No. 25 Furman stays unbeaten with 74-60 win over SC Upstate
SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Furman coach Bob Richey could sense his No. 25 Paladins felt the load of the school’s first-ever ranking and being one of only 10 unbeaten teams left in the country. So he had some advice in the locker room Saturday with his team down four at the half.
“Coach told us pressure is when you are 0-10, not 10-0,” Paladins forward Matt Rafferty said.
The Paladins (10-0) charged ahead immediately after halftime and cruised to a 74-60 win over South Carolina Upstate, continuing one of the most remarkable stories of the college basketball season.
The Spartans (2-8) led 34-30 at the half and appeared ready to have the crowd in its cozy gym explode after Malik Moore stole a pass on Furman’s first possession of the second half. But he missed a fast-break dunk and Noah Gurley made a layup and a free throw to start a 24-5 run.
“That’s a five-point swing right there,” Rafferty said. “And it got our defense going, which alleviated the pressure on us.”
Furman would score on six of its first eight possessions of the second half, while the Spartans opened the half with three missed shots, three turnovers and a free throw.
“That swing got them going instead of getting us going,” Upstate coach Dave Dickerson said. “I just couldn’t do a good enough job to get us believing in the game again.”
Jordan Lyons had 20 points, Noah Gurley added 15 points and six rebounds and Rafferty finished with 11 points after scoring just two in the first half.
Moore led the Spartans with 24 points and 11 rebounds.
It was the first time Upstate has ever hosted a Top 25 opponent at its 833-seat G.B. Hodge Center.
Furman: The Paladins are the first SoCon team to start the season 10-0 since Lefty Driesell’s Davidson team won its first 11 games to start the 1963-64 season. After leading wire-to-wire in a win Tuesday at Elon, the Paladins were back to their more customary slower starts. They only led for 5:45 of the first half. At least Furman got it done in regulation. Three of the Paladins’ 10 games have gone to overtime. One of them was the win over Villanova that grabbed the nation’s attention.
SC Upstate: The Spartans have never beaten a ranked team. After shooting 43.8 percent (14 of 32) in the first half, Upstate shot 32 percent (8 of 25) in the second half and turned the ball over 10 times in the final 20 minutes.
Saturday’s victory was Furman’s fifth true road win of the season, a total unheard of compared to the other unbeaten teams. Kansas has yet to play a true road game. Virginia played one in the ACC-Big Ten challenge and Houston has played two.
Richey said his team’s success on the road could be considered a surprise given that seven of the 10 Paladins who played Saturday are sophomores or freshmen. But he said they move the ball, play tough defense and see the court like no team he has ever had.
“This team is younger than many teams I’ve ever been a part of. But it’s a very mature group. The road is about maturity,” Richey said.
Southern Conference play won’t be easy for Furman. The Paladin lead four SoCon teams in the new NET rankings that the NCAA tournament committee is using in its selection process this season.
Furman is 32nd in the rankings, which include net offensive and defensive efficiency, strength of schedule, scoring margin and game location as well as results.
The other SoCon teams in the top 100 are Wofford (62), UNC-Greensboro (82) and East Tennessee State (86).
Furman squeaked into the AP Top 25 by a single point, but the Paladins should stay in the poll after going 2-0 this week combined with losses in Big Ten play by No. 24 Nebraska and No. 23 Maryland.
Furman: The Paladins go home for the first time since entering the Top 25, hosting Charleston Southern on Tuesday.
SC-Upstate: The Spartans host South Carolina State next Saturday.