Friday, November 29, 2019

Paladins set for chance to prove they belong

Devin Wynn has rushed for 1,121 yards and 14 touchdowns
this season for Furman. Photo courtesy of Furman
The bottom line when it comes to postseason play is always the same - survive and advance. That's what No. 16 Furman will look to do Saturday when it begins it's 18th trip to the FCS (I-AA) Playoffs at an 17th-ranked Austin Peay team making its FCS postseason debut.

"(Making the playoffs) is an extremely hard thing to do, and we're certainly excited to have a chance to play for a national championship," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said during his Monday press conference. "We're just trying to find a way to win a football game and extend your season another week. That's our true focus going forward."

But there could something broader at stake for the Paladins Saturday, who've found themselves on the playoff bubble each of the past three seasons. Two years ago, Furman got in and won at Elon of the revered Colonial Athletic Association before falling at Wofford in round two. Last year, the Paladins became the second Southern Conference champion ever to be left out of the field despite a 20-point win over the league's automatic qualifier.

After being ranked in the top 15 most of the season, Furman made it this year but was one of the last four teams to receive at at-large bid. In the glory years of the SoCon, a top three finish meant there was no bubble in sight. You were in. But when Appalachian State and Georgia Southern chose greener ($$$) pastures and Wednesday night football over playing for a national championship any time in the foreseeable future, it seems they took national respect for the SoCon with them.

A better example of how the SoCon is currently viewed nationally may be found in Wofford. The Terriers opened the season in the top 10, had experiments on offense that did not go well and started 0-2 to fall out of the polls. All they've done since is win eight consecutive FCS games by an average of 24.5 points per game. Their only loss since Sept. 14 was at Clemson and except for North Carolina, they scored as many points (14) as anybody else on the Tigers' schedule.

Being one of the hottest teams in the FCS wasn't enough to secure Wofford a national seed though. Instead, a South Dakota State (8-4) team that lost to a then 4-7 South Dakota team on the last day of the regular season got the No. 7 seed, while Central Arkansas (9-3) got the No. 8 seed despite a 34-0 home loss to unranked Southeastern Louisiana three weeks ago. Central Arkansas' resume also included one-point wins over Abilene Christian (5-7) and Northwestern State (3-9).

One would hope that turning the SoCon's national perception around could be boosted by Furman and Wofford winning on Saturday. While the Paladins are taking on the Governors for the first time ever, the Terriers will be hosting Kennesaw State and trying to avenge a second-round loss to the Owls last season.

Conference reputation and the Furman program's playoff experience won't mean a hill of beans when the kickoff happens at 1 p.m. The Paladins will be tasked with stopping what appears to be a high-flying offense.

Austin Peay features the second-leading receiver in the FCS in DeAngelo Wilson, who's caught 68 passes for 1,246 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. While Wilson averages 18.3 yards per catch, teammate Baniko Harley averages 18.2 yards per reception. Harley's caught 43 passes for 782 yards and six touchdowns. Meanwhile, Kentel Williams has rushed for 773 yards and nine touchdowns and quarterback JaVaughn Craig has 547 yards rushing and eight touchdowns for the Governors. Craig has thrown for 2,567 yards with 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

"Schematically, they're a little bit like Western Carolina offensively. They're a shotgun team and the quarterback is athletic," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "(Not allowing big plays) really will be a key Saturday. I think that's the biggest reason we've been so good in scoring defense (18.8 points allowed per game).
"That will continue to be a goal of ours - make them (drive) the length of the field. It's hard to do that (offensively) without something happening - a penalty, turnover or a negative yards play. Hopefully we will continue that trend."

On the other side of the ball, a key matchup will be Furman's nationally fifth-ranked rushing offense (275.8 yards per game) against Austin Peay's nationally sixth-ranked rushing defense (86.5 yards allowed per game).

Furman had already seen some film of the Governors thanks to common opponents, which were played consecutively in September. Austin Peay used a pair of second half interception returns for touchdowns to win 48-34 at Mercer on Sept. 14 before losing at ETSU, 20-14, on Sept. 21. On Sept. 21, the Paladins had a 45-10 win over Mercer and followed that with a 17-10 win over ETSU, which went on to finish in last place in the SoCon.

"They're really talented on both sides of the ball. I was impressed by seeing them then (on film) in all phases of the game and they've certainly had a great year. They won their conference championship, which is always a great feat," Hendrix said. "It will certainly be a challenge for us to go to Clarksville (Tenn.) and play, but I know we're awfully excited about going. We've been a good road team all year. I think our kids do a great job of preparing, which will give us a chance to go play well."

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Bothwell caps Furman rally with game-winner

Mike Bothwell's three-point play with 3.8 seconds left lifted Furman to
a 58-57 win over UT-Arlington Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman
ELON, N.C. - After posting career-highs in points, rebounds and assists in Furman's blowout win Tuesday night, it seemed there'd be no way Mike Bothwell could do anything to top that Wednesday afternoon.

But he did.

Bothwell's three-point play with 3.8 seconds lifted the Paladins to a 58-57 comeback win over UT-Arlington in the Battle 4 Atlantis mainland portion at Elon. On a day when it appeared sluggish against a stout, well-rested opponent, Furman overcame a 13-point second half deficit to capture the win.

The comeback didn't feature any big, quick runs where the Paladins got hot. Instead, they willed themselves back with guts and focus - along with taking care of the ball. Furman committed a season-high 17 turnovers Wednesday, but that total was at 16 with 11:39 left to play.

"Before you can turn things and create momentum, you've got to have energy. We weren't playing with the energy that we needed to. We were trying to figure out lineups and all of a sudden, we went five guards and I thought that was what changed it," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Today, there was nobody in this building. We just played last night. We had every reason to shut this thing down and say, 'hey you know what? It's not our day,' but our team grew and answered the bell from a leadership perspective."

The Paladins trailed 49-38 with less than 10 minutes to play when a key sequence got them closer. After grabbing just one offensive rebound the entire first half, Furman got two on one possession and the second one turned into a putback by Clay Mounce. After Alex Hunter hit a 3-pointer, Mounce got a tip-in off a miss on the next possession to cut the lead to 49-45 with 7:28 left.

Furman couldn't get any closer over the next five minutes and the Mavericks took a 53-47 lead on Tiandre Jackson-Young's layup with 4:44 left. Little did anyone know then that would be UT-Arlington final field goal of the day. It was one of just two field goals the Mavericks (3-4) had over the final 10:52 of the game.

"(The five-guard lineup) worked on both ends. We were able to force them into some tough shots and that helped us rebound," Richey said. "Once we spread all their pressure out, and put enough shooters and attackers out there, it allowed us to get shots. ... That's typically not what we do, but that's the cool part about this group. We've got some versatility on both ends and today it worked out for us."

Hunter hit a contested 3-pointer to cut the lead to 55-54 with 1:39 left. After Mounce was called for his second straight controversial foul, UT-Arlington's Brian Warren made both free throws. After Bothwell missed a 3-pointer, Mounce got the rebound and was fouled. He hit 1-of-2 free throws to cut the lead to 57-55 with 59 seconds left.

On the Paladins next possession, Hunter's 3-pointer missed. Once again, Mounce grabbed the offensive board and Furman called timeout with 10.8 seconds left.

"That might be the play of the game. You miss that shot and it they board it, then you've got to foul," Richey said. "Instead, Clay gets that huge offensive rebound. It's really a hard play because the defender was inside and that's easy to just go over the back. Clay jumped straight up in the air and grabbed it with two hands. It was really a big-time effort on his part."

Inbounding from under his own basket, Hunter couldn't find anyone close so he fired a long pass into the backcourt that Bothwell retrieved. With the clock running down, Bothwell maneuvered his way to the basket, laid it in with his left hand to tie the game and drew the foul. After a Mavs' timeout, Bothwell coolly nailed the go-ahead free throw. Jackson-Young's 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced away no good and the Paladins erupted in celebration.

"The draw was for Clay or Jordan (Lyons) to come off for three. We had the option, but after that wasn't open Alex threw it long. I know there was only a couple of seconds left. ... I was really driving to see if I could kick to Jordan or Clay, but nobody helped (Bothwell's defender) over," Bothwell said. "I just tried to do what coach preaches every day - two for the finish, got the foul and made it.
"I was in that situation a couple of times in high school and missed the free throw, so that's what I was really nervous about. But I'm glad was able to make that one tonight. That was fun."

After being outrebounded 19-11 in the opening half, the final rebounding total was 33-33. Eight of those 22 second-half rebounds came on the offensive end for the Paladins. Mounce had 14 points, 12 boards and three steals, while Jordan Lyons also scored 14 for Furman. Noah Gurley and Hunter each scored 11.

Bothwell's heroic play came less than 24 hours after the sophomore reserve put up 20 points, six rebounds and five assists.

"He's growing and it's fun to see. A year ago, he was going through adversity and trying to find his way," Richey said. "He committed more this offseason and he's really grown. Coach (Jeremy) Growe's done a phenomenal job with him and now he's playing like a big-time guard."

Mounce, Bothwell help Paladins whip Elon

Mike Bothwell had career-highs in points (20), rebounds (6) and assists
(5) in Furman's 97-61 win at Elon Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Furman
ELON, N.C. - What a difference a week makes.

Furman shot 52.9 percent from the floor, and hit 17-of-37 3-pointers (45.9 percent), in a 97-61 rout of Elon Tuesday night in the Battle 4 Atlantis mainland tournament. While the Paladins had 19 assists and 10 turnovers, the Phoenix had 10 assists and 19 turnovers.

The performance comes seven days after one of Furman's poorest shooting nights in recent memory in an 81-73 loss at Alabama. Coach Bob Richey said the difference wasn't so much in the shooting as it was in the defense. The Paladins (6-1) held Elon to 35.3 percent shooting, including 5-of-24 on 3s (20.8 percent). It also came six days after the Phoenix (2-5) took a nine-point first half lead at North Carolina before falling, 75-61.

"The storyline (at Alabama) was that we didn't make shots, but that wasn't why we lost the game. The reason we lost the game was because our defensive transition slipped and our ball-screen defense slipped and they were able to get easy baskets late," Richey said. "Tonight, we made sure the gameplan got to the court defensively. ... Then we just played free offensively off instinct.
"I'm proud of our guys. I could go down the line, but Mike Bothwell - what a performance. He just continues to play phenomenal on both ends. Clay Mounce was exceptional as well. Those two really stood out."

Furman held a single-digit lead for much of the first half before Bothwell took over. The Paladins led 28-22 with less than seven minutes left in the half when Bothwell hit a 3-pointer that started an 18-6 run. Bothwell had 13 of those points, while backcourt mate Alex Hunter had the other five.

"We felt like our defense could fuel our offense. We didn't even really want to call too many plays tonight," said Bothwell, who finished with career highs in points (20), rebounds (6) and assists (5) in 25 minutes off the bench. "We just wanted to get stops and get in transition. I think that's why we got so many 3s and good looks."

After taking a 46-30 lead into halftime, the Paladins opened the second on a 13-2 run to put nails in the coffin. Mounce, who was playing about 90 minutes from his old Mount Airy High School, had three 3-pointers in that run and finished with 20 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a career-high five steals.

Hunter and Jordan Lyons were the other Paladins in double figures with 13 points and three assists apiece. A total of five Furman players had at least three assists, including Tre Clark, who also had eight points and six rebounds off the bench.

"I had a good amount of family and friends here, so that was nice," Mounce said of his night. "Coach really wanted us to pressure them early and we did a good job of that."

The one thing that saved further embarrassment for Furman's former Southern Conference foe was Elon's advantage at the foul line. The Phoenix made more free throws than field goals as they hit 20-of-24, while Furman was 8-of-9.

Marcus Sheffield, Elon's leading scorer at 18.7 points per game entering Tuesday, was held to two points on 1-of-7 shooting.

"I told the team, 'he's the best guard we've played against so far,' and we probably devoted more of our defense to him than what we've done to any guard this year," Richey said. "Obviously, that bothered him. Players always hate when you commit two players to (guarding) them, but we felt like we had to do a really good job on him and fortunately we did."

There's not much time to celebrate the blowout win for Furman. As part of the tournament, the Paladins will take on UT-Arlington at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Elon. UT-Arlington (3-3), which has three losses to solid programs including a six-point loss to Gonzaga, will have the advantage of having not played since Sunday.

Richey is using the experience as a little preview of the future.

"This is kind of like a life principle of 'don't worry about stuff you can't control,' " Richey said of facing a rested team. "This is an opportunity for us to try this kind of like the SoCon Tournament - regardless of the opponent. In our minds, today was a quarterfinal feel and tomorrow's a semifinal feel. Let's just treat it like that. We're going to have to do this to win the league."

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Furman could use QB rotation at Austin Peay

Darren Grainger (4) and Hamp Sisson are expected to take snaps
for Furman at Austin Peay Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
On Sunday, the mystery of if and where Furman might land in the FCS playoffs was solved. The Paladins will face Austin Peay for the first time in Saturday's opening round at Clarksville, Tenn.

On Monday, Furman coach Clay Hendrix cleared up the mystery of who will be playing quarterback for the Paladins. During his weekly press conference, Hendrix said he expected both Darren Grainger and Hamp Sisson to play just as they did in last Saturday's 64-7 win over Point.

"Saturday was obviously a little different, but we still plan to play both. I think they both bring something to the table and we don't change anything we do offensively," Hendrix said. "I thought they both handled themselves well and made some plays (Saturday). Darren will probably start again, but we will probably play both of them.
"I just think that's where we are at the quarterback position. There's a great relationship between the two of them and with Coach (George) Quarles, so I think that's what the plan will be as we go through this week at practice."

Grainger has completed 76-of-154 passes (49.4 percent) for 1,203 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions this season. He's also rushed for 296 yards (3.4 per carry) and five touchdowns. Sisson is 46-of-76 (60.5 percent) for 575 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He's also rushed for 135 yards (5.6) per carry and two touchdowns.

Paladins relieved
After winning a share of the Southern Conference championship in 2018 only to be left out of the playoff field, it was a nervous time in the football meeting room Sunday. Despite being ranked in the top 15 for most of the season, some national FCS writers had projected Furman to be snubbed once again.

The tension didn't get any lighter when the top eight seeds were announced and SoCon champ Wofford wasn't one of them. You'd have to believe that if one SoCon team earned a seed it wouldn't be the only league representative in the field. There was also a thought that the Paladins might take on Kennesaw State with the winner going to Wofford in round two - similar to what happened in 2017.

As the rest of the field was revealed, uneasiness didn't slide as teams like 24th-ranked North Dakota and 25th-ranked Albany received at-large bids. When Austin Peay came up as a host, there had to be a feeling that this could be the last hope for a Furman destination. When the Paladins popped on the screen as the Governors' opponent, the players popped in celebration.

"I thought we were in, but at the same time, you never quite know," Hendrix said. "I was standing in the back of the room and I can't see really good from that distance, but I saw the purple when it popped up. Then obviously I saw our kids get excited.
"I couldn't be more happy to be where we are and just have a chance to play. We didn't really care who it was or where, we're just excited to go play. ... It's always good to be practicing on Thanksgiving. If you're doing that, then you've had a pretty good year."

Playoff experience
Saturday's game will be Furman's 36th FCS (I-AA) playoff game in school history and the Paladins will be seeking their 20th postseason win. This is the 18th year Furman has made the playoffs. Only Montana (24) and Northern Iowa (21) have made the postseason more.

That's not the case at all for Saturday's opponent - and possibly next Saturday's as well. Austin Peay and Sacramento State made the playoff field for the first time ever this season. The Furman-Austin Peay winner will play at fourth-seeded Sacramento State in round two.

There are quite a few older Paladins who were part of the 2017 playoff experience, but Hendrix doesn't expect that to mean much come kickoff on Saturday.

"I think we will probably be going to a place where their fanbase is going to be fired up because it's the first time they've had a chance to experience that," Hendrix said. "I think team-wise, you prepare like it's another game. But you know it's your last one if you don't get it done."

Atkins honored again
For the fifth time this season, Grayson Atkins is the SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week. It was an odd Saturday as Atkins had only one touchback, but Point chose to return seven of the eight kickoffs that reached the end zone and averaged only 17.9 yards per return.

In a pouring rain, Atkins also connected on 28- and 45-yard field goals and all seven of his extra points. The junior from Inman has now hit 22 of his last 23 field goal attempts. His 220 career points are just one shy of fifth-place on Furman's career scoring list.

Final polls
Furman (8-4) moved up one to No. 16 in the final FCS STATS poll of the regular season, and moved down one to No. 16 in the final Coaches poll. Austin Peay (9-3) is 18th in the STATS poll and No. 17 in the Coaches.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Paladins enjoy record day in rout of Point

Cally Chizik (24) has plenty of blockers on a 47-yard punt return
in Furman's 64-7 win over Point. Photo courtesy of Furman
There were no surprises Saturday at Paladin Stadium. Now the Furman football team hopes for no surprises Sunday. Playing its first non-Division I opponent in 11 years and in a pouring rain, the 15th-ranked Paladins rolled to a 64-7 win over NAIA member Point as the regular season wrapped up. It marks the first time Furman has won eight regular season games since 2006. With other results Saturday, the Paladins (8-4) finished alone in second place in the Southern Conference.

Furman's next opponent should be revealed at 12:30 p.m. Sunday when the 24-team FCS playoff field is announced. After being stunned by being left out of the field last season, the Paladins hope a top 15 ranking for most of the season will earn them an at-large bid. After also being ranked No. 9 in the playoff committee's top 10 that was announced earlier this month, it seems Furman should be safely in despite last Saturday's loss to SoCon champion Wofford.

"We started the game just like we wanted to, played solid on both sides of the ball and got to play a ton of kids," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I thought we handled the ball pretty good on what was a miserable weather day.
"I think for our kids to get to eight wins says a lot about them. We've had our share of adversity but our kids have handled that extremely well and I couldn't be prouder of them. I think we've done everything to give us an opportunity to continue to play and I certainly hope we get that opportunity."

In the pregame coin toss, Furman captains were joined by Allen Edwards, who received a big hug from his former Paladin teammate and Point head coach Julius Dixon.

After kickoff, Furman checked off all the boxes it wanted to and added a few more. The Paladins: recorded the convincing win, emptied the bench early and often, and got senior Thomas Gordon to the top of the record book. Gordon had 67 yards receiving on four catches to become the school's all-time leading receiver with 2,528 yards in his career.

After making the catch to put him at No. 1 at the end of the first quarter, Gordon was recognized on the stadium videoboard while his teammates gathered around him to celebrate.

"My teammates were showing me love after staying on me all week about breaking the record," Gordon said. "It was just a good feeling and I'm truly blessed."

Gordon wasn't the only one rewriting the record book Saturday. Furman's defense established new Paladin Stadium marks by allowing just 91 yards of total offense and one yard rushing - on 35 attempts - Saturday. The previous lows by a visitor to Paladin Stadium were 109 total yards by Presbyterian in 1988 and four yards rushing by Presbyterian in 2001.

Meanwhile, it was an average day yardage-wise for Furman's offense with 435 total. That's basically because it often didn't have far to go thanks to three forced turnovers and outstanding special teams play, which included the Paladins first safety since 2011 and first punt block since 2017. Saturday's block was by Avery Armstrong, who also had that last one two years ago.

Cally Chizik, who had five tackles including a sack on defense, returned three punts for 71 yards. His 47-yard return left the Paladins starting its second drive of the game at Point's 43.

"That was a big play in the game early to give us some momentum," Hendrix said. "We haven't gone after a lot of punts (to block) this year, but as the year has gone on we felt like we've got the speed too. We've been pretty solid in the special teams all year."

Darren Grainger got the start at quarterback and capped the opening drive with a nine-yard touchdown run. After the big return by Chizik, the Paladins' next possession ended when Ryan DeLuca made a terrific leaping grab of a 19-yard touchdown pass by Grainger.

Furman was back in the end zone 14 seconds later when Travis Blackshear returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown to stake the Paladins to a 21-0 lead after one quarter. That marked Furman's first pick-six since Dillon Vann's 33-yard interception return at Chattanooga in 2017.

"The ball was right there. I just had to make sure I caught it with the weather like it was," Blackshear said. "I just had to find the end zone, because I didn't want what happened last time (when he ran out of bounds on an interception return against VMI after it looked like he may have scored with a cutback)."

The Paladins removed any doubt in the second quarter with a pair of field goals by Grayson Atkins, touchdown runs by Devin Wynn and Wayne Anderson, and that safety when a high snap slipped through the hands of Point's punter and out of the back of the end zone.

After taking a 43-7 lead into halftime, the Paladins got touchdown runs by Hamp Sisson, Dominic Roberto and third-string quarterback Jack Hardin in the second half to complete the scoring. The 30-yard keeper was the first touchdown of Hardin's career.

A total of 71 Paladins participated Saturday, 10 of whom had at least 16 yards rushing. Wynn led the way with 83 yards on 11 carries. Grainger and Sisson each went 3-for-5 passing. Grainger had 32 yards in the air, while Sisson had 86.

"We played both (Grainger and Sisson on a two-series rotation) well into the game because they just haven't played that much football, especially Hamp," Hendrix said. "I kind of hated scoring that last touchdown, but I was also happy that we had a quarterback finally pull the ball on that play. I was happy for (Hardin) to be able to come in there and execute."

Furman's defense racked up 14 tackles for loss, including five sacks. Freshman backup tackle Cameron Coleman had team-highs in tackles (six), tackles-for-loss (four) and sacks (two) to lead the way.

"We've got a good team, a good bunch of kids that play good together. I think we will be a handful for anybody (in the playoffs)," Hendrix said. "We've been a good team on the road. We'd like to play here at least one of them, but it doesn't matter. We will just prepare and I think this bunch will be excited to go play."

Paladins collect lopsided win, needed rest

Tre Clark had eight points and 10 deflections in Furman's 90-45 win
over Columbia International Friday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Coming off its first loss and a long bus ride home from Alabama Tuesday night, Furman got just what the doctor ordered Friday night. The Paladins took a a big enough lead in the first half that their normal rotation got plenty of rest in a 90-45 win over NAIA member Columbia International.

Noah Gurley had 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, along with a game-high four assists, three steals and no turnovers to lead the way for Furman, which had no starter play more than 21 minutes. Jordan Lyons scored 14, while Alex Hunter and Mike Bothwell each had 12 also for the Paladins.

After barely shooting 30 percent from the floor in the loss at Alabama Tuesday, the Paladins hit 64.4 percent from the floor Friday, including 25-of-36 (69.4 percent) in the first half. Furman finished with 21 assists and nine turnovers.

"It was a complete performance across the board tonight and I was proud of our focus," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "I thought (the rest) was critical. We got in at 5 a.m. Wednesday morning and everybody was pretty exhausted. ... Yesterday, everybody was still kind of dragging but there were things we had to do practice-wise just to get ready for today.
"We'll take tomorrow off, which we all desperately need. We will get back to work Sunday and Monday and gear up to go be ready to play 80 minutes of Furman basketball in back-to-back days, which isn't easy. It's going to be a lot, but this group will be ready to roll."

As part of the Battle 4 Atlantis, Furman will play at Elon Tuesday at 7 p.m., then face UT Arlington on Elon's home court Wednesday at 3 p.m.

Columbia International, which trailed Mercer by five at the half and Charleston Southern by six at the half in other games against Division I competition this year, hung around early on Friday. Furman held a four-point lead before outscoring the Rams 33-5 over the final 11:35 of the half to take a 55-23 lead into halftime.

"We weren't too pleased with how we played in the last home game last Friday against Southern Wesleyan," Lyons said. "We knew we had to come in with a better mentality and more locked in and focused. ... I think everyone that played, played really hard and were connected."

What keyed that huge first-half spurt was defense, specifically a 1-3-1 look that offered up plenty of traps that Columbia International could not escape. That led to many of Furman's season-high 38 deflections. Ten of those were by Tre Clark, who also had eight points, four rebounds, two assists and two blocks in a team-high 23 minutes off the bench.

"Tre Clark was phenomenal tonight. That's the first double-digit deflection game anyone has had since Matt Rafferty last year," Richey said. "It was a great effort from our guys, especially from the defensive end tonight. We had the right focus on that end to start the game and to start the second half with that sizable margin at halftime."

Friday's game offered Furman's reserves their most extended on-court time this season and freshman Ben Beeker took advantage. After playing only 15 minutes all season, Beeker logged 18 Friday. While he only had two points, he also had five rebounds, three assists, one steal, no turnovers and a ton of hustle.

There were plenty of highlight reel plays Friday, including thunderous dunks by Jalen Slawson on back-to-back possessions, a give-and-go play where Gurley made a gorgeous bounce pass to Lyons as he soared in for a layup and alley oop passes for dunks by Clark and Clay Mounce.

Beeker got his highlight when he had a full extension dive to the floor for a loose ball. Careful not to travel, Beeker was on his back at midcourt when he made a no-look (because really was in no position to clearly see) pass to Lyons for a 3-point attempt. While Lyons shot rattled out, Bothwell was there for an easy putback.

"He's a smart kid and you can tell he's a kid who really wants its," Lyons said. "All the things that we try to embody in our culture, Ben's done a good job of showing he's willing to do that. ... For a freshman to already buy into it every day, that's awesome."

Furman has essentially used a seven-man rotation thus far this season. Beeker may have forced an expansion of that.

"If I'm being 100 percent honest, we've been trying to give it (another rotation spot) to another guard, but after watching his limited minutes, practice and tonight ... when you have a player that's trying to play the right way, whose bought into how we want to play and doing it with an effort we want, I think it's on us as a staff at that point to get it figured it out," Richey said. "That's why he was eighth (in the rotation) tonight and if he keeps doing what he's doing, he's probably going to stay there (and play more)."

Friday, November 22, 2019

Gordon set to top Furman's receiving chart

Thomas Gordon is on the cusp of becoming Furman's
all-time leading receiver. Photo courtesy of Furman
Thomas Gordon has been through a lot during his Furman football career. The senior wide receiver has had two head coaches, three offensive coordinators and caught passes from six quarterbacks over the last four years.

With all the different personnel around him and during all the different styles of offense Gordon has played in, his production has remained steady. When Furman takes on Point in the regular season finale Saturday at Paladin Stadium, it should be career start No. 39 for him. He should leave the field Saturday as the leading receiver in school history.

Gordon enters Saturday with 2,461 receiving yards in his career, just 18 away from being No. 1 on the school's all-time list. Among the others on that top 10, Gordon has the fifth highest average per reception at 16 yards per catch. He ranks third in all-time receptions (154) and ninth in touchdown catches (11).

"I've worked hard to get to this point, but a lot of coaches and teammates have made sacrifices to get me to this point," Gordon said. "I couldn't have done it by myself."

Furman coach Clay Hendrix said what makes Gordon successful on Saturdays is the work he puts in the rest of the week.

"He's one of the best practice players we have. It's really important to him and he's a big-time competitor," Hendrix said. "And he's learned the details. If you go hard but you don't do it the right way it's not enough. He's come around to figuring out those details really well."

The one constant during Gordon's Furman career has been his position coach, Brian Bratton. Bratton, a former standout Paladin receiver as well, has been actually been a part of Gordon's life longer than that.

"When I was 14 years old, I went to a Team USA camp in Rock Hill and that's when I first met Coach Bratton," Gordon said. "Later on, I'd gotten invited to a Junior Day. Nobody really knew me, but Coach Bratton remembered me from that camp."

After a senior year at Mallard Creek (N.C.) High in which Gordon won a state football championship and two state titles in track, he was off to Furman.

It didn't take long for Gordon to make an impact for the Paladins. He caught his first pass in week two of his freshman year. The following week, he scored his first touchdown. That actually came on a run as he took a jet sweep handoff to the end zone. The week after that, he caught his first touchdown. Gordon earned All-SoCon freshman team honors as he finished second on the team in receptions (43) and yards (629). His freshman year was highlighted by catching an 83-yard touchdown pass, the seventh-longest reception in school history.

While Gordon enjoyed a fine season, the Paladins did not going 3-8 in 2016. Hendrix took over as head coach following the season. When Hendrix got the job, he retained two Furman assistants - Duane Vaughn and Bratton. That was obviously an important part of Gordon's Furman story.

"That was huge. ... Coach Bratton staying was a big part of me staying," Gordon said. "He's been transparent with me since day one and I didn't want to leave him.
"I didn't know if I was going to play receiver when I got here because I played cornerback at Mallard Creek. But Coach Bratton believed in me and gave me confidence. My first day of (preseason) camp, he was giving me reps with the ones (first team). Then I knew I had an opportunity to play and I just took advantage of it."

Hendrix's arrival meant quite a change in offensive philosophy. While Furman became more of a run-based offense, then-offensive coordinator Drew Cronic assured Gordon that he would be part of a big-play, vertical passing attack when the Paladins took the air that season.

Cronic was right. Despite missing a pair of games to injury in 2017, Gordon led the team with 713 yards receiving and averaged 18.4 yards per catch. That helped Furman lead the Southern Conference in scoring at 34.2 points per game, as the Paladins went 8-5 and advanced to round two of the FCS playoffs.

While Furman's redshirt freshmen quarterbacks Darren Grainger and Hamp Sisson have had their ups and downs this season, Gordon has saved his best for last. At Georgia State, he set a career-high for receiving yards (163). Against VMI, he had a career-high 10 catches and against Samford, he matched the school record with three touchdowns receptions.

Hendrix is proud of the kind of leader Gordon has become, especially this season. That leadership is not done as much vocally as it's is by example.

"With the quarterbacks kind of being inconsistent, it's made it a challenge to get him the ball and our opponents know it. I know it's been frustrating for him (how teams have defended) at times, but he's handled that really well and become a good leader in that young (receiver) group," Hendrix said. "He's impressive to watch every day. He's like the Energizer bunny. He just never stops.
"There's times I've told Brian (Bratton), 'put somebody in there for him,' particularly in the the early part of the year when it was hotter. We needed to save him because he'll just go and go and go."

An obvious dream for Gordon is to continue his football career at the highest level. If an NFL career isn't in the cards, who knows, maybe Gordon follows in the footsteps of his position coach as a star receiver in the CFL. That's another part of the guidance Bratton could help provide, but Gordon says those conversations can wait. He's just fully focused on helping the Paladins win Saturday and making another trip to the playoffs.

Whenever football ends, Gordon knows the value of the Furman education he's also acquired.

"That's why I came to Furman," Gordon said of getting his degree. "The most important thing for me is to graduate. If the NFL or another professional league comes, then that's good too.
"We just want to keep on playing here and long as we can. ... The guys in my class have put in a lot of work to get to this point. ... Just believing in the culture and making our own standard. It's going to carry on here for a long time."

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The point of playing Point

Furman's Quandarius Weems (13) makes a tackle during the
Paladins loss at Wofford. Photo courtesy of Furman
With its hopes of earning an outright Southern Conference championship dashed in last Saturday's 24-7 loss at Wofford, the Furman football team has turned its attention to Point in the regular season finale this Saturday at Paladin Stadium. Point is an NAIA team coached by former Furman standout player and assistant Julius Dixon. Dixon was a captain on the 1988 national championship team.

It's an unusual opponent in an unusual time of the season and it took an unusual path to get scheduled. As Coach Clay Hendrix said in his weekly Monday press conference, Furman's first game against a non-Division I team in 11 years was a necessary one for a number of reasons.

Two years ago, a Furman opponent scheduled for this season asked to move the game back of couple of years and the Paladins agreed. Hendrix said they spent eight-nine months trying to find a replacement with no luck. Then when the SoCon schedule for this season came out earlier than normal, Furman drew a bye for the final week of the regular season.

"Nobody has an available playing spot the last week of the regular season. Last year, we lost (playing) a game (Colgate) to a hurricane and we were sitting here with the prospect of losing another game this year," Hendrix said. "Division II's not allowed because their playoffs begin this week. There were literally two teams in the country who could play and Point was one of them.
"Given our history with Julius Dixon, we chose to play them, and even then they had to write an appeal to the NAIA to be able to play the game. I'm appreciative of Point for our kids to have the chance to play a 12th game."

It will be Furman's first non-Div. I opponent since facing Mars Hill in 2008. In the 10 years since then, every other SoCon team has played a non-Div. I opponent at least twice combining for a total of 38 games.

When looking at the schedule prior to the season, Hendrix said he also didn't want to risk having back-to-back bye weeks should Furman have received one of the eight seeds in the FCS playoffs.

Hosting Point gives Furman six regular season home games for the first time since the 2014 season. It comes a year after the Paladins played just four times at Paladin Stadium thanks to the Colgate game being cancelled. Not having a chance to earn a seventh win last season - against a Colgate team it beat 45-14 on the road in 2017 - likely cost Furman an FCS playoff bid.

A win Saturday would give Furman (7-4) eight regular season wins for the first time since 2006, Hendrix's last year as an assistant here. While a convincing victory over Point (5-6) may not boost the Paladins' playoff resume, it certainly should not hurt it. Kennesaw State moved up three spots in the FCS' Coaches poll following it's 59-0 win over Point to open the season.

"I certainly feel like if we take care of business, we have a great chance to play again next week," Hendrix said. "We're going to get back to basics a little bit this week. I told our team, 'we're going to play the guys that practice the best this week.' ... We've just got to play better and be more productive at certain positions, and we've got to coach better."

Defense gave Paladins a chance
There's no doubt Furman was defeated in the trenches at Wofford last Saturday. But it wasn't quite as one-sided as it felt or looked on the scoreboard. The biggest problem defensively for the Paladins was when they allowed the Terriers to score touchdowns - on the first two drives of the game to take control, and the first drive of the second half to take command.

Overall, Wofford outgained Furman 336-265. During the Terriers' seven-game winning streak in FCS play, that's far and away the fewest total yards and points they've had. Wofford was averaging 45 points a game in those previous six FCS games. Here's the total yards the Terriers posted in those games: Gardner-Webb (575), VMI (581), ETSU (464), Western Carolina (613), Chattanooga (452) and Mercer (558).

It seemed that of the times Furman stopped Wofford, it was a big play made by someone in the secondary. Of the five tackles-for-loss the Paladins had, three were by cornerbacks - Travis Blackshear, Amir Trapp and Quandarius Weems. Meanwhile, spur Jordan Willis led the team with eight tackles.

"I don't think we had many guys that played really well on either side of the ball, but our corners did," Hendrix said.

The difference in the game essentially came down to the two goal line stands by Wofford's defense and the Terriers' field goal off the game's lone turnover. For arguably the 10th time this season, Furman's defense gave the team a chance to win.

"We gave them the last three (points) with the turnover, which is another play that should've been a first down completion. But if you had told me they would've scored 21 points, I'd have said 'we will win,' " Hendrix said. "It's kind of like how we've played defense all year. We've bent a little bit at times, but we kind of find ways to keep people in check. That's the reason we lead the league in scoring defense."

Poll changes, etc.
Furman fell from seventh to 15th in this week's FCS Coaches poll, and from ninth to 17th in the STATS poll. ... Devin Wynn had 56 yards rushing Saturday to become Furman's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2013. The junior has 1,038 yards this season. ... The FCS playoff selection show is scheduled for Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

Cold Paladins suffer first loss at Alabama

Jordan Lyons had 33 points, including 31 in the second half, but Furman
fell to Alabama, 81-73, Tuesday night. Photo courtesy of Furman
The Furman basketball team has put up plenty of signature wins over the last few years, but one that has eluded the Paladins has been on an Southeastern Conference floor. A cold shooting night Tuesday at Alabama allowed another of those chances to slip away.

Furman saw a six-point second half lead disappear under a mountain of missed field goals as the Crimson Tide pulled away for an 81-73 victory. The Paladins (4-1) shot 30.9 percent from the floor Tuesday to fall to 20-3 in their last 23 non-conference games. Those other two losses came at Tennessee and LSU.

"Give those guys credit. They made plays down the stretch and they responded when we had the lead up six," Furman coach Bob Richey said in his postgame interview on the Furman Radio Network. "Our guys played with extreme toughness tonight. ... I thought we fought and the effort was great, but this will always be a make-or-miss game. You've got to keep people from making and you've got to go make.
"Overall, I thought our shot quality was really good, but at the end of the day - especially on a court like this in an environment like this, you've got be able to ring the bell."

In a pretty sloppy first half in which Furman forced 14 turnovers but scored only eight points off of them, Alabama held a 34-31 lead. After scoring just two points in the first half, Jordan Lyons got the Paladins rolling out of the locker room after halftime. Lyons' game-tying 3-pointer 18 seconds into the second half started an 11-2 run. Lyons had eight points in that spurt, capping it with another 3-pointer, as Furman took a 42-36 lead with 17:22 left.

The Paladins could not build on that lead, however, as they simply couldn't buy a bucket. They missed 12 consecutive field goals before Lyons hit a 3-pointer with 10:46 left. He made a jumper 50 seconds later to tie the game. After a technical foul was called on Alabama coach Nate Oats, Lyons drained a pair of free throws to give Furman a 52-50 lead.

Then it was another cold spell for the Paladins, as it hit just one of its next 10 shots over a span of 7:15. That allowed Alabama to take its biggest lead at 12 points with less than three minutes remaining.

Furman didn't quit though. Lyons hit three consecutive 3-pointers - one of which turned into a four-point play - in a span of 16 seconds to cut the Tide's lead to 78-73 with 47 seconds left, but the Paladins couldn't get any closer. Alabama (2-2) hit 9-of-10 free throws over the final 1:18 to seal the win.

"They (Alabama) had an enormous amount of length out there and what they were trying to do was take our layups, post play and drives to the rim away and just make us shoot from the edges," Richey said. "If we make them, I think we come out the victor, but unfortunately tonight we didn't.
"We've got to find ways to get better. Effort isn't enough in this game. We're not walking out of here disappointed and discouraged, but at the same time, we've got to walk out of here hungry to figure out what we have to do to improve."

Lyons had 31 of Furman's 42 second half points to finish with a season-high 33. He also had four assists, including two on the three field goals hit by other Paladins in the second half. Clay Mounce was the only other Paladin in double figures with 13 points in a full 40 minutes. Alex Hunter had team-highs in rebounds (eight) and assists (six) and no turnovers once again. In 161 minutes played this season, Furman's junior point guard has yet to commit a turnover.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Autobid hopes die in another loss at Wofford

Wayne Anderson runs for a 63-yard touchdown in Furman's
24-7 loss at Wofford Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
SPARTANBURG - Another futile trip to Wofford will lead to another nervous selection Sunday in eight days for the seventh-ranked Furman football team. With a chance to lock up the Southern Conference's autobid, potentially take another step toward getting a top eight playoff seed, and earn its first outright league championship since 1990, the Paladins had another letdown at Gibbs Stadium Saturday.

No. 20 Wofford became the first team to stop Furman in the red zone in a high leverage situation all season, and the Terriers did it twice to secure a 24-7 win. It's the Paladins' seventh consecutive loss in Spartanburg. That's the longest road losing streak for Furman against any current SoCon team. Among former yearly opponents, only Appalachian State enjoyed a longer home win streak against the Paladins as Furman lost on each of its last nine trips to Boone.

After clinching at least a share of the SoCon title, Wofford (7-3, 6-1) got to celebrate more an hour later. When Citadel blew a 13-point fourth quarter lead in a 34-33 loss at Chattanooga, that gave the Terriers the league's autobid to the playoffs.

"Give them all the credit. My hats off to Coach (Josh) Conklin, his staff and team. They just played and coached a lot better than we did," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I don't think we had very much energy in the first half.
"Offensively, we couldn't get anything going. ... And then (defensively) they were able to pound it away at us."

Furman (7-4, 6-2) can still earn a share of the SoCon crown should Wofford lose at Citadel next Saturday, but that won't lessen any anxiety the following day during the playoff selection show. The Paladins found out last year that being the league champ doesn't guarantee anything. Still, one would imagine Furman would not fall out of the top 15 following Saturday's loss. When the Paladins received an at-large bid to the 2016 playoffs, they were ranked No. 22 after ending the regular season with a loss at Samford.

Facing a true option-based, run-heavy attack for the second time this season, Saturday was eerily similar to the first when the Paladins fell to Citadel, 27-10.

Against Citadel on Oct. 19: Furman received the opening kickoff and scored on its opening possession, but trailed 7-3 at the half; a Grayson Atkins' kickoff went out of bounds for the first time in his stellar career; Furman allowed 360 yards rushing, but was held to 172; the Paladins had just 44 yards on 5-of-25 passing; Furman lost by 17.

Against Wofford Saturday: Furman received the opening kickoff and scored on its opening possession, but trailed 14-7 at the half; an Atkins' kickoff went out of bounds for the second time in his stellar career; Furman allowed 288 yards rushing, but was held to 167; the Paladins had just 98 yards on 13-of-30 passing; Furman lost by 17.

Part of the Paladins' loss Saturday came in the trenches. Furman leading rusher Devin Wynn, who was averaging 7.1 yards a carry entering Saturday, was held to 56 yards on 15 carries (3.7 per carry). While the Paladins limited Wofford leading rusher Joe Newman to 40 yards on seven carries, tailback Blake Morgan went off for a career-high 147 yards on 22 carries.

"We didn't come out and execute the way we needed to," said Jordan Willis, who had a game-high eight tackles. "It was probably our best week of preparation, but once we got on the field they just wanted it more today.
"We were just waiting for somebody else to make the play today. Nobody took charge and went after it. ... Against the option, everyone has to have eyes on their keys. When one person doesn't, it leads to different explosive plays and we let them have too many."

While Furman had trouble with Wofford's rushing attack, the defense did enough to give the Paladins a chance. The Terriers had been averaging 45 points a game during their six-game winning streak against FCS teams entering Saturday, but had 21 before adding a fourth quarter field goal following the game's lone turnover.

"We didn't play very well on defense, but we did hang in there which I was proud of," Hendrix said.

After Wayne Anderson's 63-yard touchdown run on the fourth play of the game, Furman's offense just sputtered. Meanwhile, Wofford's offense had touchdown drives on its first two possessions before being forced to punt on its other three of the first half.

Mistakes and odd plays hurt Furman's offense in the second quarter. The Paladins crossed midfield on their first drive of the second before two of their three penalties for the game came on back-to-back plays to force a first-and-25 and effectively kill that drive.

After taking possession near midfield on the next drive, it ended on fourth-and-four when Hamp Sisson's pass to Wynn went for no gain. With the wind at their back and 49 seconds left in the half, Darren Grainger went in at quarterback for a drive that began at Furman's 18-yard line. It could be assumed Grainger went in because of his strong arm, but none of his passes got to show it. That drive ended on a third-and-six incompletion to Thomas Gordon that may have gone for three yards had it been caught.

Wofford opened the second half with a 76-yard scoring drive to go up 21-7. Just as the Terriers did on their first drive of the first half, they converted a fourth down on it giving them 12-of-14 fourth down conversions this season.

It appeared Furman was set to answer when it drove down on its ensuing possession and had first-and-goal from the Wofford three. After Wynn was stopped for no gain, Grainger entered the game at wide receiver for the first time ever. As everyone in the stadium might've expected, a jump ball pass was thrown to the 6-foot-4 Grainger. He could never jump though as he was hugged by Wofford's George Gbesee. While there was inexplicably no flag thrown, it was also a rather inexplicable call for a team that has dominated like no other in the red zone all year.

On third-and-goal, Wynn got two yards down to the one. On fourth down, it appeared Sisson may have snuck into the end zone but whistles stopped play as Furman had called timeout. Coming out of the break, Wynn was stopped for a loss of one to turn it over on downs.

"If we get that one in, it's a one-score possession late in the third quarter," Hendrix said. "That's just disappointing and that's on me. We didn't do what we had to do to get it in the end zone.
"We threw the fade route over there and didn't get a call. I'd like to have that one back, but you ought to be able to line up and get a yard. At the end of the day, we didn't block very good."

Entering Saturday, Furman had scored on 34-of-36 trips to the red zone with 32 touchdowns. The only two scoreless trips came in the fourth quarter of blowout wins over Mercer and VMI. After being stopped when going full force for a red zone score for the first time, it happened again in the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-goal at the one, Dominic Roberto was stopped for no gain with 42 seconds left.

While a score there might not have meant much in the grand scheme of things, a 24-14 loss may have been more aesthetically pleasing than a 24-7 one to poll voters. And also to committees who will determine Furman's future following next Saturday's regular season finale against Point.

Gurley's perfect 10 leads Paladins to win

Noah Gurley went 10-for-10 from the floor and scored a career-high 25 points
in Furman's 83-61 win over Southern Wesleyan. Photo courtesy of Furman
Noah Gurley had a perfect night from the floor and scored a career-high 25 points to lead Furman to an 83-61 win over Southern Wesleyan at Timmons Arena Friday night. Gurley made 10-of-10 field goals, and also had five rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals.

Gurley joins Russ Hunt as the only players in school history to take at least 10 shots without a miss in a game. Hunt's performance came in a 101-91 win over Appalachian State on Dec. 9, 1971.

"I just tried to get deep touches right around the rim. Their zone was kind of messing us up in the beginning, but coach just said to run the man offense," Gurley said in the postgame press conference. "I just tried to take what the game gave me."

The ironic thing about Gurley's career-high performance was that he had no shots over the first 14 minutes of the game. As it did Tuesday night at Charleston Southern, Furman (4-0) jumped out to an 8-0 lead 90 seconds in on a Jalen Slawson dunk and a pair of 3-pointers by Jordan Lyons.

That helped build a 28-14 lead as the Paladins took early command of the Division II visitors from Central. The Warriors stormed back though with a 14-0 run over a span of just 2:19 to pull even at 28-28 with 7:31 left in the first half.

Then Gurley took over. His hook shot with 5:50 left snapped the tie and started a 14-3 run to end the half. Gurley had 12 of Furman's 14 points in that spurt as the Paladins took a 42-31 lead into halftime.

"Once Noah got going, we were just figuring out any way we could get it to him," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Credit to Noah and Slawson. They were 14-for-14 in the post and played really well."

Southern Wesleyan got the lead down to as close as eight at 44-36 in the second half before Gurley started another run. His layup with 15:07 left started a 15-4 spurt, capped by Gurley's jumper that made it 59-40 with 9:40 to play. Gurley had eight of the 15 points in that run.

Lyons finished with 11 points and moved into second place on Furman's all-time 3-pointer list with 217 for his career. Slawson had 10 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks, while Clay Mounce also scored 10. Alex Hunter scored nine points and Mike Bothwell had eight off the bench also for the Paladins.

"We did some pretty good things offensively, especially in the second half," Richey said. "Defensively, we weren't as disciplined as we need to be and our team knows that. ... There's a lot that we will be able to take from this and we'll be able to clean some things up."

Friday, November 15, 2019

Furman looks to 'leave no doubt' one last time

Hamp Sisson threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns in his first start as
Furman defeated VMI 60-21 last Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Saturday will be a day 357 days in the making for Furman's football team. That's how long it will have been since last year's FCS Playoff selection show, in which the Paladins became the second Southern Conference champion to ever be left out of the field.

Ever since that disappointing day, the team's mantra has been 'leave no doubt.' A victory Saturday would do just that. No. 7 Furman (7-3, 6-1) can clinch it's 15th SoCon title and - unlike last season - have the crown all to itself thus ensuring the league's autobid to the playoffs.

To accomplish this, the Paladins must do something they will have not done in 4,796 days - win at Wofford. This year's trip to Spartanburg should once again be a big challenge for Furman, which last won there on Sept. 30, 2006. After opening the season with two losses to fall from the top 10 to out of the polls entirely, the Terriers (6-3, 5-1) are back in at No. 20 after not losing an FCS game since. Only one of those six consecutive FCS wins was decided by less than 15 points - a 35-34 overtime win against Chattanooga.

"We're where we've wanted to be all along - in the last conference game having a chance to win the championship," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "It will certainly a big challenge against a really good Wofford team who was the pretty unanimous pick as the conference favorite coming into the year.
"Statistically, they're one of the best teams in many categories across the board. We're excited to go play. I think we will have a chance to have a great crowd and an incredible environment."

The winner of Citadel (6-4, 4-2) and Chattanooga (5-5, 4-2), who meet Saturday in Chattanooga, could find itself in the title picture with a loss by the Paladins. However, the Furman-Wofford matchup has all the makings of a championship fight between the two best teams in the league.

The Terriers and Paladins rank No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the SoCon in total offense, total defense, rushing offense, third-down conversion percentage and third-down defense. Wofford also leads the league in rushing defense, punt return average, sacks by, sacks against, opponent first downs and fourth-down conversion percentage. Meanwhile, Furman ranks No. 1 in the league in scoring offense, scoring defense, interceptions, punting average, field goal percentage, turnover margin, red zone offense and red zone defense.

After its vaunted option rushing attack was shut down by Kennesaw State in last year's playoffs, Wofford opened this season with a new approach on offense. After scoring 13 and 14 points in those first two losses, respectively, the Terriers got back to their roots of running the ball and have averaged 45 points a game in FCS play since.

Joe Newman has led Wofford's explosive offensive attack. Newman leads the Terriers in rushing with 805 yards (89.4 per game). He has 11 touchdowns and is third in the FCS in yards per carry at 7.5. After going 7-for-17 passing for 114 yards and three interceptions in Wofford's season-opening loss to S.C. State, and completing 3-of-6 for six yards in the game two loss to Samford, Newman's passing has significantly improved. In the seven games since, Newman's completed 45-of-77 throws (58.4 percent) for 816 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions.

"With the nature of good running football teams, you're going to get some good opportunities in the passing game. They've hit a lot of big plays, both running and passing," Hendrix said. "Newman has had a phenomenal year and he is clearly the guy that makes them go. ... I don't know how many times you've watched them where somebody comes free and they can't get him on the ground. He keeps plays alive.
"They've got a number of backs that can make big plays too. ... They're really good up front and really old."

Furman's offense will look to pick up where it left off in last week's 60-21 win over VMI. The Paladins had their third game with more than 600 yards of total offense this season. It was the first one under redshirt freshman quarterback Hamp Sisson, who completed 17-of-22 passes for 277 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in his first collegiate start. Sisson also ran six times for 39 yards.

Devin Wynn, who's sixth in the country averaging 7.1 yards per carry, accounted for five touchdowns last week and is 18 yards away from 1,000 yards rushing this season. Senior receiver Thomas Gordon is 31 yards away from becoming the leading receiver in school history.

In each of Hendrix's three seasons as head coach, Furman has entered the SoCon finale with a shot at the conference championship. The Paladins needed a little help from other teams to make the playoffs in 2017 and to earn a share of the SoCon title in 2018. On Saturday, the scoreboard atop the hill at Gibbs Stadium will be the only one that matters.

"It's nice not having to count on anybody else. It's right there for us, other than there's a really good team we've got to play," Hendrix said. "It's fun to be able to just focus on one game and not worry about anything else.
"If you take care of business, play well and you're fortunate enough to win, there will be no doubt. If you don't, again you're leaving some doubt for somebody else to make a decision for you."

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Paladins post largest road win in 67 years

Clay Mounce scored all of his game-high 19 points in the first half as Furman
crushed Charleston Southern, 91-47, Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Furman
NORTH CHARLESTON -  The first opponent Furman ever faced as a ranked team last year was Charleston Southern. On that night in Greenville, the 23rd-ranked Paladins committed 18 turnovers and allowed the Buccaneers to hit 45.5 percent, but survived for an eight-point win.

Coming off two impressive wins last week and playing in a tiny arena Furman has never won in, you maybe had to wonder if a similar kind of performance would happen in the rematch Tuesday night.

Uhh, no.

Clay Mounce made more field field goals than Charleston Southern did in the first half and the Paladins rolled to a 91-47 win at the "Buc Dome." Furman (3-0) is now 1-4 all-time at the second-smallest arena (881 capacity) in Division I. It's the largest margin of win by the Paladins on the road since a 114-67 win at the College of Charleston on Jan. 17, 1953.

"I didn't expect this tonight, in terms of the margin. Our group is just really connected right now," said Furman coach Bob Richey, who was an assistant at CSU the last time the Paladins visited in 2009. "We were three points away from having seven double figure scorers. That's just been the power of our group, making sure on both ends of the floor that we stay connected.
"Our guys are just focused. We obviously took Saturday off (after a blowout win over Loyola Chicago Friday) and the way they practiced Sunday was incredible."

The Paladins opened the game on an 8-0 run and that was not its largest of the half. They went on a 14-0 spurt to push the lead to 26-6 and a 9-0 run made it 47-12 before Furman took a 48-14 lead into halftime. Mounce hit 7-of-9 shots in the first half, including 4-of-6 3-pointers, to account for all of his game-high 19 points.

Meanwhile, the Paladins held Charleston Southern (1-2) to 18.2 percent on 6-of-33 shooting from the floor. The Bucs, who entered Tuesday 7-for-38 on 3-pointers this season, went 0-for-15 from beyond the arc in the first half.

"We just came out hot and ready to play tonight. ... We just came out with more emotion and energy than we did last year against them," Mounce said. "My teammates were doing a great job getting me good looks. When we just keep the ball moving and everyone's cutting, we're hard to guard. I just had the good side of that tonight, but it could be anyone.
"It was huge for us to come out 8-0. Coach Richey told us this place will get loud. Luckily, we never really let them get going and let the crowd get into it."

While Mounce, who also had half of Furman's six steals, was the lone double figure scorer in the first half, plenty of teammates joined him in that department later. Mike Bothwell had 12 points and a team-high four assists off the bench, Noah Gurley had 11 points and 11 rebounds, while Jordan Lyons and Jalen Slawson also scored 11 apiece.

Slawson put on a highlight reel playing back near his hometown of Summerville. The sophomore had a steal and a windmill dunk midway through the first half that gave Furman a 30-8 lead. Later in the half, Slawson was at the top of the key when he made a perfect bounce pass to Mounce streaking down the baseline for a dunk. He had another steal and fancy slam in the second half.

Just missing double figures was Alex Hunter, who scored nine, and Tre Clark, who had eight on 4-of-4 shooting. Clark also had five rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot in 18 minutes off the bench.

Furman shot 54.5 percent from the floor in the first half and 53.1 percent in the second half. The Bucs improved after halftime but shot 32.8 percent for the game. CSU missed a total of 41 shots, which helped the Paladins win the rebounding battle 44-28. Richey said counting Furman's two exhibitions, it's the first time the Paladins have outrebounded an opponent this season.

The Paladins forced 15 turnovers and seemingly made the Bucs pay for all of them, as they enjoyed a 31-6 advantage in points off turnovers.

"Defensively, we were able to really put the game plan to work. ... Offensively, I thought our ball movement was pretty good," Richey said. "It was really a thing of beauty tonight."

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Furman's defense rises to the occasion again

Adrian Hope gets one of his two sacks Saturday in Furman's
60-21 win over VMI. Photo courtesy of Furman
Each of the last two weeks, Furman has been faced with slowing down a leading rusher in the country. While Chattanooga's Ailym Ford and VMI's Alex Ramsey each got their yards against the Paladins, the vast majority of those were posted in the first half.

Ford, who was injured after only three rushing attempts Saturday against Samford and now ranks fifth in the FCS in rushing, had 179 yards on 21 carries on Nov. 2 against Furman. However, he had only 34 yards on six carries in the second half that day as the Paladins pulled away for a 35-20 win.

On Saturday, it was deja vu all over again. Ramsey, who's second in the country in rushing, had 132 yards on 20 carries for VMI. In the second half though, Ramsey had 20 yards on six carries as Furman pulled away for a 60-21 win.

Making Ramsey a non-factor after halftime was truly a team effort. Ramsey's national-best 22nd rushing touchdown - and second Saturday - cut Furman's lead to 22-21 with 3:36 left in the first half. Between that point and the 9:07 mark of the third quarter, VMI had only three offensive snaps while the Paladins had pushed their lead to 39-21. In the third quarter, Ramsey had four carries for six yards and by the time he touched the ball in the fourth, the scoreboard read 53-21.

"It's all about effort getting to the football, which will be huge this week as well," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said during Monday's weekly press conference. "If you take about three plays away ... I think we played incredibly well against him. I think the same thing happened against the Chattanooga kid the week before."

In addition to their efforts against Ramsey, the Paladins also controlled VMI's vaunted passing attack. Keydets' quarterback Reece Udinski was 23-of-34 passing for 213 yards, his lowest output of the season against FCS competition. Furman had a pair of interceptions Saturday giving Udinski - who set an FCS record this year with 368 consecutive passes without an interception - three this season.

"All week we planned to get after the quarterback. Coach (Duane) Vaughn put us in some great schemes and we were able to get after him," said sophomore Adrian Hope, who had two of Furman's four sacks Saturday to move into third place on the school's career ledger with 20.5.

Those efforts were part of the fourth second-half shutout this season for Furman, which also held VMI to its lowest point total in Southern Conference play. In seven SoCon games this year, the Paladins have allowed a total of 31 points in the second half with 20 of those owned by Citadel.

"They have a kid who leads the conference in rushing and another who leads the conference in passing, so we knew they were a good offensive team whose scored on everybody," Hendrix said. "The biggest thing was how we handled some adversity (of VMI's three consecutive touchdown drives). We probably didn't adjust as much as you think we did. We tried to tighten up a few things and played a little better."

Players of the week
Furman running back Devin Wynn and kicker/punter Grayson Atkins earned SoCon Offensive and Special Teams Player of the Week honors, respectively, Monday.

Atkins owns 36.4 percent of the SoCon Special Teams weekly honors this season as he was cited for the fourth time. He had a chip shot 48-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, averaged 50.5 yards on two punts and had four touchbacks.

It's the second weekly honor this season for Wynn, who rushed for 102 yards on 15 carries despite VMI stacking the box against the run Saturday. Out of those 15 carries, four went for touchdowns and he was on the receiving end of another score. Wynn capped his day with a 59-yard touchdown run, giving him 982 yards rushing this season.

"Whether they were in goal line defense or not, we won a lot of 1-on-1 battles and our guys up front dominated," Wynn said Saturday. "Even when they forced us to pass, we were so good in that element too. It's just a credit to all our guys."

Top 20 battle set
When Furman (7-3, 6-1) travels to Spartanburg Saturday to face Wofford (6-3, 5-1) for the Southern Conference championship, it will be a battle of top 20 teams. The Paladins moved up three spots to No. 7 in this week's FCS Coaches poll, while the Terriers also moved up three to No. 20. Furman remained at No. 9 in the STATS poll, while Wofford moved up three to No. 21.

A Furman win Saturday would give it outright ownership of SoCon championship No. 15. A Wofford victory would put the Terriers in the driver's seat as the only team with one league loss, but could set up essentially another SoCon title game when the Terriers play at Citadel (6-4, 4-2) the following week. That scenario is dependent on what happens when Citadel plays at Chattanooga (5-5, 4-2) this Saturday.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Furman thumps VMI to set up SoCon title game

Furman's Thomas Gordon had 10 catches for 148 yards in the Paladins'
60-21 win over VMI Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Putting up 600 yards of total offense and keeping opponents off the scoreboard in the second half has been a recipe for success this football season for No. 9-ranked Furman. On Saturday, the Paladins did both. Furman collected more than 600 yards for the third time this season and posted a second-half shutout for the fourth time as the Paladins whipped VMI, 60-21, on Senior Day at Paladin Stadium.

The victory keeps Furman (7-3, 6-1) in first place in the Southern Conference, a half-game ahead of Wofford. It also sets up a showdown with the Terriers next Saturday in Spartanburg for the SoCon championship. A win by the Paladins would give them sole ownership of the title.

"It was just a great team win. I was really proud of our defense and how they played in the second half," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "It's nice to be down to one (SoCon game left) to focus on and obviously it's a huge one against a really good team.
"It's the third year in a row we will be playing for the conference championship in our last (conference) game of the season and that's where we want to be."

Making the first start of his collegiate career, Furman redshirt freshman Hamp Sisson looked like a veteran. In two-and-a-half quarters of work, he completed 17-of-22 passes for 277 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 39 yards on six carries and outdueled the SoCon's leading passer in VMI's Reece Udinski.

Udinski, who ranked No. 10 in the FCS at 292.3 yards per game entering Saturday, was held to 213 yards on 23-of-34 passing. He was also intercepted twice giving him three for the season. Udinski had thrown an FCS-record 368 consecutive passes without an interception before his first last week against Western Carolina. The 213-yard effort was Udinski's lowest against an FCS team this season. Only Marshall (192 yards) held him to fewer.

"You've got to give Hamp a lot of credit. That's his first collegiate start and he really hasn't played much before last week. I just can't say enough about him," Hendrix said. "They were daring us to throw it."

The game wasn't void of drama for 60 minutes like the final score might suggest. Although the way Furman started, it looked like it could have been. For the first time since ETSU on Sept. 28, the Paladins didn't allow an opponent to score on their first possession as they forced a three-and-out. Meanwhile Furman scored on its first two possessions to take a 15-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

Just when it looked like it was going to be one of those traditional Paladin beatdowns of VMI, the version of the Keydets that have given opponents fits this season showed up. VMI scored on three consecutive possessions, the last of which cut Furman's lead to 22-21 with 3:36 left in the first half. Out of the Keydets' 381 total yards of offense Saturday, 224 came on those three possessions.

For the third week in a row, Furman made a response with its two-minute offense. On Saturday, it made two. After a 43-yard run by Devin Abrams set the Paladins up at the VMI 22, Sisson threw a two-yard touchdown pass to Devin Wynn with 1:06 left.

VMI went for more points on its ensuing possession but on its second play, Udinski's pass was picked off by Darius Kearse who returned it 13 yards to the Furman 49. On 3rd-and-18, Sisson found Wayne Anderson over the middle for a 20-yard gain to the VMI 39 and Furman called timeout with eight seconds left.

After a nine-yard pass to senior Thomas Gordon got the ball a little closer, Grayson Atkins drilled a 48-yard field goal as time expired in the half and Furman took a 32-21 lead into the locker room.

That field goal was Furman's seventh different score with 1:20 or less in the first half this season.

"That was huge. ... We were trying to milk it down (on the touchdown), but left them a little time. Then we got the pick. Then it was about as good as you can draw it up," Hendrix said. "The thing about it is you get Grayson there now and it's like, 'Oh he will go knock a 48-yarder through. That's a chip shot.'
"I've been coaching a long time, but I don't remember (scoring on a two-minute drive before half) three weeks in a row. With two different quarterbacks as well."

Furman carried that momentum from the end of the first half into the second. The Paladins took the opening kickoff and and marched 80 yards on 12 plays and shaved 5:48 off the clock. Dominic Roberto's one-yard touchdown run capped the drive, which was highlighted by a 41-yard throw from Sisson to Gordon on third-and-10.

Just as it did to start the game, Furman's defense forced a three-and-out on VMI's first possession of the second half. Two plays later, Sisson hit Abrams in stride on a 71-yard touchdown to help push the lead to 46-21 and the rout was on. After a career-high 118-yard rushing day at Chattanooga last Saturday, Abrams had 115 all-purpose yards Saturday on just four touches.

"We had seen other teams hit them with that play (that Abrams scored on). We had a couple of different ways of running that and on the third time, we finally hit it," Sisson said. "I felt pretty comfortable. The coaches have done a great job throughout the year of preparing two quarterbacks and getting us a lot of reps in practice. That helped me feel prepared.
"Having great skill players around makes the job easier for whoever's in there."

Furman leading rusher Devin Wynn, who kept finding the end zone despite being rather contained by VMI's constant eight- and nine-man fronts, broke free on a 59-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. That final carry gave him 102 yards rushing and five touchdowns.

VMI's Alex Ramsey, who ranked third in the country in rushing entering Saturday, had 132 yards and two touchdowns, but only 20 yards on six carries after halftime.

Gordon finished with 148 yards on a career-high 10 catches. Seven of those receptions came in the first half as he and Sisson got in a steady rhythm early including a 10-yard completion on the first play of the game. Gordon moved past Isaac West and Adam Mims into second-place on Furman's all-time receiving yards list with 2,448.

"I just felt like if we came out hot, there was nothing that was going to stop. That first drives of both halves were key," Gordon said. "It's a fun offense to play in."

The Paladins finished with 338 yards passing and 298 rushing for a total of 636 yards, it's second-highest total of the season. The 60-point output was the most in a game since a 62-21 win over Presbyterian in 2011.

Friday, November 8, 2019

On electric opening night, Paladins deliver

Jordan Lyons and Jalen Slawson celebrate in Furman's 87-63 win over Loyola
Chicago in the Paladins' home opener Friday. Photo courtesy of Furman
No last second dunk needed this year.

One year after Clay Mounce's slam with 1.6 seconds left lifted Furman to a 60-58 win at Loyola Chicago, he took down the Ramblers from the outside in Friday's rematch at Timmons Arena. Mounce hit five 3-pointers and combined with Jordan Lyons for 46 points as the Paladins rolled to an 87-63 win.

Mounce's dunk last year was replayed all over ESPN and capped a rally over the 2018 Final Four participant that set the wheels in motion on Furman's historic 25-win season. That led to an absolutely electric atmosphere for Friday's rematch. The student section was overflowing 30 minutes before tip off. It was a sight so impressive that Loyola coach Porter Moser applauded the students and shook some of their hands in the pregame.

It was a home opener unlike senior Jordan Lyons has ever experienced.

"That crowd was unbelievable - the students and the community. They don't even know how much we appreciate that," Lyons said. "They did an unbelievable job of having energy, enthusiasm and excitement and we fueled off it. That was a big factor in helping us win a game like that versus a team like that."

By the start of the game Timmons Arena was full and the crowd got quite a treat. After taking a six-point lead into halftime, Furman (2-0) shot 64.3 percent from the floor in the second half. Lyons had 17 of his game-high 24 points in the second half as the Paladins outscored the Ramblers 53-35 after the break.

"To beat an opponent of that quality by that margin, it's a credit to our guys, our connection, our intensity and our effort," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We didn't always play perfect, but we sustained our intensity. I didn't feel any effort lulls in the course of the 40 minutes.
"I want to thank our administration, our AD Jason Donnelly and everybody that was involved ... in the whole operation of getting these students here. You can put that atmosphere against anybody - especially at this level. There's not many places you could've gone to watch college basketball tonight and felt that energy."

Loyola (1-1), which defeated UC Davis 82-48 in its season opener Tuesday, cut the lead to four on a layup 12 seconds into the second half. The Ramblers wouldn't get any closer though. Noah Gurley, who led the Paladins with 18 points in its season opening win Tuesday, made his first shot of the night on a dunk 13 seconds later and Mounce drilled a 3-pointer and Furman was on its way to a blowout.

The Ramblers got as close as seven with 13:22 to play and there was no scoring by either team for the next couple of minutes. With 11:39 left, Mounce got a jumper to fall and Lyons hit a 3-pointer a minute later. That helped start a 9-0 capped by Jalen Slawson's electric dunk, which was only spoiled by a terrible technical foul call for hanging on the rim. Loyola made its free throw and got a layup on its possession but never got the lead under 14 the rest of the way.

"In our walk-through, coach talked about the 34-6 run they went on last year up there. So with 10 minutes left ... that's still anybody's game," said Slawson, who nearly tripled his career-high with 14 points. "You just have to stay locked in. It's not an option not to."

Furman took a 34-28 lead into halftime, but probably felt like it should've led by more. The Paladins forced 13 turnovers in the first half, but had just eight points off those. Some of those missed opportunities came on layups, which Furman was 6-of-12 on in the first half.

The Paladins jumped out to a 5-0 lead on a Mounce 3-pointer and a Slawson steal and dunk. Furman trailed for just 17 seconds in the opening half and held Loyola scoreless for one stretch of 3:23 and another stretch of 5:05 in the first half. The Paladins took their biggest lead of the half at 34-24 on Mounce's third 3-pointer before Loyola scored the final two buckets, including a layup at the buzzer.

In the second half, Furman forced nine more turnovers - while only committing three - and scored 13 points off of those. The Paladins were 11-of-12 on layups in the second half and outscored Loyola 18-2 on fastbreak points for the game.

"When you shoot 64 percent in the second half, that means those are quality shots. We got a bunch of layups and most of the 3s we took were pretty open," Richey said. "I thought our ability to take care of the ball was critical, to go an entire game with only nine turnovers. Because of that, they only scored two points in transition. Outscoring them 18-2 in transition was a huge difference in the game."

Another key for Furman Friday was limiting Loyola big man Cameron Krutwig, a first team All-Missouri Valley pick last season, who had eight points, four rebounds and five assists. Rather than double team him as many teams have done, it was Mounce and Slawson and taking on the solo responsibility.

In addition to his 24-point effort, Lyons tied Alex Hunter for the team lead in assists with five and had a game-high three steals. The Paladins' other double figure scorer was Mike Bothwell, who had 10 points and four rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench. So the two leading scorers from Tuesday's opener (Gurley and Alex Hunter) weren't among the top four scorers Friday. That says quite a deal about this team four days into the season.

"It's a credit to the program. ... This whole program is built on connection," Richey said of the scoring being spread out. "We've got a lot of weapons out there and so we've got to get in the game and see what's working.
"Every night, who's going to step up? I don't know, but that's why I love coaching this group and that's the danger of this team."