Sunday, January 12, 2020

Spartans deal Paladins first SoCon loss

Noah Gurley drives against UNCG's James Dickey during Furman's
86-73 loss Saturday at The Well. Photo courtesy of Furman
In front of a crowd of more than 4,600 at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena Saturday night, a big stage was set for Furman. Riding a seven-game winning streak, the Paladins had a chance to severely damage the Southern Conference regular season title hopes of one of the contenders. But when trying to hand a UNC Greensboro team that lost a total of three SoCon games each of the past two seasons a third straight league loss this year, Furman couldn't make it happen.

The Spartans scored 63 points over the final 23:06 of game play to pull away for an 86-73 win. UNCG (13-5, 3-2), which entered Saturday ranked last in the SoCon in both three-point percentage and free throw percentage, started 1-of-11 on threes Saturday before hitting six of their last 11. The Spartans also made 13-of-16 free throws (81.3 percent), while the Paladins converted just 16-of-27 (59.3 percent).

"Give credit to Greensboro. They played really, really hard and were the aggressor for most of the game. ... You could feel the pressure and intensity they came to play with," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "The biggest issue tonight was for the most part, we just couldn't get stops. ... They got to get in the press (defense) all night long, because we couldn't get stops.
"As a team, were we ready to defend? I don't think so. That's on me. That's my responsibility."

Neither team was exactly sizzling offensively early on. A 3-pointer by Mike Bothwell followed by a dunk by Jalen Slawson with 3:31 left in the first half gave Furman a 25-23 lead and finally gave the crowd something to get excited about. But UNCG ended the half on an 11-2 run to take a seven-point lead into halftime.

"We had five deflections at halftime, which is a season-low for us," Richey said. "We just didn't have that edge that's critical for our team to have on the defensive end of the floor."

Things got worse in a hurry for the Paladins (14-4, 4-1) in the second half. After Noah Gurley's layup 16 seconds in, UNCG went on a 14-3 spurt to take a 16-point lead with 16:49 left.

Every time Furman could begin to see light out of the hole it had dug, the Spartans threw more dirt in. Clay Mounce's 3-pointer cut the lead to 52-42 with 12:40 left. Ten seconds later, UNCG's Michael Huett hit a 3-pointer. Bothwell's jumper with 8:42 left sliced the lead to single digits at 64-55. Fifteen seconds later, UNCG's Keyshaun Langley hit a three.

With 4:54 left, Bothwell's 3-pointer cut the lead to 69-64. Ten seconds later, UNCG's Angelo Allegri hit a 3-pointer. Gurley got The Well as loud as it was all day when his layup with 2:55 left made it 72-68. Fourteen seconds later, UNCG's Kaleb Hunter hit a 3-pointer. Hunter made a steal 13 seconds later and turned it into a three-point play. That got the lead back to double digits and essentially sealed Furman's fate.

"We finally started solving the press the last 15 minutes of the game," Richey said. "We had momentum, but we couldn't get those critical stops."

The Spartans essentially played like Furman did on its best days of the 2018-19 season. They had 20 assists, 11 turnovers and collected 16 steals. UNCG big man James Dickey had a Matt Rafferty-like performance with eight points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. While Dickey didn't reach double figures, five of his teammates did. They were led by Isaiah Miller, who had 18 points, six steals, five assists and four rebounds.

The Paladins fell despite a heroic effort by Gurley, who had team-highs in points (27), rebounds (8) and assists (4). Mounce and Bothwell each finished with 13 points. Jordan Lyons, who had hit 24-of-44 (54.5 percent) 3-pointers over his last five games, went 0-for-4 on threes Saturday and finished with nine points.

There's no time for Furman to dwell on Saturday's setback. Not with Western Carolina coming to town on Wednesday. With the Paladins' loss, the Catamounts (12-3, 4-0) are now alone in first place as the only SoCon team without a league loss.

"Our guys didn't quit. We had some warriors out there tonight. Noah Gurley played as hard as he could," Richey said. "You've got to take the good with the bad. This an ongoing journey. You've got to learn from this and see what you've got to do to get better.
"Our guys will respond."

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