Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Paladins go cold in loss at UNCG

Clay Mounce had 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds in Furman's
64-58 loss at UNC Greensboro Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

Two days after Furman stifled UNC Greensboro's offense, the Spartans returned the favor Wednesday. The Paladins made eight shots in the first half and 10 in the second half on their way to a 31.6 percent shooting night in a 64-58 loss at the Greensboro Coliseum. On Monday in Greenville, UNCG made 10 shots in the first half and eight in the second on its way to a 29 percent shooting effort.

The Spartans (14-6, 9-3 Southern Conference), who are now alone in first place in the SoCon as the only team with three league losses, held off a late Furman rally. The Paladins (12-7, 6-4) trailed by 13 after UNCG's Isaiah Miller hit a jumper with 6:18 left, but got the lead down to three with 3:41 left. Clay Mounce's layup with 2:44 left cut the lead to 62-58, but the Paladins went 0-for-8 from the floor the rest of the way.

"Of course I'm disappointed after a loss, but our kids battled. They gave themselves a chance, but we just came up short," Furman coach Bob Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "We had a few moments where mentally, we got a little bit down. ... But we competed and made some tough plays. We've just got to look at it and figure out what we could've done a little bit better.

"It's hard when you lose games and you feel like you didn't try hard enough. We've had a couple of those, but that wasn't the case tonight." 

The made field goals matched the amount of turnovers Furman suffered as it had 18 for the second consecutive game. The last time the Paladins had at least 36 turnovers over a two-game stretch of Southern Conference play was eight seasons ago. To be fair, none of those other teams faced Miller in back-to-back games.

While the third-ranked SoCon player in career steals only had three Wednesday - after six on Monday, Miller was a dominant force everywhere. The preseason SoCon Player of the Year finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Miller also helped shut down Furman's guards. Leading scorer Mike Bothwell had nine points on 2-of-10 shooting, while Alex Hunter - who scored 19 Monday - had six Wednesday on 2-of-10 shooting.

Just like on Monday, Furman easily won the rebounding battle against the top rebounding team in the SoCon. The Paladins held a 40-27 edge on the glass, but that brings up another head-scratching stat. Of those 40 rebounds, 19 came on offense but Furman had just 14 second-chance points. While it wasn't as bad as somehow scoring zero off 13 offensive rebounds as the Paladins did in Saturday's loss to Wofford, 14 points off 19 offensive boards just isn't very good. A big result of that second-chance output was Furman making just 7-of-16 layups, which has been a recurring problem this season. 

"There's a reason why NBA teams are looking at (Miller). He made some tough shots tonight. We tried to do some switching with him ... and he just absolutely tore the switches apart," Richey said. "They really ramped up the pressure on our guards. ... They really made them work, increased the pressure and frustrated them. We've got to handle that a little bit better."

A nightmarish start, which included Noah Gurley getting two fouls in the opening 67 seconds and the 6-foot-0 Miller getting an offensive rebound on missed free throws twice(?!?) in the first two-and-a-half minutes, left Furman trailing 6-2 before Jaylon Pugh hit a 3-pointer at the 15:03 mark. That started a 12-2 run capped by Mounce's 3-pointer that gave the Paladins a 14-7 lead with 11:32 left in the first half.

Furman's defense collapsed for the remainder of the half. Miller hit a jumper on three consecutive possessions to start of a string of six straight made field goals by UNCG. The Spartans missed their next two shots, but got a rebound, got fouled and made two free throws after one of those. UNCG then closed the half by making its last five shots. Meanwhile, Furman went 0-for-6 from the floor over the half's last five minutes. All told, the Spartans made 11-of-13 shots over the final 11:22 of the first half and outscored the Paladins 30-14 to take a 37-28 lead into halftime.

Mounce was the lone scorer in double figures for Furman with 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. In addition to his nine points, Bothwell matched his career-high of eight rebounds (six offensive). Gurley had seven points on 2-of-11 shooting with a team-high four assists in 23 minutes. Jalen Slawson had seven points and six rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench.

"Clay Mounce was all over the place. A lot of our guys really competed," Richey said. "We can't get discouraged because we've made some strides. We've got to continue to try to find consistency.

"As long as we have fight, we will win our share and the big thing is we will keep getting better."

Furman hosts Western Carolina on Saturday at 2 p.m.

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