GREENVILLE, S.C. – 13 years had passed since Furman basketball had ventured away from Timmons Arena on its campus north of downtown to play a game in downtown Greenville. Based on the results Saturday night, most Paladin fans would have to argue it was worth the wait.
Jordan Lyons led three Furman scorers in double figures, scoring 26 points in an 80-73 Paladin victory over Winthrop Saturday night at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
“That was fun,” said Furman coach Bob Richey after the game. “I think we got a lot of people’s attention tonight, and I think we got the city’s attention, in terms of, ‘Hey, let’s go out there and see what this can be.’ Then they walked in here, and they saw this purple, and they felt the energy, and our players felt it. I think anybody that came tonight has to be walking away saying, ‘Hey, that’s a connected group, and that’s something we can get behind.’ I think this is the start.”
Winthrop (4-7) got eight early points from Hunter Hale, as the Eagles engaged in an early back-and-forth battle. The homestanding Paladins led by as many as six, before Winthrop unfurled six straight to draw level. A Josh Ferguson slam at the 8:47 mark gave the visitors their first lead of the game, 24-22. The energetic crowd seemed to respond to every basket, keeping the home side engaged.
Furman (10-3) quickly reversed a two-point Winthrop margin, going on a 16-2 burst that gave the Paladins their most sizable first-half lead at 40-28. Lyons helped key the run, producing eight of the home side’s points. The senior star tallied 21 in a first half in which he hit 5-of-7 tries from the field and 7-of-8 from the line, giving his club a 46-33 advantage at the interval.
“The game, in itself, I thought, was a high-level game. That was fun,” said Richey. “It was blow-for-blow there for a little while. I think it got knotted up at 26. We were making some big shots, (and) they were making some big shots. They were getting us in transition, and we tightened that up a little bit and tried to get the game more in the half court.”
That half-court strategy paid nearly immediate dividends. A Chase Claxton layup commenced the second-half scoring for Winthrop, reducing the Furman advantage to 11. The lead increased from there, however, as Noah Gurley jumpers swelled the lead to 19 on two separate occasions.
Winthrop had another run remaining, however.
The Eagles tore off a 9-0 burst that sliced the lead from 19 to 10 over the span of two-and-a-half minutes, compelling Richey to request a stoppage. As quickly as that spurt awakened the visitors, Alex Hunter quickly scuttled the burst with a corner triple, pushing the lead back to 13 and staggering Winthrop. Lyons pushed the lead to 15 with a jumper and two late free throws, and despite Winthrop getting two buckets from Charles Falden to provide the final margin, drew no closer than three possessions.
Furman won its fourth game of the year against Big South competition, having already defeated Gardner-Webb, Charleston Southern, and USC Upstate. The Paladins seemed to welcome the challenge of Big South competition as an accompaniment to a tough slate heading into Southern Conference play.
“The Big South is a good test for us, especially the top half of it,” said Furman forward Clay Mounce. “Really, what it all comes down to is just our defense, our connection on defense, and feeding off emotion and energy. Once we get a run started, (we need to) keep it going. If they get one going, cut it off as soon as you can.”
Furman hits the road Friday night to begin Southern Conference play at Mercer. The significance of that trip was not lost on Lyons after the game.
“It’s getting into the best time of the year. SoCon play is what you do everything for, and it’s a very, very, very good league, with very good coaches, (and) very good players. That’s what you want as a player, and that’s what you want as a coach. You want to be in a competitive league,” said Lyons. “We’re excited for it. There’s a lot of really good teams, and we’re gonna have to come with it and play our brand of basketball on both ends of the floor every single night. That’s good, though. We need to hold ourselves to that standard, and we’re excited for it. Every single night matters. Every single day, every practice matters. Every workout matters.”
Five Eagles finished in double figures. Hale paced all Winthrop scorers with 17 points, despite being limited to 3-for-10 from the floor in the second half. Forward Chase Claxton scored 14 points in 28 minutes off the bench, providing relief for several Winthrop players battling foul trouble. Forward Josh Ferguson and Falden added 11 apiece, while Chandler Vaudrin compiled a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards.
Lyons’ 26 led all scorers. Mounce scored 17, adding nine boards and seven helpers. Gurley scored 15, despite battling a dislocated finger that led him to change his attack at the rim on several occasions. The Paladins shot greater than 43 percent from the field, and eclipsed 71 percent from the line.
Winthrop returns to play Tuesday morning. The Eagles will host SIU-Edwardsville in an Education Day matchup at Winthrop Coliseum. That game is slated for an 11:00 (Eastern) tip.