|Clay Mounce had 21 points and 12 rebounds in Furman's
71-62 loss at ETSU Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
One stretch of atrocious offense would make winning at a place like East Tennessee State hard enough. One stretch in each half proved too much for Furman on Saturday. After shooting 2-of-13 over the first nine minutes of the game, the Paladins went nearly nine minutes without a bucket in the second half.
Those two stretches helped the Buccaneers secure a 71-62 win. ETSU (9-5, 5-1 Southern Conference) becomes the first team this season to hold the Paladins (10-5, 4-2), who were averaging 84.9 points per game, under 71 points.
"We don't have the look of a team that for 40 minutes is going to be willing to do the tough things that it takes to win a game like this," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Sports Network's postgame show. "I'm a little torn right now because there were some guys that played really hard today. There are guys who took our message the last few days of being tougher on defense and playing harder and did that.
"If you look at the plus-minus (game point totals while on the floor), Noah Gurley was plus-six today. Clay Mounce was plus-two and played 35-and-a-half minutes. Unfortunately, we had a starter that was minus-20. That's a lot in a nine-point game. ... But you win as a team and lose as a team, and we're all hurting."
Richey added that Friday's practice was kind of an omen.
"We had a couple of guys who didn't practice well yesterday and didn't play well today. The guys that did practice well, played well," Richey said. "We've just got to get the whole group there and that's my job. I'm obviously not doing a good job right now and we've got to figure it out."
Saturday's start for Furman seemed like a carryover from the loss at VMI Wednesday night. From the 6:02 mark of the first half at VMI to the 10:47 mark of the first half Saturday, the Paladins made just 15-of-58 field goals (25.9 percent). Furman was 9-of-34 (26.5 percent) on 3-pointers in that 35-minute stretch.
The slow start Saturday put Furman in a 16-6 hole. Then the Paladins suddenly found those paths to the basket they used so well in last Saturday's win over ETSU - when they scored 40 points in the paint.
Gurley's layup with 10:46 left in the first half started a stretch where Furman made 16 of 24 field goals over the next 16 minutes of game time. Those made field goals included 12 layups and were highlighted by two thunderous dunks by Mounce. The Paladins were 2-of-6 from three in that stretch. That run ended on a Mike Bothwell layup as Furman turned that early 10-point deficit into a 40-37 lead with 14:58 left.
That Bothwell layup forced an ETSU timeout. Coming out of it, the Bucs aggressively drove on offense and scored on each of their next four possessions. Meanwhile, the Paladins reverted back to that offense that just seems to settle for the first open three. Furman missed each of its next nine field goals - the last six of which were 3-pointers - as its three-point lead turned into a 52-42 deficit with six minutes left in the game.
Mounce and Bothwell hit back-to-back threes to end the drought and cut the ETSU lead to four, but the Paladins got no closer the rest of the way. The Bucs answered with an 11-2 run to take their biggest lead at 63-50 with 2:27 left.
On a day when Furman made 8-of-31 (25.8 percent) shots from three, ETSU's Damari Monsanto made 6-of-8 from beyond the arc to finish with a game-high 22 points and eight rebounds. Bucs' leading scorer Ledarrius Brewer, who missed last Saturday's game, added 17 points and four assists. Center Silas Adheke, who had five points combined over his previous three games - including one point last Saturday, had 14 points and nine rebounds.
After a 1-for-13 shooting night at VMI, Mounce bounced back with 21 points and 12 rebounds Saturday. Bothwell scored 17 points and Gurley had 13 before fouling out. Only two other Paladins scored as Alex Hunter had seven and Garrett Hien had four. After posting career highs in points (18), rebounds (14) and steals (5) at VMI, Jalen Slawson had no points, two rebounds and no steals in 24 minutes.
Another factor in Saturday's loss and lack of transition offense, was a lack of one particular aspect of defense - steals. Entering Saturday, Furman ranked 10th in the country with 9.4 steals per game. The Paladins had just four on Saturday and none in a second half in which ETSU shot 52 percent (13-of-25).
"We've got an older group and our old guys have got to be old guys. That's what we need. Some of them have looks in these tough moments like they're young guys," Richey said. "We've got enough young guys on the bench right now that are trying to figure this thing out.
"There are always ebbs and flows to a season and this is a little bit of a valley for us, but sometimes there's strength in the struggle. We've not been a finished product at any point in the year and hopefully we can get this thing figured out."
There's no time to pout for Furman, as the Paladins host UNC Greensboro (10-5, 5-2) on Monday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and it will be televised by ESPNU.