Saturday, February 8, 2020

Lyons, Hunter help Paladins sweep Western

Alex Hunter scored a career-high 21 points in Furman's 82-73
win at Western Carolina Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
CULLOWHEE, N.C. - On a historical day for the Furman men's basketball program Saturday, the most important thing that happened was this: the Paladins once again showed they can take a different route to end up at the same desired destination of victory.

After a suffocating defensive effort Wednesday to snap Mercer's six-game winning streak, Furman allowed a season-high 14 3-pointers on Saturday at Western Carolina. However, Jordan Lyons rang up 33 points and Alex Hunter scored a career-high 21 as the Paladins defeated the Catamounts, 82-73. Furman (20-5, 10-2 Southern Conference) remains tied for first place in the league with ETSU, which won at Mercer Saturday.

The win gives Furman at least 20 in a season for the fourth consecutive year, a feat never before accomplished in school history. At 25 games in, the Paladins reached the 20-win mark faster than any other team in school history. The victory also gave Furman a record of 91-35 over the last four years. That makes Lyons the winningest player in school history one season after Andrew Brown and Matt Rafferty were the first Paladins to reach 90 wins.

"It's more special than any other honor or achievement you can have. This is a growth program. We've prided ourselves on player development and getting better every single year and we've done that," said Lyons, who added to his career record for 3-pointers set Wednesday by hitting 4-of-7 on Saturday.
"It's me right now but next year, Alex, Clay (Mounce) and Tre (Clark) are going to break it. In the next years, it will continue to be broken. That's the level this program has reached. I'm just really blessed to be a part of it."

Lyons scored 14 of Furman's first 17 points. While the Paladins held an eight-point lead at that point, those early ones proved necessary as the game was a shootout for much of the day. The senior later scored six of the Paladins' final nine points to seal the win.

"Jordan was going to win today. Let's just call it what it is," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "He played like somebody that was saying, 'you guys jump on my back and we're going to go figure this thing out.'
"Usually when you have someone that plays with that much confidence, people rally behind him and I think Alex has really cut loose these past two games. When those two are playing like that together, they're really, really hard to guard."

In Furman's 83-79 win over Western in Greenville earlier this season, Catamount big man Carlos Dotson put up 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting. On Saturday, the Paladins seemed bound and determined to not let the former Dorman High standout beat them. While Dotson had 12 rebounds and four assists, he had nine points on just 3-of-5 shooting.

For awhile, it appeared that Onno Steger was going to be the Catamount to beat Furman as he and Lyons traded 3-pointers early. At the 8:45 mark of the first half, Western held a 24-23 lead and the teams were a combined 13-of-18 on 3-pointers and 3-of-16 on 2-pointers.

The Catamounts led 30-25 with less than seven minutes left in the first half when Lyons' jumper started a 12-0 run over the next five minutes. Steger ended Western's drought when he converted a four-point play.

With 10:44 left to play, Steger hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 57. That was his seventh 3-pointer of the game and gave him 24 points, but he didn't scratch in the scoring category again. The Catamounts were 13-of-21 from three after Steger's last make, but they went just 1-for-8 from beyond the arc the rest of the way.

"When two teams combine for 26 made threes, it's going to come down to the team that can just string together some stops and create some separation," Richey said. "I thought our group did that late.
"It was a hard-fought game both ways as we knew it would be. For our team to compete like that, especially against Dotson after what he did to us in Greenville ... Holding him to single digits was huge."

After a 20-point opening half, the looks weren't as open for Lyons in the second half but he didn't press and the shots he found were big. Dynamic Western point guard Mason Faulkner converted a three-point play to tie the game at 60 with 8:25 left before Lyons answered with a jumper that gave Furman the lead for good. Hunter and Lyons hit 3-pointers and Gurley converted a tough shot as he was fouled to make it an eight-point lead with five minutes left.

Faulkner sank a pair of free throws to cut Furman's lead to 73-71 with 2:16 left, but Lyons scored the next five points to help put the game away.

Furman finished 12-of-25 from three, led by Hunter who matched a career-high hitting 5-of-7. For the week, Hunter made 8-of-12 3-pointers and had 30 points, seven assists, six rebounds, three steals and two turnovers. Gurley finished with 11 points Saturday and Clay Mounce had eight points, eight rebounds and four assists. While Tre Clark only had four points in  22 minutes off the bench, he drew five fouls, had two steals and the Paladins outscored Western by 18 during his time on the court.

"Honestly, it just been my teammates and coaches instilling me with that confidence and it's overflowing. I feel like I'm playing the best I have since I've been here," Hunter said. "I've been feeling good and we've been winning. That brings the most joy."

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