VILLANOVA, Pa. – First, it was Loyola. Next came Villanova.
One by one, Furman is picking off teams from last year’s Final Four and proving to be the surprise story of the first month of the college basketball season.
Jordan Lyons scored 17 points, Matt Rafferty had 15 points and 17 rebounds, and Furman stunned the defending national champion and eighth-ranked Wildcats in overtime, 76-68 on Saturday.
“We’re just tiny old Furman,” coach Bob Richey said. “Most people ask us what state we’re in, what city we’re in. Now all of a sudden people are starting to figure out who Furman is.”
If opponents and fans aren’t paying attention to the team from Greenville, South Carolina, they’d better start now.
Clay Mounce added 15 points and Noah Gurley and Alex Hunter scored 13 apiece for the surging Paladins, who have started 5-0 for the first time in 30 years.
Lyons and Rafferty delivered huge buckets in overtime to key a 7-0 spurt that put the Paladins ahead 69-63 in the final minute, enough cushion for them to hang on for the victory in front of a shocked sellout crowd at the recently renovated Finneran Pavilion.
“It almost can bring me to tears to think about how proud I am of the resolve, the resiliency and the fight this team has,” Richey said. “They play together, they play connected. It’s the definition of a team.”
Phil Booth scored 20 points and Colin Gillespie had 19 for the Wildcats (2-2), who were coming off a 27-point loss to Michigan in a rematch of April’s national championship game. It marked the first time Villanova lost back-to-back games since March 2013.
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“It’s not that shocking, to be honest,” Booth said. “They’re a very good team. We’re still a young team trying to find our way.”
Trailing 58-53 with under four minutes to play in regulation, Joe Cremo hit a 3-pointer, Booth scored and Gillespie made a layup in transition to put Villanova in front, 60-58, in the final minute.
After Lyons hit two free throws to tie the game at 60, Booth missed on the other end and Hunter misfired on a long 3-pointer in the final seconds. Cremo was called for a foul while going for the rebound, but Rafferty couldn’t connect on the front end of a 1-and-1 with 2.6 seconds left, setting the game up for OT.
Rafferty said his teammates picked him up and told him to make up for the missed free throw in overtime – which he did.
“This was incredible,” Rafferty said. “I’ve never been a part of something like this.”
ROAR OF THE LYONS
Two days after pouring in 54 points while matching an NCAA record with 15 3-pointers in a 107-67 win over North Greenville, Lyons had more big buckets, including one that put Furman ahead 48-46 with a little over eight minutes remaining.
Richey was proud of how the junior guard dealt with ‘Nova’s defense, especially after he was held to five points in the first half.
“He was mature enough to know he had to play within our team concept,” Richey said. “He got going in the second half. I was really proud of him.”
Although he put his team on his back at times, scoring five straight points during one stretch to tie the game at 51, Booth shouldered a lot of the blame for the loss.
“I have to do a better job of showing the team what Villanova basketball is on both ends of the floor,” said Booth, a senior guard who was a part of the Wildcats’ national championship teams in both 2016 and 2018.
“We’re trying to work on a lot of chemistry things as a team,” he added.
Furman: It’s only November, but the Paladins are looking like a team that will be dangerous in March. In their only other road game of the season, they upset last season’s NCAA Tournament darling, Loyola-Chicago, on a last-second dunk.
Villanova: After losing four players from last year’s national championship squad to the NBA draft, coach Jay Wright continues to search for his best rotation. On Saturday, freshman Jahvon Quinerly, a five-star recruit, didn’t get in the game after playing key minutes in Villanova’s first three games. The Wildcats’ depth also took a hit Friday when the team announced that redshirt sophomore Dylan Painter will transfer.
“You always want to get the young guys in,” Wright said. “It was close and then we got down the stretch and you try to ride it out with the older guys and hope you can get through the game.”
Furman hosts Southern Wesleyan on Wednesday.
Villanova faces Canisius in the Advocare Invitational in Orlando on Thanksgiving.