Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Gurley, defense power Paladins to opening win

Noah Gurley had 18 points in Furman's 70-63 win at Gardner-Webb
in Tuesday's season opener. Photo courtesy of Furman
BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. - New basketball season. Same old defensive intensity for Furman. Noah Gurley scored 18 points and the Paladins held Gardner-Webb to 31 percent shooting after halftime to pull away for a 70-63 win in the 2019-20 season opener Tuesday night at Paul Porter Arena.

The win snaps the reigning Big South champion Gardner-Webb's 14-game home winning streak. Prior to Tuesday, the last visiting team to win on the Runnin' Bulldogs home floor was Winthrop on Feb. 15, 2018. The previous last non-conference home loss for Gardner-Webb was also to Furman on Dec. 10, 2016.

"We knew they hadn't lost here in a long time. (Gardner-Webb coach) Tim (Craft) has done an incredible job here," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We knew it was going to be a war, but at the same time our guys enjoy that. We've got a competitive group.
"It got tight and wild there for a second. ... We kept battling and did what we needed to do to finish the game."

After the long preparation for the season, a coaching staff might have a pretty good idea what to expect from its team when the season arrives. That could be especially true for teams returning four starters like Furman. On the other hand, every team is different and who knows what to expect when you open against a solid team in a hostile road environment. The fact that virtually everything ran through that one starter that's gone this year, and you could be looking at the season opener to reveal some things about your team.

So what did Richey find out Tuesday night?

"I learned that we can guard," Richey said with a smile. "We've been a little bit inconsistent with our defensive intensity in practice and both exhibitions.
"What I saw tonight is that when the popcorn's popping and the lights are on, we've got a whole group that will sit down and play connected defense."

Furman won the opening tip and 17 seconds later the Paladins had their first points of the season when Gurley drained a 3-pointer off an assist from Jordan Lyons. Furman jumped out to a 9-2 lead and was ahead for much of the first half before Gardner-Webb rallied to take a five-point lead with 2:08 left in the first half. The Paladins responded with a 6-0 run over the final 1:53 to lead 37-36 at the break.

Of the eight Paladins who logged at least one minute in the first half, all but one scored. The only one who didn't was Lyons, the team's leading returning scorer. Instead, Lyons made an impact with three assists and a steal in the first half and plenty of tenacious defense all night.

"That (opening play 3-pointer) was just an unselfish play by Jordan. I think they were kind of focusing in on Jordan, so that just opened the court for me," Gurley said. "I just tried to play simple out there and take what the game gave me."

That 6-0 run to end the first half stretched to a 15-3 one as Alex Hunter's layup gave the Paladins a 47-39 lead with 16:13 left in the game. Gardner-Webb got that lead down to four before Furman went on a 12-2 run to take a commanding 60-46 lead. With a 14-point lead and less than seven minutes left to play, it seemed the Paladins were in total control. However the Bulldogs didn't roll over.

Gardner-Webb, which made just 9-of-29 field goals in the second half connected on four consecutive shots along with a pair of free throws over a three-minute span. That cut the lead to 60-58 with 3:40 to play. After Hunter missed a 3-pointer, Clay Mounce made a huge putback while falling hard to the ground on his back and head. He converted the three-point play to push the lead to 63-58 with 2:37 left.

Over the final two minutes, Furman hit 7-of-8 free throws to secure the win.

"We go 2-for-15 from 3 with Jordan, Alex and Clay and we win on the road versus a very good team," Richey said. "I think what you saw was some guys willing to fight. This game's about toughness and I thought we showed that grit late."

Hunter scored nine of his 13 points in the second half and had two steals, no fouls and no turnovers over 35 minutes of action. Mounce finished with 11 points, nine rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Lyons had nine points and Jalen Slawson pulled down a career-high nine rebounds.

Jose Perez scored a game-high 19 points to lead Gardner-Webb.

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