|Noah Gurley scored a career-high 19 points in Furman's 96-62|
victory over VMI Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
As it turns out, the Keydets got the same team that's been laser-focused for the past three weeks. Once again, Furman's defense was stifling and the Paladins led from start to finish in a 96-62 victory at Timmons Arena. It's the sixth consecutive win for Furman (22-5, 11-4), which remains tied with ETSU (21-7, 11-4) for third place in the SoCon but is just a half-game back of UNCG (22-5, 11-3) following the Spartans' loss at Wofford (23-4, 15-0) Saturday night.
The victory ties the school record for most wins in a regular season set last year. Of the 240 minutes played in the winning streak, Furman has trailed for a total of 22 minutes and 42 seconds. UNCG led for 19:13 of those.
"We had a good, clean game for the most part and did what we needed to do. We hit a lot of our marks with our measurables that we look at, so that was good to see," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "I had a quite a few people warning me to stay focused but there was no need to worry (about focus).
"These guys (VMI) went to Johnson City and lost by three (to ETSU), played Greensboro really close at home and present a lot of problems offensively. We knew that we were going to have to be locked in."
It was a "spread the wealth" kind of night for Furman offensively. Noah Gurley led five Paladins in double figures with a career-high 19 points and did so in just 20 minutes as the starters got quite a bit of rest.
After having only three players score in the first 33 minutes of the UNCG game on Thursday, it was the polar opposite Saturday. When Mike Bothwell hit a layup with 13:28 left in the first half, he was the sixth different Paladin to score. That basket also gave Furman a 21-10 lead and the Paladins never led by fewer than double figures the rest of the way.
Even the end of half possession, which hasn't been pretty at times this year for Furman, went perfectly Saturday. Jordan Lyons drained a 3-pointer in the final seconds to push the lead to 53-29 at the break. Eight different Paladins scored in the first half as the team shot 62.1 percent from the floor, made 9-of-17 3-pointers, and had assists on 14 of its 18 made baskets.
"Coach always tells us that 'consistency builds confidence,' and we've been working in the gym. When I got on offense today, it just felt natural. There was no doubt in my mind what I could do out there," said Gurley, who scored 14 in the first half. "Having a good week of preparation built me for this."
Gurley's first-half was highlighted on a play where was trapped in a double-team in a corner. Losing possession for a split-second allowed him to dribble again. When a bit of space opened along the baseline, Gurley needed just two dribbles to get to the basket for a dunk.
"It was pretty much an incredible play," Richey said. "I think because of how we play and operate, I don't think our guys get in too much of a panic when they're trapped."
Perhaps the only question in the second half would be if Matt Rafferty would play long enough to capture what was believed to have been Furman's first-ever triple-double. Rafferty had six points, seven rebounds and five assists in the first half, then had four points, a rebound and two assists just over four minutes into the second half.
Alas, that feat wasn't mean to be Saturday. After checking out at the 15:55 mark, Rafferty came back in for all of 3:37. Rafferty hit a pair of free throws with 10:11 left and got the rest of the day off. The senior captain finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds - for his 13th double-double, to go along with seven assists, one blocked shot, zero fouls and zero turnovers in 25 minutes.
"I was tempted to play Matt a few more minutes, but I thought it was the right thing to let our depth play," Richey said. "It's that time of year where you want to keep rounding your edges. Anytime we can get our depth out there to prepare for what we've got to do down the stretch, I think that's a very important deal."
Clay Mounce finished with 13 points, two of which came on one of the highlights of the game. After Mounce used his long wing-span to block a 3-point attempt by SoCon leading scorer Bubba Parham, Alex Hunter looked like a volleyball player spiking the loose ball to the other end of the court where Mounce reeled it in for a dunk. Just 42 seconds later, Rafferty also spiked a loose ball to a teammate. Gurley caught this one and drained a 3-pointer to make it 66-37.
Bothwell had a career-high 13 points, two blocks and two steals, while fellow reserve Tre Clark had 12 points, two blocks and three steals. Lyons, Alex Hunter and Andrew Brown finished with nine, eight and seven points, respectively.
Despite only having two assists over the final 15:54, Furman finished with 20. It's the sixth time this season the Paladins have recorded at least 20 assists.
"I think I needed the rest and it was good to get other guys some playing time," Rafferty said about his early exit. "Obviously, I love being out there but giving other guys some opportunity is even better.
"Our ball movement was great. Twenty assists is huge going up against a matchup zone. Moving the ball and sharing with each other, not caring who scores - that's our recipe."
Furman also went 21-of-28 from the foul line, which are season highs in both makes and attempts.
"The free throws were great to see," Richey said. "That's something that's been a little bit of a weakness for us this season."
Defensively, Furman held VMI (7-19, 1-13) to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor. While the Paladins didn't shut down Parham quite like they have other teams' best shooters during this winning streak, they still held him below his 20.8 points per game average.
Parham was the lone VMI player in double figures with 16 points and three assists. He hit 4-of-10 3-pointers, including a pair of really long ones in the second half. In the two games against Furman this year, Parham scored a total of 22 points.
The win sets up a showdown against Wofford next Saturday on Senior Day at a sold-out Timmons Arena. Each team will have the full week off to prepare, just as they did prior to the classic played Jan. 19 in Spartanburg. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m.