Sunday, January 13, 2019

UNCG takes down hot-shooting Furman

Furman senior forward Matt Rafferty
If you haven’t figured out the SoCon race is going to be a war this season, you have been served fair warning.

The top four teams in the SoCon...Furman, UNCG, Wofford and East Tennessee State are going at it against each other this season. Home court, so far, has been a fortress save UNCG’s hiccup to Wofford Thursday night, making Saturday’s game on the home floor against the Paladins somewhat of a must-win, or at least in the regular-season title chase.

Sophomore guard Isaiah Miller would make sure the Spartans didn’t fall too far behind in the standings, however, following a 29-point loss on the home floor last time out, which snapped UNCG’s 17-game winning streak inside the friendly confines.
Miller scored a career-high 25 points, as UNC Greensboro held off Furman, 89-79, in a Southern Conference battle Saturday night at the Greensboro Coliseum. That allowed the Spartans to win their fourth-straight game in the series against Furman.

With the win, UNCG 15-3 overall and 4-1 in the Southern Conference, while Furman dropped to 15-3 overall and 4-2 in league play.

Miller, a sophomore guard from Covington, GA, was sensational throughout the game, finishing the contest going 10-for-19 from the field, including 4-for-8 from three-point land. In addition, Miller also added five rebounds, three assists and four steals.

Miller was one of four Spartans in double figures in the contest, as Francis Alonso (16 pts), Eric Hamilton (15 pts), and Demetrius Troy (10 pts).

Furman, despite shooting the ball at a 52.9% clip (27-of-51) and, connected on 55.6% (10-of-18) from three-point land in the contest, however, Furman turned it over 21 times, which led to getting outscored to a 26-11 advantage for UNCG in points off turnovers.

The Paladins were led by another outstanding night from Southern Conference Player of the Year candidate Matt Rafferty, as the senior forward posted 22 points, 10 boards, dished out five assists and recorded two steals to lead the Paladins. He was one of three Paladins in double figures in the contest.

Rafferty finished 6-for-10 from the field and was a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line. Joining Rafferty in double figures Saturday night was Jordan Lyons with 16 points, while senior guard Andrew Brown added 14.

Tre Clark’s dunk off a run-out on a long pass from Brown with 9:13 remaining in the contest. The Spartans responded with a 12-2 run to take 73-61 lead following a Kaleb Hunter three-pointer with 5:19 remaining.

The Paladins cut to five on two occasions in the final two minutes, with the last time coming after an Alex Hunter layup driving layup, which cut UNCG’s lead to 81-76 with 1:13 remaining.

Six-straight made free throws on the heels of a turnover, two missed shots and a UNCG blocked shot spelled the end of an otherwise solid shooting night for Furman, with the Spartans assuming an 87-76 lead on the second shot of a two-shot foul from Hamilton with 25 seconds remaining. UNCG would maintain that double-digit lead to close out their 15th win overall and fourth win in league play.

The Paladins were red-hot in the opening half of play as well, connecting on 58.3% (14-for-24) from the field and 75.0% (6-for-8) from three-point land, however, 11 first-half turnovers, including five offensive fouls, led to a 15-4 UNCG advantage in points off turnovers, and a 41-37 halftime lead for the Spartans.

“They’re a tremendous offensive team and well they’re a tremendous team,“ said UNCG head coach Wes Miller. “On the offensive end they’re just a tremendous team and there’s a reason they were in the Top 25 just two weeks ago. If you aren’t active defensively with your hands and with your play, you can’t guard them even if you’re in the right position,” Miller added.

The truth of this basketball game is Miller could have even been talking about his own team, which shot the ball at a 51.6% clip (32-of-62) for the game, showing some of that championship form on both ends of the floor to gut out a tough Southern Conference victory.

The Spartans were able to affect the game with their defense, and for the first time since early in the season, James Dickey looked like he was back to his old form prior to his foot injury, and his four blocks were the most in a single game for the junior reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Year since the season opener against North Carolina A&T, when he swatted away seven shots.

For head coach Bob Richey and Furman, it’s back to the drawing board for his young team, which will now have a week off to prepare for its big game at Wofford next Saturday.

With a season-high 21 turnovers, which is uncharacteristic for the normally composed Paladins, it will give something for head coach Bob Richey to prepare for and work on during the week ahead prior to squaring off with their I-85 rival.

It’s something that Richey admits UNCG was able to do with great effectiveness, which was put Furman in uncomfortable situations with forcing the tempo.

That’s the thing about the SoCon. Teams find unique ways to push other teams’ buttons. Mercer does it different than The Citadel and UNCG does it different than the previous two, with a 1-2-2 press reminiscent of some of those Murry Bartow ETSU clubs in the mid-2000s before the Bucs left the league for the Atlantic Sun.

“It’s there pressure and they tried to speed us up and when people pressure you they are trying to get you to play faster than you want to play.” Furman head coach Bob Richey said.

“Unfortunately today they had success doing that and so we’ve got to be better there and that’s one of our achilles heels and going back to some of these guys that haven’t been in these situations before and five underclassmen of our eight that are playing out there and that’s one of those deals where you’ve got to learn to just stay composed. The pressure is only pressure if you let it pressure you,” Richey added.

UNCG returns to action Thursday night with a trip to face Western Carolina at the Ramsey Center, with tip-off slated for 1 p.m. Furman will take on league unbeaten Wofford at the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium next Saturday in Spartanburg. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Furman Thumps VMI in Lexington

LEXINGTON, VA--Furman held VMI to 37% shooting and the SoCon’s leading scorer Bubba Parham to just six points, as the Paladins defeated the Keydets going away, 89-57, in Southern Conference action Thursday night at Cameron Hall.

With the win, Furman improves to 15-2 overall and 4-1 in the Southern Conference, while VMI fell to 6-10 overall and 0-4 in league action. The win marked Furman's seventh-straight triumph over the Keydets in the series.

The Paladins had five in double figures, led by Jordan Lyons, who led the Paladins with 21 points, connecting on 7-of-15 from the field and 4-for-11 from three-point range. Lyons was also 3-for-3 from the charity stripe. Lyons also added two rebounds, two assists and a steal

Joining Lyons were Clay Mounce (16 pts), Tre Clark (13 pts), Andrew Brown (11 pts) and Matt Rafferty (10 pts). For Mounce, it was his second-straight game in double figures, as he also posted 13 points and 15 boards Saturday. He also contributed a team-high tying six boards tonight. Rafferty also had six boards, five assists and three steals.

Clark's 13 points are a new career-high, eclipsing the 11 points he scored in a win over Charleston Southern earlier this season. He led the Paladin charge off the bench, and his 13 points marked his third double-figure scoring effort this season.

Furman used a 17-6 run to close the opening half to take control of the basketball, with the run buoyed by Jordan Lyons, who scored 13 of his game-high 21 points in the opening half, as the Paladins took a 38-24 to the halftime locker room.

With Furman clinging to a 21-18 lead with 4:12 remaining in the half following a Jake Stephens layup for the Keydets. Clark responded with the a dunk of the right side to start the run, giving the Paladins a 23-18 lead. The run would end with a top of the key jumper from Lyons, as the Paladins saw their lead balloon to 17, at 38-21, with just 52 seconds remaining in the half. A Connor Arnold banked in three from the top of the key on the ensuing possessionn set the halftime deficit at 14 for the Keydets.

A 7-0 run to begin the second half would see Furman's lead balloon to 45-24, and the run dating back to the closing minutes of the first half,  became a 24-6 spurt by the Paladins, as Rafferty notched two of his 10 points with a wide-open layup.

Furman redshirt sophomore forward Clay Mounce
Furman never looked back from that strong start to the second half, shooting 52.2% from the field in the second half, as the Paladins connected on 16-of-30 from the field in the second half alone, and that included connecting on 8-for-19 from (42.1%) three-point range. All told, the Paladins finished the contest shooting the ball at a 45.3% (29-of-64) clip for the game, while connecting on 15 triples, shooting a sizzling 44.1% (15-of-34) from long range for the game.

Meanwhile, the Paladins put the clamps down defensively on the Keydets for much of the night, holding the Keydets to just 36.8% (21-of-57) for the game, and just 22.7% (5-for-22) from three-point range.

VMI sophomore guard and reigning SoCon co-Freshman of the Yeaar Bubba Parham, who came into the contest leading the SoCon in scoring average, at 21.9 PPG, was held to just six points on 1-for-6 shooting from the field and 0-for-3 from long range. Parham's six-point performance was his lowest of the 2018-19 season thus far.  It eclipsed his previous season-low of seven points in a loss to Longwood.

VMI ended the night having been led by sophomore wing guard Myles Lewis, who posted 11 points, while fellow classmate Garrett Gilkeson closed out the Keydets in double figures with 10 points, while adding a team-high seven boards.

The Paladins held advantages in points off turnovers (20-10), fast break points (11-8), bench points (34-26), shooting percentage (45.3%-36.8%) and assists (21-10). The Paladins forced 18 VMI turnovers, while committing 11 miscues of their own. The two teams were even on the boards (37-37) and in points in the paint (28-28).

Furman returns to action Saturday with a key contest at UNC Greensboro, with tip-off set for 5 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum, while VMI will host Wofford at Cameron Hall in a 1 p.m. SoCon clash at Cameron Hall Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

UNC Greensboro Braces For Two Huge SoCon Clashes on its Home Floor

Image result for uncg 56, wofford 55
Wofford's senior forward Cameron Jackson

Monumental week in the SoCon for UNCG
UNCG faces two of its most pivotal tests of the season in less than a 48-hour period, hosting league title contenders Wofford and Furman in back-to-back league games in Southern Conference games on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. 

It least early in the 2018-19 Southern Conference regular-season race, the Thursday and Saturday matchups will likely serve as major bookmarks in the league race when we reflect on the SoCon regular-season. After all, national college basketball analyst Andy Katz called the SoCon one of the best mid-major conferences in college basketball, and also called the SoCon regular-season title chase one of the most exciting in all of college basketball. That should ramp up the atmosphere at the Greensboro Coliseum this weekend--two games many Spartan fans probably already had circled on their pocket schedule back during the summer. 

The defending Southern Conference champions will enter Thursday night's game sporting the nation's sixth-longest homecourt winning streak, as the Spartans have reeled off 17-straight wins at the Greensboro Coliseum. 

The Spartans, who are currently tied with Furman for the league's best overall record, at 14-2, have gotten off to a 3-0 start in league play with wins over VMI (71-68), Chattanooga (85-72) and Samford (83-75) and have won seven-straight games coming into the contest. It's the SoCon's longest winning streak.

Wofford, on the other hand, comes into the clash with an 11-4 record and sit atop the league standings by a half-game over the Spartans, at 4-0. The Terriers have SoCon wins over Mercer (78-74), The Citadel (112-81), Western Carolina (74-54) and East Tennessee State (79-62). The Terriers come in having won three-straight. 

Both the Spartans and Terriers were picked No. 1 and No. 2 in the preseason Southern Conference media and coaches polls, respectively.

Last Season:

The Spartans claimed all three meetings over the Terriers last season, which included a 56-55 SoCon semifinal game win in what was the game of the 2018 Southern Conference Tournament. 

Wofford had the best opportunity to end the Spartans NCAA Tournament hopes altogehter. Better than any team UNCG faced in the 2018 SoCon Tournament in Asheville. 

The game came down to Francis Alonso doing what he has done to Wofford time and time again: hitting clutch shots. The junior from Malaga, Spain had ice water in his veins. Although he finished 5-for-15 from the field — including 3-for-10 from three-point range — and 13 points, his third triple of the night with 20 seconds left that proved to be Wofford’s dagger, and eventually proved the game-winner.

“All I have to say is it was a really tough game. But I have to say my teammates were the ones that gave me confidence at all times,” said junior guard Francis Alonso. “Even though I wasn’t shooting the ball well, when you have great teammates that have your back, you feel at the end of a possession, shots are going to go in. I knew I was feeling good. I’ve been working a lot this summer and I’m really happy we pulled it off.”

Trailing 56-55 following a Mike Young timeout with 13 ticks remaining, the Terriers set up a play off a hand-off from Cameron Jackson in the corner, and SoCon Player of the Year Fletcher Magee's wide-open shot from the right corner was short, but he followed his own shot, tossing up a second shot from about 15 which was long.

That was when Murphy ran down the ball, and after pump-faking a UNCG defender, let a shot go from the right elbow that was short and clanged off front iron as the buzzer sounded. That would allow the Spartans to make their second-straight championship game. Elation for Wes Miller and his Spartans, but sadness and heartbreak for Mike Young and his Terriers. 

The other two regular-season meetings were also hard-fought battles, with UNCG capturing a 71-67 win over the Terriers in Greensboro on the final game of 2017, and then the Spartans were able to hold off Wofford for a 77-67 win in their first-ever trip to Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium. 

The Spartans had to overcome a 47-33 halftime deficit to win a thriller when these two teams met last December in Greensboro Coliseum. Magee scored all of his 21 points in the opening half of play as the Terriers shot the ball at a blistering 60.7% clip from the field in the opening half of play, however, the Spartans got 26 points from Alonso--18 in the second half--and held the Terriers to just 30.8% in the second half, which included holding Magee scoreless, en rout to getting the 71-67 win. 

If last season's three matchups are any indicator of these season's contest, it should be a great basketball game in the Coliseum Thursday night. 

Magee for Three-istory:

If you missed it on Saturday night, Fletcher Magee went about doing what Fletcher Magee does, which is hitting threes. His final one, which was huge in a 78-74 win over Mercer, allowed the senior guard to surpass former SoCon and Davidson legend Stephen Curry (2006-09), who was the SoCon record-holder with 414 threes. His final triple of his five on the night vs Mercer with just under 40 seconds remaining game gave Magee the record, as he now has 415-career threes. Magee is also the career-active leader in the SoCon for points scored, with 2,096.

Two Matchups Four Players:

Francis Alonso vs. Fletcher Magee or James Dickey vs. Cameron Jackson? Which matchup figures to determine this matchup? It's likely the defense of Dickey vs. the offensive efficiency of Jackson.

Jackson is off to the best start to a season in his career at Wofford. The senior from Winchester, VA currently ranks eighth in the conference in scoring (15.2 PPG), sixth in rebounding (7.8 RPG) and third in field goal percentage (59.3%). 

Dickey, who was the SoCon's Defensive Player of the Year last year, recently returned from a foot injury and is currently averaging 7.3 PPG and 7.6 RPG. He has started all 10 games he's seen action in for the Spartans this season. He will need to step up big if UNCG hopes to pick where they left off against the Terriers last season. 

Magee comes in ranking third in the SoCon in scoring, at (18.1 PPG), and leads the league with 64 made three-pointers (64). Alonso currently ranks second in the SoCon in scoring average (18.4 PPG) and tied for sixth in the SoCon in three pointers made (46). Magee and Alonso are two of the top free throw shooters in all of college basketball, with Magee having connected on 94% (47-of-50) this season, while Alonso is connecting on 90% (75-of-83) of his shots from the stripe.

Also of note is Isaiah Miller for UNCG and Storm Murphy. The two sophomores were a part of the SoCon All-Freshman team last year, and neither has suffered a sophomore slump. Miller comes in averaging 14.3 PPG and leads the SoCon in steals, averaging 2.8 thefts per game. Meanwhile, Murphy enters the contest averaging 8.8 PPG and ranks second in three-point field goal percentage, at 46.2% (24-of-52).

Saturday's Showdown

Furman comes to town Saturday and its a team, that like Wofford, will be in contention for the Southern Conference title all season. The Spartans have won three-straight games against the Paladins, including getting a 71-61 win at the Coliseum last season and an 80-67 win at Furman last season.

The Paladins, who like UNCG, are also 14-2, but have also suffered a Southern Conference loss last week at East Tennessee State. 

Should the Spartans get past Wofford, the game offers an opportunity for the Paladins to either gain a huge road win and help even things up in the SoCon race, or for UNCG, it would offer the chance to hang another conference setback on the Paladins, which could prove to be big in the regular-season race. The Paladins and Spartans are both off to their best starts to a season in their program's histories. Furman plays at VMI Thursday night. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Furman uses big second half to down The Citadel

Furman and The Citadel just before tipping off the SoCon's oldest basketball rivalry Saturday at Timmons Arena

GREENVILLE, S.C.--Senior forward Matt Rafferty posted his eighth double-double of the season, and scored a career-high 28 points, while grabbing 12 rebounds, as Furman claimed a 101-85 win over The Citadel in Southern Conference action in front of a season-high 2,462 fans Saturday afternoon at Timmons Arena.

With the win, Furman improved to 14-2 overall and 3-1 in the Southern Conference, while The Citadel dropped to 9-5 overall and 1-2 in league play. It was Furman's 12th-consecutive home win and ninth-straight home win against SoCon competition. Furman improved to 47-8 overall and 27-3 against league foes on the home hardwood since the start of the 2015-16 season.

Rafferty finished the contest by going 11-of-15 from the field and was a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line in the win. In addition to the points and rebounded he posted three steals, blocked one shot and had one assist. Rafferty jhas now scored in double figures in 15 out of 16 games to start the season for the Paladins, and his eighth double-double is tied for the most in the SoCon this season along with ETSU's Jeromy Rodriguez.

Rafferty was joined in double figures by four other Paladins. Junior guard Jordan Lyons added 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting from the field and 3-for-10 from three-point range, while Clay Mounce joined Rafferty with a double-double performance of 15 points and a career-high 13 rebounds, while Noah Gurley and Alex Hunter chipped in 15 and 13 points, respectively, in the win. Hunter dished out three assists and had three boards, while Gurley posted eight boards and two assists in addition to his scoring performance.

Furman's starting frontcourt trio of Mounce, Gurley and Rafferty combined for 58 points and 33 rebounds in Saturday's win. Redshirt sophomore guard Tre Clark turned in a solid performance, posting six points, nine boards, five offensive rebounds, four steals and two assists in the win.

The Citadel's Zane Najdawi knocked down a  right elbow three-pointer to cut Furman's lead to just two points, at 72-70, with 9:04 remaining. The Paladins responded with a Rafferty layup on the other end, which was the beginning of what turned out to be a 25-5 run over a 6:48 span to take a 97-75 lead, with a pair of Jordan Lyons free throws giving Furman its largest lead of the night, at 22 points, with 2:18 remaining.

The Citadel came out and brought the game to Furman in the opening 20 minutes of action, as the Bulldogs shot 50% (18-for-36) from the field in the opening half to take a 46-43 lead into the halftime locker room.

The Bulldogs were buoyed by the play of forward Kaiden Rice, who was making his second-career start, as he scored 12 of his 18 points in the opening half, including the first six, with two quick three-pointers to give the Bulldogs a quick 6-0 lead right out of the gate.There were 10 lead changes alone in the opening half of play.

Furman held huge advantages in rebounding (53-28), points in the paint (48-34) and second chance points (25-8). In fact, the Paladins had more second-half offensive rebounds (11) than the Bulldogs had second-half total rebounds (10). A lot of that had to do with Furman's unsung hero in the game, Clark who, as mentioned above, led the Paladins with offensive boards. The Paladins out-rebounded the Bulldogs 30-10 in the second-half.

Furman's ability defensively was of note, especially in the second half, making the necessary defensive adjustments to slow The Citadel's talented point guard Lew Stallworth, and take talented sharp-shooting guard Matt Frierson completely out of the game. It was Lyons that would draw the assignment of locking down Frierson, while Clark was put in the game to slow Stallworth midway through the second half.

Frierson came into the week leading the nation in three-pointers made-per-game, and had a league-leading 62 triples on the season. Lyons and Furman's collective defensive effort against the senior guard limited him to just 1-for-5 shooting from long-range and a season-low three points. Frierson had been The Citadel's second-leading scorer coming into the contest, averaging 16.5 PPG.

Stallworth was The Citadel's leading scorer coming into the contest with the Paladins, averaging 17.6 PPG. He would finish the game with a team-leading 23 points, but was significantly slowed down the stretch in the contest by Clark. Stallworth, who ranks 10th nationally in assists-per-game, added six helpers and also finished with four boards.

"It's one of those things where I thought Jordan Lyons played one of his best defensive games of the year and I thought he took the challenge," head coach Bob Richey said. "I thought he did a great job Thursday on [Marcus] Cohen and he was dealing more with a ball-handler and attacker and Alex [Hunter] was the one that got the [Ross] Cummings matchup and we didn't didn't know with the quick turnaround in the games like can Alex [Hunter] chase around a guy again so we asked Jordan [Lyons] to do it and we asked him to do it in full confidence and we knew he could and I thought he took a lot of ownership to it and I really thought he took a lot of pride in it," he added.

Clark was noticeably a factor all night for the Paladins, particularly in the areas of offensive rebounds and being a defensive menace, leading the Paladins in both categories.

"Tre Clark...Not sure I have seen...I was trying to add up my years of doing this and I have done this for 13 years now feels like three and I am not sure I have seen someone grow in six months the way he has and I just want to make sure everyone is clear on that and I brought him in Monday and asked him to play backup point [guard] and he goes out there and hits two threes right and everybody in the off-season was like can Tre Clark shoot and he's shooting in the 40s still and goes 2-for-4 today. He defends Stallworth. He handles the ball against the press. His growth. His demeanor. His confidence...what he means to this program right now...unbelievable," Richey said.

Joining Stallworth in double figures for the Bulldogs was sophomore forward Alex Reed, who posted 20 points, while Rice added 18 on 6-for-15 from the field and 5-for-13 from three-point range. All-SoCon forward Zane Najdawi added a double-double, with 11 points and 10 boards.

Furman held advantages in shooting percentage (46.8%-46.4%), fast break points (17-11) and bench points (13-10). The Citadel held slight advantages in points off turnovers (19-18) and assists (16-13). The two teams combined to attempt 81 three-pointers in the contest, with the Paladins connecting on 13-of-38 (34.2%) from long range, while the Bulldogs were 14-of-43 (32.6%) from three-point range to finish the contest.

Furman returns to action Thursday for the first of three-straight road games, taking on VMI next Thursday night at Cameron Hall, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. in Lexington, VA. The Bulldogs return home Thursday night to host red-hot East Tennessee State at McAlister Field House, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. in Charleston.

Saturday's SoCon Results:
Wofford 78, Mercer 74
UNCG 71, VMI 68
ETSU 96, Chattnooga 70
Western Carolina 76, Samford 69
Furman 101, The Citadel 85

Power Rankings:
1. UNCG 14-2, 3-0 SoCon
2. Wofford 12-4, 4-0 SoCon
3. ETSU 13-4, 3-1 SoCon
4. Furman 14-2, 3-1 SoCon
5. Samford 11-6, 1-3 SoCon
6. The Citadel 9-5, 1-2 SoCon
7. Mercer 5-10, 0-3 SoCon
8. Chattanooga 7-10, 2-2 SoCon
9. Western Carolina 4-13, 1-3 SoCon
10. VMI 5-10, 0-3 SoCon

Next Week's slate (Jan. 10 and Jan. 12)
Thursday, Jan. 10
Furman at VMI 7 p.m.
ETSU at The Citadel 7 p.m.
Western Carolina at Mercer 7 p.m.
Wofford at UNCG 7 p.m.

Saturday, Jan. 12
Western Carolina at The Citadel, 1 p.m.
Wofford at VMI, 1 p.m.
ETSU at Mercer, 4:30 p.m.
Furman at UNCG, 5 p.m.
Samford at Chattanooga, 4:30 p.m.

*--Check Mid-major madness Thursday for a full preview of Wofford at UNCG.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Furman Grinds Out Win Over Mercer

Furman redshirt freshman forward Noah Gurley
GREENVILLE, S.C.--Senior forward Matt Rafferty led four Furman players in double figures and notched his 1,000th-career point in the process, as the Paladins snapped a two-game losing streak, with a 71-58 Southern Conference win over Mercer Thursday night at Timmons Arena.

With the win, Furman improved to 13-2 overall and 2-1 in Southern Conference action, while Mercer dropped to 5-9 overall and 0-2 in Southern Confernce play.

"I'm really proud of Matt [Rafferty]. One thousand points, especially considering his injuries, it's incredible," Furman head coach Bob Richey said. "But what I told the team, that's (1,000 points) very minimal compared to everything that he's done for this program. I love the fact that he's scored 1,000 points, but the way that he's impacted this program, you can't even start to put words on it. You can't even come close."

In his team-leading scoring performance, Rafferty reached his 1,000th-point of his career on his second basket of the night. He became the 44th player in program history to reach the milestone, and now has 1,016 points in his career.

The senior from Hinsdale, Ill., finished with 19 points going 6-of-9 from the field and 7-for-8 from the charity stripe. Rafferty also dished out a pair of assists and had three steals. Rafferty is currently second in the SoCon with seven double-doubles, as he added 10 rebounds to the Paladin cause, and it was his 14th game in double figures in 15 to start the 2018-19 campaign.

Joining Rafferty in double digits in the contest were Noah Gurley and Jordan Lyons, who added 11 points apiece, while point guard Alex Hunter added 10 points. Additionally, sophomore forward Clay Mounce added six points and a team-high 11 rebounds.

The game was not a thing of beauty much of the night, with both teams looking sloppy at times, and Mercer struggled to get into any offensive rhythm the entire night, suffering just their second loss by double digits this season and finishing the night connecting on just 36.2% (21-for-58) for the game, and just 21.1% (4-for-19) shooting from three-point range.

After shooting the ball at below a 40% clip in the previous two outings, the Paladins rebounded to shoot 46.3% (25-of-54) from the field in the win.

Furman and Mercer would play a tight first half, with Furman leading from the outset, but had trouble creating much separation on the scoreboard from the Bears. It would be Gurley that would ignite the Paladins late in the half. Furman found itself tied with Mercer, 19-19, following a Cory Kilby triple with 5:29 remaining in the opening half.

However, the Paladins were able to close the half with a 19-7 run, with eight of those points coming from Gurley, while he also added an emphatic block on the defensive to help the Paladins take a 35-26 lead into the halftime locker room. Gurley paced the Paladins with nine first-half points.

In the second half, the Paladins would get a lift from Tre Clark off the bench. Clark drove the lane and posted an emphatic two-handed dunk over Mercer's Jaylen Stowe, helping ignite a 16-3 Furman run to increase the Paladin advantage to eight, at 42-34, with 13:56 left in the contest. The run concluded with a pair of Rafferty free throws, extending the Furman advantage to 19, at 56-37, with 6:54 left.

The Bears would not go away easily, however, slicing Furman's lead to just seven, following an Ethan Stair three-pointer from straight-a-way to make it a 65-58 game with 2:25 left. Stair's three-pointer was part of a 21-7 run to get the Bears back in the game late. A pair of Mounce free throws would increase Furman's lead back to double-digits moments later, as the Paladins scored the final six points of the contest to close out their 13th win of the season.

The Paladins completed the yeoman-like win having to grind out a win, which is something they have yet to had to do in any of the 12 other victories amassed this season.

On a night when the senior from Hinsdale, Ill reached a personal milestone, he talked about the adjustments Furman made collectively as a team in getting the hard-fought win over the Bears, including knowing that limiting Mercer sharp-shooting junior guard Ross Cummings, who came into the game leading the Bears in scoring average, at 14.8 PPG. The Paladins limited Cummings to 10 points on 3-for-8 from the field and just 1-for-5 from three-point land.

"It all started tonight on the defensive end. We got some stops and got out in transition a little bit, they got a few offensive rebounds that kind of kept them in the game in the first half. We got off to a bigger lead in the second half and tried to handle their pressure. A few things didn't go our way there, but we bounced back and ended the game strong. [Ross] Cummings is a great player and Alex Hunter and Tre Clark did a great job defending him," said senior forward Matt Rafferty.

"It took everyone out there. We had a few things to adjust that we knew would hurt them a little bit  and one of them was shuttiung [Ross] Cummings down and he's one of the best players in the league," he added.

Following the two losses to LSU and East Tennessee State, the Paladins got back to the basics and started getting back to who they were as a basketball team, according to head coach Bob Richey.

"We asked some guys tonight to do some things for the betterment of the program. That was all to make sure we could get position on length and size where we wanted it," Richey said. "We had to get Noah out there a little bit more and get Clay at the three more. I thought the team handled that in a really mature way tonight and it was really good to see."

The Paladins went with Noah Gurley returning to the starting lineup Thursday night for the first time since the Charleston Southern game back on Dec. 11 at Timmons Arena. Senior guard Andrew Brown has started the past three games for the Paladins. Brown would now adjust to being Furman's top player coming in off the bench, and he will give the Paladins an immediate three-point threat coming off the bench. 

Richey also made a point to show how the team has been building confidence through its first adversity of the season following a 12-0 start, as the team is still relatively young. 

"It's just like anything in life, when you go through that adversity, you have to get back to who you are and I thought for the most part we did that tonight," Richey said. "[Mercer] is usually a slower tempo game and to get the margin to 19 and the way we did it systematically.It wasn't like we were on fire [offensively]. "I just felt that we were much more connected on defense tonight," the head coach added. 

The Paladins finished out the win by holding advantages in points in the paint (28-24), fast-break points (17-8), total rebounds (37-36), assists (16-7), free throw percentage (64.7%-57.1%) and overall shooting percentage (46.3%-36.2%). Furman also out-scored the Bears 30-12 from beyond the arc, as the Paladins connected on 35.7% (10-of-28) from three-point range. The teams were deadlocked in both points off turnovers (16-16) and second-chance points (10-10), while the Bears held the advantage in bench points (20-14).

Mercer had three players in double figures, with Djordje Dimitrijevic and Stair tying for team-high honors with 15 points apiece, while the aforementioned Cummings added 10. Kilby led the Bears on the glass with six boards. 

Furman returns to action Saturday evening, hosting The Citadel with a 4 p.m. tip-off against the Bulldogs at Timmons Arena. Mercer will be just up the road at the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium at Wofford to face the Terriers. Tip-off for that contest is slated for 7 p.m.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

ETSU Pummels Furman

JOHNSON CITY, TN.--After being ranked in the Associated Press poll just a week ago, Furman dropped its second-straight game in convincing fashion, with a 79-56 setback to East Tennessee State before a rowdy crowd of 5,439 fans to take in Southern Conference basketball action Saturday night at Freedom Hall.

With the win, the Bucs improve to 11-4 overall and 1-1 in Southern Conference play, while Furman fell to 12-2 overall and 1-1 in league play. The Bucs have now lost 10 of their last 12. We can pretty much determine the Southern Conference race will be a war.

The Bucs shot a blistering 60% (30-of-50) from the field in the contest, while the nation’s top rebounding team did work on the glass, out-rebounding the Paladins 33-23 in the contest, and out-scoring Furman in the paint, 42-30. In the final 20 minutes of the game, ETSU shot 66.7% (16-of-24) from the field, exerting its inside dominance much of the way.

Furman shot below 40% for the seccond time in as many games, connecting on just 20-of-54 from the field, which equated to just a 37.0%. Furman is just 14-of-53 from three the past two games, which converts to 26.4%. In the past two meetings with ETSU, Furman has been held to 18.5% (9-of-48) shooting from three-point range and 37.5% (39-of-104) from the field.

In the two losses to LSU and ETSU, Furman has been out-scored in the paint, 92-52, and has been been out-rebounded 73-45 by both the Bucs and Tigers.

Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore forward Clay Mounce, which entered the LSU game last week averaging 12.9 PPG, but in his past two outings has been limited to a combined four points. It is important to note that the problems Furman has had over the past couple of games have been collective, and can’t be laid at the feet of one player.

ETSU had four players finish in double figures in the win, led by another outstanding performance from Jeromy Rodriguez, who led all ETSU players in double figures with 19 points, 11 rebounds and dished out two assists and also had a block.

The double-double for Rodriguez was his SoCon-leading seventh of the season. He entered the game tied for the conference lead with Rafferty, with both tied with six.

Eligible for just a little over a week this season, Oklahoma State transfer saw his first meaningful action and he didn’t disappoint, posting 13 points five rebounds and blocked three shots.

Freshman point guard Davien Williamson and sophomore Appalachian State transfer combined to connect on all seven of ETSU’s three-pointers, finishing with 13 and 12 points, respectively. Good wen 4-for-8 from downtown, while Williamson finished 3-for-4 from downtown.

Another key for the Bucs was superb perimeter defense, as the Bucs held Furman to just 22.7% (5-for-22) from three-point land. Matt Rafferty led Furman with 19 points, five boards and five assists, while Jordan Lyons and Noah Gurley contributed 12 and 10 points, respectively, to round out the double-figure scorers in the game.

The Paladins would trail by as many as 24 points (71-47) late in the second half, which was the largest deficit of the season in the loss. Furman’s loss to the Bucs marks its worst to another Southern Conference opponent since Feb. 22, 2015, when the Paladins were soundly beaten, 84-49, at UNC Greensboro.

The Paladins were 63-52 losers to ETSU back in March of 2018, ending the Paladins’ season one game short of the Southern Conference title game. The Paladins shot just 31.7% in that contest.
In addition to its dominance in the paint and on the boards, the Bucs also held significant advantages in fast break points (13-0) and assists (18-9).

Both Furman and ETSU return to Southern Conference action Thursday night, with ETSU hosting 11-win Samford at Freedom Hall, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. Furman hosts Mercer Thursday night at TImmons Arena, with tip-off set for 7 p.m.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Southern Conference Power Rankings and Other Notes

Furman didn't suffer its first loss until final non-conference game of the season

Tidbits from Furman's First Loss:

  • No. 24 Furman didn't suffer its first loss of the season until its final non-conference game prior to Christmas, dropping a 75-57 decision to LSU Friday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. The Paladins finish non-conference play with a 12-1 overall record, and already have a 90-88 double-overtime Southern Conference win over Western Carolina. 
  • The Paladins were held to season lows in points (57) and shooting percentage (38.5%). The Tigers shot 55.4% for the night, connecting on 31-of-56 field goals in the contest. The Paladins also had a season-low eight assists in the setback.
  • The story of the night was LSU’s dominance in the paint, out-scoring Furman, 50-22, in points in the paint, and 16-7 in second-chance points. The TIgers were a plus-18 on the boards (40-22), and finished with 12 offensive rebounds. The LSU bench also out-scored the Paladin bench, 32-8. 
  • Senior forward Matt Rafferty, who started the season with 12-straight double-figure scoring performances and six double-doubles, was held below double figures for the first time this season. He finished with nine points, four rebounds, two assists and three steals. Furman managed a season-low eight helpers. 
  • Furman opens Southern Conference play in-earnest on Dec. 29, 2018, when it closes out the year with a trip to Freedom Hall to face East Tennessee State. 

Full Recap: LSU 75, Furman 57

BATON ROUGE,LA--No. 24 Furman suffered its first loss of the season when it invaded SEC country, as preseason No. 23 LSU posted a 75-57 win over the Paladins in a Friday night pre-Christmas clash at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Furman dropped to 12-1 overall and remain 1-0 in the Southern Conference. LSU improved to 9-3 overall. 

The Paladins were held to season lows in points (57) and shooting percentage (38.5%). The Tigers shot 55.4% for the night, connecting on 31-of-56 field goals in the contest. 

The Tigers were led by tremendous performances from Tremont Waters and Skylar Mays combined for 36 of the Tigers’ 75 points in the contest, while Furman guards Andrew Brown, Alex Hunter (15 pts), Jordan Lyons (13 pts) and Alex Hunter (12 pts) posted all but 17 of the Paladins’ points in the contest. 

Waters finished the night connecting on 7-of-18 shots from the field, incliuding 2-of-8 from three-point range and was a perfect 4-for-4 from the line. 

Senior forward Matt Rafferty, who started the season with 12-straight double-figure scoring performances and six double-doubles, was held below double figures for the first time this season. He finished with nine points, four rebounds, two assists and three steals. Furman managed a season-low eight helpers. 

The story of the night was LSU’s dominance in the paint, out-scoring Furman, 50-22, in points in the paint, and 16-7 in second-chance points. The TIgers were a plus-18 on the boards (40-22), and finished with 12 offensive rebounds. The LSU bench also out-scored the Paladin bench, 32-8. 

Furman and LSU played both played sloppy in the opening moments of the game. LSU jumped out to as much as a five-point lead early in the contest, holding advantages of 10-5 and 13-8. Furman led the contest early 5-4 until a 6-0 run by LSU.

Throughout the half the LSU lead fluctuated between five and seven points, and the Tigers took a 2 -17 lead. LSU’s lead would grow to seven after stuff by Marlon Taylor on a pass from Waters, as the Tigers extended their lead to 24-17, with 6:45 left in the opening half. 

The Paladins closed the gap to four at the break, with a Matt Rafferty layup as time expired, as Furman trailed 31-27. The Paladin bigs were saddled with foul trouble in the opening half . Gurley, Mounce and Raffery picked up two fouls in the opening half. Furman shot only 35.7% (10-for-28) in the opening half, but stayed in the game by netting 13 points on 14 LSU turnovers. The Tigers shot 54.2% (13-for-24) in the opening half.

Less than a minute into the second half, Mounce picked up his third foul, and Mays countered with a three to briefly give LSU its largest lead at 36-27, but Brown answered with a three of his own. However, following Mounce’s fourth foul and a steal and alley-oop to Mays, LSU extended its lead to double digits (40-30) for the first time in the game, prompting a Bob Richey timeout at the 17:50 mark. 

Like Mounce, Rafferty picked up his third foul early in the second half, and Bigby-Williams extended LSU’s lead to 13 on a driving layup, however, Lyons’ driving layup gave him a chance for a three-point play the old fashioned way after Bigby-Williams picked up his second foul on the other end. Lyons knocked down the free throw, and the Paladins trailed 43-33 with 15:42 left. 

Moments later, a Gurley triple cut the LSU lead back to seven, at 45-38, prompting a Will Wade timeout with 13:51 left. Furman would eventually slice the LSU lead to five, at 49-44,. with 12:24 left following a Brown triple. A pair of dunks, with the last one by Taylor in traffic, put the lead back to nine for the Tigers. 

Moments later the LSU lead would swell back to 13 after a Darius Bay rebound and layup gave the Tigers a 61-48 lead, but the Paladins continured to hang around on a Clark layup in the lane on the other end. LSU held a 61-50 lead with 7:05 left. 

With LSU leading 61-53, Mounce picked up his fifth foul and the Tigers converted 1-of-2 foul shots with 5:53 remaining. The Paladins trailed 62-53 when Rafferty picked up his foul moments later, putting LSU in the bonus for the remainder of the night. 

Waters connected on both free throws to put the LSU lead back to 11 with five to play. The Paladins would get within double digits once more following a Rafferty layup with 4:05 remaining, but would never get any closer. 

LSU sealed its ninth win of the season by taking its largest lead of the night on a Waters layup, setting the final score, at 75-57, with 1:12 remaining. 

“They’ve got more stars then some of these recruits in the Big Dipper. You’ve got guys that are huge, so they did what they do. Unfortunately, we don’t have high major size. We got 3 rebounds total at the 4 spot tonight, and they were able to capitalize,” Furman head coach Bob Richey said. 

Furman opens Southern Conference play in-earnest, with a trip to East Tennessee State on Dec. 29. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. in Johnson City.

Around the SoCon:
Image result for ETSU 76, Wyoming 53

  • East Tennessee State moved to the championship game of the Sun Bowl Classic in El Paso, TX following a dominating 76-53 win over Wyoming Friday night. In doing so, head coach Steve Forbes' Bucs accomplished a rare feat by holding the Cowboys to just one first-half field goal in the win. The Bucs became only the second NCAA Division I program in history since 1986 to hold a team to one field goal or less in the opening half of play. Wyoming shot just 3.8% from the field in the opening half, which was the lowest since Kansas State held Savannah State to 1-of-23 shooting from the field in the opening half  of a game back on Jan. 7, 2008. The win, which was highlighted by a 12-point, 14-rebound effort from Jeromy Rodriguez, helped the Bucs move to 9-4 on the season and into the championship game vs. Norfolk State Saturday. Tip-off for that contest is set for 9 p.m. Also of note this week was the immediate eligibility of  Oklahoma State seven-foot center Lucas N' Guessan. The Dutch-born player is now a full-go for SoCon play, and will give the Bucs one of the most-imposing front lines in the Southern Conference. 
  • UNC Greensboro closed out the non-conference portion of its slate this past week, gutting out a 63-58 home win over Big South favorite Radford. The win over Radford extended UNCG's school-record homecourt winning streak to 16 games. The 11-2 Spartans will now open Southern Conference play with a 3 p.m. game vs. the Bulldogs in Birmingham. It will mark the first Southern Conference game for both teams, and will mark the 23rd all-time meeting between the two, with the Spartans holding the narrow 12-10 all-time edge. It will mark a matchup between two of the SoCon's three teams to reach double-digit win totals so far, with Samford entering the matchup having posted an impressive 10-3 record in non-league action. UNCG guard Francis Alonso, who enters averaging 18.1 PPG and 2.2 RPG, continues to be the leader for the Spartans in his senior season, and will be asked to do even more until injured center and defensive enforcer James Dickey is able to return from injury later this season. Samford continues to be led by jet-quick point guard Josh Sharkey, who is averaging 15.1 PPG and a league-best six assists per outing. Samford dropped its final non-conference game on the road, with an 83-70 setback to No. 3 Tennessee. 
  • Wofford closed out non-conference play with a 98-87 loss to No. 17 Mississippi State last Tuesday night and will begin Southern Conference play in-earnest, traveling to Western Carolina to meet the Catamounts in a key Southern Conference game on Dec. 29 at the Ramsey Center. Tip-off for that contest is set for noon and will be televised on ESPN3. During non-conference play, sharp-shooting senior guard Fletcher Magee continued to establish himself as one of the best shooters in league history, and now heads into SoCon play with 401-career three-pointers to rank second in SoCon history. With 14 more triples this season, Magee will surpass Stephen Curry for the league's all-time three-point shooting mark for career makes. Wofford already has a SoCon win, having posted a 79-62 win over East Tennessee State back on Dec. 2. The Terriers have posted a 9-4 record, with three losses coming against ranked foes and all four to power five conference programs.
  • The Citadel has won seven-straight games and posted by far its best non-conference slate, having played 10 so far. The Bulldogs took down Big South member Campbell, 82-76, earlier this week to collect their ninth win of the season. The Bulldogs will play one more non-conferene game on Dec. 29 against Longwood before beginning Southern Conference play on Jan. 3 against Wofford. The Bulldogs already have one SoCon win under their belts, with a 79-69 win over Mercer in Charleston back on Dec. 1. The Citadel is led by the SoCon's most prolific three-point shooter, Matt Frierson, who has knocked down a league-best 56 triples so far this season. All-SoCon center continues to be a big part of the Bulldogs' success, and earlier this week became the only player in program history to currently sit in the top 10 in program history in these 4 categories: points (10th, 1,354) rebounds (10th, 591) blocks (2nd, 163) free throws made (6th, 342).
  • Mercer got some late-game heroics Friday night, with a three-pointer by freshman guard Luke Hamilton with 26 seconds remaining, as the Bears held off CAA member UNC Wilmington, 77-73, improving to 5-7. The Bears will have one more non-conference game remaining vs. Ivy League member Harvard before beginning SoCon play in earnest with a Jan. 3 trip to Timmons Arena to face Furman.

Power Rankings:

1. Furman 12-1, 1-0
1. UNCG 11-2, 0-0
3. Wofford 9-4, 1-0
4. ETSU 9-4, 0-1
5. The Citadel 9-2, 1-0
6. Samford 10-3, 0-0
7. Mercer 5-7, 0-1
8. Chattanooga 5-8, 1-0
9. VMI 5-7, 0-1
10. Western Carolina 3-10, 0-1

UNCG takes down hot-shooting Furman

Furman senior forward Matt Rafferty If you haven’t figured out the SoCon race is going to be a war this season, you have been served fai...