SPARTANBURG, S.C. – It has been said through history that one of the first keys to achieving a goal is to visualize that goal.
For USC Upstate head coach Dave Dickerson, the only thing he needed to do was look 50 feet to his left Saturday afternoon. There, he would find the 25th-ranked Furman Paladins, a team that came into the game undefeated, and had already knocked off 2017 Final Four participants Loyola-Chicago and Villanova on the road. Dickerson said to assembled media after the game that the Paladin program was a standard to which he would like his team to aspire.
It seemed – for a half, anyway – that a giant step in reaching that goal was ready to be taken by the Spartans.
Furman, however, rode a blistering opening six minutes of the second half to a 59.3 percent shooting percentage in the closing twenty, turning a 34-30 halftime deficit into a 74-60 victory before a sold-out crowd of 838 at Upstate’s Hodge Center.
“Give credit to Furman. They’re a good team. They’re (worthy of) being one of the ranked teams in the country,” said Dickerson.
USC Upstate (2-8) stood toe-to-toe with the Paladins early, maintaining a lead for nearly nine minutes of the 15 in which the score was not tied during the first half. The Spartans led by as many as five during the period, connecting on 14-of-32 tries (43.8 percent) from the field. Equally important, the Spartans held the powerful Paladin offense at bay during the opening stanza.
Furman (10-0) made good on just 12 of its first 34 attempts (35.3 percent). Upstate also effectively ran Furman off the three-point line, limiting the Paladins to just 5-for-16 (31.3 percent) from distance.
Furman coach Bob Richey spoke to his team at the half, assessing the sluggish start.
“We had to play with more joy. I think what you could see was a little bit of a pressurized group in that first half,” said Richey. “We didn’t have good expression, I didn’t think we had good flow, and it was strictly just our spirit.
“I told them at halftime, ‘Guys, there’s no pressure in being 9-0. The pressure is when you’re 0-9. That’s pressure.’ … We’ve gotta work through that.”
Those comments clearly struck a chord, as the opening six minutes of the second half changed the game.
Upstate had a chance to go up six on its first possession of the second half, having forced a steal and jumped out in transition. Malik Moore’s dunk attempt would not fall, though, and Furman’s ensuing possession led to a Noah Gurley bucket and drawn foul. The free throw attempt splashed the net, quickly flipping the script on the environment the clubs took into the interval.
“That five-point swing there, where we missed the dunk and fouled, that changed the (complexion) of the game,” said Dickerson. “It changed the (complexion) of the game from the bench, to the stands, to everything.”
“I thought the good Lord helped us there,” said Richey. “He had a pretty easy dunk there, and he missed it, and we got it and got in transition and we got the and-one. You go from being down six with the crowd going crazy, to instead, you’ve got an opportunity to get some energy and you’re down one.”
The Paladins continued their onslaught from there. Furman went on a 17-4 run over the initial six minutes of the half, putting the visitors up by nine and – for the most part – closing the door on the festivities.
“I thought the first six minutes of the second half was the tell-tale (sign) of the game,” said Dickerson. “If we could have made some plays in that rut, that first six minutes, I think it would have been a different situation.”
Upstate hit just one of its first 11 tries in the second half, owing largely to an active Furman defense that seized the momentum of the opening two possessions.
“We had a little bit more fun, and I think you could see that early in the half, that we brought some energy,” said Richey. “All of a sudden, the ball movement started picking up, the defensive intensity started growing, and then we started playing more like we’re used to playing.”
Upstate briefly cut the margin to eight, but a Gurley triple extended the lead into double digits, where it remained for the balance of the game.
Spartan guard Malik Moore tallied a double-double, tossing in 24 points and snatching 11 boards. No other Upstate players reached double figures, however. Furman held Deion Holmes, Upstate’s second-leading scorer at 13.7 points per game, to just four points on 2-for-8 shooting.
“(Moore) plays hard all the time. He plays with his soul, and his spirit, but I need more than him,” said Dickerson. “I’ve told the guys the last three or four games, I need to be able to count on three or four guys, and I’m still looking for that second, third, and fourth player.”
Four Furman players tallied in double digits, including Jordan Lyons’ 20 to pace the Paladins. Gurley added 15, with Matt Rafferty contributing 11 and Alex Hunter 10. Furman drained 7-of-13 triples in the second half, helping the visitors outscore the Spartans 44-26 in the closing twenty. With the win, the Paladins became the first Southern Conference team to start a season 10-0 since the 1964 Davidson club. Lefty Driesell’s Wildcats won their first 15 games that season.
Furman returns to action Tuesday night, hosting Palmetto State foe Charleston Southern of the Big South. That game will tip at 7:00 (Eastern) in Furman’s Timmons Arena. Upstate will take a week-long break for exams, before welcoming South Carolina State of the MEAC to the Hodge Center next Saturday, December 15. That game will get underway at 4:00.
FURMAN 74, USC UPSTATE 60
FURMAN (10-0): Gurley 6-13 1-1 15, Hunter 3-7 2-2 10, Lyons 7-17 1-2 20, Rafferty 5-7 1-3 11, Mounce 3-7 1-3 8, Clark 2-5 0-0 5, Pugh 0-1 0-0 0, Bothwell 1-1 0-0 2, Brown 1-3 0-2 3, Swanson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-61 6-13 74.
USC UPSTATE (2-8): Moore 8-17 6-9 24, Span 2-9 0-0 5, Holmes 2-8 0-2 4, Aldrich 2-5 1-2 7, Zink 1-3 2-2 4, White 0-2 0-0 0, Hammond 0-2 0-0 0, Martin 2-3 0-0 4, Mozone 3-3 0-0 8, Ryan 2-4 0-1 4, Welch 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-57 9-16 60.
Halftime — USC Upstate 34-30. 3-Point Goals—Furman 12-29 (Gurley 2-5, Hunter 2-4, Lyons 5-13, Mounce 1-3, Clark 1-2, Brown 1-2), USC Upstate 7-19 (Moore 2-5, Span 1-6, Holmes 0-1, Aldrich 2-3, Hammond 0-1, Mozone 2-2, Welch 0-1). Fouled Out — NA. Rebounds —Furman 42 (Rafferty 9), USC Upstate 36 (Moore 11). Assists — Furman 17 (Hunter 7), USC Upstate 9 (Moore/White 3). Total Fouls — Furman 16, USC Upstate 15. Technical — NA. A — 838.
Points in the Paint —Furman 30, USC Upstate 22. Points off Turnovers —Furman 26, USC Upstate 14. Second-Chance Points — USC Upstate 9, Furman 7. Fast Break Points — USC Upstate 8, Furman 5. Bench Points–-USC Upstate 16, Furman 10.