Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Hunter helps Paladins cruise past Samford

Alex Hunter had a career-high 23 points and six rebounds in Furman's
78-64 win over Samford Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

An outmanned Samford men's basketball team came into Timmons Arena Wednesday night and outhustled and outrebounded Furman for much of the first half. The Bulldogs, who were playing without their two leading scorers, got to loose balls and had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half alone.

Then just before halftime, Alex Hunter took over. Furman's senior point guard hit three 3-pointers in a 91-second stretch to turn a deficit into a six-point halftime lead and then helped the Paladins pull away to a 78-64 win.

Hunter finished with a career-high 23 points thanks to a career-high seven 3-pointers (out of nine attempts). Hunter also matched his season high of six rebounds for Furman (14-7, 8-4 Southern Conference), which moved into a tie with Wofford (13-8, 10-5) for second place in the SoCon as each team has a .667 winning percentage in league play. The Paladins are even in the loss column with first-place UNCG (15-7, 10-4) as the Spartans fell at VMI Wednesday.

"It was a really good second half. I credit our guys for getting that effort cleaned up and just doing the things we need to do to make winnings plays," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Give Samford credit. Being down players is always hard, but man those kids fought and battled.

"Those threes by Alex before half were big. ... He was shooting the ball with a lot of confidence. He obviously changes our team when he plays with that much confidence."

Furman trailed 28-25 before Noah Gurley's layup with 3:35 left. Hunter then hit threes on each of the Paladins' next three possessions to give Furman a 36-30 lead at the break.

Hunter's first shot of the second half was a successful three at the 17:57 mark that gave Furman a 44-32 lead, it's biggest advantage at that point. That lead never got under eight and grew to as many as 18. Hunter has made 50 percent of his 3-pointers (22-of-44) over his last six games and has scored at least 15 points in four of those.

"It was kind of an awkward feeling out there. I don't know why we came out a little sluggish, but once guys saw some shots go in we got rolling," Hunter said. "Once I hit those three in the first half, I was like 'alright, I'm feeling it.' The rim just got bigger. It's a cliché, but it's true. Everything you shoot, it feels like is going in and that's how I felt tonight."

Mike Bothwell scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half as the Paladins shot 55.2 percent from the floor after halftime. Bothwell matched his season high with six assists as Furman recorded 20 for the second consecutive game, while committing 10 turnovers. Noah Gurley added 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting and surpassed the 1,000-point mark in his career along the way. Clay Mounce didn't allow a scoreless night to dissuade him from being a big contributor as he had eight rebounds and four assists.

With leading scorers Myron Gordon (15.6 points per game) and Christian Guess (15.1 ppg) out, A.J. Staton-McCray (10.3) was the top scorer available for the Bulldogs (6-12, 2-9) Wednesday. Furman held him to seven points on 3-of-14 shooting. While Samford won the rebounding battle, 35-29, it had only one offensive board in the second half.

"A 20 assist game with 10 turnovers is always a recipe for success around here. To have two back-to-back is great," Richey said. "It was good to see Noah get 1,000. He's gotten better every year. The last two games, he's had 16 points on just eight shots both times. He's really matured."

Next up for Furman is a stretch of four games in the final eight regularly scheduled days of the season. That begins with a game at Mercer on Saturday at 2 p.m. The Paladins are scheduled to host VMI in a makeup game Monday, host The Citadel on Wednesday and then close out the regular season at Wofford on Saturday, Feb. 27.

Mercer (13-8, 6-7) will be coming off a win at ETSU on Wednesday. The Paladins held off the Bears, 83-80, in Greenville on Jan. 2.

"I have a lot of respect for (Mercer coach) Greg (Gary). They play the game the right way and have skill. ... We quickly forget how good this league is. This Mercer team beat Georgia Tech in a multiple possession game earlier in the year," Richey said. "We're going to have to be ready to go and play a little harder than we did tonight. We can't come out the way we came out tonight. That's not going to work on the road.

"I do like where our group's at right now. I like where our depth's at and I like how we're starting to move the ball a little bit better. We're trusting each other and playing more connected."

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