Saturday, February 10, 2024

Mercer snaps Furman's 18-game series win streak

Tyrese Hughey had 10 points in Furman's 78-69 loss
at Mercer Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman

The law of averages likely caught up with the Furman basketball team on its trip to Mercer Wednesday. More than anything, the law of poor play in the second half caught up with it. The Paladins shot 34.6 from the floor after halftime while allowing the Bears to shoot 56.7 percent as Furman lost, 78-69. The loss snaps the Paladins' 18-game winning streak in the series against Mercer. It mark Bob Richey's first loss to Mercer as a head coach as the Bears' previous last win in the series came on Jan. 14, 2016.

The loss also was the second in a row for Furman (12-12, 6-5 Southern Conference). In both games, the Paladins saw a halftime lead disappear thanks to a drop-off in the second half. In Sunday's classic 89-87 loss to UNC Greensboro, Furman scored 51 in the first half and 36 in the second. On Wednesday, the Paladins followed up a 40-point first half with a 29-point second half. While Richey was disappointed but not angered by the loss to UNCG in what was a classic, his postgame tone was different Wednesday in Macon, Ga.

"I'm not doing a very good job with this group right now and I've got to figure it out," Richey said on the Furman Radio Network's postgame show. "We didn't look like a team tonight. We didn't look connected. We didn't look like we had any desire to play defense. ... It was a very bad performance and a very uninspiring effort. It was a very poor defensive and rebounding effort. We've got to get it fixed."

The night started on a solid note. Marcus Foster entered needing seven points to become the 51st player in school history to score 1,000 career points and he checked that box quickly. After Tyrese Hughey scored Furman's first five points, Foster scored the next nine to stake the Paladins to a 14-7 lead six minutes in.

With Furman seemingly in control, Mercer's Jalyn McCreary began to take over and never really stopped. McCreary, who opened the game with a steal and a dunk, scored the Bears' next 12 points after they trailed 14-7. The last of those came on a dunk with 8:45 left that cut Furman's lead to 23-17. An Alex Williams' three-pointer with 13 seconds left gave the Paladins an eight-point lead, but Mercer was able to go the length of the court in six seconds before Robby Carmody's layup cut the lead to 40-34 at the half.

Carmody, a backup guard, had scored 11 points combined over his previous five games. The Notre Dame transfer only scored five Wednesday, but that layup was a sign of things to come and things that had already been seen as Furman was destroyed down low all night.

"Even with a lead at half, we could still sense it. We had a really low pass count at halftime. The ball wasn't moving," Richey said. "We had five assists and six turnovers (in the first half). We tried to talk about it at the half, but unfortunately it got worse."

Based on the series history and SoCon standings, things still seemed to be going as planned early in the second half. The Paladins made four of their first six shots to take a 50-41 lead just over three minutes into the second half, but then everything went downhill. After J.P. Pegues' first made field goal - a layup with 16:47 left, Furman hit just 5-of-20 shots the rest of the way.

Mercer took advantage as it went on a 13-1 run before the Paladins' next made field goal - a Williams' layup with 12:34 left. Foster followed with a layup on Furman's next possession as the Paladins regained the lead at 55-54 with 11:56 left. That lead lasted all of 29 seconds when McCreary buried a jumper and Mercer (11-13, 4-7) never relinquished the lead.

Over the final 11:55 of the game, the Paladins made 3-of-9 field goals and had eight turnovers. While Mercer made just 2-of-9 three-pointers, Furman hit just 6-of-22. The Bears had a 48-32 advantage on points in the paint.

A sign of just how odd this game got came in Furman's foul trouble. With 8:02 remaining, the Paladins had been called for just nine fouls but Pegues and Hughey accounted for eight of those with four apiece. Pegues' fourth foul came with 10:30 left. That certainly didn't help Furman's attempt to come back down the stretch.

"At the end of the day, we're not playing well and that's on me," Richey said. "I promise you that we're going to fight and scrap and get this thing worked out, but tonight was unacceptable. ... It was a pathetic, pitiful performance."

Foster finished with 19 points, nine rebounds and three steals to lead Furman. Williams had 15 points, while Hughey had 10 points and two blocked shots before fouling out. Pegues was held to four points on just 2-of-5 shooting and also had five assists, four rebounds and four turnovers along with the four fouls.

McCreary made 13-of-21 shots and finished with a game-high 28 points to go along with eight rebounds, a block and a steal.

Furman will try to get things back on track when it plays at East Tennessee State Saturday at 6 p.m. The game will be televised by CBS Sports Network.

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