Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Paladins' rally falls short at Cincinnati

Clay Mounce scored 23 points, including 18 in the second half, but Furman
fell to Cincinnati 78-73 Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

As the road schedule began and the competition level increased, Furman knew it could not afford some of the slow starts it had overcome early on this men's basketball season. In their first road test on Saturday, the Paladins came out blazing and thumped College of Charleston. Wednesday's effort at Cincinnati was the furthest thing from a hot start.

A Furman team that had trailed opponents for a combined 105 seconds this season, trailed from start to finish in a 78-73 loss to the Bearcats. The Paladins (4-1) fell behind 7-0 a little more than four minutes in Wednesday. They trailed 13-6 at the 12-minute mark and 40-28 at the half. Furman was down by as many as 14 in the second half before it began to rally.

The Paladins got the lead down to three on three different occasions and down to two twice after halftime. It was 73-70 with 38 seconds left when Jalen Slawson couldn't get an open 3-pointer to fall. A Clay Mounce three cut the Bearcats' lead to 75-73 with 13 seconds left, but Cincinnati's Mika Adams-Woods hit a pair of free throws to push the lead back to four. Furman missed a pair of wild prayers from three in the final seconds as the Bearcats (2-1) held on.

On a night when Furman shot 39.7 percent, allowed Cincinnati to shoot 56.3 percent, and was outrebounded 33-23, it still had a chance to defeat the reigning American Athletic Conference champions. On the Furman Radio Network postgame show, Paladins' coach Bob Richey had no interest in sunshine pumping though.

"I'm tired of being close. Tired of coming to this point and 'aww, we played 'em close.' We've got to get past that," Richey said. "We didn't come out with the fight and tenacity (we need), especially on defense. We looked timid.

"I know our potential. I don't quite understand how we can come out here with this much potential and play like that in the first half. I take full responsibility for it. ... I've got to coach better and figure this thing out."

Richey must have felt fortunate that his team "only" trailed by 12 at the break based on the first half boxscore. Furman had just five rebounds in the first 20 minutes, while the Bearcats had 14. One big reason why the Paladins didn't have more was the fact that Cincinnati shot 65.2 percent from the floor in the first half, including 12-of-15 on shots inside the arc.

It just seemed that there was a lack of aggression on both ends of the floor for Furman. Entering Wednesday, the Paladins averaged 21 free throw attempts per game. While they ended up going 20-for-27 at the foul line, they didn't attempt one until there was 5:33 left in the first half.

"You don't have to play perfect, but you've got to play really hard and do it for 40 minutes," Richey said. "Tonight, we leave here extremely disappointed in ourselves. That effort in the first half just has to be much better."

Furman trailed 47-33 with 17 minutes left when Noah Gurley hit Mounce on a nice feed for a layup. That started a 10-0 run that Mounce capped with a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 47-43 with 13:58 left. The Paladins rebounded better and protected the ball, with just one turnover in the second half, but could never get even. Every time they got close, the Bearcats' Keith Williams seemingly came up with a big shot and finished with a game-high 27 points.

Mounce led Furman with 23 points, including 18 in the second half. Gurley had 20 points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes as foul trouble cost he and Slawson some time. Mike Bothwell had 14 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals also for the Paladins, who were outscored in bench points 21-2.

"We just played harder (in the second half). There wasn't a whole lot of scheming at halftime. It was mental and heart. ... I was proud of how we played in the second half, but that's just not good enough," Richey said. "When you're trying to go on the road and beat a team like this, you've got to play the game with a certain level of confidence and conviction to win those possessions. I just didn't see it in the first half.

"We will grow from this, but it's like I just told the team, 'I'm tired of saying that.' This whole idea that you either win or you learn, that's nonsense. You only learn if you take responsibility and you say 'something's got to change.' "

Furman is scheduled to host Flagler on Saturday at 2 p.m. before going back on the road at Alabama Tuesday at 9 p.m.

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