Saturday, November 10, 2018

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."

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