Saturday, January 25, 2020

Paladins turn up defense to whip Citadel

Clay Mounce had 22 points and six rebounds in Furman's 78-54
win at The Citadel Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
CHARLESTON - Furman had a much improved defensive showing in the Paladins' win over Samford on Wednesday. On Saturday at rival The Citadel, Furman took it to another level. The Paladins had as many steals in the second half as the Bulldogs had field goals (seven) as Furman rolled to a 78-54 win.

The Paladins (17-5, 7-2) held a Citadel team that entered Saturday averaging 81.1 points per game to its lowest output since a 67-51 loss to ETSU four years ago. The Bulldogs (6-13, 0-8) shot 36.2 percent from the floor, including 29.2 percent (7-of-24) in the second half. Citadel hit one of its last nine field goals of the game and one of its last 18 three-point attempts. Furman had 13 steals, its most against a Division I opponent since collecting 14 against UNC Asheville on Dec. 5, 2017.

"To be complete, which is what we're fighting for, we've got to be more consistent on the defensive end. ... It was good to see a little bit more of that tonight," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "They only made four threes and we turned them over 21 times and that's what we've got to get back to."

It sure didn't feel like it was going to be that kind of day from Saturday's start. At the first media timeout 4:25 into the game, Citadel held a 12-10 lead and Furman had four turnovers. Fletcher Abee, who entered Saturday averaging 11 points a game, had 10 of those 12 points. But Citadel's pace - and the Paladins' turnovers - slowed down after that opening wave.

When Abee hit his third 3-pointer with 8:27 left in the first half it gave the Bulldogs an 18-17 lead. But that was Citadel's final lead of the day and Abee's final points of the day, as he went 0-for-9 from the floor after starting 6-of-7.

Jordan Lyons was smothered by the Bulldogs for most of the first half as he only managed one shot over nearly the first 18 minutes. But with 2:01 left, Lyons finally got an open look from three and drained it to snap a 29-29 tie and then nailed another three on Furman's next possession.

The biggest chapter of the biggest story of the game came late in the first half. Citadel had the ball with 27 seconds left and the shot clock off. Instead of letting the Bulldogs run down the clock and take the last shot, Furman ran a double team at the ball handler. Citadel worked it around and leading scorer Kaiden Rice got an open look with 13 seconds left, but he missed. Mike Bothwell gathered the rebound and got it to Clay Mounce, who was fouled shooting a three with four seconds left. Mounce hit two of the three foul shots to give Furman a 37-30 lead at the half.

After ending the first half on an 8-1 run, the momentum carried over for the Paladins after halftime. Noah Gurley had a nice up-and-under move for a layup 16 seconds into the second half and got another layup 23 seconds later. One minute later, Alex Hunter blew past his defender for a layup forcing a Citadel timeout, but the rout was on.

"To be able to run at them, not let them drain the clock, force the miss and to get free throws on our end, that was huge," Richey said. "In a game that was back-and-forth, we got a seven-point lead that didn't necessarily feel like seven. Then in the second half, Jalen (Slawson) has two deflections right out of the gate, we get out and run ... and suddenly we're up 13."

Mounce hit a 3-pointer, and Lyons made a jumper and a three to push Furman's lead to 51-30. When Citadel's Kaelon Harris connected on a 3-pointer with 15:44 left, it was the Bulldogs first field goal since the 4:38 mark of the first half. During that span of 8:54 between field goals, Furman outscored Citadel 25-6.

Furman recorded the lopsided win despite only having Gurley on the court for a total of 10 minutes due to foul trouble. Gurley had nine points before fouling out with 11:14 left in the game on an offensive foul that Richey told officials was a "flop all day." That foul was one of just two turnovers the Paladins had from the 4:54 mark of the first half to the 2:01 mark of the second half - when Citadel was still running a full-court press against Furman's walk-ons.

"Adversity is critical for teams, and the more you can deal with adversity in a win, the better," Richey said of Gurley's limited availability. "I think we're going to be able to look at those and see some things that Noah's got to tighten up on. A couple of them were just unnecessary. We want aggression, but disciplined aggression.
"I think it shows the depth and leadership of our team to be able to come on the road and win a game by that margin without him for basically 75 percent of the game."

Mounce finished with 22 points and six rebounds to lead Furman, while Lyons had 17 points, six rebounds, three steals and stellar defense. Hunter finished with 10 points and Slawson, who was playing close to home in Summerville, had eight points and six rebounds.

Rice, who was averaging 14.3 points per game for Citadel, was held to one point on 0-of-3 shooting.

"When you've got a scorer on your team like Jordan, some nights they try to prevent his touches and that opens up stuff for other people. He did a a great job and still playing hard," Mounce said of his scoring day. "He came into halftime and asked to guard Abee. That's an example of his leadership and what he means to this program."

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