Saturday, December 21, 2019

Lyons lifts Paladins to win in SoCon opener

Jordan Lyons had 25 points, the game-winning shot and the game-sealing
deflection in Furman's 64-62 win at Mercer. Photo courtesy of Furman
MACON, Ga. - A big part of Furman's defense is deflections. While its not an official stat, the Paladins treat it like one as they track them each game with a goal in mind. They might've never tracked one sweeter than Friday night at Mercer.

With Furman clinging to a 64-62 lead and 0.5 seconds left, Mercer lobbed an inbounds pass from in front of its bench to the other side of the court. Jordan Lyons made sure it didn't get there. Lyons tipped the pass away like a Pro Bowl cornerback. The ball harmlessly sailed away as time expired and Furman celebrated a win in its Southern Conference opener.

"Jordan read it, saw it and he could tell where it was going. Man, what a play. It reminded me a lot of Matt's (Rafferty) play at Loyola last year," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Coaches had to coach tonight on both sides and they did a great job. We made some key adjustments."

On his deflection, Lyons said with a smile, "I did play a little cornerback in high school. ... I knew if we could get a hand on the ball, the game was over. We found a way to get out of here with a win and start league play 1-0."

Before his game-winning tip away, Lyons hit the game-winning shot on the other end. After Mercer's Jeff Gary tied the game at 62-62 when his 3-pointer rattled in with 1:13 left, Furman missed a pair of shots on its ensuing possession but Noah Gurley and Lyons grabbed offensive rebounds. The Paladins could've almost played for the last shot, but Lyons drove to the bucket with 14.5 seconds. He drew contact with no whistle, but was able to twist his way in and got the layup to fall.

"I was able to keep my eyes on the rim as I got the shot off, but then I fell. When I got to the ground I looked back up and saw the ball playing on the rim a little bit and said, 'girl, get in there,' and I saw it drop," Lyons said. "It was kind of a broken possession. ... Instead of settling, I just wanted to try to get to the rim and make a play."

On Mercer's next possession, Djordje Dimitrijevic missed a layup and Clay Mounce corralled the loose ball and was fouled with 1.3 seconds left. It was only the sixth foul on the Bears so Furman got to inbound the ball rather than go to the foul line. Mounce's inbounds pass glanced off Lyons out of bounds in front of the Mercer bench. After a lengthy review, officials put 0.5 seconds on the clock to set up the dramatic finish.

The victory marked Furman's ninth consecutive win over Mercer.

"At the end of the day, you're not going to blow everybody out. You've just got to go win the game," Richey said. "When you don't have your best night, can you still go win on the road? That's hard to do, but that's what great teams do."

Friday's game was nothing like last Saturday's start at The Well last time out for Furman. Nine minutes into the game, the Paladins had just four points. Mercer wasn't much better though with nine at that point. Mounce's 3-pointer with a defender in his face at the 10:56 seemed to wake Furman up.

The Paladins took a 27-20 lead with less than three minutes left in the half before the Bears suddenly could not miss. After making just six of its first 20 field goals, Mercer hit seven consecutive shots to take a three-point lead before Alex Hunter came up with a huge steal. After falling on the strip, Hunter made a terrific outlet pass from his back. That led to a Lyons 3-pointer with 45 seconds left to send the teams into halftime tied at 30-30.

There were two ties and four lead changes in the second half, and no team ever led by more than five. Furman trailed 55-51 with less than five minutes to play when Lyons hit a huge 3-pointer. That sparked an 11-2 run in which Noah Gurley took over.

Going up against Mercer's 6-foot-11 West Virginia transfer Maciej Bender all night, Gurley was just 1-of-4 from the floor for nearly the first 36 minutes. But his layup with 4:10 left gave Furman a 56-55 lead. He had a dunk on the next possession, a pretty assist from the top of the key to Mounce for a layup on the next and a layup on the one after that as the Paladins took a 62-57 lead with less than two minutes to play.

"Noah's a competitor and a warrior. His finger's hurting him a little bit more than he wants to admit. I think when he goes home and gets a nice little break, that thing will be back where it needs to be. He just competes and plays hard," Richey said. "The biggest thing tonight is they got seven offensive rebounds and scored on none of them. That's a credit to him and (Jalen) Slawson down there. We got eight (offensive rebounds) and were able to score 11 off them."

Lyons scored 14 of his game-high 25 points in the second half to lead Furman (11-3, 1-0). Mounce had 12 points and 11 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Gurley and Mike Bothwell scored eight apiece, and Gurley led the team with five assists.

Bender had 19 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots to lead the Bears (5-7, 0-1).

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