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.

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