Saturday, December 29, 2018

Lights-out shooting ETSU hammers Paladins

Matt Rafferty had 19 points, five assists and three steals in Furman's
79-56 loss at ETSU Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - It was a pretty uncomplicated basketball story at ETSU Saturday. Seemingly no matter the degree of difficulty, plenty of shots that the Bucs fired up went in, while not very many fell for Furman. ETSU shot 60 percent from the floor, while the Paladins shot 37 percent as the Bucs cruised to a 79-56 win at Freedom Hall.

It was the most lopsided Southern Conference loss for Furman since the infamous black Sunday trip to UNCG on Feb. 22, 2015, when the Paladins fell 84-49. After opening the season with a 12-game winning streak, Furman (12-2, 1-1) has lost consecutive games for the first time since Feb. 7 of last season.

"When people want to pressure us, we've got to stay poised. The last two games offensively, we've got a little bit rushed and forced to do things a little bit faster," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "For us to get four more field goal attempts than they got and only turn the ball over eight times, it just shows you that we weren't doing a good job of making sure we were getting the greatest shots we could get."

Saturday's first half was eerily similar to the headaches Furman suffered the last time out at LSU. The Paladins shot 34.5 percent (10-of-29) from the floor and trailed 34-24 at the break. After missing its first eight 3-pointers, Furman went 2-for-11 from beyond the arc in the first half. Furman, which was outrebounded 20-11 in each half at LSU, was outrebounded 20-12 in the first half at ETSU.

Things didn't get any better for Furman after halftime as ETSU shot 66.7 percent (16-of-24) from the floor in the second half. Clay Mounce's lone made field goal of the game came 28 seconds into the second half and cut the Bucs lead to eight. A pair of free throws by Lucas N'Guessan, a 7-foot transfer from Oklahoma State, 18 seconds later pushed ETSU's lead back to 10 and the Bucs never led by fewer than double figures the rest of the way.

The Paladins were outrebounded 33-23 Saturday, but Richey said it was a different version of what happened at LSU.

"Rebounding is off percentages and they only missed 20 shots all night. We missed 34, so they had 14 more attempts at defensive rebounds," Richey said. "It still comes down to the fact that we didn't make shots. Any time you see shooting percentages that skewed, rebounding is going to be skewed."

Matt Rafferty led Furman with 19 points, five rebounds and three steals. Rafferty made eight of the Paladins' 20 field goals and assisted on five others. Alex Hunter had Furman's other four assists. Jordan Lyons had 12 points, but couldn't get free for his first shot of the game until the 13:10 mark of the first half when he battled his way to the hole for a layup. Noah Gurley was the lone other Paladin with at least five points as he scored 10 off the bench.

After an outstanding 26-point, 10-rebound performance in Furman's 93-50 win over UNCW two games ago, Mounce has just four points and four rebounds over the last two games.

"When we get shots, guys have to step up," Richey said. "Clay and Andrew (Brown) go 2-for-16 collectively, and those are two of our better offensive players. It sounds really cliche, but it's always going to be a make-or-miss game. Our past two games, we just haven't been able to shoot the ball well."

Jeromy Rodriguez, the fourth-leading rebounder in the country led ETSU with 19 points and 11 boards. N'Guessan and Daivien Williamson had 13 points apiece, and Patrick Good scored 12 for the Bucs (11-4, 1-1), who improved to 7-0 at home this season. ETSU had 42 points in the paint and a 13-0 advantage in fast break points.

"We've just got to get back to who we are. ... We've got to make sure we don't lose conviction and lose hope," Richey said. "We've got to get back to work, and make sure that we're confident in our abilities to be able to respond to this. I believe we will, but this is when you worry about your youth a little bit. They've got to make sure they keep their heads up."

Friday, December 28, 2018

Unbeaten no more, Furman focuses on SoCon

With the non-conference schedule over, Furman turns its focus to SoCon
play starting with a challenge at ETSU Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
After a remarkable run through its non-conference schedule, it's Southern Conference play from here on out for the Furman men's basketball team starting with a tough test Saturday. The Paladins visit the always hostile environment of Freedom Hall to take on ETSU at 4 p.m.

Wins at Loyola and Villanova thrust Furman into the national spotlight and into the college basketball polls for the first time ever this season. The Paladins (12-1) had the longest winning streak in the country - and its eight-game road winning streak - snapped last Friday when they suffered their first loss at LSU, 75-57. While the much bigger Tigers had plenty to do with it, it was probably the poorest performance this season for Furman (12-1, 1-0) and it came six days after probably its finest performance in a 93-50 rout of UNCW.

Furman coach Bob Richey tried to keep things in perspective for his team following the loss in Baton Rouge.

"We got to Christmas at 12-1 and had done things for the first time around here. It was one of those moments where yeah, we didn't have our best night but let's not lose appreciation for everything this group has done," Richey said. "Let's make sure we push our focus on what's still left to do.
"I told them (after the LSU game), 'if we're going to compete championship, we've got to make sure we turn our attention to this quickly.' "

There wasn't much of a lenghty Christmas break, but Richey said it was a valuable time for the team to disconnect from what has been a bustling non-conference season filled with plenty of dramatic moments and happy distractions.

"We told them to come back hungry to get better and I think they've done that," Richey said. "We've had a good three days of prep. The spirit and energy has been really good and guys are flying around like we're used to.
"We've taken some things that we know we didn't do well in the LSU game and tried to improve those this week."

While some of the luster may have worn off of Saturday's matchup with Furman no longer being unbeaten or nationally ranked, this will likely prove to be a huge game in the SoCon race. Last season, ETSU pulled out a 62-61 win at Furman but the Paladins avenged that loss and ruined ETSU's Senior Day with a 79-76 win in the regular season finale. A few days later, ETSU ended the careers of Furman's legendary senior class that spearheaded the program's turnaround with a 63-52 win in the SoCon Tournament semifinals.

The big difference in the LSU game was Furman having no answers inside, where the Tigers had a 50-22 advantage on points in the paint and a 40-22 rebounding edge. While the Paladins shouldn't face any team with the size of LSU the rest of the way, ETSU (10-4, 0-1) isn't exactly short.

The Bucs' lineup includes 7-foot center Lucas N'Guessan, who's started the last two games after unexpectedly being ruled eligible to play this season by the NCAA. After transferring from Oklahoma State, where he made 17 starts and played in 54 games the last two seasons, N'Guessan was looking to have to sit out this season as the majority of Division I transfers must do. ETSU petitioned the NCAA and N'Guessan was ruled eligible two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, ETSU's 6-7 forward Jeromy Rodriguez is the fourth-leading rebounder in the nation averaging 11.7 per game. The Bucs are coming off two blowout wins over Wyoming and Norfolk State to win the Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational in El Paso, Texas. In the Wyoming game, ETSU took a 43-11 lead into halftime after holding the Cowboys to 1-of-26 shooting (3.8 percent) in the first half. All four of the Bucs losses have come on the road - at Georgia State, Creighton, Illinois and Wofford.

"We know it's going to be a hard-fought game and they're really good. They've got the size and physicality to really try to hit us in some weak spots. We've got to be ready to play with as much energy as we can," Richey said. "We've got to get back to the ball movement we're used to and be physical on both backboards.
"There's a lot that we took out of that (LSU) game and a lot we got to learn and grow from. I think this group is ready to do that."

After Saturday's trip to Johnson City, Furman comes home to host Mercer on Thursday and The Citadel next Saturday.

Friday, December 21, 2018

No. 24 Paladins suffer first loss at LSU

Furman coach Bob Richey
Photo courtesy of Furman
Prior to Friday night, the last time a Furman basketball team faced a Will Wade-coached team came during the Paladins' stunning run to the Southern Conference Tournament championship in 2015. In what turned out to be Wade's final game at Chattanooga, 10th-seeded Furman defeated the second-seeded Mocs 69-67.

That Chattanooga starting lineup didn't have a pair of 6-foot-10, 250-pound players. Unfortunately for the Paladins, Wade's current team does. LSU utilized its size advantage and a cold-shooting night by No. 24 Furman to pull away for a 75-57 win Friday in Baton Rouge, La. It's the first loss this season for the Paladins (12-1), who saw its 18-game regular season winning streak snapped.

In a physical game, the Tigers (9-3) dominated inside. Led by 6-10, 250-pound Naz Reid and 6-11, 250-pound Kavell Bigby-Williams, LSU had a 40-22 rebounding advantage and outscored Furman 50-22 in the paint. While the Tigers shot 55.4 percent from the floor, the Paladins shot just 37.5 percent including 29 percent (9-of-31) on 3-pointers.

"Nobody is really happy with that performance. It really comes down to the simple things - they doubled us up on the boards and got 50 points in the paint while we got 22," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "It basically stops and starts there. We knew they were going to attack the rim and unfortunately, we weren't able to survive down there.
"We won't see guys that big again, but we've got to hit a little bit harder and be a little more physical in the paint."

In addition to being physical, Friday's game was also sloppy especially in the opening half. Despite being outrebounded 20-11, having 10 turnovers and shooting 35.7 percent in the opening half, Furman only trailed 31-27 at the break. It was close thanks to 10 steals by the Paladins off LSU's 14 turnovers.

Despite being undefeated entering play Friday, Furman has had some slow starts this year only to heat up in the second half. In their other five games this month, the Paladins shot a combined 58.2 percent from the floor after halftime. But LSU was another beast entirely, and Furman could never put together any sustained offensive rhythm.

The Tigers opened the second half with a 12-3 run to take a 43-30 less than five minutes into the half. Furman whittled that lead down to 49-44 on Andrew Brown's 3-pointer with 12:25 left. However, LSU's next 14 made field goals came on 13 dunks and layups. The lone one that wasn't was a jumper in the paint. The Tigers' Skylar Mays then put the final nail in the coffin on a 3-pointer with 1:35 left that pushed the lead to 16.

"I wasn't really disappointed with our effort, especially in our initial defense and transition defense for the most part," Richey said. "It was just finishing possessions. ... They would throw one up, we'd have to rotate and then we'd miss a box out. Those are the things that end up getting you and they were able to extend the margin."

Tremont Waters had a game-high 20 points, seven assists and five rebounds to lead LSU, while Mays finished with 16 points and four steals. Reid and Bigby-Williams combined for 19 points and 20 rebounds also for the Tigers, who had just three turnovers in the second half.

LSU's size kept Furman's post players in foul trouble all night. Matt Rafferty and Noah Gurley had four fouls apiece, while Clay Mounce fouled out in 19 minutes of playing time. Coming off a career-high 26-point game against UNCW, Mounce was held scoreless Friday on 0-of-2 shooting from the floor.

Brown finished with 15 points to lead Furman, while Jordan Lyons and Alex Hunter scored 13 and 12, respectively.

"What we're not going to do is hang our heads because of this night. We're going to look at this, own this, and figure out what to take from this to get better," Richey said. "What we've got to take from it is that we've got to make sure we play physical at all five positions. ... Regardless of the venue or the team, we've got to make sure that we're the tougher team night in and night out."

With non-conference play finished, the Paladins will return to SoCon action on Dec. 29 at ETSU at 4 p.m.

Linemen highlight Furman's early signing day

Furman coach Clay Hendrix
Photo courtesy of Furman
When Clay Hendrix came back to Furman to take over as head coach two years ago, he inherited a team with many young offensive linemen. So many that the Paladins signed only one offensive lineman each of the past two recruiting classes.

This upcoming Furman class of signees surpassed that total on the first day high school seniors could sign. Offensive linemen accounted for a third of the of the nine players who signed national letters of intent to join the Paladins Wednesday in year two of the early signing period.

St. Joseph's Catholic School's Jacob Johanning (6-foot-3, 260 pounds), Myrtle Beach High's Evan Jumper (6-4, 240) and The Bolles School's (Jacksonville, Fla.) Pearson Toomey (6-3, 250) are the Paladins' new offensive linemen.

Johanning was selected as the Region I-AA player of the year this season and was a three-year captain at St. Joseph's. The Simpsonville native started both ways in this year's North-South All-Star Game and had a game-high seven tackles for the North. Jumper chose Furman out of 19 other offers, including 12 from FBS schools. He started at both tackles and at long snapper during his high school career. Jumper, who made 36 consecutive starts and never missed a game, helped Myrtle Beach win the Class AAAA state championship this season. Toomey played both guard and tackle spots, tight end, defensive tackle and defensive end in his high school career. He was also an all-state performer in wrestling and weightlifting.

"We were just dealt a funny hand when we got here. A lot of kids that had signed maybe weren't necessarily the best fit for what we're looking for," Hendrix said. "Today, we signed three guys we targeted who had a bunch of offers. They just fit what we're looking for.
"Evan Jumper had some interest from power-five schools. From the very beginning, he was the kid that made you think, 'you know what, this kid gets it.' He's our kind of guy."

Across the line of scrimmage, Furman added depth along the defensive line with the signing of Centennial High's (Alpharetta, Ga.) Jack Barton (6-4, 225) and T.L. Hanna's Devonte Jones (6-2, 307).

Barton played eight different positions in high school - including punter, and chose Furman out of 20 offers. Barton's uncle, Hollis Barton, was a All-Southern Conference offensive guard at Furman. His father, Bill Barton, played football at Tennessee. Barton had 14 sacks, six blocked field goals and three blocked punts in his prep career. Jones helped Hanna go 25-2 over the last two seasons and led the Yellow Jackets to their first state title game appearance in 44 years this season. Jones had 50 tackles and four sacks this season, giving him 12 sacks in his career.

Also signing with Furman Wednesday were safety Austin Jones (5-11, 180) of Rabun County High (Tiger, Ga.), linebacker/tight end Bryce McCormick (6-2, 218) of Christ Presbyterian Academy (Franklin, Tenn.), linebacker Jalen Miller (5-11, 200) of Byrnes High, and running back Dominic Roberto (5-11, 230) of Pine Forest High (Fayetteville, N.C.).

Playing right across the state line in Georgia, Jones helped Rabun Co. go 37-4 over the past three seasons. In addition to free safety, Jones played receiver and returner. For his career, Jones had 334 tackles, 10 interceptions, 3,300 all-purpose yards (2,200 receiving and 1,100 return yards) and 31 touchdowns. McCormick helped Christ Presbyterian capture Tennessee's Div. II-AA state title and go 14-0 under the guidance of head coach and former Furman standout quarterback Ingle Martin. McCormick caught a pair of touchdowns in Christ Presbyterian's state championship win, which came after ending Lausanne High's 38-game winning streak in the semifinals.

Miller should fit perfectly into the spur position on Furman's defense, having played outside linebacker and strong safety at Byrnes. Miller started for the Rebels' varsity team as a freshman and never left the starting lineup until a knee injury sidelined him for the 2018 regular season. He returned in the playoffs and helped Byrnes reached the Class AAAAA Upper State final, where it fell at Hanna. In his second game back from injury, Miller had seven tackles and an interception return for a touchdown that sealed the Rebels' 33-23 win at Sumter.

Roberto, a native of Shape, Belgium, had his senior season cut short after three games due to a knee injury. In addition to running back, he played linebacker, slot receiver and rover during his career. He finished his career with 330 yards rushing and five touchdowns, along with 228 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and four sacks.

The traditional, and now second, signing day is set for Feb. 6.

"We need to get about four or five more kids in this next one," Hendrix said.

Getting a head start
Jones, Jumper and Miller are set to enroll at Furman in January and thus be eligible to participate in spring practice, which is set to begin on Jan. 25. Hendrix said all three decided to push themselves to finish their high school requirements in time to begin their college careers in January.

"It's funny they're getting here early, because that's three positions where we still are not quite where we want to be, depth wise," Hendrix said. "At safety, it will be hard for (Jones) to not be on the two-deep from day one."

In addition to announcing the start date of spring practice, Hendrix announced that the annual Purple-White spring scrimmage that unofficially wraps up the spring will be held Feb. 23. Furman's first game of the 2019 season will be at home on Aug. 31 against Charleston Southern.

Lincoln leaving
Furman's 2019 roster was updated following signing day and was without quarterback JeMar Lincoln, who's decided to transfer. Following this past season, the Furman coaching staff told Lincoln they intended to find a new position for him and move forward with redshirt freshmen Darren Grainger and Hamp Sisson at quarterback.

Lincoln rushed for 101 yards and four touchdowns this season, and threw for 180 yards and a touchdown on 14-of-22 passing with no interceptions. In his only start, Lincoln guided the Paladins to a 28-17 win at The Citadel. Hendrix said he wasn't sure exactly what Lincoln's future plans are, but believes he will be successful wherever he ends up.

"JeMar's a smart, great kid who handled all this really well," Hendrix said. "We wish him nothing but the absolute best."

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Paladins trounce UNCW to stay unbeaten

Clay Mounce had 26 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two
steals in Furman's 93-50 win over UNCW. Photo courtesy of Furman
During all the hoopla of this phenomenal season of Furman men's basketball, there's one thing the No. 23 ranked Paladins had yet to do prior to Saturday. Despite its perfect record, Furman had yet to post a convincing win over a Division I opponent at home.

That all changed Saturday. In front of a season-best home crowd of 2,457 at Timmons Arena, the Paladins obliterated UNC Wilmington 93-50. Furman (12-0) has tied the school record for consecutive regular season wins with 18. Prior to Saturday, the last time a Furman team had won 12 consecutive games in a season was 66 years ago.

What separated Saturday's win from the rest this season was the Paladins getting back to their basics - defense, protecting the ball and ball movement. Facing a UNCW squad that was averaging 80.7 points per game, Furman limited the Seahawks to 35 percent shooting from the floor, including 31.4 percent in the second half. UNCW's previous low output this season was a 59-point showing against Stanford on Nov. 9.

The Paladins had 11 steals, seven blocked shots, 24 assists and five turnovers.

"That was fun - one of our most complete performances of the year. I thought the most impressive thing was the fact that we were great teammates today," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "It permeated through the whole game. I thought our bench brought a ton of energy. I thought we were determined to be connected defensively and that's where it started.
"It was 10-6 (Furman lead) at the first media (timeout) and you could see the defensive energy. You could see the improvement there. ... Defense is where it always starts for us."

When UNCW cut what had been a 19-point deficit to a 45-35 Furman lead with 15 minutes to play, it appeared the Paladins could be headed toward another tight home finish. But that thought quickly disappeared. After Jordan Lyons finally got his first 3-pointer out of nine attempts to fall with 14:45 left, Richey called timeout.

"We just kind of refocused them (on the timeout) and got back to our defensive fundamentals," Richey said. "You could see it from the jump out of half, that we weren't quite as intense as we needed to be in our defensive positioning.
"We just told them to not get caught up in the scoreboard, don't relax and let's see if we can push the margin. We ended up making a pretty substantial run."

As it turns out, that Lyons' 3-pointer started a 28-7 run over the next 7:38 as another Lyons' three pushed the lead to 73-42 with 7:07 left. By that point, the day was done for every starter besides Lyons. The bench kept up the domination as the Paladins outscored UNCW 20-8 the rest of the way.

Coming off a season-low three-point performance against Charleston Southern, Clay Mounce tied a career-high with 26 points. He also had 10 rebounds, five assists - including an incredible bounce pass to Alex Hunter on a fast-break layup, two steals and two blocked shots. While Lyons was coming off not scoring against CSU and not having shots fall for much of Saturday, he still finished with 16 points and four assists.

"It all came down to us getting stops. We were frustrating them when they were on offense and we were getting out in transition and making shots," Mounce said. "We were staying calm on offense and not rushing anything until we got open shots."

Terrific stat lines were all over Furman's side of the boxscore. Hunter had 14 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals. Hunter had just two turnovers, but that was his most in a game in four games. Matt Rafferty had 13 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, four steals, two blocks and no turnovers.

On a day when Furman was without Noah Gurley and Jaylon Pugh - who were suspended one game for a violation of team rules - the bench stepped up too. Jalen Williams, who had played a total of eight minutes in two games since Nov. 21, had eight points and six rebounds in 10 minutes of action Saturday.

The 6-8, 240-pound Williams also helped Rafferty make life frustrating for UNCW's leading scorer and rebounder Devontae Cacok. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound Cacok, who was averaging 14.9 points and 11.7 rebounds per game for the Seahawks (4-7), had 11 points and five rebounds in just 21 minutes Saturday as he had foul trouble. As a team, Furman outrebounded UNCW 47-36, including 16 offensive boards. Jeantal Cylla, the Seahawks' second-leading scorer at 13.8 points per game, had seven points on 2-of-14 shooting.

"We all know what Jalen's capable of. He had a great week of practice for us, brought a lot of energy and was communicating extremely well," Rafferty said. "That just led up to a great game by him. He did all the little things well.
"Cacok is a beast, but we tried to do some things to get him into foul trouble early. After he had two (fouls) in the first half, he started to back off a little bit and then picked up two in the second half."

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

No. 23 Furman topples Bucs, improves to 11-0

Furman's Andrew Brown had 16 points in the Paladins' 77-69
win over Charleston Southern Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Furman
In its first ever home game as a ranked team, No. 23 Furman took on Charleston Southern in front a of another packed house with an unprecedented media presence at Timmons Arena Tuesday. And well, things didn't go exactly perfect.

On Tuesday, the Paladins:

  • committed a season-worst 18 turnovers
  • allowed an opponent to hit 45.5 percent of its 3-pointers for the first time this season
  • got a total of three points from their first- and third-leading scorers
And what did it all add up to? Furman improving to 11-0, naturally. Five Paladins scored in double figures and Furman enjoyed another hot second half to secure a 77-69 win. The way they won Tuesday was simply as case of the Paladins doing special teams doing what special teams do. Furman's first home win over a Division I opponent that didn't require overtime this year gave the Paladins an 11-game winning streak for the first time since 1979.

"I'm proud of our guys. We're entering finals, which is always a hard deal around Furman," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We've had to balance a lot and haven't had the finals break that teams typically take.
"We had to do this (Tuesday's game) on one-day prep. We didn't finish the game quite as well as I'd like, but you know what? It was a deal where, for some reason, the last three games we've had really key second halves. We made some big runs to create some separation."

Noah Gurley greeted the raucous crowd as Timmons with a thunderous dunk to open the scoring for Furman. Less than a minute later, Gurley drained a 3-pointer that elicited a crowd reaction that made it seem like Timmons' roof was going to blow off. Those scores kicked off a career-high 17-point night for Gurley. Hunter continued his December to remember with 16 points, while Andrew Brown came off the bench to score 16 points in 21 minutes.

On a night when leading scorer Jordan Lyons (20.2 points per game entering Tuesday) was shut out, second-leading scorer Matt Rafferty (17.9 ppg) was four off his average and Clay Mounce (12.6 ppg) had three points, Furman shot 47.5 percent from the floor, including 56.5 percent in the second half. The Paladins, who had 16 assists, hit 44.4 percent (12-of-27) of their 3-pointers.

"Jordan Lyons and Clay Mounce competed. They just didn't have the offensive nights they'd like to have, but we had guys step up," Richey said. "That's what you have when you have a winning program.
"Give Charleston Southern a lot of credit. I thought they played outstanding and really hard. They shot the ball with great conviction."

Brown was in his second game back since suffering a foot injury at Loyola in the opening week of the season. He staked Furman to a 24-15 lead on a 3-pointer with 12:26 left in the first half, but Charleston Southern (4-5) came back with a 13-4 run over the next 4:56 to tie the game. Another massive dunk by Gurley late in the half helped the Paladins carry a 37-34 lead into the break.

After his fourth 3-pointer of the night, Brown showed just how fully healthy he is. Brown blocked a shot that Rafferty corralled for a rebound. Rafferty then fired a perfect pass to a streaking Brown, who dunked it home to push Furman's lead to 51-42 with 13:27 left. While that series of events showed Brown is a lot more than a 3-point specialist, it also encapsulated another brilliant performance across the board by Rafferty. In addition to his 14 points, Rafferty had 14 rebounds, six assists, four steals and three blocked shots.

"It's a lot of fun to be back out there. It's different when you're on the sidelines watching. It's been so awesome watching the guys play unbelievable," Brown said. "I didn't have to do anything crazy tonight. We were 10-0. It wasn't like we needed some huge spark.
"I was feeling good today and some shots were falling. The guys kept looking for me and that's what it's about. It's about finding the right guy for that night."

Over the next three-and-a-half minutes, the Bucs - who hit 10-of-22 3-pointers - went on a 10-3 run to cut the lead to 54-52 with 9:46 left. Furman responded with a 14-4 run of its own. During the run, the Paladins got 3-pointers by Tre Clark, Hunter and Gurley. Gurley's three gave Furman a 68-56 lead with 5:53 left and the Paladins never were seriously threatened the rest of the way.

Despite facing the Bucs' pressing defense all night, Hunter nearly made it two games in a row without a turnover. He suffered one with 41 seconds left. That marked his first turnover since the 16:49 mark of the first half against Elon two games ago. The sophomore point guard is also averaging 13.8 points per game in four games this month.

"From the beginning of the year, my coaches and teammates have been telling me to play more confidently. They did last year, but it's been even more this year with me having a bigger role," Hunter said. "This month, I've just been playing freely and not overthinking things. It's just starting to come together."

Clark was the other Paladin in double figures with a career-high 11 points and he also had a career-high four steals. The sophomore also helped hold CSU leading scorer Christian Keeling (19.5 ppg) to 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting.

"Tre Clark's probably my MVP of this one without watching it on film. His defense on Keeling was exceptional," Richey said. "He played really, really hard and gave this team a spurt."
"The great lesson with Tre Clark is most humans could've easily equated Andrew coming back to their role reducing and not having the mental preparation to be successful in a game like tonight. What he did was he kept working, stayed engaged and kept his belief. And we needed both of them tonight."

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Paladins rally past Spartans, improve to 10-0

Furman freshman Noah Gurley scored a career-high 15 points in the
Paladins' 74-60 win at USC Upstate Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
SPARTANBURG - No matter the size of the arena it plays in or length of the trip it makes, the No. 25-ranked Furman men's basketball team continues to be road warriors. The Paladins trailed at the half for just the third this season Saturday night at USC Upstate, but used a 24-4 run early in the second half to roll to a 74-60 win.

It's the 16th consecutive regular season win for Furman (10-0) dating back to last season. The Paladins are the first Southern Conference team to open the season 10-0 since Lefty Driesell's 1963-64 Davidson team won its first 15 games. Furman has won eight consecutive road games for the first time in 86 years.

"Seven of our 10 that played today are underclassmen. Usually what you hear about young teams is they can't win on the road. What I've learned is that it's not about how old or young you are, it's about how mature you are," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "This team is younger than many I've been involved with, but it's a very mature group."

Winning as a favorite on the road is another new lesson Furman has had to learn. Richey said self-inflicted pressure seemed to cause the first-half issues Saturday.

"It was just about our spirit (in the second half). We had to play with more joy. You could see a little pressurized group in that first half," Richey said. "I told them at halftime, 'there's no pressure in being 9-0. The pressure is when you're 0-9.'
"We just had a little bit more fun and I thought you could see that early in the second half."

The other times Furman rallied from halftime deficits this season came before sellout crowds of 4,963 at Loyola-Chicago and 6,501 at Villanova. Saturday's game was a near sellout, albeit in a very different atmosphere from Chicago or Philly. A crowd of 833 packed into Upstate's Hodge Center, which is the smallest basketball venue in Division I with a capacity of 878. There was plenty of purple in the crowd to see the Paladins make their shortest road trip (it's closer than Wofford by two miles) this season.

That crowd saw a back-and-forth first half that featured three ties and seven lead changes. The Paladins shot just 35.3 percent from the floor, including 31.3 (5-of-16) on 3-pointers, for its second-lowest scoring opening half of the season as they trailed 34-30 at the break.

Things changed in the second half as Furman shot 59.3 percent from the floor, including 53.8 percent (7-of-13) from beyond the arc. This came on the heels of the Paladins shooting 66.7 percent after halftime at Elon on Tuesday.

The Paladins got a big swing of momentum right off the bat in the second half. Seven seconds into the half, the Spartans' Malik Moore stole the ball from Clay Mounce and was headed for a dunk. Mounce didn't give up on the play however and got the rebound when Moore's jam missed. After soaring in for the dunk attempt, Moore got tangled up with someone behind the basket. With a 5-on-4 advantage, Furman's Noah Gurley drove to the hole, scored and was fouled. Gurley, who opened the game with a 3-pointer, completed the 3-point play 15 seconds into the second half.

"I think the good Lord helped us there," Richey said. "You go from being down six with the crowd going crazy to instead getting energy and only being down one."

After Jordan Lyons hit a jumper, Matt Rafferty came up with a steal. The led to a Lyons' 3-pointer that gave Furman the lead for good at 38-36 with 17:47 left. Those five points by Lyons started a 12-0 runs for the Paladins capped by Rafferty's putback tip-in that pushed the lead to 45-36 with 15:54 left. Another Lyons' 3-pointer staked Furman to its largest lead at 63-45 with 7:10 left.

Lyons led Furman with 20 points, while Gurley finished with a career-high 15 points. After being held to two points on 1-of-2 shooting in the first half, Rafferty finished with 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocked shots. Alex Hunter was the lone other Paladin in double figures with 10 points.

Moore had 24 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Spartans (2-8).

"In the first half, we were kind of tight and not really us. ... Once we got into our flow, easy buckets started coming," Gurley said. "The way I got going, I just got a pass from Alex for an easy layup. ... We all feed off each other and that's why we've been playing so well. There's not one selfish ego on this team."

Along with his 10 points Saturday, Hunter also had seven assists, seven rebounds, two steals, one blocked shot and no turnovers. Over the last three games, the sophomore point guard has 39 points, 24 assists, 16 rebounds, five steals and just three turnovers in 113 minutes played.

"Putting Alex Hunter out there is like turning water on. Nobody ever goes to the faucet and questions it. You just assume the water's going to come out," Richey said. "You know he's going to play hard and with a lot of purpose in what he does. We're just glad he's our point guard."

Brown's back
Andrew Brown had three points in 12 minutes off the bench in his first game back since suffering an injury against Loyola on Nov. 9. Brown drained his first three-point attempt for his lone points.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Team effort helps Paladins thump Elon

Alex Hunter had a career-high 18 points, seven assists and one turnover
in Furman's 98-77 win at Elon Tuesday night. Photo courtesy of Furman
Coming off a double-overtime win on Saturday in which four Furman players saw at least 44 minutes of action, Paladin coach Bob Richey went to his bench early and often Tuesday night at Elon. Plenty of Paladins contributed and seven of them scored at least nine points in 25th-ranked Furman's 98-77 win.

In their last road game nine days earlier at UNC Asheville, the Paladins allowed the fewest points they had in a road game in eight years in a 65-51 win. On Tuesday, the Paladins scored the most points they've had on the road in 25 years. It was the highest road output since a 103-98 win at Charleston Southern on Dec. 18, 1993.

"I think that's one of the beauties of this team. It's really a group that can potentially beat you on both ends of the floor," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "That's what good teams do. It's not are you a good offensive team or a good defensive team. You've got to be complete.
"We thought tempo was going to be an advantage in this game. We wanted to get the ball out quick ... and really see if we could get into their legs in the second half. I thought it worked."

It's the 15th consecutive regular season win for Furman (9-0) dating back to last season, including its seventh straight road victory. To put that in some perspective, the Paladins won a grand total of eight road games over a four-season stretch from 2012-13 to 2015-16.

"To me, basketball's a game of mentality. To go win games on the road, you've got to be that much tougher in your mindset because you've got more things going against you," Richey said. "You've got to make sure that you stick together and battle through adversity."

While the Paladins are obviously having a whale of a season thus far, they entered Tuesday having not shot all that well from the perimeter lately. But Furman knocked down 15-of-32 3-pointers, including 7-of-10 from players coming off the bench. Reserve Mike Bothwell hit a 3-pointer to give Furman a 14-7 lead at the 13:28 mark of the first half, while reserve Jaylon Pugh gave the Paladins their biggest lead of the first half at 21-7 on a 3-pointer less than two minutes later. Pugh went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, while Bothwell was 3-of-6.

Elon (3-6) whittled a 10-point halftime deficit down to three at 55-52 with 12 minutes to go before Furman regained command. The Paladins led 69-61 with 8:26 left when they went on an 18-3 run over the next 3:19. Alex Hunter had nine points during the run as he scored all of his career-high 18 points after halftime. He also had seven assists, four rebounds, three steals and one turnover. Over the last two games, the sophomore point guard has 29 points, 17 assists and three turnovers in 76 minutes of action.

"In two games, 17 assists and three turnovers. Where do see that?" Richey said. "There's just certain people who understand what it takes to win.
"He's just getting better every time he goes out there. I think he's only going to get better and continue to be more aggressive offensively. I'm really happy to see his progress."

Matt Rafferty also had 18 points - on 9-of-11 shooting from the floor. Clay Mounce had 17 points, nine rebounds, four assists and no turnovers. Jordan Lyons scored 13 points and Bothwell had 11. Noah Gurley and Pugh each scored nine points. The Paladins finished with 24 assists, including 17 in the second half as Furman shot 66.7 percent (22-of-33) from the floor after halftime.

"Our ball movement was the best it's been all year," Richey said. "It contributed a lot to the perimeter shots."

Rafferty earns monthly honor
The Southern Conference announced this week that Matt Rafferty has been named the men's basketball player of the month for November. Rafferty led Furman to a 7-0 start in November and was fourth in the SoCon in scoring (18.4 points per game), fourth in rebounding (8.7 per game), third in assists (4.7 per game) and tied for fifth in steals (1.6) and blocked shots (1.3) for the month. No other SoCon player was in the top 15 in more than three of those categories for November

Monday, December 3, 2018

Paladins ranked 25th; Timmons rocking

A packed student section was part of a raucous home crowd at Furman
Saturday for the Paladins' double-overtime win. Photo courtesy of Furman
There have been plenty of "firsts" accomplished by the Furman men's basketball team over the last few years. In Saturday's 90-88 double overtime win over Western Carolina, the Paladins had three players post double-doubles in the game game for the first time since an overtime win against Villanova in December of 1989. It also marked marked Furman's first double overtime win since a 103-94 victory at ETSU in February of 1992.

On Monday afternoon, Furman recorded a first off the floor when it entered this week's AP Top 25 poll at No. 25. It's the first time in school history the Paladins have been ranked. Shortly after the poll was released at noon, Coach Bob Richey's day got off course.

"I'm sitting here watching film on (Tuesday's opponent) Elon and all of a sudden, my phone starts blowing up," Richey said. "You've got to celebrate great moments, but at the same time you've got to make sure you focus on substance, not hype.
"We've got to continue to focus on what got us to this point. If you keep doing things, there will be more 'first times.' If you get caught up in these things, you can set yourself up for disappointment."

Furman is the first SoCon team to appear in the AP poll since a Stephen Curry-led Davidson team was ranked No. 22 on Dec. 15, 2008.

The ranking comes after Furman's off to its first 8-0 start in school history. The start has been marked by thrilling, signature wins over two of last year's Final Four participants in Loyola-Chicago and Villanova, as well as Jordan Lyons' tying the NCAA's single-game record for 3-pointers with 15. After going eight years without an overtime win, Saturday's victory moved Furman to 3-0 in overtime games this season. The last time the Paladins had three overtime wins was in the 1960-61 season.

"This is a great group that has a ton of resolve. We've been fortunate to win a lot of close games in some gritty environments and in some wild circumstances," Richey said. "We're looking forward to continuing to build with this group."

Home court advantage
Furman coaches and players agreed that Saturday's raucous crowd deserved a lot of credit in helping the Paladins pull out the victory. A crowd of 2,131 showed up on Saturday to create an atmosphere not seen all that often at Timmons Arena, but this year's team has certainly earned a home environment like that. Among those in the crowd was nearly 500 Furman students.

"There was a phenomenal energy in the gym today. That was a big-time effort by our students to come out. Besides Wofford (games), I can't remember having students come out like that," Richey said afterwards. "We want to make sure that we thank those students. That means a lot and is really important to us.
"I'm just thankful that we were able to find a way to get a win for them and for the community. It's nice to see that energy coming."

After struggling to hit shots for much of the night, Lyons nailed the game-tying 3-pointer with 22 seconds left to force overtime. He ended up with a game-high 29 points. Matt Rafferty (21 points, 15 rebounds), Clay Mounce (17 points, 13 rebounds) and Alex Hunter (11 points, 10 assists) had double-doubles Saturday.

"The crowd was amazing tonight. This is one of the best home environments that I've been in, if not the best since I've been here," Lyons said. "That really fuels us. In a double-overtime game like this, the fans are rocking and the place is loud. As players, we feed off that energy.
"Hopefully they continue to come out, because they don't even know how much we appreciate it as players. It helps us much more than they know. ... They truly helped us get this win."

Mr. Clutch
Saturday's clutch shot was just another in what's becoming a trend for Lyons this season. In each of the Paladins' four close wins this season, Lyons has had a significant score down the stretch.

  • Furman trailed by at many as 13 in the second half at Loyola. The Paladins came all the way back to pull even on Lyons' 3-pointer with 3:02 left.
  • Against Gardner-Webb, Furman trailed 83-80 when Lyons hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 2:07 left. Just more than 20 seconds later, Lyons had a steal and layup that gave the Paladins the lead for good.
  • Furman trailed Villanova 60-58 with 48 seconds left in regulation when Lyons sank a pair of free throws to help force overtime.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Paladins edge Catamounts in double overtime

Furman point guard Alex Hunter celebrates the Paladins' 90-88 double
overtime win over Western Carolina Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Well, nobody said getting to 8-0 would be easy.

Furman overcame a four-point deficit with 30 seconds left in regulation. It overcame blowing a five-point lead in overtime. In the end, it found a way to gut out a 90-88 double overtime win against Western Carolina in the Southern Conference opener Saturday before a raucous crowd at Timmons Arena.

Tre Clark only had four points off the bench for the Paladins (8-0, 1-0) Saturday, but one of his two shots is the one that put Furman ahead for good. His layup with 2:57 left in the second overtime snapped the 16th tie of the game as the Paladins went up 84-82. The lead stretched to seven on a pair of Clay Mounce free throws with 33 seconds left. While the Catamounts (2-7, 0-1) hit three layups over the final 18 seconds, Furman held on for the win.

It's the Paladins' first double-overtime win since an 89-81 victory at The Citadel on Feb. 16, 1991.

"It was certainly not our best performance, but it's a win. We'll celebrate any win," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "I told the guys in the locker room, 'I love y'all to death, but y'all took maybe a year or two off my life tonight.' But give our guys credit. Down four with a minute to go and they find a way."

Getting to overtime didn't look very promising when Carlos Dotson - who was an unstoppable beast after halftime - hit a layup with 38 seconds left to push Western Carolina's lead to 66-62. After Mounce missed a 3-pointer, Alex Hunter captured the offensive rebound and was fouled with 28 seconds left. Hunter made both free throws before the Catamounts' Onno Steger hit 1-of-2 free throws make it 67-64 with 27 seconds left.

Over the span of the next five seconds, Hunter fired a pass to Jordan Lyons, who nailed the game-tying 3-pointer. WCU's season leading scorer, Matt Halvorsen, missed a 3-pointer with one second left and the game went to overtime.

Prior to that 3-pointer, Lyons was 6-for-20 from the floor including 2-of-11 on 3-pointers. After making their first two 3-pointers 86 seconds into the game, the Paladins hit just 1-of-19 until before Lyons' game-tying shot. Just as he so often has before, Lyons wanted to take the clutch shot and knew it was going down.

"You've got to have a shooter's mentality. You can never worry about your last shot," Lyons said. "I shoot a lot of shots because I every one of them's going in. That's a testament to my teammates and coaches for putting that kind of confidence in me as well."

Lyons opened the overtime with a pair of free throws before hitting a 3-pointer to give Furman a five-point lead with 3:39 left. Hunter's layup with 2:23 left made it 76-71 Paladins. But Western came back to tie it thanks to a steal and 3-pointer by Kameron Gibson with 1:29 left. Furman had a missed layup and a turnover on its last two possessions to send the game to another overtime.

Eleven seconds into the second overtime, Lyons drained a 3-pointer to cap his 29-point night and whip the crowd into a frenzy. He later had an assist on Matt Rafferty's layup with 59 seconds left that pushed Furman's lead to 87-82.

Hunter had eight of his 11 points over the final 28 seconds of regulation and both overtimes. In 45 minutes of play, the sophomore point guard had 11 points, a career-high 10 assists, five rebounds and only two turnovers. Perhaps most importantly, he held Halvorsen to three points on 1-of-15 shooting from the floor, including 1-of-13 on 3-pointers. Entering Saturday, Halvorsen was averaging 14.4 points a game and shooting 44.2 percent from beyond the arc.

"Part of the reason that we were able to have success today was because of Alex Hunter's on-ball defense. It's elite," Richey said. "When you see Matt Halvorsen, who's a phenomenal shooter, go 1-for-15 from the floor, that's because of the pressure (Hunter) had on him. The on-ball defense that he had to endure all night just wears you out."

Hunter was one of three Paladins with a double-double. Rafferty had 21 points, 15 rebounds, four blocked shots, three steals and two assists. He also managed to stay in the game all the way despite drawing a fourth foul with 6:27 left in regulation. Clay Mounce had 17 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and three blocks.

"We found ourselves in a situation that wasn't ideal, but we just stick together," Hunter said. "Sticking together is why we've had the success that we've had so far."

After Western Carolina hit 8-of-17 3-pointers in the first half, it made just 2-of-20 the rest of the way. The Catamounts hung around after being more aggressive inside and getting to the foul line. After one offensive rebound in the first half, WCU had 15 the rest of the way. Dotson had no points and six rebounds in the first half, but the former Dorman High standout finished with 27 points and 14 boards.

Richey said the Paladins should expect more tests like this, especially as long as they stay undefeated.

"As I told the team, a fat pig gets slaughtered. We've got to make sure that we don't start to think that we're something we're not," Richey said. "We've got to show up every day. ... We're going to get people's best shot.
"Western Carolina played really hard and physical. They had a great game plan on both sides and we're fortunate to come out on the good side of it."