9-2 this season, including overcoming a 789-yard rushing performance by Davidson a 56-52 home win. The FCS playoff committee is chaired by Brad Teague, AD of the Southland's Central Arkansas, by the way.

Duquesne, who earned the automatic bid out of the Northeast Conference, ranks No. 209 in Sagarin. It's one of six playoff teams, including four at-large teams, that Furman ranks ahead of in Sagarin.

While there a few teams who will still be playing football the next two Saturdays that had one or more losses to teams with losing records, that wasn't the case for Furman. The Paladins' losses came to Clemson, a healthy Elon team that ended James Madison's 22-game CAA winning streak, SoCon co-champion ETSU and a Samford team that beat all three SoCon champions. Of those four losses, Furman starting quarterback Harris Roberts only played more than half a quarter against ETSU because of injuries. That was also Roberts' first game with any significant snaps in his career.

There's also plenty of playoff teams who don't have a win as impressive as Furman's 20-point win over Wofford, which was ranked No. 4 nationally at the time.

"They say the schedule matters, but obviously it didn't," Hendrix said. "And what does it matter to play your best at the end of the year?
"I just hate it for our kids because I don't know of anybody who had more adversity than we did."

Of all things, the weather could be partly to blame for Furman's snub as well. While Clemson was able to host Georgia Southern at noon on the Saturday that Hurricane Florence threatened, other teams in the Carolinas moved their games up from Saturday. But Colgate didn't want to visit Furman earlier to get in a rematch of a game that the Paladins won on the road, 45-17, last season. So Furman didn't get a chance against a team it led 31-0 less than 20 minutes into the game in 2017, and could find nobody else willing to play on the Paladins' off date.

"I'm sitting there thinking if we had played a Division I non-scholarship team, we'd be in," Hendrix said. "There was a team or two from a league that could've played us and wouldn't play.
"They can say what they want, but we got penalized for the hurricane."

The cancellation certainly didn't hurt Colgate (9-1). Facing a schedule that ranks 223rd-toughest in Division I, Colgate went undefeated against FCS teams to get a No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

Of course, all this could've been avoided for Furman if it had not blown a 27-6 third quarter lead in a 29-27 loss at ETSU. If the Paladins held on that night and everything else went like it did, Furman would've been the SoCon's outright champion and in the playoffs with the automatic bid.

But why does a bad quarter-and-a-half against a conference champion haunt Furman while other at-large teams had losses to teams with losing records? While Elon seems to have received the benefit of the doubt for its late-season injuries, the same courtesy wasn't granted to Furman over its early-season ones.

Some may point at the lack of a impressive non-conference win as what doomed the SoCon on Sunday. But one has to wonder what the Southland's impressive non-conference showing was? Nicholls overtime win at FBS' punching bag Kansas? Surely, you can't be serious.

In terms of national respect for the SoCon, does having the FCS' all-time passing leader, Samford's Devlin Hodges, playing for the fourth-place team not count for anything?

Something's definitely not right here, but there's nothing Furman can do about it now. While it's an especially tough deal for senior leaders such as captains Jaylan Reid, Aaquil Annoor and Roberts, there will be 29 different juniors, sophomores and freshmen who earned starts in 2018 coming back next season. That doesn't include freshman bandit Adrian Hope, who led all of Division I in sacks with 15 despite not making one start.

It's a pretty safe bet they'll be back in 2019 with a big chip on their shoulders.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Paladins improve to 6-0 for first time ever

Tre Clark scored a career-high 10 points in Furman's 74-57 win over
Southern Wesleyan Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman
It wasn't the prettiest encore to one of the biggest wins in school history, but Furman did what was necessary against a Division II opponent Wednesday night at Timmons Arena. Matt Rafferty scored a game-high 18 points - all in the first half - to lead the Paladins to a 74-57 win over Southern Wesleyan.

While Furman improved to 6-0 for the first time in school history, there was nothing else particularly noteworthy Wednesday. A media circus has buzzed around the team for two weeks, hitting an all-time high following the Paladins' overtime win at reigning national champion Villanova Saturday. Following all of that, a ho-hum 17-point win Wednesday was just fine with Furman coach Bob Richey.

"It's a relief to know that we're definitely not going to be on SportsCenter tonight," Richey said with a grin. "All of us have to get off our phones a little bit. It's hard because these kids' phones have been blowing up. ... All of a sudden, it's a lot coming at them.
"We created lifetime memories that will be there forever and we're going to appreciate what we've done, but in this moment we've got to put it behind us a little bit. We've got to get out of some of this external stuff and focus on the task at hand."

Richey said he was looking forward to the team enjoying Thanksgiving Thursday and kind of closing a chapter of the season along with it. With no more non-Div. I opponents left to play, Furman shifts into facing competition similar to what it will see in Southern Conference play beginning Sunday at 4 p.m. at UNC Asheville.

Richey wasn't pleased with sloppy play at times from the Paladins Wednesday. After committing three and six turnovers, respectively, against other non-Division I opponents Bob Jones and North Greenville this year, the Paladins had 15 Wednesday. While Furman limited Southern Wesleyan to 40.4 percent shooting from the floor, the Warriors did connect on 11-of-28 3-pointers (39.3 percent).

Meanwhile, Furman made just 5-of-21 shots (23.8 percent) from beyond the arc. The difference came in the paint, where the Paladins posted a 44-18 advantage. Furman also used 13 steals for a 20-11 edge in points off turnovers and a 14-0 advantage in fast break scoring.

"We didn't shoot the ball as well as we'd like and we let them shoot too well," Richey said. "For whatever reason, some of our starters had a rough night with focus and intensity.
"I knew there was going to be some physical fatigue, but I didn't really expect all the emotional fatigue. I think you could kind of see some of that tonight."

Much like last Thursday against North Greenville, Furman jumped out on top early Wednesday before allowing Southern Wesleyan to get back in it. The Paladins led 23-13 with 10:26 left, but suffered turnovers on each of their next five possessions and the Warriors went on a 9-0 run during that stretch.

A 3-pointer by Lamont Smith gave Southern Wesleyan its only lead of the night at 28-27 with 5:55 left in the half. Furman went a total of 5:34 between field goals until Noah Gurley's layup with 4:52 left in the half. The Warriors tied it for the last time at 30-30 with 4:32 left before Furman closed out the half on a 12-2 run to take a 42-32 lead into halftime.

"It wasn't the way we want to play. That's on me and all the leaders. ... We got the win. That's all that matters, but we've got the flip the page quickly," Rafferty said. "Being 6-0 is exciting and something the program has never done, but like Coach Richey just said, we can think about that stuff after the season. We've got to worry about our next game and just focus on getting better."

Clay Mounce hit a 3-pointer off an assist from Rafferty 12 seconds into the second half. Two minutes later, Rafferty found Mounce for three again. Thirty-five seconds later, Rafferty stole the ball and fired a beautiful beautiful bullet of a pass to Mounce who soared to the basket for a dunk to push Furman's lead to 50-34. The Paladins never held a lead of fewer than 13 the rest of the way.

No starter played more than 23 minutes for Furman. The only Paladin who played more was Tre Clark who came off the bench to score a career-high 10 points in 24 minutes. In addition to his game-high 18 points on 6-of-6 shooting from the floor, Rafferty had four assists and two steals. Mounce finished with 13 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals.

Jalen Williams had nine points and eight rebounds in 13 minutes off the bench, while Mike Bothwell also scored nine. In just 14 minutes of playing time, freshman Jalen Slawson had four points, five rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals.

"Obviously, it wasn't our sharpest performance of the year, but we got the job done and we were able to play 10 guys pretty good minutes," Richey said. "Even though we weren't having the sharpest night, I thought it was important to get our depth some minutes.
"Our young guys brought some energy. Tre Clark brought some energy, Mike Bothwell had his best game of the year and Slawson was really active defensively and made some great plays. Jalen Williams got in there and mixed it up and got physical."

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Furman stuns 2018 national champ Villanova

Matt Rafferty had 15 points and career-high 17 rebounds as Furman
stunned No. 8 Villanova, 76-68, Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
So, this must be what it's like to be LeBron.

For the third time in eight days, the Furman men's basketball team was all over ESPN SportsCenter Saturday night. This time it came after the Paladins stunned eighth-ranked and reigning national champion Villanova, 76-68, in overtime in Philadelphia. All five starters scored at least 13 points as the Paladins improved to 5-0, it's best start to a season in 31 years. It's the highest-ranked team Furman has defeated since a win over No. 5 Davidson in 1965.

Eight nights earlier, Furman created national buzz with a win at the other 2018 Final Four participant on its schedule. Clay Mounce's last-second dunk lifted the Paladins to a 60-58 win at Loyola-Chicago. On Thursday, Jordan Lyons had Furman basketball trending again as he tied the NCAA record for most 3-pointers in a game with 15.

It was a game in between those two that received no national attention but turned out to possibly be a big factor in Saturday's win. On Tuesday, the Paladins blew a 14-point lead but found a way to pull out an overtime win against Gardner-Webb. That was Furman's first overtime victory in seven years. Now the Paladins have two in five days.

"The way we won Tuesday night's game helped us tonight," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "With dealing with the adversity in overtime Tuesday night being so fresh, it gave us a lot of confidence going into overtime.
"If you can get a group of people that buy into being connected, playing together, loving each other and trusting each other, you really get to experience things that are bigger than you. I think that's what this night shows us. We get a lifetime memory of being able to do something that we could only do as a group."

With the Paladins facing their third game in five days Saturday, Richey essentially gave the team the day off Friday. Instead of practicing together, they toured different historical parts of Philadelphia together. Villanova (2-2) was coming off a 73-46 home loss to Michigan in a rematch of last season's national championship game.

Given the Wildcats' previous result, there could've been a thought that they were going to take their frustrations out on Furman. But the well-rested Paladins quickly showed they weren't there to be anyone's punching bag. A 3-pointer by Mounce staked Furman to an 8-2 lead three minutes in. Villanova came back and led by as many as 10 in the first half, but a pair of Noah Gurley free throws with five second left cut the Wildcats' lead to 36-31 at the break.

Furman opened the second half on a 7-0 run on a layup by Matt Rafferty, a 3-pointer by Mounce and a jumper by Lyons that put the Paladins up 38-36 with 16:36 left. From that point no team led by more than four until Alex Hunter's 3-pointer with 4:40 left gave Furman a 58-53 lead.

The Paladins didn't make another field goal the rest of regulation, but Lyons hit a pair of free throws to tie the game 60-60 with 48 seconds left. Furman had one last chance to win it in regulation. After Hunter's 3-pointer missed in the final seconds, Villanova was called for hooking Rafferty's arm on the rebound with two seconds left. That was the Wildcats' seventh foul of the half sending Rafferty to the line for a 1-and-1.

Rafferty could do no wrong on Saturday, but his front end free throw went in-and-out no good. Rafferty swatted away Villanova's last second lob attempt and the game went to overtime. As the teams gathered together before the extra five-minute session, the poised senior showed no signs of lamenting his miss.

"He came to the bench going to overtime and had this big ol' smile on his face," Richey said. "The positivity of the break before the overtime started is what won us that game.
"Our ability to flip the script and not worry about the missed free throw, we just continue to do the next right thing. That's what has been so great about being around this group."

It's as if Rafferty smile told his teammates he knew what was coming.

Mounce hit a three to put Furman up 65-63. Lyons hit a jumper with 2:45 left to push the lead to four. It remained a 67-63 lead when Lyons' layup was blocked with 1:22 left, but Rafferty made his 17th rebound of the night his biggest. After working more time off the clock, Rafferty drained a fadeaway jumper along the baseline as the shot clock expired. That staked Furman to a six-point lead with 50 seconds left to essentially seal the Wildcats' fate. The Paladins hit 7-of-8 free throws over the final 39 seconds to seal the win.

Lyons only hit one 3-pointer Saturday, but found his points in plenty of other ways as he finished with a team-high 17. In addition to his career-high 17 rebounds, Rafferty had 15 points, four blocked shots, three assists, two steals and zero turnovers. It's the fourth game this season that Rafferty hasn't had a single turnover.

"Jordan was great. They were really pressuring him trying to make him bounce it and to his credit, he did bounce it. He drove it to score it. This is just the dividends that he's getting for all the work he did in the offseason," Richey said. "Matt just doesn't get fazed or rattled. He had 17 rebounds against one of the elite offensive rebounding teams in the country."

Mounce finished with 15 points and three steals, while Hunter scored a career-high 13. Gurley had a sensational linescore with 13 points, eight rebounds, four assists and just one turnover. Furman limited Villanova to 33.8 percent shooting from the floor (24-of-71), including 30 percent in the second half.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Paladins claim SoCon-best 14th championship

Harris Roberts threw a career-high five touchdown passes in Furman's
35-30 win at Mercer Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
MACON, Ga. - Hope sealed Furman football's 14th Southern Conference championship Saturday. Hope is also what the Paladins still have for an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs.

Mercer looked to have one Hail Mary throw to the end zone on the final play of the game Saturday, but Furman freshman Adrian Hope sacked quarterback Kaelan Riley as the Paladins held on for a 35-30 win. Furman's win created a three-way tie for the SoCon crown between the Paladins, ETSU and Wofford.

Furman (6-4, 6-2) needed to hold Mercer to 16 points or less to secure the tiebreaker for the autobid. Those hopes ended on the first play of the second half when the Paladins allowed their third fumble return for a touchdown this season. While Furman will nervously watch the FCS playoff selection show Sunday at 12:30 p.m., Paladins coach Clay Hendrix believes they deserve an at-large bid.

"This bunch is deserving. We lost a (cancelled) game and we played a brutal schedule," Hendrix said. "One thing in our league is that everybody plays everybody. You don't get to not play the best teams. We're conference champions, so I'll live with whatever happens but we ought to be playing. I hope we get that chance."

In order to be in a position for a three-way tie for the title, Furman needed an ETSU loss to Samford Saturday. By the time the Paladins took a 20-10 lead into halftime, they were fully aware that that happened. They also knew they were faced with having to hold the Bears (5-6, 4-4) to no more than six points the rest of the way. Hendrix told his team simply to focus on the task at hand.

"I was told at half about the other score and I went immediately to our kids and said, 'Look, this is the deal. I don't want to hear another word. Let's go win a conference championship,' " Hendrix said. "I knew what the point thing was but I didn't really care about that. I just wanted to win a championship and I'm proud of our bunch for hanging in there and doing it."

Furman put up 245 yards rushing Saturday, as senior captain Harris Roberts directed some big gains off the option. But on the first play of the second half, Devin Wynn couldn't handle the pitch and Mercer's Sidney Otiwu returned the fumble 12 yards for a touchdown.

While Furman went three-and-out on its next possession, the Paladins recaptured the momentum with a 10-play, 95-yard drive that was capped by a 24-yard touchdown pass from Roberts to Ryan DeLuca. Later in the third quarter, Hope had a sack and forced a fumble that Jaylan Reid recovered. That led to a 42-yard field goal by Grayson Atkins. Atkins' 11th consecutive made field goal pushed the lead to 29-17.

But Bobby Lamb's Bears didn't quit. In a scene all too similar for Furman to the ETSU game earlier this season, Mercer called on former starting quarterback Riley on its next series. In the SoCon opener eight weeks earlier, ETSU trailed Furman 27-6 in the third quarter when it turned to former starting quarterback Austin Herink following a turnover. Herink led the Bucs to a 29-27 comeback win.

Riley came in Saturday and marched the Bears right down the field on a 75-yard scoring drive in 2:49. It ended on the 2017 SoCon Freshman of the Year's 11-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Irvin. After Furman went three-and-out, Mercer put together a 67-yard scoring drive in 2:35. Riley's 24-yard touchdown pass to Tyray Devezin gave the Bears a 30-29 lead with 11:37 left in the fourth quarter. Furman came up with a big stop of Devezin - who rushed for 185 yards - on the two-point conversion.

Unfazed, Furman's offense answered as Roberts completed 5-of-5 passes on its ensuing possession. Those were wrapped around Carson Maples two-yard gain on fourth-and-one near midfield. Roberts fifth touchdown pass of the game went for 11 yards to Jake Walker, putting Furman back ahead 35-30 with 6:52 left.

"It's been a year of adversity. Throughout that team has grown and matured, and we certainly had our share tonight too," Hendrix said. "The score to go up and then the drive to put us in position to punt it down there and start them in their five, and then our defense just coming up with big, big plays. It took a total team effort and that's what we had."

After Furman's defense forced a three-and-out, the Paladins drained 4:24 off the clock before punting it back to the Bears. The Paladins had tremendous coverage on Atkins' kick and tackled Irvin at the nine-yard line. A personal foul backed Mercer up to start at its own four-yard line with 1:28 left. The Bears pulled off 12 plays and went 50 yards in those final 88 seconds before Hope's sack and second forced fumble ended it, setting off a massive celebration by Furman.

"It was a storybook moment," Hope said. "You can't even make this stuff up."

Hope finished with 2.5 sacks Saturday giving the freshman reserve bandit 15 this season. That moved him into third-place on the school's single season sack ledger, a half-sack ahead of Kelly Fletcher in 1988 and one shy of Fletcher's 1989 total.

Roberts completed 16-of-23 passes for 189 yards with a career-high five touchdowns and no interceptions. The Paladins essentially ran between each 20-yard line then took to the air off play-action in the red zone. Devin Wynn had a career-high 28 carries for a career-high 135 yards, while Corey Watkins had a career-high 86 yards rushing.

Roberts has overcome injuries to have a terrific senior season in his only year of taking significant snaps. Now he's just hoping it's not over.

"We had a tough start to the season, but we just kept working to make Furman football better each week to get to this point," Roberts said. "We were able to handle a ton of adversity tonight and couldn't be more proud of the guys on this team.
"I'd do anything for at least one more (game)."

Friday, November 16, 2018

Amid playoff talk, Furman focuses on Mercer

Furman will try to bolster its FCS playoff hopes with
a win at Mercer Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
By now, Furman football players and coaches are fully aware of what's on the line in the final Saturday of the FCS regular season. Any scenario that would allow the Paladins to either win the Southern Conference's autobid to the FCS playoffs or bolster their resume for an at-large bid requires one basic outcome: beating Mercer.

Furman (5-4, 4-2 SoCon) enters Saturday's 3 p.m. kickoff in Macon, Ga. having won five of its last six games. A win Saturday would ensure the Paladins at least a second-place finish in the league. A win combined with a Samford win over ETSU would give Furman a share of the SoCon championship, along with ETSU and Wofford. In a three-way tie, the Paladins would claim the league's autobid if they hold Mercer to 16 points or fewer. Otherwise, Wofford gets the autobid.

"If we don't take care of business, nothing else matters," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I told the team the same thing last week and I was proud of how they responded.
"This week, we've battled the weather but we got out there every day and got good work in. I'd be surprised if we didn't go play well."

The Paladins are coming off their most complete overall performance of the season in last week's 49-13 victory at VMI. Furman piled up a season-high 590 yards of total offense while holding the Keydets to their lowest scoring output of the season against FCS competition.

Despite having just 149 yards of total offense last week at Chattanooga, Mercer somehow pulled out a 13-9 win. That gives the Bears (5-5, 4-3), coached by Furman legend Bobby Lamb, a chance at a winning season and their best SoCon finish.

So along with SoCon title and playoff hopes in the air, two great friends going against each other in Hendrix and Lamb, there's also a game that could provide plenty of drama based on the series. Each of the four meetings since Mercer joined the SoCon have been decided by seven points or less.

With ETSU and Samford kicking off at 1 p.m., that result is bound to make its way to the Furman sideline well before its game is over. While trying to get his team focused on the No. 1 goal Saturday, Hendrix said he has thought about how game management plans could go if the Paladins are in a position to limit Mercer to fewer than 16 points.

"Have you thought about it (the scenario) and try to have a little bit of a plan? Yeah. You have a few scenarios in your head," Hendrix said. "But again it goes back to if you lose 14-10, it doesn't matter."

Hendrix believes that any Furman win - no matter the score, or what happens elsewhere - should ensure a trip to the playoffs. No matter how "down" the SoCon may be considered to be, it's hard to fathom that a SoCon team that finishes first or second after winning six of its last seven games and leads the league in strength of schedule could be left out.

"If you look at how we've played down the stretch, and who we've played (all season) - we didn't have a layup on there anywhere," Hendrix said. "I think our kids have played their best football down the stretch and at the end of the day, I think you try to put the best teams in there."

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Lyons makes NCAA record 15 3-pointers

Jordan Lyons tied the NCAA record for 3-pointers in a game (15) and had 54
points in Furman's win over North Greenville. Photo courtesy of Furman
While Furman junior guard Jordan Lyons had not exactly been lighting it up from the floor the last two games, he hit some clutch 3-pointers. Last Friday, Lyons hit a game-tying 3-pointer with three minutes left in the Paladins' win at Loyola. On Tuesday, Lyons' only successful 3-pointer of the night tied the game with two minutes left in overtime of Furman's win over Gardner-Webb.

On Thursday night against North Greenville, Lyons had some 3-pointers down the stretch that were also dramatic, but for very different reasons than the previous two games. After taking nearly 43 minutes for his first 3-pointer two days earlier, it took 33 seconds for his first one Thursday.

And he seemingly never stopped making them.

Lyons tied an NCAA - and Southern Conference - record with 15 3-pointers to lead the Paladins to a 107-67 win. He finished with 54 points, which is the eighth-highest scoring game in school history. It's the most points by a Paladin since Darrell Floyd scored 56 in Furman's 124-87 win over Clemson in 1955. It's also the most points by any Furman player not named Floyd or Frank Selvy.

"We knew Jordan wasn't going to shoot this low (percentage) this season. We knew his time was coming because he's worked so hard at it," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "He's been shooting great in practice and taking great shots. The biggest thrill for me to see him have the night he had is because he was due.
"His body fat went from 17 to 10 this summer. That's huge. His shot selection, discipline and leadership all got rewarded tonight. This wasn't accidental."

Even in the pursuit of an individual honor, Richey said he was proud of how it was still within the "team" concept.

"The neatest thing about tonight was the engagement of his teammates to want to get that done. About the 10-minute mark, you start thinking about your sub patterns and getting the bench in the game," Richey said. "Matt Rafferty, of all people, came to me and said, 'Coach, we've got to leave him out there. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.' Everybody wanted to see him get it.
"The other neat thing about that is (former walk-on) Brady Schuck scored five points tonight and Jordan assisted on all five. So in the middle of the pursuit, he was still a great teammate."

The record of 15 3-pointers in a Division I game was established by Marshall's Keith Veney against Morehead State in 1996. Veney held that record alone for 22 years before Robert Morris' Josh Williams tied it, ironically enough, on Wednesday night.

Lyons also set an NCAA record with 34 3-point attempts. With everyone in Timmons Arena knowing what was up when Lyons tied the record with 3:09 left to play, he missed his last five 3-point attempts. He was fouled on two others as the Crusaders aggressively guarded him and made 4-of-6 free throws to push his point total to 54. It's the most points scored by a Division I player since Kentucky's Jodie Meeks scored 54 against Tennessee in 2009.

"It's an unbelievable night and unbelievable feeling. My coaching staff and teammates all believe in me and they instill this confidence in me on a daily basis," Lyons said. "I'm truly blessed to be playing with the type of teammates, coaches and people we have here.
"It's an amazing night I'll never forget ... and it has nothing to do with just me. This night will forever be about this whole program doing it collectively."

Furman tied the school's team record with 21 3-pointers and set a new school record with 49 attempts, for a 42.9 percentage from beyond the arc. While Lyons and his teammates were trying to get him the record throughout much of the second half, they stayed within what Furman does offensively. The Paladins (4-0) finished with 24 assists, six turnovers and 14 steals. While Matt Rafferty had a team-high six assists, Lyons and Tre Clark each had four. Rafferty added 10 points while freshman Jaylon Pugh scored a career-high nine.

Forgotten in the excitement of Lyons' night was the fact that midway through the first half the game was tied 21-21. After Lyons' 3-pointer put Furman ahead 33-29 with seven minutes left in the first half, an unhappy Richey called a timeout. Richey was not at all pleased with a defense that had allowed the Crusaders to go 5-for-6 on 3-pointers to that point.

"When you try to play defense as a unit and connected, one guy that doesn't get in his stance or misses an assignment can make the whole possession look awful," Richey said. "I didn't think our ball pressure was where it needed to be and we were losing shooters.
"But that's some of the stuff that we're going to go through early. ... We had to clean some stuff up and I thought we did. I thought we came out with a good, deliberate intent in the second half."

During that timeout, Furman got the message loud and clear. North Greenville went 1-for-9 from beyond the arc the rest of the night. Meanwhile, the Paladins went on a 17-2 over the final 4:07 of the first half to take a 55-38 lead into halftime. Lyons had 31 points and hit 9-of-16 3-pointers in the opening half, breaking the school record of eight made 3-pointers with 2:08 left in the half.

The Paladins stretched the lead to 31 just 5:10 into the second half and led by as many as 42.

After taking care of business twice at home this week following last Friday's emotional win at one of the 2018 Final Four participants, Furman's hits the road to face another one Saturday. The Paladins take on reigning national champion Villanova at 5 p.m.

"It's a program that I respect a lot - the way they play and how they do everything on and off the court," Richey said. "They're as fundamental as it gets. They're going to be raged up after what happened last night (a 73-46 home loss to Michigan), so we'll get their best shot.
"It's going to be a monster challenge for us. We're not going to be able to go up there and have success trying to do anything other than what we do. ... We're going to go try to play the style we play the best that we can, and then just see what happens."

Tested Furman ready for NCAA Tournament

The SoCon champion Furman men's soccer team will open play at the NCAA
Tournament Thursday at UNC Wilmington. Photo courtesy of Furman
Just before this year's selection show for the NCAA Men's Soccer Tournament, Furman coach Doug Allison was on the phone with UNC Wilmington coach Aidan Heaney. The two friends and natives of England discussed where each of their teams may land in the tournament. While the Paladins secured an automatic bid by winning their 14th Southern Conference championship, the Seahawks were hoping to earn an at-large bid.

"All of a sudden he calls me back and says, 'we'll see you Thursday,' " Allison said.

Thursday will mark Furman's 11th NCAA Tournament appearance when the Paladins (13-6-1) play at UNCW (12-5-2) at 7 p.m. The winner of the first round match will advance to play at No. 10 seed Virginia on Sunday.

Nine of those NCAA appearances have come under the guidance of Allison, who's in his 24th season as coach at Furman. This will be the Paladins third tournament in the last five years, having last made the field in 2015. Each of Furman's last three NCAA games have ended in a tie, including a first round loss on penalty kicks at South Carolina three years ago. Allison is thrilled that this year's group of six seniors have one more chance at the NCAA Tournament.

"This is one of those teams that may not be as talented as some teams we've had, but they are a team. The leadership of Danny (Kierath) and Cam (Robinson) has been fantastic," Allison said. "It's a unique team and a fun one to coach. I'm just really pleased for them because they've earned it."

Furman made the NCAA Tournament following a run to the SoCon championship that was capped by a 3-0 win over UNC Greensboro in Sunday's final. After opening the tournament with a 4-2 win over Belmont, the third-seeded Paladins toppled second-seeded ETSU on its home field 2-1 in overtime to advance to the final.

In UNCG, Furman was facing the team that ended its season at each of the previous two SoCon tournaments. It was also the same UNCG team that handed the Paladins a 1-0 loss in the regular season finale two weeks earlier. In the championship, Emery May scored Furman's first goal at the 20:21 mark and then added another nine minutes later. Conor Sloan wrapped up the scoring with a goal at the 86:21 mark.

"We had a much better game plan going in (to the final) and the kids really stuck to it," Allison said. "We nullified their dangerous players and learned from the first game. We also had captain Danny Kierath back for that game. He was out the first time we played."

Ben Hale, the 2018 SoCon Goalkeeper of the Year, recorded five saves in the shutout. Senior Laurence Wyke, who had the game-winning goal against ETSU and assisted on May's first goal Sunday, was named the tournament's most outstanding player. Jack Shiels, Cameron Robinson and Rocky Guerra joined Wyke on the All-Tournament team.

"The tournament most outstanding player could've went to a number of guys to tell you the truth," Allison said. "Emery May had four goals in three games and Ben Hale had plenty of saves, but Laurence is just playing at a different level."

Allison said Sunday's game was Furman's most complete performance of the season. After opening the season with an impressive 2-0 win at Ohio State, Furman was shut out in each of its next three games. The Paladins suffered a 5-2 loss at Clemson on Sept. 18 before going 7-0-1 over the next eight games. That streak included an 8-0 win over VMI and a 2-0 win at ETSU as Furman began SoCon play with a 4-0 record before dropping its final two games of the regular season.

That may not have been the ideal way to enter the SoCon Tournament, but Allison said his squad rallied together. He believes that rugged non-conference schedule also helped prepare the Paladins for the SoCon Tournament. He hopes that holds true for the NCAA Tournament as well.

"We went into some tough environments and played some tough teams," Allison said. "In the end, that prepares you for tournament time."

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Paladins pull off another two-point win

Clay Mounce scored a career-high 26 points in Furman's 88-86 overtime
win over Gardner-Webb Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Furman
It might not have felt exactly the same as Furman's thrilling two-point win its last time out, but the Paladins pulled out another thrilling two-point win Tuesday. Coming off a last second 60-58 victory at Loyola-Chicago that gained national attention Friday, Furman may have been due for a hangover in its first game back on the court. As it turns out, that hangover didn't hit until the second half Tuesday. While the Paladins blew a 13-point halftime lead, Furman found a way for an 88-86 overtime win over Gardner-Webb.

"A win is a win," Furman senior center Matt Rafferty said. "You've got to enjoy every one of them because winning's tough."

After the Runnin' Bulldogs chipped away at Furman's lead throughout the second half, they took their first lead since the 16:50 mark of the first half 16 seconds into overtime. Gardner-Webb led 83-80 with 3:57 left when Furman strung together a pair of much-needed stops defensively.

With 2:07 left in overtime, Jordan Lyons hit his first shot since the 19:16 mark of the first half as his first 3-pointer tied it up. Lyons then made a steal and a layup that put the Paladins (3-0) back in front for good. Lyons was able to get the go-ahead shot to fall despite getting hacked to the floor on the play with no foul called.

"Jordan had a tough night offensively, but a lot of that was due to Gardner-Webb's game plan," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "But he hit the big shot and that's what I love about him."

On Gardner-Webb's next possession, freshman Jose Perez - who had 23 points and seven rebounds off the bench - missed a layup and Tre Clark got the rebound. Rafferty then grabbed a huge offensive rebound that allowed Furman to run some more precious seconds off the clock before Clay Mounce's tip-in pushed the lead to 87-83 with 23 seconds left. Furman hit just 1-of-4 free throws over the final 13 seconds, leaving a slight bit of hope for Gardner-Webb. Eric Jamison's halfcourt heave at the buzzer bounced off the backboard no good though as Furman survived.

"Obviously, it wasn't the prettiest night but we'll take it," Richey said. "Offensively, we did a pretty good job for the most part. We shot 53 percent from the floor, had 21 assists and 11 turnovers. These guys (Gardner-Webb) had turned VCU and Virginia Tech over on average of 20 a night.
"What we've got to learn from is that we've got guard the bounce better. They basically went five guards, putting their head down and driving (in the second half). It wasn't anything complicated. ... Second, we've got to understand that a 13-point lead at halftime doesn't mean you just go out there and walk through the next 20 minutes and everything's going to work out."

The Paladins opened Tuesday's game the same way they ended Friday's. Mounce caught an alley oop from Alex Hunter for a dunk to get the Timmons Arena crowd buzzing 17 seconds into the game. The rest of the half was the Rafferty and Mounce show. Rafferty had 17 points on 8-of-8 shooting with five rebounds and four assists in the opening half, while Mounce scored 11.

A jumper by Mounce gave Furman its biggest lead at 44-30 with 49 seconds left in the half before Rafferty's layup with two seconds left staked the Paladins to a 46-33 lead at the break.

While Gardner-Webb never led in the second half, it drew even four times - the first coming at the 9:06 mark. Furman still appeared in control with 1:55 left when Rafferty's layup gave the Paladins a 76-71 lead.

However, David Efianayi hit four free throws and a 3-pointer over the final 1:36 for the Bulldogs (0-3). His free throws with 26 seconds left tied the game 78-78. Lyons didn't get a good look on a jumper that missed to send the game to overtime.

"We responded to adversity in the overtime. They had all the momentum going into overtime," Richey said. "We experienced that last year at The Citadel and didn't respond, so to respond tonight is a step of growth."

Despite having the lead for much of the final stretch of regulation, Furman was whistled for four of its 16 fouls over the final 4:53 of the second half. Meanwhile, Gardner-Webb committed 19 fouls but wasn't called for any over the final 6:30 of regulation.

Mounce finished with a career-high 26 points with six rebounds, two blocks and a steal. While Mounce has earned a reputation for his highlight reel dunks - which he had three of Tuesday, he knocked down some jumpers including 3-of-5 3-pointers.

"We had some guys step up especially from the edges with Clay hitting three 3's and Noah (Gurley) hitting two with Andrew out," Richey said.

Rafferty matched his career-high with 24 points and also had 10 rebounds and six assists. Making his first career start in place of injured Andrew Brown (ankle), Gurley had 12 points, six rebounds and two steals. Hunter and Lyons each finished with eight points, and Hunter also dished out a career-high seven assists.

Brown was not dressed out and was in a walking boot Tuesday. With Brown out indefinitely, Richey said the coaching staff decided to take the redshirt off freshman Jalen Slawson. While he only played two minutes Tuesday, Slawson contributed a big block and a rebound.

"To be honest with you, I made a few mistakes tonight and one of them was not playing (Slawson) more. I just thought he played hard," Richey said. "He sat down in his stance and guarded, which was one of the main issues for us tonight. We didn't take pride in guarding the basketball."

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Paladins get offense cranking, whip VMI

Devin Wynn rushed for a career-high 112 yards and three touchdowns
in Furman's 49-13 win at VMI Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
LEXINGTON, Va. - A week after grinding out a 16-10 win over Chattanooga, Furman made the long trek to VMI looking to get its offense sparked. That's exactly what it got. The Paladins piled up a season-high 590 total yards of offense to cruise to a 49-13 win.

The offense got a boost of confidence in all phases. The Paladins (5-4, 5-2 Southern Conference) had 302 yards passing and 288 rushing for its most productive day of offense since collecting 609 yards against ETSU last season. Furman had 14 first downs rushing, 14 passing and two via penalty Saturday.

Furman coach Clay Hendrix said he was proud of his team not falling into the trap of excuses for reasons to not play well. Such as making a long road trip, playing on a cold, windy day on a slick field against a team with nothing to lose.

"There's all kind of reasons not to go play well and we weren't going to go do that," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "We had a great week of preparation and I was proud of how we started, particularly offensively."

Furman got things going on its opening possession. On third-and-nine, Harris Roberts hit Ryan DeLuca on a 28-yard gain. On third-and-13, Roberts connected with Devin Wynn for 19 yards. On the next play, Roberts tossed an option pitch to Wynn and he could walk into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown.

The third-down conversions were just a sign of things to come. Furman converted nine of its first 10 third downs and went 11 of 14 for the game.

"If you do that (on third down), you've got a chance," Hendrix said.

After a 10-play, 83-yard drive to open the game, Furman went 80 yards on 10 plays on its next drive. Corey Watkins ran for 29 yards on the first play, Thomas Gordon caught a 21-yard pass on third-and-six, and Wynn capped the drive with a one-yard score.

Jordan Willis forced a fumble on the first play of VMI's ensuing possession and Furman's Aaquil Annoor recovered at the VMI 33. On the next play, Roberts went deep to Jake Walker for a touchdown that helped push the lead to 21-0 with 2:34 left in the first quarter.

Furman had another 10-play scoring drive in the second quarter, capped by Watkins' five-yard touchdown run. After stopping VMI on fourth down with an incompletion, Furman took over at its own 29-yard line with 2:13 left. Two plays later, Roberts threw a short pass to Walker that he turned into a 69-yard touchdown with 1:18 left.

"Jake runs really smooth. When you watch him on film, it doesn't look like he's running all that fast but he's a lot faster than he looks," said Roberts, who completed 13-of-17 passes for 261 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. "That's the touchdown you dream about as a quarterback - throw it about five feet and just let him go for 65 (yards).
"We mixed the run and pass really well today. We got fortunate and took advantage of that turnover early on, which really put us in a good position from the get go."

The Keydets drove to Furman's two-yard line on their ensuing possessions. But with four seconds left, VMI quarterback Reece Udinski tried a draw and was dropped for a one-yard loss to end the half, leaving Furman with a 35-7 lead.

The Paladins removed any doubt in the third quarter. Wynn found a hole up the gut and ran untouched for a 43-yard touchdown on Furman's first drive after halftime. Watkins scored from two yards out on the next one as Furman took a 49-7 lead with 6:13 left in the third quarter.

Wynn finished with a career-high 112 yards on 15 carries, while Watkins matched a career-high with 78 yards on 13 attempts.

While it didn't score the rest of the way, Furman was able to kill the clock. The Paladins had the ball for more than 37 minutes, including 11:24 in the fourth quarter.

"We got to play a bunch of guys the whole fourth quarter and part of the third," Hendrix said. "That will be invaluable for us."

Much like Furman's offense got going against a VMI defense that has struggled to stop teams, freshman bandit Adrian Hope padded his sack total against a Keydets' team that has had trouble protecting the quarterback. Furman had three sacks Saturday, pushing VMI's season total of allowed sacks to 46. Two of those were by Hope, pushing his SoCon-leading total to 12.5 this season.

The Paladins held VMI to its lowest point total in FCS play this season. While Furman excelled on third down, the Keydets were just 4-of-12 on third down, 2-of-4 on fourth down and 0-for-2 on scoring in the red zone.

Back home, Rafferty helps Furman stun Loyola

Matt Rafferty had seven points and an assist on the game-winning basket over
the final 1:21 of Furman's 60-58 win over Loyola. Photo courtesy of Furman
The last time Matt Rafferty played in a game in the Chicago area on a Friday night this time of year, it was as a quarterback for the Hinsdale Central High School football team four years ago. Rafferty returned home Friday night and even though he wasn't on the gridiron, oh what a memorable pass he made.

After scoring seven consecutive points over the final 1:21 of Furman men's basketball game at Loyola-Chicago, Rafferty was bound to draw plenty of attention on the Paladins' final possession in a tie game and he did. With one defender closely guarding him and another coming over to help near the top of the key, Rafferty hit Clay Mounce in stride - as if he was throwing to a receiver slanting to the end zone. Mounce caught Rafferty's pass and threw down a posterizing dunk with 1.6 seconds left to give Furman the lead. The Ramblers' half-court prayer at the buzzer bounced away no good and the Paladins celebrated a 60-58 win over the 2018 Final Four participant.

"This is one of the most exciting wins I've ever been a part of - college, high school, anything," Rafferty said on the Furman Sports Network's postgame show. "To be in my hometown and get this done, it means a lot."

On Frank Selvy's 86th birthday, Furman (2-0) pulled out a win that may prove to be as memorable in the program's history as Selvy's legendary 100-point game. It wasn't just because of the thrilling finish that was replayed numerous times on ESPN's SportsCenter Friday night. It was the way the Paladins withstood a roller coaster of a game.

Furman saw a 23-8 first half lead washed away under the flurry of a 20-0 Loyola run. The Paladins trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half before rallying. They were able to come back despite Rafferty, Jordan Lyons, Alex Hunter and Noah Gurley each being saddled with four fouls down the stretch.

"I can't say enough about our team's will," Furman coach Bob Richey told "We never quit tonight and kept our poise down the stretch.
"That's life. Life is about responding."

Adversity first struck Furman just 3:08 into the game when starting point guard Alex Hunter picked up his second foul. Hunter was tasked Friday with guarding 2018 Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Clayton Custer. With Hunter relegated to the bench after those two quick fouls, freshman Mike Bothwell came on. Bothwell's availability was questionable as he had been dealing with a hip flexor injury.

Despite all that, Furman went out to a 14-3 lead after Lyons' 3-pointer with 12:59 left in the first half. A putback by Mounce pushed the lead to 23-8 with 7:08 left, but the Paladins didn't score again for more than six minutes. Loyola's 20-0 run put the Ramblers ahead 28-23. A layup by Gurley with 52 seconds left snapped the scoreless run. Gurley then had a dunk with 15 seconds left to cut the lead to 28-27 at the halftime break.

"That saved the game," Richey said of Gurley's baskets late in the half. "Because now you're not going into halftime just emotionally drained from giving up the lead like that."

While it obviously helped in the long run, that bit of Furman momentum didn't carry over to start the second half. The Paladins missed their first eight shots from the floor after halftime as Loyola built a 42-29 lead. Rafferty had Furman's first made bucket of the second half on a layup with 12:50 left.

That started a 10-0 run over the next 2:34 to get the Paladins back in it. Rafferty layups started and ended that run as they sandwiched around a pair of 3-pointers by Lyons. The Ramblers (1-1) led by seven when Gurley hit a 3-pointer with 5:07 left. After being fouled on a 3-pointer, Lyons knocked down all three free throws to cut the lead to one with 3:43. Lyons nailed a game-tying 3-pointer 41 seconds later.

Furman trailed 54-51 with less than two minutes to play when Rafferty simply would not be denied. After he rebounded a Loyola miss, Rafferty hit a layup with 1:21 left to cut the lead to one. Rafferty then had a steal and was fouled as he made a layup with 55 seconds left. He completed the three-point play to give Furman a 56-54 lead.

Hunter fouled out with 47 seconds left and Loyola's Marques Townes hit both free throws to tie the game. Rafferty made a pair of free throws to put Furman back up by two with 31 seconds left. Custer flew down the court and banked in a runner to tie the game 58-58 with 23 seconds left. 

Lyons dribbled down the clock before passing to Rafferty with six seconds left. As Rafferty took two dribbles to his left near Mounce, Mounce's man turned toward Rafferty for a split second. As soon as his defender turned, Mounce sprinted right to the basket where he caught Rafferty's pass and dunked home the game-winner. 

"Clay's the best cutter we've got. We say in our program that 'cutting is character.' That was great character on his part that he was able to cut that right there when he hadn't had a great game," Richey said. "He went up with authority and man, what a night to be a Paladin."

Rafferty finished with team-highs in points (18), rebounds (7) and assists (4), and also had two blocked shots and two steals. While Furman suffered 17 turnovers, Rafferty was the lone starter with none. Lyons had 15 points and three steals, while Gurley finished with 11 points and six rebounds off the bench. Mounce and Andrew Brown each scored eight points, and Mounce added seven rebounds and three blocks.

While he didn't scratch in the scoring column in 18 minutes off the bench, Tre Clark's effort was lauded by Richey.

"I could talk forever (about this game), but Tre Clark. The kid has been through a ton of adversity and two injuries last year when he redshirted," Richey said. "His defense was unbelievable. On-ball defense, off-ball defense - he was all over the court."

Friday, November 9, 2018

Sack-happy Hope set to face pass-happy VMI

Furman redshirt freshman Adrian Hope has 10.5
sacks this season. Photo courtesy of Furman
With 2.5 sacks last week against Chattanooga, Furman freshman bandit Adrian Hope pushed his Southern Conference-leading total to 10.5 this season. That vaulted him into fourth place on Furman's single-season sack chart. Given the Paladins' opponent this week, Hope's performance last week might have just been an appetizer for something bigger.

When Furman plays at VMI Saturday at 1:30 p.m., Hope will face a Keydets' team that has allowed more sacks that any other team in Division I. VMI's given up 43 sacks through nine games this season and it's allowed at least two sacks in every game.

"They're going to throw it a bunch, so you'd hope that we would have some chances to get to the quarterback," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "Even if they focus on and double-team Adrian, we have other guys who can rush and create some negative plays."

Hope's standout season has not gone unnoticed. This week, he was named a finalist for the 2018 Blanchard-Rogers Award. The honor is given by the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame to the top player with ties to the state. Hope is the only freshman among the 20 finalists.

What's been most impressive about Hope's season is the way he's gone about it. He's yet to start a game, serving as the backup to senior Chris Washington, who's also had a solid season.

"He's done what he's done without making a start and with us facing two pure option teams. It's not like he's had tons of chances," Hendrix said. "He's got a great 'get off,' and just has a knack. If you look at him, he's not a real imposing kid, but he's got more power than you think he does.
"He's gotten progressively better as the year's gone along. He's becoming more of a complete player, not just a pass rusher."

Hope credits his coaches and teammates for his success. He said the attention players like senior captain Jaylan Reid receives inside opens up one-on-one opportunities for him. No matter what style of offense they're facing on a given week, Hope says the defense keeps the same mentality.

"We focus on us more than we focus on them. Our coaches do a great job preparing us week-to-week," Hope said. "They don't let us get a big head. There's always stuff you can work on to get better.
"The details are everything. Even sometimes when I make a sack, there could've been a better move I could've used. You never know when that the detail will come into place."

A big reason VMI (1-8, 0-7 SoCon) has allowed so many sacks this year is the many opportunities their style of offense provides. Led by sophomore quarterback Reece Udinski, the Keydets rank fifth in the FCS is passing at 324 yards per game. But they've gotten there by throwing more passes than any team in Div. I. With 501 attempts, VMI has thrown 63 more passes than Samford, which has the second-most attempts in the FCS.

It's a short passing game that serves as sort of a ball control offense for VMI. While it may be an unorthodox offense, it's made the Keydets much more competitive than last year. VMI's closest SoCon game last year was a pair of 18-point losses. This year, the Keydets have lost four SoCon games by seven points or less. In its last SoCon game, VMI jumped on top of Chattanooga 21-7 before the Mocs rallied for a 34-27 win. Last Saturday, the Keydets snapped a 25-game losing streak with a 20-11 win over Div. II Tusculum.

While VMI has improved offensively this season, its struggles on defense have continued. Out of 124 FCS teams, the Keydets are 122nd in scoring defense allowing 44.9 points per game. VMI is last in the SoCon in rushing defense, allowing 253.8 per game. With a cold, windy forecast Saturday that could cause problems for both teams' passing games, it's appears to be a golden opportunity for Furman's rushing game to step up in a big way.

If Furman (4-4, 4-2) can maintain its momentum and take care of its own business Saturday, a couple of other SoCon games could make for a very interesting trip to Mercer to close out the regular season next week. A three-way tie for the SoCon championship between ETSU, Furman and Wofford could be achieved if the following results happen:

  • Furman wins its last two games
  • Wofford wins at Western Carolina Saturday
  • Samford loses at Citadel Saturday, but wins at ETSU next week
It's believed that if that three-way tie occurs, Furman would win the tiebreaker and earn the SoCon's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. So basically, Paladin fans will be rooting for their team Saturday, along with Wofford and Citadel. Football's weird sometimes.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Paladins earned throwback win Saturday

Furman senior captain Jaylan Reid drops Chattanooga quarterback Nick
Tiano for a loss in the Paladins' 16-10 win. Photo courtesy of Furman
There are a few reasons why having the Colgate game cancelled by the threat of Hurricane Florence has grown to really stink for Furman this season. Given the mismatch that took place on Colgate's home turf last season, the thinking would have to lean toward the Paladins sitting at 5-4 currently rather than 4-4 had the game taken place.

No matter if Furman won or lost that day, what if some of the kinks that weren't fully worked out with a healthy Harris Roberts at quarterback for Furman against ETSU the next week were worked out against Colgate? Perhaps then the Paladins don't squander a 27-6 lead at ETSU and would be currently alone in first place in the Southern Conference.

There's nothing Furman can do about "what might have been" now, but there's still a possibility - with some help - that Furman could share a SoCon title and/or earn an FCS playoff bid. The Paladins are one of three SoCon teams with two league losses, trailing one-loss ETSU in the standings with two weeks left in the regular season.

One result of the cancelled game was postponing the planned events honoring the 30th anniversary of the 1988 Div. I-AA national championship team to this past Saturday. Members of the team returned to campus to participate and took the field for recognition between the first and second quarter. Given how Furman grinded out a 16-10 win over Chattanooga, it was rather fitting that the 1988 team was remembered Saturday. Coach Clay Hendrix couldn't help but recall how similar it was to the 10-7 win over Chattanooga 30 years ago.

"In 1988 we went up to Chattanooga at the old Chamberlain Field and they were good and really good defensively," said Hendrix, who was the offensive line coach in 1988. "Our touchdown was a pick-six. Pat Turner picked one off I think in the first or second quarter. Today was kind of like that game. We just kind of hung on in a game that was in the later part of the year."

Defense stands tall
Furman's defense led the way Saturday with its best all-around performance this season. Chattanooga's only two scores came after Furman turnovers. The Paladins held the Mocs to 240 yards of total offense, marking the first time this season that Furman held an opponent under 318 yards.

Freshman bandit Adrian Hope had 2.5 sacks Saturday moving into fourth-place in school history for most sacks in a single season with 10.5. Hope averages 1.31 sacks per game with ranks second in the FCS. Elijah McKoy had 13 tackles Saturday and he now ranks second in the SoCon with 9.2 tackles per game.

Atkins honored again
For the third consecutive week, kicker/punter Grayson Atkins has earned SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week honors. Atkins hit all three of his field goals Saturday, including another 50-yarder, running his consecutive made field goals streak to 10 - two behind the school record held by Danny Marshall. Atkins has kicked the third-longest field goal (53 yards) and third-longest punt (81) in school history this season, while half of his 40 kickoffs have gone for touchbacks.

"Grayson's just a cool guy. He just stands there and not a whole lot bothers him," Hendrix said. "He doesn't get enough credit for the kickoff stuff ... and he continues to punt the ball really well. He's certainly a weapon."

Auer an unsung hero
While a pair of Furman turnovers in the second half kept Chattanooga's hopes alive, it snapped a run of seven consecutive quarters without one for the Paladins. That run was nearly snapped in the first quarter Saturday though. Having allowed fumble returns for touchdowns in losses to Elon and Samford this year, the Paladins were fully aware how costly they can be and nearly suffered one on their opening possession.

With Roberts rolling to his right, Chattanooga standout defender Isaiah Mack forced a fumble from behind. As the ball bounced toward the Furman sideline, reserve left tackle Caleb Auer made a terrific hustle play to pounce on the loose ball to retain possession. The sophomore's dive landed him just ahead of streaking Chattanooga cornerback Kareem Orr. There was nothing between Orr and the goal line except for Auer.

Paladins receive votes
Coming off Saturday's win, Furman collected six votes in this week's FCS STATS (Media) poll - 57 fewer than Chattanooga. The Paladins received no votes in the FCS Coaches poll.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Mistake-free Paladins cruise in season opener

Jordan Lyons scored a career-high 23 points in Furman's 102-48
win over Bob Jones Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Furman
No matter who's tipping off, a season-opening basketball game can often be filled with sloppy play and turnovers as teams shake off the offseason rust. However, that was not the case for Furman Tuesday night at Timmons Arena.

The Paladins opened the 2018-19 season with what's believed to be a school record-low three turnovers in a 102-48 win over Bob Jones. Comparatively, Furman committed 12, 14, 14 and 16 turnovers, respectively, over the previous four season openers. The Paladins' first turnover Tuesday came when Noah Gurley lost control on what was looking to be a spectacular dunk. That was with 11:25 left in the first half. Furman didn't have another turnover until the bench was completely emptied with 3:55 left in the game.

"I don't care who you're playing ... To play 35 minutes with one turnover - and also have 21 assists, which shows the ball's moving - shows we did a good job of driving with two eyes up," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We led the league in turnover efficiency last year and only turned it over on 15 percent of our possessions. We had senior guards out there then ... but its carried over so far this preseason and showed up there tonight."

Tuesday's game was tied 10-10 at the five-minute mark and Furman led only 18-14 just over nine minutes in. Then the Paladins began to heat up. Clay Mounce's layup started a 14-0 run over a span of 2:51 that was capped by a Jaylon Pugh 3-pointer off an assist from Mounce. That was the fourth 3-pointer of the run as Mounce hit one and Jordan Lyons had two. Back-to-back layups by Alex Hunter gave Furman its biggest lead of the first half at 51-26 with 52 seconds left.

While the Paladins shot 65.5 percent from the floor in the first half, Bob Jones shot 59.1 percent. In the second half, Furman limited the Bruins (0-2) to 28 percent shooting. The Paladins had a 29-0 advantage in points off turnovers and a 16-0 edge on fastbreak points.

"Taking care of the ball is one of the things that we value the most as a team," Lyons said. "We have a lot of versatility offensively and a very unselfish team. Last year we were really good at valuing the ball and this year, we're just trying to be even better."

Lyons posted career-highs in points (23) and 3-pointers (7-of-13). Things were definitely going good for the junior when he banked in one of those 3-pointers and later hit what was essentially a no-look floater. As he drove to the lane, he lost control of the ball only to have it sail on in to the basket. All Lyons could do was turn to the Furman bench and smile after realizing where the ball ended up.

"That caught me off guard. The ball got deflected, I looked up and it just happened to drop. Hey, I'll take it - two points is two points," Lyons said. "The bank (3-pointer) is always open though. We'll take them all day."

Matt Rafferty finished with one of those classic Matt Rafferty stat lines: 27 minutes, a career-high 24 points, 9-of-11 shooting, 6-of-9 free throws, eight rebounds, five assists, one block, one steal, zero fouls and zero turnovers. Every Furman starter had at least two assists and none had a turnover.

"The guys did a great job feeding me the ball tonight," Rafferty said. "Last year, we kind of played through me and I was kind of the facilitator. Now I'm trying to do a little bit of both scoring and facilitating."

Mounce had 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the floor and seven rebounds, while freshman Mike Bothwell had 11 points in his collegiate debut. In 16 minutes off the bench, sophomore Tre Clark had nine points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals, no fouls and no turnovers.

With the opener under its belt, Furman now turns its attention to Friday and a road trip to Chicago to face 2018 Final Four participant Loyola.

"We will be dealing with a team that's very well-coached and very unselfish. They've got an elite point guard, an elite (No.) five man and really good pieces around them," Richey said. "They didn't just accidentally fall into the Final Four.
"It's going to be tough, but this group's up for the challenge."

Furman basketball set to begin big next chapter

Furman sophomore point guard Alex Hunter. Photo courtesy of Furman
A new chapter in Furman basketball begins Tuesday night when the Paladins open the 2018-19 season against Bob Jones at 7 p.m. The core of a group that led the program's historic turnaround - capped by a school-record 22 regular season wins last year - has graduated and it should be exciting to see what lies ahead.

While Geoff Beans, John Davis III, Dexter Fowler and Devin Sibley will no longer be suiting up, Furman does return quite a few experienced players. Seniors Andrew Brown and Matt Rafferty have made more than 100 combined starts in their career, while junior Jordan Lyons started seven of the Paladins' final eight games last season.

"Last year ... we basically played four guards around Matt. We were anywhere from 5-foot-11 to 6-4 at the four spot," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "This year it's going to look way different. There's going to be lineups where you go 6-7, 6-7, 6-8 at the three, four and five.
"I like where we are. We've got a good mix of old and young and we know what we're going to get out of the old guys because they're proven. ... The young guys have shown a willingness to work and figure out a way to grow and get better."

Rafferty will look to build off an All-Southern Conference season in which he averaged 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. In addition to ranking fourth on the team in scoring and first in rebounding, Rafferty also led Furman in steals (54) and blocked shots (21) and was second in assists (91). Rafferty also had just 33 turnovers last year. Among the six Paladins who averaged more than 18 minutes a game, only Brown (32) had fewer turnovers.

Brown should be ready to go after missing much of the preseason as he recovered from a broken foot. That came after surviving a life-threatening scare following a complication from hernia surgery right after the 2018-19 season. Brown averaged 8.6 points a game last season and ranked third in the SoCon in three-point shooting making 43.3 percent.

Lyons provided instant offense off the bench for much of last season before sliding into the starting lineup. He averaged 8.3 points per game last year and earned SoCon All-Tournament honors after scoring 15 points in the win over Western Carolina and 17 in a semifinal loss to ETSU. Lyons could take on a bigger role in a number of ways this year.

"Jordan's taken great shots and letting the game come to him (this preseason). He's always been a good defender, but now he's just doing every single possession and buying into the communication piece," Richey said. "He's just playing with a great confidence about him right now.
"I'm really proud of his growth. Those games that he was able to start towards the end of last season really ended up working out in his favor. It really pushed him into the offseason motivated and determined."

Others returning who've logged solid minutes for Furman include sophomores Clay Mounce and Alex Hunter, along with junior Jalen Williams. Thanks quite a bit to some dazzling dunks, Mounce shot 56.3 from the floor last year and should have a larger role this season. Richey said that Mounce had 17 points and nine rebounds in the "secret scrimmage" at Florida, then had 16 points in the Paladins' other scrimmage against Alabama-Huntsville.

Hunter looks to fill the big shoes of Davis at point guard. As a freshman last season, Hunter showed a terrific knack for protecting the ball. Hunter averaged 14 minutes a game and had just 16 turnovers all season. He had 37 assists last year and scored a career-high 10 points in the SoCon Tournament win over Western Carolina.

"Whatever (Hunter) ends up going out there and doing this season, I won't be surprised by any of it. He's as dedicated as any guy that I've seen in an offseason," Richey said. "Last year for him it was: take care of the ball, play defense and make the open shot.
"This year, JD's gone so he's got to be the guy that gets the ball in the paint. He can't just be a facilitator, he's got to be an aggressor. It's been nice to see his growth there."

It will be interesting to see how redshirt freshman Noah Gurley and sophomore Tre Clark, who redshirted last season due to an injury, contribute this year. Gurley, who grew one inch and added 25 pounds since last season, and Clark have each had impressive offseasons. According to Richey, incoming freshmen Jaylon Pugh, Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson have all shown solid flashes of what they can do in the preseason and could also be in the mix. From a depth standpoint, however, it could make the most sense for at least one to redshirt this season.

"It sounds cliche, but we really have six starters and we're going to have to manage that," Richey said on his latest All Din podcast. "Noah Gurley could start for anybody in our league right now, including us.
"We've got Clay, Matt and Noah all playing really well. We're going to want those three guys out there a lot."

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Defense carries Furman past Chattanooga

Furman senior captain Aaquil Annoor returns an interception during the
Paladins' 16-10 win over Chattanooga Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
"Survive and advance" is a phrase typically reserved for the postseason, but it was pretty applicable Saturday at Paladin Stadium. In a game in which the loser's hopes for any Southern Conference championship and/or FCS playoff bid would likely be dashed, Furman grinded out a 16-10 win over Chattanooga on Senior Day.

Furman improves to 4-4 overall and 4-2 in the SoCon, while the Mocs fall to 6-3 and 4-3 in the league. While the Paladins defense had great efforts against Wofford and The Citadel, Saturday's may have been their best of the season.

Chattanooga quarterback Nick Tiano had a season-low 154 yards passing. Bryce Nunnelly, who ranked fourth in the FCS in receiving averaging 119.1 yards per game, had 52 yards on eight catches. Tyrell Price, who averaged 71.9 rushing yards per game, was held to 33 one 10 carries. Price also had five receptions for minus-1 yard receiving.

"I told our guys yesterday, 'the toughest football team tomorrow is going to win,' and I thought we were," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "We didn't execute like we want to and weren't as smart as we need to be. ... We basically gave them both their scores off turnovers, which just cannot happen.
"But I thought at the end of the day when we had to make tough yards and tough stops, we did."

In a matchup of the two lowest-scoring teams in the SoCon, one big offensive play could be a difference maker. Furman sophomore running back Devin Wynn provided that late in the first quarter. Wynn took a handoff, split a pair of blitzing defenders at the line of scrimmage, and raced past the rest of Chattanooga's defense for a 50-yard touchdown staking Furman to a 7-0 lead with 1:23 left in the opening quarter.

"This week, coach was telling me that I made too many cuts. I had to just get vertical and accelerate ... so that's what I did," said Wynn, who finished with a career-high 96 yards on 13 carries. "We wish we could've capitalized on more opportunities on offense today, but our defense was phenomenal."

Furman put together a 13-play, 52-yard drive that shaved 7:30 off the second quarter clock. It ended on Grayson Atkins' 50-yard field goal with 3:04 left.

Chattanooga threatened on its ensuing possession until senior captain Aaquil Annoor intercepted Tiano's pass and returned it 33 yards to the Mocs' 44-yard line. On 3rd-and-14, Wynn caught a 23-yard pass from senior captain Harris Roberts. That helped lead to a 48-yard field goal by Atkins on the last play of the half as Furman led 13-0 at the break.

After going seven consecutive quarters without a turnover, Furman's streak ended on the opening kickoff of the second half. Defensive end Landon Lawrence fielded the short kick and made a nice return before losing the ball, which Chattanooga recovered at the Furman 45. Twelve plays later, the Mocs got on the board with a 28-yard field goal by Victor Ulmo.

The Paladins responded with the biggest - literally and figuratively - of the game. It began with 8:36 left in the third quarter. It featured three fourth-down conversions - including a pair of Furman's side of the 50. After 20 plays, it ended on Atkins' 28-yard field goal with 13:30 left in the fourth quarter.

"On the first (fourth down conversion of the drive), I just felt like we've got to be able to make that given how we're built and with some of the things we do offensively," Hendrix said. "Part of it is also letting your team know you believe in them."

Senior noseguard Jaylan Reid enjoyed his view of the drive from the sideline.

"We're sitting over there sipping Gatorade and water," said Reid. "A 10-minute drive will get you really fresh before you go back out there."

Chattanooga's next possession ended on fourth down at its own 43-yard line when senior cornerback Bradford Lemmons made the best play of his career with a terrific break-up of Tiano's pass.

The Mocs' hopes barely stayed alive on Furman's next possession when the Paladins went for it on 4th-and-4 rather than trying a 54-yard field goal. Roberts' high pass went off the hands of Jake Walker.

"We hit a similar pass earlier. It was wide open, he just rushed it and threw it a little hard," Hendrix said. "I just thought we had them on their heels and could still burn a little more time off the clock."

Chattanooga drove to the Furman five-yard line on its next possession, but it ended on a fourth-down sack by freshman Adrian Hope with 5:28 left to play. Hope finished with 2.5 sacks Saturday to push his SoCon-leading season total to 10.5.

The Mocs' hopes still remained alive when Ridge Gibson fumbled and Chattanooga recovered at the Furman 18-yard line with 2:29 left. Four plays later, Tiano hit Bingo Morton on a five-yard touchdown as the Mocs sliced the lead to 16-10 with 1:49 left.

Chattanooga's coffin was finally nailed shut when Avery Armstrong recovered the onside kick. With the Mocs out of timeouts, Furman was able to kneel out the clock and wrap up its first win over Chattanooga at home since 2008.