ELON, N.C. (AP) — Furman has no margin for error if it wants to stay in the AP Top 25. But the strain of that situation wasn’t evident in the program’s debut as a ranked team.
Alex Hunter scored all of his 18 points in the second half, and No. 25 Furman won its first game since it cracked the rankings, 98-77 over Elon on Tuesday night.
“I think we’ve handled all the attention we’re gotten in the last 24 hours well,” Furman coach Bob Richey said. “We know the next time we lose, we’re out.”
Matt Rafferty also scored 18 points and Clay Mounce added 17 for the Paladins (9-0), who earned their ranking thanks to an early-season resume that includes road victories over defending national champion Villanova and Loyola-Chicago, which made the Final Four last season.
“It’s been a wild month,” Richey said. “This is one of the most mentally tough (teams) I’ve ever been around. We just try to keep going forward. The message is nobody is satisfied.”
Steven Santa Ana led the Phoenix (3-6) with 21 points and Tyler Seibring scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half for Elon, which pulled within 55-52 on Simon Wright’s 3-pointer with 12:22 left. But the Paladins responded with a 13-2 run to take a 79-61 lead on Jaylon Pugh’s 3-pointer with 6:29 remaining.
Furman stretched its lead to as many as 24 points down the stretch.
“We have the same mentality,” Hunter said. “We just have to stay together. As long as we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll keep succeeding.”
Hunter triggered Furman’s game-clinching run with a short left-hander off the glass and added a pair of 3-pointers, the second giving the Paladins an 82-64 lead with 5:47 to play.
Furman made 15 of 32 3-point attempts, including 10 of 16 in the second half, and was 22 of 33 overall (66.7 percent) after the break. Elon was 14 of 35 from long range.
“We made mistakes down the stretch in the second half, and it seemed like they made every 3-point shot they took,” Elon coach Matt Matheny said.
Furman: The Paladins, who escaped with a two-point home victory over Western Carolina on Saturday, never trailed this time.
Elon: The Phoenix faced their second ranked team of the season, both at home. They opened the new 5,000-seat Schar Center with a 116-67 loss to then-No. 7 North Carolina. They made several runs at Furman before the Paladins pulled away.
Furman: At South Carolina Upstate on Saturday afternoon.
Elon: Hosts North Carolina Greensboro on Friday night.
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