Friday, March 1, 2019

Paladins bounce back, avenge loss to Samford

Furman's Alex Hunter had 15 points and a career-high 10 rebounds in the
Paladins' 90-81 win at Samford Thursday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Five days after dropping what may have been the biggest game in the history of Timmons Arena to Wofford, the Furman men's basketball responded just as Coach Bob Richey figured they would. The Paladins jumped out to a 10-point lead less than seven minutes into Thursday's game and cruised to a 90-81 win at Samford.

The win avenges a stunning 75-73 loss to Samford in Greenville earlier this season, and gives Furman (23-6, 12-5 Southern Conference) a new school record for regular season wins for the second year in a row. The Paladins are now tied with ETSU for third place in the league and can secure the No. 3 seed at the SoCon Tournament - in the opposite side of the bracket from top-seeded Wofford - with a win at Chattanooga in Saturday's regular season finale.

"I wouldn't have expected anything less from this group," Richey said about Thursday's start. "We've got great senior leadership and guys that have won a lot of games and it shows.
"They understand that every game stands on its own two feet and you don't have time to worry about your wounds. You just have to figure out ways to grow and get better and I thought we did a great job of that this week."

Furman is now one of 10 teams who have won at least 23 games each of the last three seasons. The others are Duke, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico State, North Carolina, UNCG and Virginia.

Thursday's win was the Paladins' fourth consecutive road victory and marked the 11th time this season that they never trailed in a game. Outside of a 2:02 stretch where Furman fell behind 2-0 at Western Carolina, the Paladins haven't trailed on the road since their loss at Wofford on Jan. 19.

Furman led 11-10 Thursday before going on a 9-0 run capped by Andrew Brown's 3-pointer to make it 20-10 with 13:22 left in the first half. Samford got that lead down to four before Furman popped off another 9-0 run, this one capped by Jordan Lyons' four-point play.

Clay Mounce's 3-pointer with 33 seconds left staked the Paladins to their biggest lead of the half as they led 50-35 at the break. Furman shot 58.1 percent from the floor in the opening half, including 9-of-17 3-pointers.

"The ball movement was really crisp early. We were really unselfish," Richey said. "We had two 3s back-to-back where Clay hit one and Jordan (Lyons) hit one and they happened after both of them hit the one more pass to each other.
"When you see stuff like that over the course of a game, that's when you know guys are playing for each other. As a coach, that's what always gives you the biggest thrill - when you see a group become one out there on both ends of the floor."

Furman came out of the second half with yet another 9-0 run to take its biggest lead at 59-35 with 15:48 left. After that point, things only got a little hairy after the Paladins began getting whistled for a barrage of fouls. Those included Noah Gurley's fourth foul with 12:05 left, Mounce's fourth foul with 10:14 left and Matt Rafferty's fourth foul with 7:25 left.

The Bulldogs (16-14, 6-11) hit 14-of-18 free throws in the second half, but could never cut the deficit below nine. When Samford had to start fouling down the stretch, Furman made it pay going 18-of-18 from the foul line in the second half. The Paladins were 23-of-24 on free throws for the game.

Lyons led all five starters in double figure scoring with 17 points for the Paladins. Rafferty, Mounce and Alex Hunter each scored 15, while Gurley had 11 in just 18 minutes. Brown scored nine off the bench. Rafferty had 11 rebounds and was credited with six assists, as two seemingly obvious ones weren't credited for whatever reason. Hunter also pulled down a career-high 10 rebounds.

"We almost had six double-figure scorers and then our point guard gets 10 rebounds," Richey said. "I thought it was a total team effort. ... We had some good cutting, sharing and we got out and ran."

Myron Gordon scored 21 points and Kevion Nolan had 18 off the bench to lead Samford. Dynamic point guard Josh Sharkey had 13 points in the first half, but none in the second on 0-of-1 shooting for the Bulldogs.

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