Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Mounce powers Paladins past Citadel

Furman's Clay Mounce had a career-high 29 points in 26 minutes in the
Paladins' 94-88 win at Citadel Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Furman returned to the basketball court Wednesday for the first time in 11 days after having a pair of games postponed by COVID concerns within its opponents' programs. While it was a lengthy break for the Paladins, Clay Mounce picked up right where he left off.

Mounce set a career-high for scoring for the second consecutive game as he poured in 29 points in the Paladins' 94-88 win at previously undefeated Citadel. Mounce, who scored 27 in Furman's win over Mercer on Jan. 2, was 10-of-12 from the floor Wednesday, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers.

"Clay's working really hard and playing like a fifth-year senior," Coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "He's playing with a lot of confidence. ... I'm really proud of him and how aggressive he's playing.

"Offensively, we were really efficient which has kind of been the story for us. Defensively, we're getting better but we're fouling too much and having these critical breakdowns in the last 10 seconds of the shot clock. We've got to continue to work towards complete possessions."

It didn't appear that another career-best night would be possible for Mounce when he headed to the bench with two fouls less than three minutes into the game. Mounce didn't return until seven minutes later, just after Furman (9-3, 3-0 Southern Conference) had snapped a 15-15 tie with an 8-0 run. After Mounce returned, the Paladins went on a 15-4 run to stretch its lead to 39-24 with 6:08 left in the half.

As often seems to be the case when these rivals meet in Charleston, the Bulldogs (8-1, 1-1) never went away. After Joe Anderson's 3-pointer pushed the lead to 15, Furman missed its next four shots - all 3-pointers. That helped Citadel cut the lead to 39-32 before Mounce made back-to-back layups to end the Paladins' drought.

Furman was 13-of-22 on two-pointers and 5-of-17 on threes in the first half to take a 48-41 lead into the break. After halftime, it seemed the Paladins were committed to getting the ball inside. After a turnover and four missed layups to open the second half, Furman made six of its next eight shots. All of the makes were layups except for the sixth - a dunk by Garrett Hien that gave the Paladins a 60-52 lead.

Furman led 65-59 with 11:15 left before the Paladins went on an 11-0 run to take its biggest lead of the game at 17 with 8:38 left. Citadel whittled that lead down to five three different times but could never get closer.

It was 81-76 with 4:56 left when Mounce and Noah Gurley hit back-to-back layups. It was 85-80 with 3:21 left when Mounce hit 1-of-2 free throws, then made a layup before Mike Bothwell got a steal and a layup to make it 90-80 with 2:09 left. It was 90-85 with 22 seconds left before Furman made each of its last four free throws to seal the win.

"We had the margin for most of the game. We kept getting it from seven to 10 to 15, but they wouldn't stop," Richey said. "They still kept coming, so give them a lot of credit but I'm proud of our guys for coming in here against another undefeated team on the road and getting the stops at the end."

Furman shot 57.6 percent from the floor in the second half, including making 16 of its final 22 attempts from inside the arc. That helped the Paladins collect 58 points in the paint, the most against a Division I opponent in at least 10 years (the available boxscores don't go back further). It's the fourth time this season that Furman has put up at least 50 points in the paint. Quite a few of those 58 were the 30 points the Paladins scored off 20 Citadel turnovers. Entering Wednesday, the Bulldogs had the fewest turnovers in the SoCon with 100 over their first eight games.

"We had a great last four minutes again. We sat down and got some key turnovers," Richey said. "Our guys did a good job of protecting the paint and having active hands. ... Deflections are point erasers and that's why we value them so much here."

In addition to Mounce's 29 points in 26 minutes, Gurley had 18 points, while Bothwell finished with 17 after scoring two in the first half. Bothwell also had eight rebounds, five assists, four steals and one turnover. Alex Hunter had 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals, while Jalen Slawson posted nine points, eight rebounds and four assists.

Furman is next scheduled to host ETSU Saturday at Timmons Arena, not Bon Secours Wellness Arena as originally planned. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. and it will be televised on ESPNU.

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