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."

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