GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — No. 23 Furman took another step in its remarkable early-season journey, one coach Bob Richey expects will benefit his team the rest of the way.
The perfect Paladins (11-0) used a late run to pull away from Charleston Southern for a 77-69 victory Tuesday night in their first-ever home game as a Top 25 team.
Richey felt the jitters of his young team before the game, the desire to show the home crowd their rise was legitimate.
“The fear of if we lose, does all this go away,” Richey said. “And I think that’s normal for a young player — ‘Man, we want to keep this going.'”
Noah Gurley scored 17 points, and Alex Hunter and Andrew Brown had 16 points apiece to lead Furman in a game where leading scorer Jordan Lyons had zero points.
“We’ve got to continue to keep our pulse on these players,” Richey said. “We’ve got to continue to help them out.”
So far, so good.
The Paladins have been one of college basketball’s biggest surprises with their school-record run to start the season — a stretch that included defeating defending national champs Villanova and a second Final Four team from last year in Loyola-Chicago.
It took a late charge to break away from the Buccaneers (4-5).
Charleston Southern trailed 54-52 on Dontrell Shuler’s layup with less than 10 minutes left. After that, the Paladins went on a 14-4 run. Tre Clark had four points during the surge and when Gurley nailed a 3-pointer with 5:51 to go, Furman was up 68-56.
Charleston Southern could not respond and college basketball’s feel-good story of the season remained on track.
Lyons, averaging 20.2 points a game, missed all seven of his shots.
Matt Rafferty had 14 points and 14 rebounds for Furman.
“We’ve got to stay even-keeled,” Hunter said. “That’s something we’ve been practicing every day.”
Deontaye Buskey and Duncan LeXander had 13 points each for Charleston Southern.
Buccaneers coach Barclay Radebaugh said his team made too many mistakes to hang in at the end.
“You can’t do that against a team like Furman,” he said.
Furman, which joined the AP Top 25 last week for the first time in school history, had to wait another week — and make it through road wins at Elon and South Carolina Upstate — before it could celebrate its achievement on its home court. And it looked like the Paladins would have plenty to cheer about after they used a 17-8 run midway through the opening period to build a 26-18 lead.
But Furman went cold after that, missing seven straight shots as the Buccaneers of the Big South Conference tightened things up.
Charleston Southern: The Buccaneers are nearing the end of a brutal opening stretch with seven of their first 11 games on the road. Those have included losses at Florida, Middle Tennessee and Marquette. Charleston Southern’s run ends with games at North Florida and Clemson in the next week. Radebaugh hopes the time away from home toughens the Bucs for Big South play.
Furman: The Paladins looked edgy in their first home appearance as a ranked team. They looked ready to take charge with a 51-42 lead before helping Charleston Southern’s comeback with four straight turnovers. Furman probably won’t win many games where Lyons struggles as he did against the Bucs.
Furman is off to its most consecutive wins since winning 11 in a row in 1979. That’s back when the Paladins were one of the Palmetto State’s most successful teams, going to six NCAA Tournaments between 1971 and 1980. Furman has not played in the tournament since then.
Richey was grateful to Radebaugh, who hired Richey as a 23-year-old and gradually gave him control of the Bucs’ offense. “Without Barclay, I wouldn’t be here today,” Richey said.
Charleston Southern is at North Florida on Saturday.
Furman finishes a two-game homestand by hosting UNC Wilmington on Saturday.