Monday, January 7, 2019

Clark providing spark off bench for Paladins

Furman's Tre Clark dunks against Mercer. Clark has provided a big boost
off the bench in numerous ways this season. Photo courtesy of Furman
"If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes." - John Wooden
Nearly 50 games into Bob Richey's head coaching career, it's been a heck of a ride for Furman's second-year coach. Among active Division I men's basketball coaches with at least one full season under their belt, Richey's .755 winning percentage (37-12) ranks seventh best in the country. You may have heard of the top six: Mark Few (.821), Roy Williams (.788), John Calipari (.779), Mike Krzyzewski (.766), Bill Self (.766) and Eric Musselman (.760).

Richey has done a lot in a short time as head coach, but as the legend John Wooden once said, "doers make mistakes." Good coaches find ways to live and learn from those mistakes. Richey has no issues being transparent about them either. Following Furman's 101-85 win over Citadel Saturday, Richey admitted a mistake he made with sophomore guard Tre Clark a week earlier.

In Furman's loss at ETSU on Dec. 29, Clark didn't scratch in any stat category in just seven minutes playing time off the bench. It was the only time this season that Clark didn't log double digits in minutes played.

"It was a major, major mistake on my part in how I handled him last Saturday in Johnson City," Richey said Saturday. "It's a huge regret. I brought him in and made that right and he's been a huge piece of both of these wins."

On Thursday, Clark had five points, three assists and a steal in 17 minutes in Furman's 71-58 win over Mercer, His two buckets that night were thrilling dunks, the second of which ignited a 16-3 second half run that put the game out of reach.

In 20 minutes of action on Saturday, Clark piled up six points, a career-high nine rebounds, four steals and two assists. While Clark's No. 1 asset when it comes to basketball may not exactly be shooting, he was 2-of-4 on 3-pointers Saturday raising his season average to 44.4 percent (8-of-18). Perhaps most importantly Saturday, Clark helped hold Citadel's Lew Stallworth - who had 23 points and six assists - without a point or an assist over the final 7:44 of the game as the Paladins pulled away.

"I've done this (coaching) for 13 years now. I'm not sure I've seen somebody grow in six months the way he has," Richey said. "I brought him in Monday and asked him to play backup point. ... He goes out there and hits two 3-pointers. He defends Stallworth. He handles the ball against the press. His growth, demeanor and confidence is just unbelievable."

Teammates have noticed what Richey and the coaching staff has as well. When a guy playing reserve point guard can come off the bench and grab nine rebounds, that just makes life easier for post players like Matt Rafferty.

"People are starting to notice what a difference Tre's making," Rafferty said. "He's an every day guy ... who does all the little things. He's a good guy to have on your team and you hate to play against him."

Lyons finds the zone
Richey firmly believes that great work on defense gets rewarded. He has a phrase that he said he's told Jordan Lyons over and over this season: "focus on D, you'll still hit the three." Lyons proved his coach right on Saturday. After hounding Citadel sharpshooter Matt Frierson all day and holding him to a season-low three points, Lyons had 14 of his 17 points in the second half as Furman outscored the Bulldogs 58-39 after halftime.

Lyons really found his offensive zone down the stretch. His 3-pointer with 7:27 left started a run that saw the Paladins turn a six-point lead into a 22-point lead five minutes later. That he was on the court to begin that run, speaks to the confidence and trust he's earned from Richey.

"He walked up to me with about 8:30 to go, looked me square in the face and said, 'I don't need to come out. I'm good the rest of the game.' I'm not arguing with him because I can see the look, the confidence, the intent and his energy and where it's at," Richey said. "He knew his rotational turn was coming and I looked at the staff and said, 'leave him.' Sure enough, he hits the big three and gets the layup."

Lyons had six points and two assists during the spurt.

"As much as we talk about Matt and all the great pieces that we have, nobody has the ability or personality to spark our team like Jordan can," Richey said. "When he plays with that spark, you can just feel it.
"He's just got one of those magnetic personalities and when he channels it all in the right direction and goes out there and plays as hard as he can, it's amazing the impact it has on our team."

They're still coming
Timmons Arena has been hopping all season thanks to Furman's 12-0 start this season. After coming back home following the Paladins' lone two losses and with students still on winter break last week, one had to wonder how if it all might affect attendance. The answer was a resounding none. Thursday's game drew 1,753, while Saturday's rivalry game generated a sellout crowd of 2,462, who saw Furman win its 12th consecutive home game.

"I don't have any stats to back this up, but I think it's safe to say that was the best environment in the history of the program with no students around. I think that's important because it played a factor in the game today," Richey said Saturday. "It's another measure of growth in the program and what we've been able to continue to progress with here.
"Just to be able to play games with energy like that with the community and support here ... it's a phenomenal deal."

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