|Furman freshman Noah Gurley scored a career-high 15 points in the|
Paladins' 74-60 win at USC Upstate Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
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."
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.