Saturday, February 2, 2019

Lyons leads Paladins past Mercer

Jordan Lyons had 24 points, four assists and two steals in Furman's
74-63 win at Mercer Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
MACON, Ga. - Furman has found a pretty good way to win on its current road trip. It's called never falling behind. For the second consecutive game - and third time in the last four - the Paladins led from start to finish in a 74-63 win at Mercer Saturday.

While the Bears attempted 24 more shots than Furman (18-5, 7-4 Southern Conference), they had two fewer makes as the Paladins shot a season-high 58.3 percent from the floor. That hot day of shooting included a 12-for-24 showing on 3-pointers. Jordan Lyons led the way as he scored a game-high 24 points. Playing before plenty of family and friends from his hometown of Peachtree City, Ga., Lyons also had four assists and two steals.

"I thought we came out and had great defensive intensity for the most part the whole game. We stayed connected," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Obviously, we gave up 20 offensive rebounds but they only got 13 points from those. I think that shows that we were able to stay in the play. We didn't get down. We just kept flowing and flying. When we do that, usually good things happen.
"I'm so proud of Jordan. He just goes out and plays the game the right way with the right spirit and attitude and leads this group. He just lets the game come to him. ... He was complete. Tonight, it wasn't just hitting 3s. It was driving to the basket, kicking out for open shots, playing defense and talking as a leader."

After recording 19 assists in Thursday's win at The Citadel, Furman posted 16 on Saturday.

"We're back on offense. We'd gotten away from it a little bit and that's my fault," Richey said. "That's just who we are and who we have to be - cutting, moving and playing for each other. We got some wide open 3s. That's back-to-back games where our pass count has been really high and I just love the fact that they're trusting in it."

As is most often the case in a Paladin win, much of the teams success was spurred by defense. After holding Mercer to 36.2 percent shooting - including 4-of-19 on 3-pointers - in a 71-58 win in Greenville last month, Furman held the Bears to 34.8 percent shooting - including 5-of-24 on 3-pointers - Saturday.

That defensive effort was highlighted in the second half by the Paladins' play on Mercer leading scorer Ross Cummings. After scoring 14 of Mercer's 27 points in the opening half, Cummings had just two points on 1-of-5 shooting in the second half. Cummings, who entered Saturday shooting 42.8 percent on 3s, was 3-of-10 from beyond the arc. The Bears (8-14, 3-8) were just 1-for-11 on 3-pointers in the second half.

"I think in both games (at Citadel Thursday and Saturday), we did a great job of buying in defensively. That fuels us on both ends of the court," Lyons said. "Cummings is a really good player. Once he gets going, he can be a problem. We just increased our focus on him (in the second half) and were more aware of where he was.
"The thing about guarding a prolific scorer like him is it's never just a 1-on-1 matchup. It's a whole team collective effort guarding. ... I think the way all five of us defended him in the second half was a big contributor to how we were able to extend the lead."

While Furman never trailed Saturday, Mercer did cut the lead to 48-45 with 12:17 left. A Lyons layup followed by a Matt Rafferty steal which led to another Lyons' layup started an 18-4 run. Noah Gurley and Rafferty had layups before Andrew Brown's 3-pointer gave the Paladins a 59-49 lead with 8:02 left and they enjoyed a double-digit lead the rest of the way.

While Citadel double- and triple-teams limited Rafferty's scoring chances on Thursday, Mercer's defense and some pretty atrocious fouls did so on Saturday. Rafferty played a season-low (against Div. I competition) 27 minutes and was 3-for-3 from the floor, but still finished with 12 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks.

Just as they did on Thursday, other Paladins stepped up in the scoring column. Clay Mounce was 6-of-8 from the floor, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers, to finish with 16 points, while Noah Gurley and Andrew Brown had nine and eight points, respectively. Rafferty, Mounce and Alex Hunter all finished with four fouls. That's just the second time this season that Furman had three players with at least four fouls in SoCon play, with the other coming at UNCG.

"If people want to try to shut (Rafferty) out, we're going to have a lot of open shooters out there. There's a lot of good players in this league, but he's the best passer in this league. I know that much," Richey said. "So that's all the more reason to throw it to him. He's going to make all the right reads on the advantage and we're going to shoot wide-open shots."

When Rafferty went the to bench on his second foul with 4:36 left in the first half, Mercer cut a 31-16 deficit down to 34-27 at the half. When Rafferty checked out on his fourth foul with 7:38 left in the game, it was a different story. Furman's 10-point lead grew to 14 in Rafferty's absence thanks to a layup by Mounce and a jumper by Lyons. When Rafferty checked back in a little more than two minutes later, he assisted on a Lyons' 3-pointer on the next possession as Furman took its biggest lead at 66-49.

Furman will wrap up the three-game road trip Thursday at Western Carolina at 7:30 p.m.

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