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."

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