Saturday, January 26, 2019

Paladins wilt down the stretch, fall to Samford

Noah Gurley dunks Saturday against Samford. Gurley had 15 points and
seven rebounds but the Paladins fell, 75-73. Photo courtesy of Furman
As good as Furman was over the first 16 minutes of the second half Saturday against Samford, a wretched final four minutes sank the Paladins. The Bulldogs ended the game on a 14-2 run over the final 3:41 to pull out a 75-73 win before 2,300 fans at Timmons Arena. The win snaps Furman's 13-game home winning streak dating back to last season as the Paladins fall to 16-5 overall and 5-4 in the Southern Conference.

Furman had turned what was a nine-point deficit in the final seconds of the first half into a 71-61 lead on Matt Rafferty's layup with 4:21 left. While Samford sliced the lead to 71-70 with 2:06 to go, the Paladins still appeared to be in good shape when Rafferty was intentionally fouled with 21 seconds left. Rafferty hit both free throws to make it 73-70. After getting fouled two seconds later, the front end of Jordan Lyons' 1-and-1 free throw rolled in-and-out no good. It took all of five seconds for Samford to grab the rebound and streak down the court for a layup to cut the lead to 73-72 with 14 seconds left.

As Samford applied full-court pressure, Lyons had to come close to Andrew Brown to get the ball on the inbounds play and the back of Lyons' foot touched out of bounds turning the ball back over to Samford. The Bulldogs' Robert Allen drilled a 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds left. With no timeouts, Furman raced up the court and Lyons looked to get a 3-point attempt up at the top of the circle. But as Lyons went up to shoot, he lost control of the ball as the final buzzer went off.

"It's a tough one, but you've got to give Samford credit. I thought they came out with great energy. They came out as the aggressor in the first half for sure," Richey said. "I thought we came out of halftime and played the game the right way. We had a good 15 or 16 minutes there and then it fell apart at the seams in those last four minutes."

Samford (12-10, 3-6) entered Saturday's game less than 48 hours removed from a heartbreaking 107-106 overtime loss at the buzzer at Wofford. The Bulldogs blew a six-point lead with less than 30 seconds left in Spartanburg and found a way to lose despite shooting 66.7 percent from the floor, including 73.3 percent on 3-pointers, and 95 percent from the foul line.

There were no lingering affects for Samford on Saturday though. The Bulldogs built a 39-30 lead before Rafferty's layup with seven seconds left in the first half cut the deficit to seven at the break. They did so thanks to the stellar play of point guard Josh Sharkey, who had 17 points, four assists and three steals in the first half. Perhaps most importantly, Sharkey's elusive, speedy play helped saddle Furman point guards Alex Hunter and Tre Clark with three fouls apiece in the first half.

"It hurt us, but that's on us. There weren't any schematic changes we made at halftime to our ball-screen coverages," Richey said. "It's not what we do, it's how we do it. In the first half, we were just a half-step slow. We didn't have active hands and only had 10 deflections by halftime."

Six straight points on two layups and a dunk by Clay Mounce to open the second half cut the deficit to one, but the Paladins really gained control when they finally got hot from the perimeter. Furman was 3-of-16 on 3-pointers when Brown hit one with 12:30 left to cut the lead to 47-46. Then Noah Gurley hit one. Then Hunter hit one. Then Lyons hit one. After Lyons missed one, Gurley got the offensive rebound and it led to a Rafferty three-point play which gave Furman its first lead since 2-0 at 58-57 with 8:48 left.

When Lyons pulled up in a 1-on-4 fastbreak and popped a 3-pointer with 7:59 left to push the lead to 63-57, the home crowd went nuts as Samford called timeout. But after that incredible high in which Furman hit 5-of-6 shots from beyond the arc, the Paladins missed their final nine 3-pointers. After Rafferty's layup with 4:21 left, Furman went 0-for-7 from the floor, including six 3-pointers, and suffered three costly turnovers.

"You've got to close games and be precise in your details late," Richey said. "We just had about four or five things ... where you've got to make sure those plays are made when you can control them.
"Those (3-pointers) are what we practice and what we do. I thought we had three looks to push the lead and I didn't think any of them were necessarily bad looks. It's one of those things where if you make it and push the lead to 13, then all of sudden we're probably sitting here (in postgame) pretty happy right now."

While the final four minutes were particularly tough for Lyons, Furman would've never been in position to win without his defense. Lyons proved to be the only Paladin who could stay with Sharkey and limited him to four points on 2-of-10 shooting in the second half.

"We're not back in that game if Jordan doesn't come out and play the defense he played in the second half," Richey said. "We couldn't guard Sharkey in the first half. Nobody could. Jordan's intensity and his defense, along with Matt Rafferty and some other guys, that's what turned that game around.
"We didn't have the right collective mentality defensively tonight and that's on me, but he did and I was proud of him for that. There's a multitude of reasons why we didn't get this done."

On a day that Rafferty was honored for surpassing the 1,000-point mark in his career, the loss spoiled another awesome stat line for the senior. Rafferty had 21 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and five steals to lead the Paladins. Gurley finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, Mounce had 13 points and seven rebounds, while Hunter had 11 points, six rebounds, four assists and managed to not foul out.

Sharkey, who was coming off a 19-point and school record 16-assist performance at Wofford, finished with 21 points, 12 assists and three steals Saturday. Richey said Sharkey also disrupted at least "three or four plays" designed to go to Rafferty inside due to his ball pressure denying the entry pass.

After blowing a 10-point lead late in the second half Saturday, next up for the Paladins is a road trip to the place where they blew a 17-point lead late in the second half last season. Furman travels to Charleston to face Citadel at 7 p.m. Thursday. That will begin a three-game road trip.

"We've just got to learn from it. In every loss, there's a bunch to learn. This one is going to be tough to watch," Richey said. "In those last four minutes, Samford made some shots but man, we absolutely shot ourselves in the foot in a lot of different ways."

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