Thursday, February 7, 2019

Best defensive showing of the year lifts Furman

Matt Rafferty had 13 points, 10 rebounds and tied Furman's season steals record
in the Paladins' 64-45 win at Western Carolina. Photo courtesy of Furman
CULLOWHEE, N.C. - Prior to the Furman men's basketball game at Western Carolina Thursday night, the Furman women's team set a school record on the same court. The Lady Paladins allowed the fewest points they ever have in a Southern Conference game in a 53-28 win over the Catamounts.

For the first half of the game two of the doubleheader, it appeared the Furman men might do the same. After taking a 26-13 lead into halftime, the Paladins went on to a 64-45 win. While it's not the school's modern-era SoCon record set two years ago in an 85-37 home win against the Catamounts, it is the fewest points allowed this season by Furman. WCU's 31.4 field goal percentage for the game is also the lowest allowed by the Paladins this season.

"Defense is what we have to do. We've got length and athleticism and we've got to use it," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "On the road especially, you can't worry about making or missing shots, you've got to go out and play as hard as you can and play as a unit. We did tonight.
"I think that's the first time we've (drawn) three charges this season and had a lot of verticality at the rim. I thought we did a great job of protecting the basket tonight."

Thursday's win capped a 3-0 roadtrip for Furman that followed an extremely tough home loss to Samford on Jan. 26. The Paladins (19-5, 8-4 SoCon) won all three games by double digits. While Furman trailed a game for the first time on the road trip Thursday, that lasted all of two minutes and two seconds.

The struggle was real for both teams to open the game. After Western Carolina took a 2-0 lead a little more than two minutes in, Matt Rafferty got Furman on the board at the 15:48 mark. Thirty-six seconds later, Alex Hunter's 3-pointer gave the Paladins the lead for good.

After the reigning SoCon Player of the Week, Onno Steger, scored at the 17:50 mark, Western Carolina's next field goal came at the 7:19 mark and it cut Furman's lead to 16-5. The Catamounts (6-19, 3-9) made 5-of-26 shots (19.2 percent) in the first half, including 1-of-7 on 3-pointers.

"It starts with our toughness. For the past three road games, we knew we were going to have to be tougher than we had been and we did that," Rafferty said. "Defense comes with toughness and we've really been locked in the past three games. That's kind of propelled on offense as well."

Western Carolina cut the lead to 10 a little under two minutes into the second half, but never got closer. In a six-minute stretch midway through the second half, Furman went on a 15-5 run to take its biggest lead of the night at 54-29 with 8:04 left and remove all doubt. The Paladins forced a season-high 22 turnovers and scored 29 points off those.

Noah Gurley had 14 points to lead the Paladins and also a pair of big blocked shots. Rafferty posted his 11th double-double this season with 13 points and 10 rebounds. He also had a steal to tie Guilherme Da Luz for the school's single-season record of 64. Alex Hunter was the lone other Paladin in double figures with 10 points.

Gurley and Rafferty's defensive effort down low frustrated Carlos Dotson, who had 27 points and 14 rebounds in Furman's 90-88 double overtime win against WCU in Greenville back in December. On Thursday, Dotson again had 14 rebounds. While six of those were offensive, he only finished with seven points on 3-of-8 shooting and had five turnovers.

"It was all about limiting his touches today," Rafferty said. "He's a great offensive rebounder, but others helped me and Noah on the boards by crashing down. ... Our guards also did a great job shutting down their shooters."

While Gurley and Rafferty controlled things down low, Jordan Lyons and company continued to make life miserable for WCU sharpshooter Matt Halvorsen, who entered Thursday having made 60-of-170 3-pointers this season. After going 1-for-15, including 1-for-13 from beyond the arc in Greenville, Halvorsen was 1-of-7, including 1-of-5 on 3-pointers, Thursday. Halvorsen scored all four of his points on a four-point play with 2:37 left.

Furman also held Steger, who totaled 51 points over two games last week, to eight points on 3-of-10 shooting.

"It (defense) starts on the ball. ... I thought we did a really good job with our pressure and we also contained the bounce pretty well tonight," Richey said. "We weren't necessarily as clean as I'd like. We finished with 14 turnovers. That's too many for us, but we will continue to work on that. We didn't shoot it that great from three, but when we guard with that effort, energy and intensity, we're tough."

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