Birmingham, Ala. - A 15-0 run to close out the first half and open the second put the game away for good, as Furman was able to fend off a furious second-half Samford rally and down the Bulldogs, 90-81, on Thursday night inside the Pete Hanna Center in Birmingham, Ala. The win moves Furman to 23-6 on the year (12-5 SoCon), while the loss drops Samford to 16-14 (6-11 SoCon).
The Paladins' 23rd win of the season established a new single season school record for regular season wins and tied the school record for overall victories. Furman joined Duke, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico State, UNCG and Virginia as the only schools to win at least 23 games in each of the last three seasons.
After shooting 58.1% from the floor in the first half, including 9-of-17 from three (52.9%), Furman led by as many as 24 early in the second half and never led the Bulldogs get closer than nine. The Paladins finished the game shooting 27-54 from the floor (50%) and 13-28 from long range (46.4%), while holding Samford to 39.1% shooting (27-69), 37% from long range (10-27). The Paladins were a season-best 23-24 from the charity stripe, including finishing 18-18 in the second half.
The Paladins' starting five each finished with double-digit scoring, while Jordan Lyons led all scorers with 17. Matt Rafferty picked up a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while adding a team-high six assists. Sophomore guard Alex Hunter turned in his second-career double-double, tallying 15 points and pulling down a career-high 10 rebounds.
Fueled by a 9-0 run to open the second half, the Paladins pushed the lead to 24 before the Bulldogs used a 12-2 run of their own to cut the lead to 14 at 61-47, forcing the Paladins to call a timeout with just under 14:00 to play. After a dunk cut the lead to 13 at the 10:51 mark, the Bulldogs were held without a field goal for almost seven minutes, but continued to cut into the Paladin lead with free throws.
Samford ended its scoring drought with a triple by Kevion Nolan to cut the lead to 10 at 74-64 with 4:30 to go. Samford cut the lead to nine with under 3:00 to go, but Noah Gurley sank two huge free throws with 2:15 to go to put the Paladins back up 11. After two Samford free throws cut the lead back to nine, Jordan Lyons and Alex Hunter sank 10 free throws down the stretch to keep the Bulldogs at bay.
In the first half, the Paladins made three of their first four shots to take an 8-2 lead, then later used a 9-0 run that was capped by an Andrew Brown three-pointer to take a 20-10 lead before the under-12 media timeout. Both teams went cold before the under-8 media timeout, but Furman used back-to-back threes by Mounce and Lyons to push the lead to 28-16 with just over 7:00 to go I the half. Samford responded with a 10-5 run to cut the lead to single digits at 34-26 just before the final media timeout of the first half.
The Paladins got a three-point play from Rafferty and a three from Mike Bothwell to push the lead back to 12 at 40-28 out of the timeout, before Samford again cut the lead to single-digits with 2:24 to play until halftime. Furman ended the half with back-to-back threes from Hunter and Mounce to take the Paladins' largest lead of the game into the halftime locker rooms.
Samford was led by Myron Gordon with 21 points on the night, while Kevion Nolan added 18.
Furman is back in action on Saturday, traveling to Chattanooga, Tenn., for a 2:00 p.m. tipoff against Chattanooga in the regular season finale.