GREENVILLE, S.C. --- After pulling out a pair of close Southern Conference victories against Elon and UNC Greensboro to open its three-game road trip, the Samford University basketball team couldn't quite pull off the sweep Monday as the Bulldogs dropped a 63-58 decision to the Furman Paladins at Timmons Arena.
Samford (9-11, 3-5 SoCon) competed in Monday's game without the leadership of Head Coach Jimmy Tillette. Tillette is recovering at UAB Hospital after suffering a seizure in Saturday's 70-67 victory at UNC Greensboro. The Bulldogs' associate head coach Paul Kelly has assumed the head coaching duties until Tillette is cleared to return to the sideline.
"This was a game between two very evenly-matched teams," said Kelly. "Both teams had short preparation time heading into this game and it was a good ballgame. I thought that the difference in the game was that they were able to knock down more 3-point shots than we were. We had some opportunities late, but were not able to capitalize on them when it counted."
Late in Monday's contest, Samford's Trey Montgomery drained a 3-point basket from the left flank to trim Furman's (10-10, 4-5 SoCon) lead to 58-55 with 1:27 to play. After Montgomery's 3-pointer, the Paladins' Noah States knocked down a quick jumper to extend their advantage back to 60-55.
On the Bulldogs' next possession, Montgomery's 3-point attempt rimmed out and Samford was forced to foul in order to send Furman to the line. The Paladins, who entered the game as the top free-throw shooters in the SoCon, were able to make their free throws down the stretch to hang on for the 63-58 victory.
With the win, Furman snapped a two-game losing streak and improved its all-time record against Samford to 5-2. Both of the Bulldogs' wins in the series occurred last season as the teams are deadlocked at 2-2 since becoming SoCon rivals.
"Late in the game, Furman was able to get that five-point lead and we just couldn't chip away at," Kelly said. "We defended well during stretches, but unfortunately weren't able to get the scores on the offensive end. I'm sure part of that is my fault and I really thought that the guys competed hard. They played with pride and didn't let the fact that it was their third game in five days affect them."
Samford concluded its arduous six-day, three-game road trip with a 2-1 record. During their swing, the Bulldogs put an end to a four-game SoCon losing string and picked up hard-fought victories at Elon 50-49 and UNC Greensboro 70-67.
Samford will return to action Thursday for a key home game against Appalachian State. The matchup is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. (CST) in the Pete Hanna Center.
The Bulldogs finished Monday's game with three players scoring in double figures. Senior Bryan Friday led the way with 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field, while Montgomery followed with 13 points on a 6-of-11 performance from the floor. Junior guard Josh Davis added 12 points and a team-high six rebounds.
Furman was paced by senior guard Darryl Evans who turned in a near-perfect 7-for-8 shooting performance from the floor. The Paladins' 6-foot-1 product of nearby Spartanburg, S.C., didn't miss a shot until the second half and tallied 18 points and five rebounds. Evans was also 4-for-4 from beyond the arc.
Forward Bryson Barnes finished with 11 points, five rebounds and three assists. He played 29 minutes and knocked down five key free throws. As the leading free-throw shooter on Furman's team heading into the game with a 92.3-percent mark from the line, Barnes knocked down 5-of-6 attempts Monday.
Along with Evans and Barnes, the key player for the Paladins down the stretch proved to be junior guard Justin Dehm. Furman's 6-foot-1 native of Peoria, Ill., scored all nine of his points in the second half as he knocked down a trio of late 3-point baskets. Dehm finished 3-for-5 from the field with all of his attempts coming from beyond the arc.
Both teams shot the ball well in the first half of play as Furman took a slight 31-30 advantage into the intermission. Samford shot 52.4 percent from the field in the opening period, while Furman followed closely with a 47.1 mark from the floor.
The Paladins kept it close early by scoring 11 first-half points from the free-throw line. Furman went 11-for-14 from the charity stripe in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Samford jumped out to an early 16-8 lead with 10:42 remaining in the first half behind the early play of Bryan Friday and Davis. Friday scored seven of the Bulldogs opening 10 points of the game, while Davis knocked down his first two 3-point baskets to tally six of Samford's first 16 points. Both Friday and Davis finished with eight points in the opening period of play.
On the other side of the court, Furman's Evans led all scorers with 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field. He scored the Paladins' first eight points of the game and finished the half a perfect 3-for-3 from 3-point range.
"We were able to get off to a really good start," said Kelly. "I thought our guys were energized and we really stressed that there weren't any excuses in this program. That's not who we are. That's not what we believe in and that's not what we rely on. We're about success, we're about pursuing excellence and tonight I thought the effort was good, but we just made too many mental errors."
Furman shot 53.3 percent (8-of-15) from 3-point range, while Samford only tallied a 28.6-percent mark (6-of-21) from beyond the arc. Neither team turned the ball over often Monday. The Bulldogs finished with 10 miscues, while the Paladins committed 11 turnovers.
Other than 3-point shooting, a disparity in the game was bench scoring. Furman received 24 points from its bench players, while Samford only saw eight points from its reserves.
The Samford University basketball team will next be in action Thursday at 7 p.m. (CST) as the Bulldogs begin a critical two-game SoCon homestand against the Appalachian State Mountaineers. The matchup will be held at Samford's Pete Hanna Center (5,000).