|Jordan Lyons had 16 points and 7 rebounds in Furman's 72-64|
loss to Wofford Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Then Wofford came to town. The Terriers turned an early five-point deficit midway through the first half into a double-digit lead by halftime and went on to a 72-64 win in perhaps the biggest game Timmons Arena has ever hosted. Fletcher Magee scored 23 points and hit some big shots in the second half to help spoil Furman's Senior Day.
"They played very well, very physical and Fletcher did what Fletcher does. He made big shots in critical situations," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "The most important thing is we've got to be able to respond to this. Hopefully this wasn't the most important game of the year. It's going to hurt today, but we've got to get off the mat. We've got a lot left to play for."
In recording its first win in Greenville since 2015, Wofford (24-4, 16-0 Southern Conference) extended its school-record winning streak to 16 games. The Paladins (22-6, 11-5) remain in fourth place in the SoCon with one week left in the regular season. Furman is one game back of ETSU and one-and-a-half back of UNCG. If UNCG wins at home Sunday against ETSU and all three teams win out, the Paladins would earn the third-place tiebreaker over ETSU.
A glance at the boxscore gives the appearance of two very even teams that many thought would put on another classic as they did earlier this season in Spartanburg. Wofford shot 46.7 percent, while Furman shot 46.2. The Terriers hit 9-of-30 (30 percent) 3-pointers, while the Paladins were 6-of-19 (31.6 percent). Wofford had a 33-30 rebounding edge, a 13-10 advantage in assists and both teams had eight turnovers apiece.
The difference could be found at the bottom of the boxscore. Wofford scored 11 points off Furman's eight turnovers, while the Paladins scored just four off the Terriers' eight. Wofford had 12 points off nine offensive rebounds, while Furman had only two off its six offensive boards. Seven of Wofford's nine offensive rebounds came in the first half as the Terriers took control.
Wofford also didn't allow Furman to do the little things its done this season to be successful. The Paladins entered the day leading the SoCon in steals (9.1 per game) and blocked shots (4.3) per game. Furman had only three steals and two blocks Saturday.
"They do a phenomenal job taking care of the ball, so if you're going to make them turn it over you're going to have to have active hands, get some pressure on the passers and make sure you're flying around," Richey said. "I didn't think we did a good job of that in the first half. ... If you allow them to have rhythm, there's a reason they're 16-0 in the league."
The turning of the tide was as swift as it was stunning in the first half. When Jalen Slawson slammed home a crowd-energizing putback with 10:53 left, Furman led 21-16 and was 9-of-13 from the floor. It was an unusual path to the early lead as the Paladins - who often come out firing up 3-pointers - were just 1-of-1 from beyond the arc at that point.
Then the wheels came off. After Furman's first turnover ended its next possession, the Paladins missed six consecutive shots - all 3-pointers. Furman's scoring drought of 5:35 ended when Matt Rafferty made a beautiful pass to a cutting Alex Hunter for a layup that cut Wofford's lead to 25-23. The Paladins went 0-for-5 from the field the rest of the half though and trailed 39-28 at the break. All told over the final 10:52 of the half, Furman went 1-for-12 from the floor on 17 possessions and was outscored 23-7.
"I thought over the first five or six minutes, I thought we did a great job cutting, the ball was moving and feet were moving," Richey said. "Then they got really physical on our cuts. It made us not cut as hard or as frequently. We had 13 'good cuts' in the first half and six of those came in the first four minutes of the game.
"They (Wofford) are veterans with good defensive schemes. If you let them sit there in the gaps with all their size down in the paint, if you don't move it then it makes it hard to score. ... We just wanted to sit there and watch Matt a little bit. We're just not nearly as good when we do that."
Wofford took its biggest lead of the day 19 seconds into the second half when Nathan Hoover popped a 3-pointer to make it 42-28. Furman fought back and Jordan Lyons' jumper cut the lead to 49-46 with 12:47 left. Wofford's next possession ended on a rejection by Rafferty that made Timmons as loud as it was all day. Furman couldn't capitalize as it missed a pair of game-tying 3-pointers then committed a turnover on its next possession when still trailing by three.
Every time Furman had any sense of a comeback, Magee snuffed it out. After Rafferty's 3-pointer cut the lead to 54-49, Magee hit a jumper 17 seconds later. After Rafferty's jumper with 4:17 left cut the lead to 62-55, Magee hit a 3-pointer 20 seconds later. After Clay Mounce's 3-pointer cut the lead to 67-59 with 2:36, Wofford ran down the entire shot clock before Magee drilled a 3-pointer that essentially sealed the win with two minutes to play.
"I was proud of our guys for continuing to fight. I don't think we played with enough spirit and fight in the first half and that's on me," Richey said. "By the time we came out in the second half and played with it, in a big game like that, it was too late."
In addition to Magee's 23-point performance, Cameron Jackson had 18 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals for the Terriers. In the first meeting this season, he had only seven points and five boards.
In his final home game, Rafferty finished with a game-high 24 points, along with seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Jordan Lyons had 16 points and a season-high seven rebounds while Mounce finished with 12 points. Lyons second 3-pointer of the game broke Anthony Thomas' single-season school record of 88 made 3-pointers set in 2001-02.
"The loss doesn't take away from how proud I am of this group and these seniors and what they've meant to this program," Richey said. "It was a great day to be able to honor them. There's a reason they're the all-time winningest players in program history. I hated we couldn't come out with a win for them."
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