Senior forward Matt Rafferty recorded his seventh double figure scoring performance and third double double to start the 2018–19 season, as Furman improved on its best start in program history, with a 65–51 win over Big South member UNC Asheville in a classic mid-major battle between successful programs on Sunday.
Rafferty poured in 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Paladins, while also dishing out five assists and blocked one shot. The Hinsdale, Ill native and preseason first-team All-SoCon pick connected on 9-of-14 shots from the field and was 2-for-3 from the charity stripe.
Rafferty was joined in double figures by Jordan Lyons, who posted 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field, including going 4-for-10 from three-point range. The junior also recorded three rebounds and two steals in the win. Tre Clark just missed double figures for the Paladins, adding nine points.
Furman broke open the close game midway through the opening half by using a 20-6 run en route to a 38-22 halftime lead. The second half would see Furman’s lead grow to as many as 20 points, at 50-30, following a Clark layup through traffic with 13:31 remaining.
The Furman defensive effort was one of the best of the season, although it didn’t seem that way through the first 10 minutes, as the Bulldogs shot 72% from the field and finished the opening half shooting 50% from the field. In the second half, Furman turned up the defensive intensity, holding UNC Asheville to 11-of-28 from the field and 4-for-11 from three-point range.
Furman connected on 48.2% of its shots from the field and 28.6% from three-point range (6-for-21), while Asheville connected on 43.8% (21-of-48) shots from the field and 33.3% from three (6-for-18).
Asheville is one of the youngest teams in NCAA Division I basketball, with an average age of 19 years old. That, coupled with the fact that the Bulldogs are led by one of the youngest coaching staffs in the nation (averaging 33 years old), made for an interesting Sunday clash.
Asheville head coach Mike Morrell and Furman head coach Bob Richey both served as assistants at Charleston Southern under the direction of Barclay Radebaugh. Morrell and Richey are good friends, and he provided an interesting perspective on Saturday’s clash between the two head coaches. Richey improved to 30-11 in his second season as the head coach at Furman.
”I am very partial to their head coach [Furman] because he’s maybe might best friend in the business and we worked together for a year,” Asheville head coach Mike Morrell said. “They’re very well-coached and they’re a very good team. If we could have got a couple things go our way, we’d be in the game there towards the end, but we didn’t get to the foul line enough and we did not take good care of the basketball.”
Furman forced the Bulldogs into 18 miscues and held a 21-11 edge in points off turnovers. The Paladins, thanks in large part to Rafferty, were also dominant in the paint, outscoring the Bulldogs 40-22 and also out-rebounding them 31-26.
Asheville was led by Tajion Jones’ 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field, including 1-of-6 from three-point land. Worthy also finished in double figures, posting 10 points on the afternoon.
With the win, Furman improved to 7–0, while UNC Asheville fell to 1–5. Dating back to the 2017-18 season, Furman has now won 14 of its last 15 games.
Both Furman and Asheville return to the floor Dec. 1, with the Bulldogs traveling to take on UT-Martin, while Furman opens Southern Conference play against Western Carolina.