GREENVILLE S.C. — Furman made a statement. Maybe a statement the Paladins have been trying to make since they beat defending national champion Villanova in November.
They did it Saturday afternoon at home with a resounding 91-61 win over East Tennessee State.
It all started with two senior roommates, Matt Rafferty and Andrew Brown, who combined to score 36 points, and were two of five players in double figures.
Rafferty finished the night doing what Rafferty does, as he finished with 19 points, three rebounds, dished out five assists and recorded three steals. With those three steals, Rafferty now has 67 this season, which set a new single-season record at Furman.
”When you’ve played for four years, it’s pretty easy to predict where the ball’s going to go or what plays are going to be run, especially if you start to know the systems,” Rafferty said. “Getting hands on passes, rolls and post-ups, turning the ball over and getting out and running. I think it helps our team a lot.”
The single-season steals record for Rafferty was indicative of the type of defense played the entire evening, coming up with 35 ball deflections — a stat the coaching staff charts meticulously.
Brown was simply on fire all afternoon, and connected on all six of his shots from the field and all five of his three-pointers, finishing with 17 points. Brown also recorded a steal.
Brown and Rafferty were joined in double figures by Clay Mounce (15 pts), Jordan Lyons (14 pts), and Alex Hunter (11 pts). Hunter continues to be the model of consistency at the point for the Paladins, as he dished out five assists and also recorded a pair of steals without registering a turnover in 30 minutes. Each of Lyons’ 14 points came in the second half.
”It was one of those nights where the ball just kept going in. It’s fun when that happens and it hasn’t happened a lot for me this year,” Brown said. “Credit to my teammates like Raff, who just kept finding me. Whenever I was open, the ball was in my hands.”
Furman rushed out of the gates quickly, as three three-pointers by Mounce and a three-point play the old-fashioned way by Rafferty staked Furman to an early 12-4 lead with 16:13 remaining in the half.
The Bucs answered by scoring the next seven points in fewer than two minutes, cutting the Furman lead to one, using a Patrick Good three-pointer and a pair of layups by Jeromy Rodriguez to make it a 12-11 game with 14:35 remaining in the half. ETSU took its only lead of the game with 11:51 remaining in the first half on a layup by Tray Boyd.
Furman managed to take a 41-32 lead into the locker room, despite Rafferty picking up two early fouls. Brown came off the bench to supplement Mounce and the Paladins’ first-half offense and perimeter scoring, posting 11 of his 17 points in the opening half of play.
In fact, Brown and Mounce combined to score 22 of the Paladins’ 41 first-half points, as the duo combined to connect on six of seven shots and from beyond the arc. The Paladins shot 59 percent in the opening half.
ETSU came out strong in the opening minutes of the second half, scoring the first four points, slicing Furman’s lead to five. A Boyd triple cut Furman’s lead to six once again (49-43) with 14:31 to go in the game, however, it was all Furman from there. The Paladins out-scored the Bucs 41-18 over the remainder of the game to provide the substantial winning margin.
”That was fun. Proud of our group. Proud of our team. Proud of our program and we’re playing as hard as we have played all year on the defensive end and they’ve just bought into it,” Furman head coach Bob Richey said. “We obviously had to make some adjustments to the game plan after what they did to us up in Johnson City and I thought we stuck to the game plan and all of our guys were connected for the most part.”
Furman will be back in action Thursday night, welcoming UNC Greensboro to Timmons Arena for a 7 p.m. tip. ETSU is back in action Thursday, hosting The Citadel, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. at Freedom Hall.