Thursday, March 5, 2020

Furman women rally past Wofford

Celena Taborn (55) had 16 points in Furman's 68-54 win over Wofford at
the SoCon women's tournament Thursday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Le'Jzae Davidson, Tierra Hodges and Celena Taborn scored 10 points apiece in the second half to help fourth-seeded Furman rally for a 68-54 win over Wofford in Thursday's opening round of the Southern Conference women's basketball tournament in Asheville, N.C. The Paladins (19-11) advance to face No. 1-seeded Samford at 11 a.m. Friday in the semifinals.

Furman trailed by as many as nine points in the first half, but outscored the Terriers (15-15) 38-22 after halftime. That included a 17-7 showing in the Paladins favor in the fourth quarter. Both teams were just 3-of-13 from the floor in the final quarter, but Furman sank 10-of-12 free throws to put the game away.

"We start the tournament like that every single year. I can't say if it's butterflies or just nervousness or whatever the case, but I'm just glad and super happy with how the team responded in the second half," Furman coach Jackie Carson said. "I believe we had two turnovers in the whole second half."

Carson was correct. After an offensive foul 45 seconds into the second half, the Paladins committed just one turnover the rest of the way. Furman had eight turnovers for the game and 17 assists out of 23 made field goals.

The Paladins fell behind 17-8 late in the first quarter before clawing their way back in it. Davidson knocked down a 3-pointer with 37 seconds left in the first half to brought them all the way back even before Niyah Lutz hit a jumper to give Wofford a 32-30 lead at the break.

Another 3-pointer by Davidson pushed Furman ahead 38-37 early in the third quarter. It was the Paladins' first lead since 2-0, but it was also one they never relinquished.

Davidson finished with a game-high 18 points, while Taborn scord 16 and Hodges recorded her 15th double-double this season with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Taylor Petty added nine points, five assists and a career-high three blocks, while point guard Milica Manojlovic had six assists and one turnover.

Taborn, who was 6-of-8 from the floor and grabbed four key offensive rebounds, surpassed the 1,000-point mark in her career.

"I just have to thank my teammates. Coach (Carson) is always pushing, 'look inside, look inside,' and we have to fight to hold contact," said Taborn, who also had four key offensive rebounds. "If I do my job the guards will do theirs and give me the ball and I will score."

Davidson and Hodges put up numbers like you'd expect from All-SoCon players such as them, but the biggest difference maker Thursday was Taborn. While she led the league in field goal percentage this year by a landslide at 67.3 percent, Taborn has been limited by injuries especially down the stretch of the regular season.

Taborn persevered Thursday after one second half play where she took a hit from behind to her wrapped right knee. While she fell awkwardly to the ground, Taborn had the presence of mind to flip the ball towards the basket to make it a shooting foul. Thursday marked the 6-foot-3 junior's highest point total since a 17-point effort at Elon on Dec. 30 and the 24 minutes she logged were her most in a game since Jan. 9.

"I just have to fight through adversity," Taborn said. "I'm not going to let anything stop me from doing what I have to do for my teammates."

Carson added, "This kid has been battling through all types of injuries and pain. She battled through today and did what an upperclassman does."

Now the attention shifts to a Samford team that emerged from a three-way tie atop the SoCon standings with the top seed. In Thursday's opening game, the Bulldogs (16-14) defeated Western Carolina, 77-62. This is one of the rare 1 vs. 4 match-ups in which the No. 4 seed swept the regular season series against the top seed. Furman defeated Samford, 77-69, at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Jan. 11 and won at Samford, 72-59, on Feb. 6.

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