Thursday, December 5, 2019

Furman to wrap up road trip at No. 13 Auburn

Clay Mounce had consecutive double-doubles to earn Southern Conference
Player of the Week honors this week. Photo courtesy of Furman
Furman's basketball team will wrap up its longest stretch of games away from home this year with what could be its toughest test all season Thursday. The Paladins take on No. 13 Auburn at 9 p.m. in a game that will be televised by the SEC Network.

In the two weeks since Furman's last home game, there's been a range of emotions experienced on the court. It began with a joyous 36-point win at Elon on Nov. 26. Less than 24 hours later again on Elon's home floor, the Paladins rallied from a 13-point second half deficit for a thrilling one-point win in the final seconds over UT-Arlington. Then there was frustration of Monday night's 65-55 loss at South Florida.

After falling behind 7-2 three minutes in Monday, Furman (7-2) came back to take an 18-11 lead with less than nine minutes left in the first half. It could've been so much more though, as the Paladins missed their first five layups of the game. Meanwhile, a South Florida team that entered Monday shooting 32.3 percent from three-point range shot 60 percent from beyond the arc in the first half to rally for a 34-27 lead at the break.

What ignited the Bulls comeback wasn't a 3-pointer though, it was a crock of a technical foul called against Noah Gurley. Gurley's jumper in the lane gave Furman a 22-19 lead when he was T'd up for "talking" to a USF player after the shot. There was no heated exchange or physical contact. Nobody got up taunting in anybody's face. It was just ... words. That was also Gurley's second personal, so he left and a USF team that had a height advantage at every position got even bigger. The Bulls went on a 9-0 run over the next 1:52 and never trailed again.

"We got up 18-11 and got a steal with a chance to put (the lead) at nine. Unfortunately after that, we had quite a few mental and emotional mistakes that I thought really played into their hands and allowed them to really turn the energy," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "I don't think we responded with the right energy and it just became a very frustrating night in a lot of ways.
"Regardless if you're making shots or missing shots, there's a certain energy you have to bring to the game and we struggled there."

After sitting out the final 6:26 of the first half, Gurley was whistled for his third foul 24 seconds into the second half. The Bulls (4-4) never led by more than 10 the rest of the way, but every time Furman sniffed taking the lead something happened to take it away. Gurley's jumper cut USF's lead to 41-39 and then Alex Hunter made a steal, but the Paladins turned it right back over. The Bulls hit three jumpers to push the lead back to eight.

The most critical portion of the second half occurred with less than five minutes left. After Jordan Lyons' jumper got the lead down to three, the Bulls answered. Then USF's David Collins stole the inbounds pass, hit a layup and was fouled. Collins made the free throw and that stretch of five points in five seconds staked the Bulls to a 60-52 lead with 4:32 left in the game. The only other Furman score came on a Gurley 3-pointer with 49 seconds left.

"We weren't playing one of our better games of the year, and we're on the road at an American (Conference) level gym and with 4:40 to go we've got it (down) to three," Richey said. "Then we give up a bucket, have a quick turnover and give up another bucket. That was a little bit of the nail in the coffin."

Gurley finished with a game-high 19 points in his limited 29 minutes of action. Clay Mounce recorded his second consecutive double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds before he fouled out. Lyons had a tough night as he was held to four points on 2-of-12 shooting. Furman finished shooting 35.7 percent from the floor and hit 7-of-28 (25 percent) 3-pointers.

Xavier Castaneda, who had 31 points all season going into Monday night, led USF with 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers. The final score was eerily similar to other teams Furman is familiar with as the Bulls defeated Loyola-Chicago, 66-55, and Wofford, 69-55, earlier this season.

"There's a certain toughness, edge and connection that you've got to play with when you're facing a team that's bigger than you at every position," Richey said. "The only way you're going to beat those teams is if you're more connected and you stick to your strengths. For us, that has to be our speed, spacing and shooting. After that first 12 minutes of the game where we had decent flow, we just couldn't get our sync back."

SEC challenge
Furman fell to 23-4 in its last 27 non-conference games with Monday's loss. South Florida became the first non-Southeastern Conference school to defeat the Paladins in that span as the other losses came at Tennessee, LSU and Alabama.

Thursday night at Auburn, Furman will be going for its first win over an SEC opponent since a 91-75 win over South Carolina on Dec. 22, 2010.

"We've got to go out there and try to control the things that we can. It starts on the defensive end for us," Richey said. "Monday night, we got hurt in defensive transition a good bit. We've got to make sure we shore that up on Thursday night or else they're going to just run all up and down the court on us.
"Offensively, when teams use their size and athleticism to get out and pressure us, we've got to stay poised. We've got to make sure we stay inside of what we do."

Coming home
After the experience of arriving back at campus around 5:30 a.m. following the loss at Alabama on Nov. 19, the Paladins will be staying overnight Thursday. Furman will have its first home game in 16 days when it hosts USC Upstate Sunday at 2 p.m. That will begin a stretch of three home games next week as the Paladins host North Greenville on Wednesday and take on Winthrop at the Bob Secours Wellness Arena next Saturday.

Mounce honored
Mounce earned SoCon Player of the Week honors for his performance Monday and in the Paladins two wins at Elon last week. Mounce averaged 16 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.7 steals and 2 assists in those three games. For the season, the junior is averaging 14.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game. He's shooting 53.3 percent from the floor, including 44.9 percent from three-point range.

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