Friday, February 1, 2019

Defense powers Furman to sweep of Citadel

Alex Hunter had 17 points, five assists and no turnovers in Furman's
71-61 win at The Citadel Thursday. Photo courtesy of Furman
CHARLESTON - After Furman's Matt Rafferty dominated The Citadel with 28 points and 12 rebounds in the Paladins' 101-85 win in Greenville earlier this season, the Bulldogs were bound and determined to make others try to beat them in Thursday's rematch at McAlister Field House.

And they did.

As Citadel coach Duggar Baucom told the Charleston Post and Courier, "the operation was a success, but the patient died." While the Bulldogs held Rafferty to a season-low eight points, Furman held them 29 points below their scoring average in the Paladins' 71-61 win. It's the second-lowest output for Citadel this season, and their lowest scoring output at home since a 67-51 loss to ETSU on Feb. 18, 2016.

After blowing a 17-point second-half lead in an overtime loss at Citadel last season and blowing a 10-point lead with less than four minutes to play in a home loss to Samford last time out this season, Thursday's win was a big one mentally for Furman (17-5, 6-4 Southern Conference). The Paladins forced 19 turnovers and had 19 assists on their 25 made baskets.

"Our mentality had to be ... what happened Saturday isn't going to affect what happens tonight. We had to do a better job of helping each other have success - defensively and offensively," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We had a season-high with over 300 passes tonight. The ball movement was much more crisp tonight.
"We had our most wide-open looks of the year. I was giving them a hard time (postgame), telling them that's why we missed a few of them - we were too wide open."

Outside of one tie midway through the first half, Furman led from start to finish. While the Paladins led 34-29 at the half, it felt like Furman should've had a much bigger lead. The Paladins led by 12 with less than five minutes to go in the first half before Citadel whittled it down. Despite forcing 12 turnovers in the first half, Furman had just four points off them. Meanwhile, Citadel had 12 points off of the Paladins' six turnovers in the first half.

It took just over five minutes of the second half for Furman to push that five-point lead to 19. After Rafferty's first points of the night on a layup at the 17:03 mark, Furman got consecutive 3-pointers by Jordan Lyons, Alex Hunter and Clay Mounce to cap a 13-0 run and take a 50-31 lead.

Citadel got the lead down to 67-61 with 3:31 left and got the ball back before Jordan Lyons came up with a steal, which led to a Rafferty layup with 2:08 left. Rafferty then grabbed a big rebound off a missed 3-pointer by Citadel. That led to a Lyons' layup with 1:26 left to wrap up the game's scoring. Furman made 12 of its 15 two-point field goal attempts.

"We did what we needed to do. ... I thought we did a good job being strong with the ball, not turning it over and handling the press," Richey said. "We had some guys that made some big plays. Alex, Jordan and Clay all hit huge 3s. Defensively, Jordan's deflection (prior to Rafferty's late layup) was a monster and Matt had a couple of huge deflections.
"I can't think of a single guy who didn't impact that game tonight for us."

Citadel entered with the second-most 3-point attempts in the country, but Furman fired up twice as many as the Bulldogs did Thursday. While the Paladins didn't exactly shoot the lights out from beyond the arc at 32.5 percent (13-of-40), it was better than the Citadel's 26.3 percent (5-of-19) showing. That marked the fewest made 3-pointers for the Bulldogs in a game since last season and their fewest attempts in three years.

Citadel's Matt Frierson, who's second in the country with an average of 4.15 3-pointers per game, was held scorless Thursday on 0-of-2 shooting on 3s. In the teams' first meeting, he had three points on 1-of-5 3-pointers.

Lyons scored a game-high 20 points to lead Furman, while Hunter and Mounce each scored 17. Mounce had six rebounds and five assists, while Hunter had five assists and no turnovers in 35 minutes against Citadel's full-court press defense. Hunter was a huge key early for Furman. Of the Paladins first 10 made field goals, Hunter had four - including three 3-pointers - and assisted on four others.

"I was looking to attack and create for my teammates, but they were finding me. I was feeling good, got in a groove early and it just carried on throughout the night," Hunter said. "Coach was calling out the press breakers in the offensive sets and we just had to execute. It proved to work"

While he only had eight points, Rafferty still made life difficult for the Bulldogs. He had 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals and helped force Citadel standout post player Zane Najdawi to commit eight turnovers. Najdawi had no more than four turnovers in any other game this season.

"Their whole game plan was to take Matt completely out of the game and make everybody else beat them. ... He didn't score (in the first half), but he kept his composure. He didn't worry about himself," Richey said. "He gets a handful of steals and assists, still gets double-digit rebounds and makes some big-time plays late. He's just a winner."

Lew Stallworth had 19 points, including 15 in the second half, six rebounds and five assists to lead the Bulldogs (10-11, 2-8). Najdawi had 14 points and nine rebounds and Kaiden Rice scored 13 off the bench also for Citadel.

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