Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Paladins suffer another gut punch on SEC floor

Noah Gurley had 15 points at Alabama Tuesday,
but Furman fell 83-80. Photo courtesy of Furman

While the Furman men's basketball team was playing at Alabama late Tuesday night, the venerable voice of the Paladins, Dan Scott, and Tom Van Hoy were back home in Greenville broadcasting on the radio via a satellite video feed. While the SEC is not allowing road team's radio crews inside the arena this season due to COVID-19 concerns, it evidently has no qualms about it's referees working the games without any semblance of a mask.

Tuesday's crew probably should've worn masks that cover the entire head just for incognito purposes. For the second year in a row and third time in four seasons, Furman got a dose of SEC home cooking that left it with sour belches on the bus ride home. Alabama rallied from an 11-point second half deficit to post an 83-80 win. The Crimson Tide's rally was powered by a 49-28 rebounding advantage.

"We played great in every single area except (rebounding). Unfortunately, that got us tonight and it's going to get us on the big stage until we can figure it out," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network postgame show. "Unfortunately, I thought it was a lack of us being physical on our box outs and just finding bodies. Once we figure that out, we have a chance to be really, really good."

Alabama (4-2) figured out a way to be physical enough to collect 21 offensive boards, yet not have a single player with more than two fouls until there were 27 seconds left in the game. That was, umm, not quite the case for the Paladins (5-2).

Three years ago, Devin Sibley scored 19 points in the second half of a five-point loss at Tennessee. He could've had even more if not for two controversial offensive fouls, the second of which sent him to the bench with four fouls and more than 13 minutes left in the game. Last season, starter Jalen Slawson saw all of eight minutes on the court before fouling out in a three-point loss at Auburn.

While Furman had three players get called for at least four fouls Tuesday, nobody felt the wrath of the whistle quite like senior Clay Mounce. Mounce managed to score 21 points in 16 minutes before fouling out with 8:12 left. It's the fourth time Mounce has fouled out of a game in the past two seasons. In each of the other three, he logged at least 31 minutes.

The timing of Mounce's fouls Tuesday were especially curious. After Mounce's 3-pointer with 2:15 left in the first half gave Furman a 47-32 lead, he was called for an offensive foul - his third - 19 seconds later. The Crimson Tide scored the final five points of the half to cut the lead to 10 at the break.

In the second half, Mounce's layup with 17:36 left pushed Furman's lead to 54-45. He was called for his fourth foul 13 seconds later. Saddled with the four fouls, Mounce subbed out and in a couple of times after that. The last time he came in was with 8:51 left and Furman leading 66-61. Thirty seconds later, Mounce converted a four-point play to make it 70-61. Nine seconds later, he fouled out.

Alabama outscored the Paladins 22-10 the rest of the way.

"What that call and how they call it - none of that is in our control. You've just got to be able to deal with different adversity," Richey said. "I thought Clay deserved the right to play and I stuck with him.

"Unfortunately Clay picked up that offensive foul right before half and got his third. That was a tough break because I thought Clay really showed up to play tonight, was leading and played a phenomenal game."

In addition to the foul disparity, seemingly every loose ball out of bounds went to Alabama. The most egregious example coming with 10:38 left and Furman leading 63-54 when replay showed that the Tide's John Petty Jr. threw the ball out of bounds with no Paladin coming close to touching it. It inexplicably went back to Alabama, which scored on the possession.

Tuesday's loss was especially gut-wrenching for Furman given how the night began. After a dreadfully slow start on both ends hampered the Paladins in a five-point loss at Cincinnati, Furman came roaring out of the gate at Alabama. Mounce's 3-pointer with 8:21 left in the first half gave the Paladins their biggest lead at 32-16.

"You go score 80 points on an SEC floor - that's good enough to win," Richey said. "I was proud of our start and our mentality. We exhibited a lot of confidence when we got on the court, but you've got to sustain it.

"These SEC teams with that length and size are going to try to ramp up that pressure and start sending guys to the glass. ... It was a slow drip. They just kept playing volleyball at the backboard. But this team has a chance to be great. I think we will learn a lot from this."

Mike Bothwell led Furman with 23 points, six rebounds and two steals. In addition to Mounce's 21, Noah Gurley was the other Paladin in double figures with 15 points.

Next up for Furman is a showdown at Winthrop Saturday at 4 p.m. The Paladins are ranked third in the latest Mid-Major poll, while the Eagles are ranked fifth.

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