Sunday, March 1, 2020

Furman's Lyons exits Timmons with another W

An emotional Jordan Lyons embraces his parents near Coach Bob Richey in
Senior Day pregame festivities at Furman Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
On Jordan Lyons Day aka Senior Day at Furman Saturday, it wasn't a typical Jordan Lyons day in a way. The Paladins' lone senior, who leads the team in scoring and is the only Paladin in the past 64 years to score more than 50 points in a single game, had just nine points in possibly his final game at Timmons Arena.

But in other ways, it was so much a typical Jordan Lyons day. The most important way is that Furman won, posting an 82-58 win over rival The Citadel to go 12-0 at Timmons Arena this season. It's the 96th victory for Lyons, the school's all-time winningest player.

As for the other ways,

  • Records were broken. As has often been the case during Lyons' career - especially this time of year, new standards were set. On Saturday, Furman (25-6, 15-3 Southern Conference) broke school records for regular season wins and SoCon wins in a single season.
  • Timmons Arena had a sellout crowd of 2,500. As has often been the case on Saturdays the past few seasons, Furman's home court was packed and had an electric atmosphere. Prior to Lyons' career, a sellout at Timmons was unheard of.
  • The numbers: 20 assists, nine turnovers and 20 forced turnovers. Those kind of stats simply are what Furman basketball has been during the Lyons' era.
"I couldn't be more proud of Jordan. There's a lot of emotion with Senior Night. The more important thing for him was not so much how many points he was going to score tonight, but it was going for the most SoCon wins in a season here and going for the all-time season wins record," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "To do that on Senior Night beats the heck out of going out there and scoring 30.
"I'm fortunate to coach these guys and be a part of it every day. They've overachieved, but the best thing about it is they're not done yet."

The pregame ceremony featured all the things that make Senior Day special throughout arenas everywhere. An added bonus was a surprise for Lyons, when it was announced that his jersey will be displayed in a new wing of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame to commemorate his Division I record of 15 3-pointers in a single game set last year against North Greenville.

"It's kind of hard to put tonight into words. I wasn't aware of the Hall of Fame news. When I heard it, I couldn't help but tear up more," Lyons said. "But the tears were because I love this place and this program so much. I'd do anything for Furman University and Furman basketball. I've been in love with this program for five years now going back to my senior year in high school. ... That's a love that will never go away.
"I'm forever indebted to this place and this program. It's a true blessing that I thank the Lord for. I also have to thank my hometown. The seats behind the goals near our bench were filled with people from Peachtree City, Georgia. Just the fact that they all bought tickets to watch me play my last game at Timmons is so special to me."

Once tip off commenced, it was clear that Citadel (6-23, 0-18) was not going to let Lyons continue to celebrate throughout the evening. The Bulldogs' box-and-one defense, possibly the nerves of an always emotional day and perhaps an offensive hangover from Wednesday's brilliant performance at UNC Greensboro all combined for a sluggish start for Furman.

The Citadel led 14-13 with less than 11 minutes to go in the first half. That's when Jaylon Pugh, who only logged nine minutes Saturday, drained a 3-pointer that gave Furman a lead it never relinquished. That was part of a 12-2 run over a near nine-minute stretch in which the Bulldogs went 1-of-7 from the floor with five turnovers.

That helped Furman take a 29-21 lead into the break despite shooting just 35.3 percent from the floor, including 21.4 percent from three.

The Paladins fell to 3-of-15 from beyond the arc after missing a three on the first possession of the second half, but then Mike Bothwell hit back-to-back treys and Noah Gurley made it three threes in a row. Lyons' layup on the next possession made it an 11-0 run and gave Furman a commanding 40-22 lead 2:22 into the second half.

"The box-and-one shocked us a little bit and we were all playing passive against it. Jordan was just telling us, 'if they're going to box-and-one me, everybody else has to be aggressive.' We were getting wide open shots, but the defense made us timid," said Gurley, who finished with a team-high 20 points, three assists and two blocks. "The good thing is on the other end we were playing pretty good defense. We just had to step in and hit shots, which we did better in the second half."

After going up by 18, Furman never trailed by less than 12 the rest of the way and by as many as 29 on a Lyons' layup with 2:22 remaining. When Lyons left the floor for the final time, he hugged each of his teammates on the court as he waved to the crowd who gave a standing ovation. Then he had a long talk and embrace with Richey on his way to the bench.

"It's really easy to throw stuff on a t-shirt or a wall. But when you come out on Senior Night and get in a box-and-one and you're willing to pass and screen all night, and you're coming over and telling me what to run to put you in situations to get other guys shots, that's when it's culture," Richey said. "When you've got a guy (Clay Mounce) that's been starting for two years, who's beat Villanova and had the game-winning dunk last year at Loyola, to be willing to come off the bench and go out and score 17 points and not give a rip about who starts, that's when it's off the shirt. It's off the wall. At that point, it's culture and that's the separator that these guys have bought into."

Lyons was one of five Paladins with at least two steals, led by Jalen Slawson's three. Slawson also had eight rebounds and three assists. Along with his 17 points, Mounce had six rebounds and two steals. Bothwell finished with 13 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Alex Hunter, who ranked fourth in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio entering Saturday, had 12 points, five rebounds, six assists, two steals and one turnover. In his first game back since suffering a concussion at ETSU 10 days ago, Tre Clark had five rebounds and a steal in 14 minutes off the bench.

"They threw us a curveball with the box-and-one. They show a different defense almost every game, so you've got to go out there and get into the game," Richey said. "I thought Alex did a better job of that, especially in the second half. He's a really good player who's playing more aggressive and that gives us another threat."

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