Sunday, December 8, 2019

Road weary Paladins hold off USC Upstate

Sophomore Noah Gurley scored a career-high 29 points in Furman's
 84-72 win over USC Upstate Sunday. Photo courtesy of Furman
After more than two weeks of road trips sandwiched around coming home for Thanksgiving, the Furman basketball team finally returned to the friendly confines of Timmons Arena. The Paladins first home game in 16 days came against USC Upstate in a rare Sunday game. After tipoff, something even more rare took place.

Despite allowing USC Upstate to shoot 56 percent from the floor, Furman used a game-ending run and a career-high 29-point performance by Noah Gurley to pull out an 84-72 win. It marked the first time in at least 10 years that the Paladins won a game in which the opponent made at least 56 percent of its field goals.

USC Upstate became just the sixth team to shoot that well against Furman in the last four years. Those other five all took place on the road and all were losses for the Paladins by anywhere from 12 to 29 points. The last visitor to Timmons to shoot at least 56 percent was Gardner-Webb on Dec. 12, 2015. The Runnin' Bulldogs left that day with a 73-53 win.

"That's usually not a good recipe ... but we found a way," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "At halftime, we were up 13 and they were still shooting 55 percent from the field and 40 percent from three, so it was an odd formula.
"I will say for the most part, I thought offensively today we played very clean especially in the first half. The ball movement was exceptional. That's what really allowed us to stay the course."

Coming off a heartbreaking overtime loss at Auburn Thursday which saw the Paladins allow a 14-point second half lead to slip away, you had to wonder if there would be any hangover Sunday. There certainly didn't appear to be one when Furman took an 8-0 lead and forced three turnovers in the first 2:10 of the game.

"We couldn't ignore how we felt in that (Thursday) loss. That was a game we felt like we should've won. ... It's hard to push all those emotions down, but today was another opportunity to play the game of basketball," Gurley said. "You can't harp on a loss and miss your blessing today. ... We just wanted to come out with energy and being back in Timmons helped."

When Furman took a 13-point halftime lead against a USC Upstate team that entered with a record of 2-7, it appeared the Paladins were destined for an easy win. However, it was anything but easy the rest of the way.

While the Spartans tried to chip away at Furman's lead, the Paladins were still up by 11 with less than seven minutes to play. All of a sudden, USC Upstate went on a streak where it seemed like the Spartans would never miss again. Cartier Jernigan's layup with 2:40 left was their seventh consecutive made field goal and cut the Furman lead to 72-71.

Just 11 seconds later, Clay Mounce answered with a 3-pointer. That started a 12-1 run to end the game, as the Spartans missed their final four shots, had two turnovers and hit 1-of-2 free throws. On a day when his shooting wasn't at its sharpest, Jordan Lyons he came up huge in that stretch. In the final 88 seconds of the game, Lyons had four rebounds, two steals and hit a pair of free throws.

"We had pitiful drive defense there in stretches and credit to them (USC Upstate), they kept playing and cut it to one. Big shot by Clay Mounce to give us a little breathing room. ... I thought we buckled down and did what we had to do on both ends of the floor to secure the win," Richey said. "I'm really proud of Jordan Lyons' game today. He led us in rebounding, steals and assists. He showed a ton of toughness today to be able to play the game the right way, regardless of how he was shooting from the perimeter. ... The shooting's going to come."

Gurley set his new career high of 29 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the floor, including 2-of-3 on 3-pointers. Mounce had 16 points, six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals, while Lyons had 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Hunter also reached double figures with 11 points and had three assists with no turnovers.

Bryson Mozone hit 6-of-8 3-pointers and led USC Upstate with 22 points in 39 minutes off the bench.

The shooting percentage allowed by Furman wasn't the only unusual stat Sunday. The Paladins dominated the boards, posting a 32-22 advantage that included 11 offensive. It's only the third time this season that Furman has outrebounded a Division I opponent. While there was nothing new about the Paladins scoring 17 points off 15 turnovers, none of those came on a fast break as Furman was blanked 8-0 on break points.

Richey said there's things he would still love to "clean up" from Furman's sub-par showing at South Florida last Monday, but the time schedule due to games and travel hasn't allowed for a traditional practice. It's been nothing but game prep, bus travel and game play since the flight to Tampa last Sunday.

The Paladins will take on North Greenville Wednesday and Winthrop Saturday, before a bit of a break in the schedule ahead of their Southern Conference opener at Mercer on Dec. 20.

"We're going to give them tomorrow off. It's not necessarily what I want to do, but it's what we have to do. It's what's right by our players and their legs. You could see it today in transition defense. We didn't have that gear or speed that this group has," Richey said. "The human body only has so much. We've got to rest up.
"It's the battle of the season. We're all fighting it. There's part of me that wishes we would've played in one less game to get some of these guys some good practice time. At the same time, you can't really replace game experience either. A lot of stuff we got on film today will help these guys in different ways."

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