|Jordan Lyons had 18 points before fouling out for the first time in his|
career in Furman's 75-66 loss at ETSU. Photo courtesy of Furman
The victory gives ETSU (24-4, 13-2) sole possession of first place in the SoCon with three games remaining as the teams split the season series for the sixth year in a row. The SoCon's golden goose in the NET rankings at No. 42 entering Wednesday should continue to rise and boost hopes of the league earning two bids to the NCAA Tournament should a different team win the SoCon Tournament. Furman (22-6, 12-3) falls into a tie for second place with UNC Greensboro, which rallied for an overtime win against Wofford Wednesday.
"It was a heck of an environment to get the chance to play in and obviously not the outcome we wanted, but we will learn from this," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We've got three games left. This wasn't a destination game. It was a high-level college basketball game where both teams played as hard as they possibly could.
"I can walk out of here with a high head knowing our guys continued to fight. Every single one of them did dealing with as much adversity as we've faced all year in a game."
Jordan Lyons scored a game-high 18 points, but that was in just 31 minutes before fouling out. While the Paladins only led for a little more than two minutes Wednesday, it had a five-point advantage during Lyons' total time on the court. It's the first time in Lyons' 127-game collegiate career that he fouled out.
Tre Clark, who's provided an unbelievable defensive spark off the bench during Furman's seven-game winning streak entering Wednesday, played just eight minutes and remained in the locker room after halftime with a head injury.
"Jordan battled his absolute guts out tonight and put everything on the line. I've had the pleasure of coaching him for four years and never had to deal with him fouling out before, but it's what it was," Richey said. "It was tough, but I know this is only going to fuel him.
"Tre took two hits to the head and player safety is always first. As much as we need him on the court, his health is first. Our trainer made the decision to hold him out and I fully supported that."
While officials went to video review four different times to see if there was a flagrant foul - three times after fouls called against Furman and once on a jumpball tie-up - there was no review of any play involving Clark. Clark actually never drew a foul during his limited time on the court.
Isaiah Tisdale led four Bucs in double figures with 15 points to go along with eight rebounds and four assists. He also had four turnovers, but despite all of his activity in 38 minutes of action he only committed one foul. Conversely, he personally drew nine fouls called against the Paladins.
When Lyons picked up his second personal foul less than four minutes into the game, Furman led 4-3. After Lyons checked out, ETSU proceeded to outscore the Paladins 10-1 over the next two-and-a-half minutes. Richey called timeout, put Lyons back on the court and it immediately paid dividends.
Lyons hit a 3-pointer on the possession coming out of the timeout and that was a sign of things to come. Lyons played all but 45 seconds the rest of the half, didn't pick up another foul and scored 16 points. His 3-pointer on Furman's final possession of the half tied the game at 32-32, but Tray Boyd answered with a buzzer-beating three to give ETSU a 35-32 lead at the break.
After five ties in the first half, Furman could never pull even again. The Bucs could never pull away either though. When Clay Mounce slammed home an alley oop from Mike Bothwell, ETSU's lead was cut to 41-39 with 16:01 left. Tisdale answered with back-to-back 3-pointers. Mounce's jumper sliced the lead to 47-43 before the Bucs' ensuing possession encapsulated the second half.
Seven seconds into the possession, Tisdale drew a foul from Bothwell. One second later, Lyons was charged with his fourth foul with 13:45 left. That foul away from the ball came after the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Lyons collided with ETSU's 6-7, 235-pound Joe Hugley. Hugley missed a jumper, but Vonnie Patterson grabbed the offensive rebound. Tisdale missed a jumper, but Hugley got that offensive board and converted the putback.
Alex Hunter's 3-pointer with 5:16 left cut the lead to four, but ETSU answered when Hugley hit a layup and drew Lyons' fifth foul with 4:52 remaining. The Paladins never got the lead under five the rest of the way.
"It's definitely frustrating. No one ever wants to foul out, but that's the game. They don't always go your way," Lyons said. "I've never had an issue with foul trouble in my career, so I just need to watch it and learn from it.
"After I went out, I was proud of my teammates. They kept fighting. We can all use this experience to learn and get better."
With ETSU standout post player Jeromy Rodriguez in the lineup in the teams' first meeting in Greenville, Furman managed to win the rebounding battle. Noah Gurley had 10 points and 12 rebounds, while Clark had 10 points and seven boards in the Paladins' 65-56 win. With an injured Rodriguez in street clothes on the sidelines Wednesday, ETSU outrebounded Furman 41-24, including 27-9 in the second half. Of those 27 boards after halftime, 11 came on offense.
Gurley had 14 points Wednesday, but on 5-of-17 shooting and had three rebounds. Mounce had 12 points, six rebounds and two steals, while Bothwell finished with 11 points and three steals.
"Not having Tre Clark in the second half certainly affected that, but should it affect it to a 41-24 margin? No," Richey said. "Give them credit. They played hard, chased those balls and created extra possessions."