|Noah Gurley had 24 points and 10 rebounds in Furman's
70-60 win at Mercer Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Furman's Noah Gurley only missed three shots Saturday at Mercer. Two of those came consecutively early in the second half. He didn't run that streak to three in the most sure-fire way for a big man to not miss. Gurley made a steal and flew to the bucket for an electrifying dunk that gave Furman a 33-32 lead with 16:28 left and the Paladins never trailed again.
Gurley finished with a season-high 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds to power Furman to a big 70-60 victory - its 12th consecutive win over the Bears. After Mercer shot 55.6 percent in Furman's 83-80 win in Greenville on Jan. 2, it shot 39.7 percent Saturday.
"In moments like this, especially when you're on the road, big-time teams find a way to make big-time plays and I think our guys did that," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "It wasn't our prettiest night. We didn't have some outstanding shooting night from three by any stretch, but I thought we made critical plays in critical moments."
The Paladins improve to 15-7 overall and 9-4 in the Southern Conference with one week left in the regular season. Furman is in second place in the SoCon, with a slim percentage points lead over Wofford (14-8, 11-5) at .692 to .688. UNC Greensboro (16-7) rallied past Chattanooga Saturday to remain in first place at 11-4 (.733).
Furman led by as many as nine in the first half before Mercer (13-9, 6-8) chipped away. Felipe Haase's buzzer-beating 3-pointer cut Furman's lead to 27-26 at the half. Mercer led 32-31 before Gurley's game-changing play. The junior's large wingspan allowed him to reach for a left-handed interception of a pass. He spun around the intended receiver of that pass at midcourt and took one long dribble before soaring to the basket for the jam.
That started a 13-0 run over the next four minutes as the Paladins took their biggest lead of the day at 44-32. The Bears got it down to four three times, but never got closer. After Mercer cut the lead to 51-47, Mike Bothwell answered with a layup. When it was 53-49, Gurley hit a pair of free throws. When the Bears got it to 55-51, Gurley came back with a jumper.
Gurley then buried a 3-pointer with 2:04 left and Bothwell sealed the win with a layup, pushing the lead to 62-51 with 1:10 left. Furman was able to maintain the lead for much of the second half thanks to excellent foul shooting. After not making a trip to the line in the first half, the Paladins hit 17-of-19 free throws in the second half.
"That's three really good games in a row for Noah. ... That three to put us up nine was a pretty big play," Richey said. "It's just his demeanor. He's just out there playing freer. ... He's playing a little bit more patient and picking his spots to drive."
Gurley's double-double marked the third time in the last five games that he's grabbed double-digit rebounds. Entering this season, Gurley had just two games with double-digit rebounds. Bothwell finished with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting and had six rebounds. Jalen Slawson added 12 points, six rebounds and two steals. Furman, which had just three turnovers in the second half after nine in the first half, had a 33-26 rebounding advantage and a 20-0 edge in bench points.
Mercer sharpshooter Ross Cummings, who had 22 points in the teams' first meeting, was held to eight points Saturday. Cummings, who was averaging 15.3 points per game and shooting 44.2 percent from three entering Saturday, made 1-of-3 shots from beyond the arc.
"It's fun seeing Noah and Mike play like that," Richey said. "To come in here and shoot 28 percent from three and turn it over like we did in the first half, to still get a double-digit victory is a credit to how hard we played defensively against a very good offense."
The Paladins will host VMI in a makeup game Monday at 7 p.m.