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."

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