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.

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