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Clay Mounce’s game-winning dunk against Loyola signaled another step forward for the Furman program

Mounce has seen it all and he’s ready for more.

NCAA Basketball: Furman at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Two years ago, following a season-opening loss at Presbyterian, it didn’t seem that Furman was on the cusp of a big non-conference win that would show the progress the program had made in a short time. It certainly wasn’t the kind of start to a season that then-assistant, now-head coach Bob Richey would have hoped for.

And its next game was against a UAB team that was coming off a Conference USA title and entered the contest sporting a 26-game home-court winning streak.

However, after practicing a couple with days without a basketball, Furman knew it didn’t give its all in the season-opening loss, and came out with a point to prove against UAB.

Now a redshirt sophomore, Clay Mounce was in his true freshman campaign back in 2016-17, which was a season he ultimately redshirted. Senior All-SoCon selection Matt Rafferty sat out the beginning of that season after offseason back surgery.

They witnessed a statement for the Paladins that night, as Furman downed the Blazers, 84-74, for their first significant win of a regular-season-title year and the first of back-to-back school-record tying 23-win seasons.

Now-junior guards Jordan Lyons and Andrew Brown, and former player turned current assistant coach Daniel Fowler played key roles in that win a couple of years ago. Fowler scored a career-high 23 points, while Brown and Lyons hit key three-pointers down the stretch as part of an 11-0 run to help the Paladins seal a stepping stone win for the program.

Two years later, those four played a role in yet another huge step for the ever-changing culture of Furman basketball, as the Paladins knocked off 2018 Final Four participant Loyola University Chicago, 60-58, at Gentile Arena Friday night. It ended a streak of 16-straight wins for Loyola against non-conference foes at home.

How It Happened:

Richey is now the head man on staff of a team that has won 48 games since the start of the 2016-17 season, and 78 since the start of the 2014-15 season. Times are changing. Culture is changing every day for Furman basketball, much the same way it did for Porter Moser’s Loyola club before last year’s run.

It seems like no coincidence that Rafferty, Mounce, Lyons, and Brown all had roles to play Friday night, almost as if the 2016 win over UAB was a foreshadowing of how the events would unfold in the second game of the 2018-19 season.

With time winding down, it was Mounce who took the feed from Rafferty and flushed a one-handed tomahawk dunk off the left side with 1.6 seconds remaining to win the game.

The past two seasons has seen the SoCon seal wins over a defending national champion (Wofford over North Carolina last year) and now a Final Four participant.

It was also a homecoming for Rafferty. He hails from Hinsdale, Ill, which is a place he still remembered as being a star quarterback and basketball player. It was Rafferty’s pin-point feed — one of his four helpers on the night — that helped lead Mounce perfectly into his path for the one-handed game-winning stuff, which also landed on SportsCenter as the Top Finish of the Night.

Rafferty completed the night connecting on 7-of-16 shots from the field, accounting for his team-leading 18 points. Additionally, Rafferty added seven boards, two blocks and two steals.

Also adding double-figure scoring performances were Lyons (15 points) and redshirt freshman Noah Gurley (11), while Brown and Mounce posted finished just out of double figures, providing key plays down the stretch. The super-athletic Mounce also added three blocks and seven boards, while Brown had a pair of steals, an assist and a rebound.

The trio of Mounce, Rafferty, and Lyons scored the final 15 points of the game for the Paladins.

The Paladins trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half after leading by as many as 15 in the first half. Furman jumped out with good early defense, which turned Rambler turnovers into points, and were aided by poor shooting and a pair of three-pointers from Lyons and Brown.

However, Furman would learn quickly why Moser’s club was able to make such a deep run in the college basketball postseason last March, and it started with Naismith Award candidate Clayton Custer, who scored 16 of his game-high 19 points in the opening half.

From the 7:08 minute mark of the opening half to the 13:08 mark of the second, the Ramblers rattled off a 34-6 run to take a 42-29 lead. Some might have thought the Paladins would fold, however, Furman picked up the pace over the final 13 minutes, stepping up the intensity on defense, as well as hitting timely shots.

But down the stretch, it was Rafferty who stole the night and facilitated the win for the Paladins. He scored seven points, added a pair of boards and the all-important assist over the final 4:31 of the game to help the Paladins escape with the memorable win.

Custer finished the night connecting on 8-of-14 shots from the field with a pair of threes. Custer was joined in double figures by Lucas Williamson, who added a double-double with 12 points and 11 boards.

Senior guard Marques Townes closed out the Ramblers in double figures with 10 points, while senior post Cameron Krutwig just missed double figures with nine points and added seven boards.

After turning the ball over just three times in the season opener against Bob Jones, the Paladins committed 17. The Ramblers turned it over only 14 times. Furman returns to Timmons Arena Tuesday night when it hosts Gardner-Webb, with tip-off set for 7 p.m.

Furman continues to come of age as a program, and even though 42 points of production were lost to graduation, Mounce’s emphatic finish to help capture the road win showed Richey and staff continue to cultivate a winning culture in Greenville.