|Jordan Lyons had 26 points in Furman's 74-72 overtime|
win over VMI Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman
With a defender draped all over him, Lyons hit a game-tying three with 7.4 seconds left in regulation and Furman went on to a 74-72 overtime win. The victory, combined with ETSU's home loss to Mercer Wednesday, vaults the Paladins (18-5, 8-2) into first place in the Southern Conference a half-game ahead of the Bucs and UNCG.
"Did we do everything we wanted to do tonight? No, but I think the credit's got to go to VMI and how hard and confident they played," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Give them a lot of credit. ... I knew it was going to be a fight. They play ETSU to six (point margin) in Johnson City and had a chance to win at Greensboro.
"There were five or six moments where our guys could've folded up shop, but they chose not to. They figured it out and found a way to win."
Coming off blowout wins over Samford and at The Citadel, it seemed that the Paladins were poised for another lopsided victory. They entered Wednesday having won the last nine games in the series - all by anywhere from 12 to 34 points. In Furman's 89-73 win at VMI on New Year's Day, Lyons had 40 points thanks in large part to hitting 10-of-12 3-pointers. It seemed that Lyons was poised to make history Wednesday as he needed just five threes to break the school's career record.
But Lyons didn't get to five made and neither did the Paladins. Furman missed its first 15 shots from beyond the arc and finished the night 3-of-25 from there.
"The record can wait. I'll just take the win," Lyons said with a smile afterwards. "Give a ton of credit to VMI. They really tested us tonight and it can make us better in a lot of ways.
"At the end of the day, the win is all that's important. Whether you win by one, 10 or 20, it doesn't matter. Just get the win. I'm proud of us for doing what we had to do to grind it out."
It was the fewest amount of made 3-pointers for Furman since connecting on 3-of-13 in an 83-68 win over The Citadel on Dec. 31, 2016. It was the lowest percentage shooting the three since making 1-of-10 in a 93-59 loss at VMI on Feb. 12, 2015 - the Paladins' last loss in the series. They didn't make many threes Wednesday, but they sure made them count.
The Keydets (6-17, 1-9), who led by as many as 11 in the first half, had their lead cut to two when Lyons hit Furman's first three with 13:22 left in the second half. With 4:40 left, Mike Bothwell's 3-pointer cut the lead to 52-51 before Lyons' layup 33 seconds later gave the Paladins their first lead since it was 4-2 just 90 seconds into the game.
VMI kept answering though as the Keydets took a three-point lead on four separate occasions in the final two minutes of regulation. The last one came with 18 seconds left when freshman Kamdyn Curfman hit a free throw to push the VMI lead to 62-59. He missed the second free throw though and Noah Gurley grabbed the rebound.
Rather than call timeout, Alex Hunter dribbled up the court and got the ball to Lyons, who went to work. Being hounded defensively, Lyons dribbled to the top of the key where he lost his balance and nearly the ball but he corralled it. With the defender closely guarding on his left, Lyons leaned a bit to the right and drilled the game-tying shot.
"I don't think anybody doubted he was going to hit that," Richey said. "He kept leading all night long and he was tremendous in that area tonight."
Lyons said the play didn't go exactly as planned after Curfman missed the free throw.
"It was a little bit of a transition deal, but Alex set me up with a really good read. ... By the time I got the ball, it was under 10," Lyons said of his choice to pull up for three. "I'm a senior and these are some of my last games, especially in this arena. I just want to go out the right way ... and I was fortunate enough to knock down that shot."
Furman couldn't stop and celebrate as there were still 7.2 seconds left, but Hunter came up with a steal on VMI's last possession of regulation. Hunter's last-second heave from half-court bounced off the top of the left side of the rim no good and the game went to overtime.
In overtime, the Paladins took their biggest lead of the night at four on a beautifully designed play with 1:21 left. With Clay Mounce inbounding from underneath Furman's basket, he lobbed it to Gurley in the middle of the paint. Gurley quickly tapped it right back to Mounce for a reverse layup to give Furman a 69-65 lead.
"We're up two in overtime and (assistant) Coach (Jeremy) Growe looks at me and says, 'Do you trust me?,' and I said, 'Absolutely. Call whatever you want.' We've been working on that play with the little tip back (to the inbounder)," Richey said. "It can be a feast or famine play. If the tip doesn't go well, you can turn it over and they've got the ball in a two-point margin but (Growe) was confident. I love the courageousness to make the call right there. It was a heck of a call and we executed it great.
"I get too much credit in this. We've got a big-time staff and they're a big reason why we're 18-5."
The Keydets refused to go away though. In the final 50 seconds, Greg Parham hit a layup and a jumper before Curfman nailed a 28-foot 3-pointer to cut the lead to 73-72. Jalen Slawson hit 1-of-2 free throws with 5.7 seconds left to make it 74-72.
While the Keydets again had a final chance to win it, they again never got a final shot. The Paladins used a full-court press and after VMI point guard Garrett Gilkeson was closely guarded by Hunter down to the Keydets' side of the court, Gurley came over to double team him. With Gurley on one side and Hunter on the other, Gilkeson had no prayer of a shot. As soon as he passed the ball, the final horn sounded before it ever reached a teammate.
A defensive stand was a fitting end to an ugly, but gritty Furman win. While the Paladins had 14 turnovers, the 13th was committed with 8:28 left in regulation. Meanwhile, Furman forced 17 VMI turnovers.
"Making shots is contagious and so is missing shots. You miss so many and mental conversations start and you can tighten up," Richey said. "Fortunately, it didn't affect a lot of our defensive activity. We still had 17 deflections in the first half, which is more than we've had in some entire games this year. Our saving grace tonight was still forcing turnovers. That bailed us out tonight."
After scoring two points in Furman's 21-point first half, Lyons finished with a game-high 26 and three steals. Mounce had 14 points and eight rebounds, while Gurley scored 13 and Bothwell 10.
The Keydets were led by Parham, who had 19 points off the bench. VMI leading scorer Travis Evee was held to four points on 2-of-9 shooting from the floor.