Friday, January 11, 2019

Defense powers Paladins to blowout at VMI

Clay Mounce had 16 points, and hit 4-of-5 3-pointers, in Furman's
89-57 win at VMI Thursday night. Photo courtesy of Furman
After making its longest trip in the Southern Conference to VMI, the Furman men's basketball team got off to slow start offensively Thursday night. Five minutes into the game, Furman had seven points. That pace actually slowed down over the next five minutes, as the Paladins totaled 12 points at the 10-minute mark.

But here's the thing - Furman never trailed. Once again, the Paladins proved one of Coach Bob Richey's favorite sermons right: playing hard defensively will lead to good things offensively. After scoring 21 points over the first 16 minutes Thursday, Furman scored 68 over the final 24 to roll to an 89-57 win.

It's the most lopsided home loss for VMI since the Paladins last trip to Lexington, which resulted in an 87-57 win for Furman on Dec. 30, 2017.

"Knowing that defense has to be an every day deal, that's where this group has really grown in the past couple of weeks," Richey said. "Our focus has to be on the defensive end. It's where it starts for us. You just have to trust it that if you continue to get stops, eventually the offense will come."

Nowhere was Furman's defensive effort more evident than in the stat line of SoCon leading scorer Bubba Parham. Parham, who scored 35 points in VMI's 10-point loss at Kentucky earlier this season and was averaging 21.9 points per game, was held to a season-low six points Thursday on 1-of-6 shooting from the floor.

Parham was shut out in the scoring column until hitting a trio of free throws with 6:41 left. Furman was already up by 26 points by that point, and Jordan Lyons and Matt Rafferty had already checked out for the night.

"Alex (Hunter), Jordan and Tre (Clark) on the perimeter right now are so locked in on defense, it's really given us a huge boost out there," Richey said. "But that was definitely a team effort to hold (Parham) to one field goal the entire game."

While Furman (15-2, 4-1) played superb defense all night, the slow start on the other end left the Paladins with a 21-18 lead with less than four minutes to go in the first half. That's when Tre Clark threw down a dunk. And as if by clockwork lately, a big play by Clark started a Furman run. The Paladins outscored the Keydets 17-3 over the next 3:02 before VMI (6-10, 0-4) got a banked 3-pointer in the final seconds to leave Furman with a 38-24 lead at the half.

The Paladins opened the second half with a 7-0 run over the first three-and-a-half minutes, and the Keydets never got within 15 the rest of the way. Furman enjoyed an blowout win despite not getting a made field goal from Rafferty until the 16:53 mark of the second half. The attention Rafferty received from VMI's defense opened plenty of other things up for the Paladins, who hit 15-of-34 (44.1 percent) 3-pointers. Furman also drained 16-of-17 free throws.

"If you want to try to limit Matt's field goals with second and third defenders, that's a decision that teams are going to have to make," Richey said. "But I think what you saw tonight was a lot of uncontested 3s from the perimeter because of it. ... Those came because of his unselfish play and his ability to handle multiple defenders."

Lyons scored a game-high 21 points to lead five Paladins in double figures. Clay Mounce had 16 points, six rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. Clark and Andrew Brown scored 13 and 11 points, respectively, off the bench, Rafferty finished with 10 points, six rebounds, five assists and tied the school's single-game record with seven steals. Furman finished with 11 steals as a team as it forced 18 turnovers.

No Paladin played more than 30 minutes, which could provide a boost with Furman set to return to action less than 48 hours from the VMI game. The Paladins visit UNCG Saturday for a 5 p.m. tip.

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