Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Srinivasan racks up during trophy season

Furman's Natalie Srinivasan finished this women's golf season
as the nation's No. 1-ranked player. Photo courtesy of Furman
While the Furman women's golf spring season lasted all of three weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Natalie Srinivasan's trophy season has gone on now for three months. The senior and former Dorman High standout has racked up plenty of hardware since the Paladins' season came to abrupt end following the second tournament of the spring in early March.

In what turned out to be her final collegiate tournament, Srinivasan finished one shot back in the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate at Hilton Head Island. The runner-up finish was a rare one considering that Srinivasan won half of Furman's six other tournaments in the full 2019-20 season. Her victories were highlighted by a dominant performance in the other spring tournament, the Moon Golf Invitational in Melbourne, Fla. in February. After shooting a 68 in round two, Srinivasan fired a 67 in the final round to finish at 10-under for a four-stroke win over teammate and fellow Spartanburg native, Anna Morgan.

"This was a very solid start to the spring," Furman coach Jeff Hull said afterwards. "Natalie established herself as one of the best players in the country with a solid win."

Hull's thought was proven right a month later. Srinivasan finished as the No. 1-ranked women's collegiate golfer in the country by Golfstat, which an adjusted scoring average of 70.51. She had a Southern Conference-best 70.78 stroke average over 18 rounds this season, and finished with a 72.6 stroke average over 118 rounds in her career. In the storied history of Furman women's golf, no Paladin has ever had a lower single-season average or career average.

Then the accolades came rolling in:
  • April 15 - Srinivasan receives the Winston Babb Memorial Award, which is given by the Furman chapter of Omicron Delta Kappa to the woman in each class who's demonstrated the most outstanding qualities of leadership.
  • April 21 - Srinivasan is the seventh Furman women's golfer to earn first team All-America honors and the first since 1998.
  • April 24 - Srinivasan becomes Furman's first female athlete to earn a national player of the year honor with the PING WGCA Player of the Year award, which has gone to the top women's golfer in the country each year since 1987. Srinivasan is the the fifth Paladin to earn a national player of the year, joining Frank Selvy (men's basketball in 1954), Brad Faxon (men's golf in 1982), Jeff Blankenship (football in 1988) and Louis Ivory (football in 2000).
  • May 8 - Srinivasan earns the Golfweek ANNIKA award, which is named in honor of Annika Sorenstam and has been presented annually to the nation's top female collegiate golfer since 2014. Votes of current players, coaches and media determine the winner, who receives an exemption to compete in the 2021 Evian Championship on the LPGA Tour.
  • May 15 - Srinivasan collects the inaugural Juli Inkster Senior award. This goes to the highest-ranked women's collegiate golfer among seniors per Golfstat and Golfweek Sagarin ratings. As the award winner, Srinivasan receives a sponsor exemption to compete at the next Cambia Portland Classic and a two-day mentorship retreat with Inkster.
  • June 17 - Srinivasan receives SoCon Female Athlete of the Year honors. She's the ninth Paladin to earn the award and first golfer since Caroline Peek in 1994.
  • June 24 - Srinivasan is one of 62 Paladins named to the SoCon's Spring Academic All-Conference team. She graduated summa cum laude with a degree in health sciences and a 3.90 grade point average.
"The awards have been a nice little distraction from everything going on and not being able to finish the semester," Srinivasan said. "Annika is such a great role model and is basically the Tiger Woods of women's golf. The ANNIKA award is like the Heisman trophy for women's golf and for my name to be on her award is just crazy. I never dreamed I'd be a finalist, let alone win the thing."

The SoCon's top honor is extra meaningful for Srinivasan because it encompasses more than just her athletic ability. While being the best golfer in the country certainly was a huge factor, so were her academics and contributions to the community. Srinivasan has done volunteer work with Prisma Children's Hospital and the LPGA/USGA Girls Golf Association.

There could be quite a debate as to what Srinivasan's biggest accomplishment at Furman has been. Is it rewriting a record book filled with names like Beth Daniel, Betsy King and Dottie Pepper, or posting 3.9 GPA in a school as academically prestigious as Furman? Srinivasan credited her success in both to her strict focus on both, and added that her high school experience was an excellent primer.

"Dorman has some of the best teachers. I had a great experience there and it really helped me prepare," Srinivasan said. "Furman is tough and they expect a lot out of you, but it wasn't something that I had never experienced before or wasn't ready for.
"Basically, golf and school are the only two things I did (at Furman). ... Once I would get done with class, I normally would pack my lunch and head over to golf and get started. When the work was done there, you'd eat dinner and hunker down and settle in for school. ... I knew it was going to take a lot of commitment and discipline to succeed at both. I was able to kind of learn how from my older teammates who were incredibly amazing role models for me."

Out of all the first-place finishes and awards, Srinivasan said her biggest memory from her Furman golf career probably goes back three years. While she posted the fourth-highest stroke average on the team as a freshman that season, she topped every other player in the conference in winning the 2017 SoCon Championship.

She followed up that medalist showing at the SoCon, with a final round 68 for a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Regional in Lubbock, Texas.

"I believe our team was ranked as high as No. 2 that year in the spring. We had an amazing team. A senior that year, Taylor Totland, really taught me a lot and pushed me," Srinivasan said. "As a freshman, you don't really think about winning conference. You just play and see what happens. That was really important to my confidence."

The pandemic this year robbed her of a final chance at another SoCon title and possibly an NCAA championship. It also wiped out this year's Augusta National Women's Amateur, which Srinivasan finished 17th at in last year's inaugural event.

Srinivasan has kept everything in a healthy perspective. As a golfer, she competes in one of the few sports that has been able to return within the confines of social distancing concerns. She's now focused on her pro career.

"I'm looking to start the week of July 20 with an LPGA event I'm trying to get into. Annika's (Sorenstam) been very gracious to try to get me into some events as has Juli (Inkster)," Srinivasan said. "I'm looking to get into those, but those are just bonuses. If I don't, I'll play on the Symettra (previously known as LPGA Futures Tour) when I can play. Their schedule is already a little cut and limited. Hopefully events play, but you just never know with what's going on."

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Starkes catch caps series win for Paladins

Jordan Starkes' catch to rob Campbell of a home run in Furman's 8-2 win
Sunday made SportsCenter's top 10 plays. Photo courtesy of Furman
One of the many wonderful things about baseball is there's always tomorrow. Furman played about as rotten a game as you can play in all phases in an 13-3 loss to Campbell on Friday. On Saturday, the Paladins got up off the deck with a season-high offensive performance in a 14-6 win. Furman wrapped up the series in style with an 8-2 victory.

Sunday's win not only got the Paladins (8-8) back to .500 this season, it also gave them the series win over a Campbell program that has made the NCAA Tournament as Big South champions each of the past two seasons.

"It's probably the most proud I've ever been of a team responding. That was a low moment for us on Friday. That's as bad as we can play," Furman coach Brett Harker said after Sunday's game. "We went in that locker room (Friday) and talked about lots of things. I said, 'this is where we're at and this is what we're going to do to fix it.' Almost to a T - like drawing up a play on a football field, the guys executed everything that we talked about the last two days."

There were plenty of highlight reel plays and stellar performances by the Paladins, but none stood out more than a catch made by centerfielder Jordan Starkes in the eighth inning. According to ESPN, only one other play in the sports world was better Sunday. With Furman up 6-2 and one out in the top of the eighth, Starkes made an incredible leaping catch to his left and over the eight-foot wall in left-centerfield to rob Campbell's Collin Wolf of a two-run home run. The play made SportsCenter's top 10 plays on Sunday as the No. 2 selection.


The play should've resulted in a double play as the Campbell runner on first was already on second base as the ball came back to the infield. The Paladins tossed it to first, but it was ruled that the runner somehow tagged up on the catch and made it to second standing up. That didn't take away from the awesomeness of the catch, which also turned out to be a key one. The Camels went on to load the bases that inning before reliever Matt Lazzaro got a strikeout to escape the jam with no run scoring.

"It's got to be one of the top two or three plays I've seen in person," Harker said. "How the rest of that inning unfolded, it's a completely different ballgame if he doesn't make that catch.
"That kid has just made plays, had good at-bats and really stepped up for us. It feels like he's a junior or senior already and he's only a sophomore."

Starkes' catch ended up overshadowing another big play in the outfield Sunday. Furman led 4-2 in the top of the fifth when Campbell had a man on second and one out. The Camels' Waldy Arias him a fly ball to medium right field toward the line. Paladins rightfielder David Webel raced to his left to make the catch. Webel spun and fired a one-hop rocket to cut down the runner trying to advance to third, ending the inning with a 9-5 double play.

Outside of one error, Furman played flawless defense behind Lazzaro and starter Rob Hughes who also stood tall Sunday. Hughes didn't allow a baserunner over the first three innings and had six strikeouts that first time through the Campbell lineup. Hughes (2-1) allowed two runs on one hit in seven innings. The sophomore righthander from Rock Hill had three walks and seven strikeouts and threw 107 pitches. The Camels (6-9) got just one more hit in the final two innings off Lazzaro, who had one walk and two strikeouts.

"That might be the best I've seen (Saturday starter John Michael) Bertrand yesterday and Rob today. Those early strikeouts were impressive," Harker said. "I wanted to use Lazzaro today, but I didn't want him to go three innings. Rob being able to go the seventh and get through it quickly was big for us. ... He had swing-and-miss stuff today."

Offensively, Furman put up a crooked number four times Sunday. Banks Griffith had a two-run single in the second before Blake Brady blasted a two-run homer the next inning. It was the first home run in the Furman career of the Georgia Highlands transfer who played high school baseball at J.L. Mann. Logan Taplett had a two-run single in the fifth and MJ Sasapan capped the scoring with a two-run single in the eighth.

Taplett went 3-for-4, while Webel and Sasapan had two hits apiece.

Furman returns to action Tuesday against Quinnipiac at Latham Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. It's the lone midweek game this week before the Paladins host College of Charleston this weekend.

"Tuesday's the biggest game of the season for us," Harker said. "Are we going to continue to grow and keep that energy rolling into the weekend, or are we going to be complacent with where we're at? That's my challenge to these boys."

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Paladins can't solve Wofford's riddle again

Mike Bothwell had 18 points and seven rebounds in Furman's 77-68 loss to
Wofford Saturday. Photo courtesy of the Southern Conference/Todd Drexler
ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Coming down the stretch of the Southern Conference basketball regular season, there were many scenarios to decide who would finish where among a dangerous group of four teams in the middle of the standings. Wofford lost seven consecutive games to claim the last spot among those four, finishing seventh in the league.

What a nightmare that turned out to be for Furman, which finished second. After Wofford snapped its losing streak by extending Citadel's skid to 19 in Friday's "play in" portion of the SoCon Tournament, a third game between the rivals was set for Saturday. Given how the first two meetings went - and how the Paladins swept each team that finished fourth through sixth, this didn't feel like an ideal No. 2 vs. 7 matchup for Furman.

It wasn't.

The Paladins followed up their poorest shooting half of the year in the first half (28 percent) by allowing the most points they have in any half (54) in the second half. It all added up to a 77-68 loss to the Terriers and a quick exit from Asheville. Furman still hasn't defeated Wofford outside of Greenville in nine years.

"Give Wofford credit. I thought they played really well after dealing with a ton of adversity down the stretch of the regular season," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "They were the more physical team. They beat us on the boards by 16 and it's hard to win games in the tournament like that. ... We missed a lot of shots tonight and only got two (offensive rebounds).
"Obviously, they've got a lot of tradition and those guys have won at a high level. They didn't have the year they're used to this year, but historically they've been really good. It's just one of those things we've got to get through and I've got to do better."

The Paladins (25-7) came into the tournament confident having won 11 of their last 12 games and with a new school record for regular season and SoCon wins. They also had the confidence of knowing they had at least one win over every other team in the league. But only one of those wins required a game-winning shot in the final seconds and a rally from an 11-point deficit in the second half - the 67-66 win over Wofford at The Well.

In both regular season games against the Terriers, Furman had a putrid offensive showing in the first half and that trend continued Saturday. After an 18-point opening half in Spartanburg and a 26-point first half in Greenville, the Paladins put up 20 in the first half in Asheville. Furman, which led the league in field goal percentage (47.3) in SoCon play this season, was 7-of-25 from the floor in the first half, including 1-of-11 on 3-pointers with three airballs.

"I wish I could answer why. I'm a little perplexed by it myself. I thought our team was loose this week and our practice prep was great," Richey said. "We hit every shot in practice drills and played with a ton of energy. Guys seemed ready to roll ... but we came out and looked a little timid. You could see it by the ball movement."

Despite the futile offensive numbers, Furman was closer at the half than in either of the first two meetings. The stingy defense by the Paladins down the stretch of the season showed up in the first half as they trailed 23-20 at the break.

While there was no scoring over the final 2:40 of the first half, a bad omen came in the final 15 seconds when Furman was called for two fouls - including Jalen Slawson's third foul with 2.1 seconds left.

Jordan Lyons was called for a foul 27 seconds into the second half. One minute and 13 seconds later, Clay Mounce was called for an offensive foul. Twelve seconds later, Noah Gurley was called for a foul. Seven seconds later, Gurley was called for another and headed to the bench with three. Slawson came in for Gurley.

At the 16:16 mark, Mounce was called for a foul. Eleven seconds later, Slawson was called for his fourth foul. After video review showed that Slawson grabbed and pulled the leg of Wofford's Storm Murphy, who was diving for a ball, the foul was changed to a flagrant. Murphy made both free throws and Ryan Larson had a steal and a layup to push Wofford's lead to 38-27.

After the 6-0 head start on fouls to start the second half, the Terriers were called for three fouls in 32 seconds - all drawn by Mike Bothwell. Eleven seconds later, Gurley was called for his fourth foul guarding 28 feet from the basket.

Despite the foul chaos, Furman came back as Mounce, Bothwell and Lyons hit consecutive 3-pointers. Lyons' shot gave the Paladins their first lead of the night and Bothwell's jumper made it an 11-0 run and pushed the lead to 43-40 with 11:24 left.

After Lyons' three-point play cut Wofford's lead to 46-45, the Terriers hit five consecutive shots including four 3-pointers to take a 60-48 lead. Three of those threes came from Trevor Stumpe, who was averaging 7.1 points per game this season, but scored 18 Saturday.

"We just had to decide as a group that there were a lot of things not going our way, but we had to try to win anyway," Richey said. "We've got guys in foul trouble, but it doesn't matter. We've got to go try to figure this out and control what we can control.
"We made a run and got some stops. We got up three with about 11 (minutes) to go and I remember we got three pretty good looks and missed them all. Give Stumpe credit. He got cooking and we lost him a few times. That was when the game was in the balance."

Bothwell's layup with 3:04 left got the lead down to six, but Furman didn't score again until there were 23 seconds left.

"We had another fight and clawed back in again, but just couldn't get over it. It's frustrating," Richey said. "We didn't play our best. We weren't physical enough, but this team didn't quit."

Furman didn't have much luck dealing with Wofford post player Chevez Goodwin in the regular season. With every big man in foul trouble Saturday, that continued. Goodwin had 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting with nine rebounds (five offensive) in 27 minutes. The Terriers outrebounded Furman 40-24.

"It's certainly tough playing with foul trouble. You want to be aggressive. That's our gameplan, to go pressure the ball," said Mounce, who had 13 points and three steals before fouling out. "Playing with fouls, you have to pull off your pressure a little bit. It can get in your head a little bit and get frustrated at the refs, but you've just got to keep playing."

Playing his first major minutes of a SoCon Tournament, Bothwell put Furman on his back for much of the second half. The sophomore finished with 18 points and seven rebounds. Lyons scored 15. Alex Hunter had five of Furman's six assists. It was the fewest assists in a game since the Paladins had five in a loss to ETSU at the SoCon semifinals two years ago.

"We were not as clean as we need to be offensively. Six assists really isn't us ... but I love this team," Richey said. "We're going to be back here and we're going to have a great night in Asheville coming soon with this program.
"We will lose Lyons unfortunately, but we will have everybody else back and should have plenty of motivation to get back here and get over the hump."

Big passes highlight Purple-White scrimmage

Dejuan Bell caught three touchdowns during Furman's annual
Purple-White spring scrimmage. Photo courtesy of Furman
It was a beautiful, albeit chilly, day for football at Paladin Stadium on Feb. 29, and Furman played some for fans, parents and a few hundred high school players at the annual Purple-White scrimmage. The high school players were there as part of Junior Day for the program.

Coach Clay Hendrix said it's always a double-edged sword when you're going against each other, but he added that Saturday's was another solid chapter of a productive spring. After taking this past week off for spring break, the Paladins will have two more practices this upcoming week to wrap up spring practice.

"We got a lot of good work in. I'm pleased with a lot of good things we did," Hendrix said. "I'm sure we will go back and watch the tape and find a lot of things we've got to correct, but we've had a really solid spring. We've gone at it physically about every day we could tackle.
"We haven't had a lot of good days weather-wise, so it was good to have a nice one today."

Furman spent about 90 minutes going through typical practice drills before capping the day with a 45-minute scrimmage. No official score was kept as the White team was comprised of all offensive players and the Purple was all defense.

Redshirt sophomore quarterbacks Darren Grainger and Hamp Sisson rotated throughout the scrimmage, while Jack Hardin took the field for a couple of possessions. While the White squad did not generate much on the ground, Grainger and Sisson hit some big throws in the passing game.

Grainger completed 8-of-12 passes for 205 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, while Sisson was 6-of-10 passing for 117 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.


The biggest passing target was sophomore receiver Dejuan Bell, who caught five passes for 124 yards and three touchdowns - including a 65-yarder. The other touchdowns went for 53 yards to Ryan Miller and 70 yards to Jake Kimmelman.

"It's nice to see our passing game come around. … Both our quarterbacks have had really solid springs. Coming out here at 6 a.m. a couple of days a week is a little tough on quarterbacks," Hendrix said. "Both made really good throws today. I think we can be really good in our play-action game.
"Receiver may be the most improved group on our team. Ryan Miller's had a great spring and certainly has some big play capability. Zach Peterson's had a good, solid spring."

Furman was limited to 52 yards rushing on 29 attempts. The Purple squad registered 12 tackles-for-loss. Braden Gilby and Taylor Hodge each had a sack, while Jalen Clark and Hodge teamed up for another sack.

"We've only had six guys in those three (defensive line) spots all spring. We got one of the four injured ones, London Lewis, back yesterday," Hendrix said. "Taylor's been solid and Cameron Coleman's had a really good spring. … Kevin Lewis has been a great addition to our staff and he's doing a super job with those guys.
"Adrian (Hope) has had a really solid spring. He's becoming more of an every down player."

Chase Abshier was the leading rusher for the Paladins Saturday with 26 yards on five carries. The running back unit was missing Wayne Anderson (hamstring injury) and Corey Watkins (death in the family).

In the competition to replace All-American kicker Grayson Atkins, Timmy Bleekrode made field goals of 42 and 47 yards before missing from 49. Sebastian Stubblefield made his lone attempt, which was a 26-yarder.

"Timmy was really solid today and would be our kicker if the season started tomorrow. It will be a wide-open competition in August with the kids we've got coming in," Hendrix said. "I've been really impressed with how he's kicked all spring. He's got a really strong leg. He may even be a better punter. We felt like at some point he may taken that over anyway."

Other singled out by Hendrix for their impressive springs included inside linebacker Jalen Miller and offensive tackle Anderson Tomlin.

Furman had just three penalties for the scrimmage, on consecutive plays oddly enough. There were two fumbles, one on a snap, but the offense recovered both as there were no turnovers.

"We have a lot of things to get better at, but I like where we are," Hendrix said. "We will go two more days in and it'll be fun to get to the next phase and let (strength coach) Andre (Bernardi) have them."

Friday, March 6, 2020

Top-seeded Samford women oust Paladins

Tierra Hodges had 12 points and eight rebounds in Furman's 75-45 loss
to Samford in the SoCon semifinals Friday. Photo courtesy of Furman
In Thursday's quarterfinals of the Southern Conference women's basketball tournament, Furman had just one turnover over the final 19-plus minutes to pull away for a win over Wofford. In Friday's semifinals, it was a completely different story.

The fourth-seeded Paladins committed at least five turnovers in all four quarters as top-seeded Samford rolled to a 75-45 win and avenged getting swept by Furman in the regular season. The Paladins finished with 22 turnovers, the most they've committed against a SoCon opponent all season. The Bulldogs (17-14) had 14 turnovers themselves, but those didn't prove nearly as costly. Samford enjoyed a 24-3 advantage in points off turnovers.

On Thursday, Furman rallied from an early 17-8 deficit to post a 14-point win over the Terriers. An early barrage of miscues Friday put the Paladins (19-12) in a hole again, but they could never get out of this one. From the 4:13 mark of the first quarter to the 8:18 mark of the second quarter, Furman had seven turnovers and an 11-7 Samford lead grew to 24-11.

The Paladins cut the lead to 26-20 with 2:34 left in the second quarter, but Samford ended the half on a 7-2 run to take an 11-point lead and was never threatened the rest of the way.

Tierra Hodges was the lone Paladin in double figures, as she had 12 points and eight rebounds. Celena Taborn added nine points, while Milica Manojlovic had six points, five assists and two steals. Le'Jzae Davidson had a tough end to her brilliant career as she scored six points. The third-leading scorer in school history finishes with 1,753 points in her career.

Defensive Paladins set for SoCon Tournament

Tre Clark has helped lead Furman's defensive surge over the
last month of the regular season. Photo courtesy of Furman
It's been five years since Furman's miraculous run as the last-place seed to the Southern Conference Tournament championship game. That was part of the first chapter of a pretty miraculous turnaround of the basketball program. But with 96 wins and counting over the last four seasons, that turnaround is history.

The program has now reached the level where the expectation is to be in contention for the league title every season. Entering this year's SoCon Tournament, that expectation may be as high as it's been in years. The No. 2 seed Paladins (25-6, 15-3) have school records for most wins in a regular season and most SoCon wins in a season. Furman is one victory away from the record for most overall wins in a season, which was set last year.

"I think momentum is huge. Obviously, all teams want to be playing their best ball of the year late and we've won 10 out of 11," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "It's been a stretch where we've tried to continue to play at the level we've been playing at all year offensively, and just take another step defensively."

Even though Furman was piling up wins in November and December, defense was a missing element that's proven to be vital for the Paladins the past few seasons. Defense has been a difference maker down the stretch for Furman. The emergence of super sixth man, Tre Clark, and the maturation of younger players such as Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson have keyed that defensive surge.

While there were some elements of the defensive mindset and intensity that Furman coaches want to see earlier in the year, such as the 65-56 home win over SoCon regular season champion ETSU on Jan. 4, it wasn't consistently there. In Richey's mind, a turning point in that consistency began with the Paladins' 79-57 victory over Mercer on Feb. 5.

"They came to Timmons on a six-game winning streak. We knew how well Mercer was playing, we knew how close the game was in Macon and we knew we were going to have to defend," Richey said. "When our guys so how we won that and the margin by which we won against a very good team, I think they said, 'you know what, this is a difference for us.' "

Richey said it's an "easy sell" to get players to buy into being part of a good offense. Buying into defense is a different story. Seeing the fruits of that labor help make it easier though.

"Defense isn't always something people just want to do, but this group has really bought into and really seen the impact it can make," Richey said. "When you get to a tournament setting, that's very important. These games don't always get into the 80s. We've all played each other twice and everybody knows each other's stuff. You've got to sit down and guard."

While a defense that ranks second in scoring (67.3 points allowed per game) and steals (7.8) in SoCon play has been a key, Furman hasn't been lacking in offense. Led by All-SoCon first team member Jordan Lyons (16.4 points per game) and third team members Noah Gurley (14.5) and Clay Mounce (13.2), Furman ranks No. 1 in field goal percentage (47.3) in league play. The Paladins also lead the SoCon in assist-to-turnover ratio primarily thanks to point guard Alex Hunter, who ranks fourth in the country at 3.39.

The Paladins head to Asheville with an 11-1 record over their last 12 games. That's the best finish to a Furman regular season in 67 years. The 1952-53 edition of the Paladins went 20-1 over the last two months of the regular season to finish fifth (?!?) in a 17-team SoCon. That team lost to West Virginia in the opening round of the SoCon Tournament, which saw Wake Forest defeat N.C. State in the finals.

This year's tournament competition may be just as fierce as it was back then during the Eisenhower administration. While ETSU, Furman and UNC Greensboro were clearly the top three, any of the middle foursome of Mercer, Western Carolina, Chattanooga and Wofford are more than capable of making a run to the final. Even No. 9 seed VMI has given the SoCon top three fits this season.

Furman begins play Saturday at 6 p.m. when the Paladins face either No. 7 seed Wofford or No. 10 seed The Citadel. If the Terriers snap their seven-game losing streak and extend the Bulldogs' skid to 19 games, it will set up a rubber game between the Upstate rivals. Furman lost at Wofford, 66-52, on Jan. 17 before beating the Terriers, 67-66, on Bothwell's game-winning shot in the final seconds on Feb. 22 at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

Quite simply, there's not going to be an easy path for any team to Monday's final.

"There's going to be nine games and I bet you all nine of them are pretty good. It's going to be a treat for fans to watch," Richey said. "This team knows how good the league is. They know how good the opponents are going to be, but they've got a belief and a determination about them. I think it's going to be fun to see how it all plays out once we get out there."

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Furman women rally past Wofford

Celena Taborn (55) had 16 points in Furman's 68-54 win over Wofford at
the SoCon women's tournament Thursday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Le'Jzae Davidson, Tierra Hodges and Celena Taborn scored 10 points apiece in the second half to help fourth-seeded Furman rally for a 68-54 win over Wofford in Thursday's opening round of the Southern Conference women's basketball tournament in Asheville, N.C. The Paladins (19-11) advance to face No. 1-seeded Samford at 11 a.m. Friday in the semifinals.

Furman trailed by as many as nine points in the first half, but outscored the Terriers (15-15) 38-22 after halftime. That included a 17-7 showing in the Paladins favor in the fourth quarter. Both teams were just 3-of-13 from the floor in the final quarter, but Furman sank 10-of-12 free throws to put the game away.

"We start the tournament like that every single year. I can't say if it's butterflies or just nervousness or whatever the case, but I'm just glad and super happy with how the team responded in the second half," Furman coach Jackie Carson said. "I believe we had two turnovers in the whole second half."

Carson was correct. After an offensive foul 45 seconds into the second half, the Paladins committed just one turnover the rest of the way. Furman had eight turnovers for the game and 17 assists out of 23 made field goals.

The Paladins fell behind 17-8 late in the first quarter before clawing their way back in it. Davidson knocked down a 3-pointer with 37 seconds left in the first half to brought them all the way back even before Niyah Lutz hit a jumper to give Wofford a 32-30 lead at the break.

Another 3-pointer by Davidson pushed Furman ahead 38-37 early in the third quarter. It was the Paladins' first lead since 2-0, but it was also one they never relinquished.

Davidson finished with a game-high 18 points, while Taborn scord 16 and Hodges recorded her 15th double-double this season with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Taylor Petty added nine points, five assists and a career-high three blocks, while point guard Milica Manojlovic had six assists and one turnover.

Taborn, who was 6-of-8 from the floor and grabbed four key offensive rebounds, surpassed the 1,000-point mark in her career.

"I just have to thank my teammates. Coach (Carson) is always pushing, 'look inside, look inside,' and we have to fight to hold contact," said Taborn, who also had four key offensive rebounds. "If I do my job the guards will do theirs and give me the ball and I will score."

Davidson and Hodges put up numbers like you'd expect from All-SoCon players such as them, but the biggest difference maker Thursday was Taborn. While she led the league in field goal percentage this year by a landslide at 67.3 percent, Taborn has been limited by injuries especially down the stretch of the regular season.

Taborn persevered Thursday after one second half play where she took a hit from behind to her wrapped right knee. While she fell awkwardly to the ground, Taborn had the presence of mind to flip the ball towards the basket to make it a shooting foul. Thursday marked the 6-foot-3 junior's highest point total since a 17-point effort at Elon on Dec. 30 and the 24 minutes she logged were her most in a game since Jan. 9.

"I just have to fight through adversity," Taborn said. "I'm not going to let anything stop me from doing what I have to do for my teammates."

Carson added, "This kid has been battling through all types of injuries and pain. She battled through today and did what an upperclassman does."

Now the attention shifts to a Samford team that emerged from a three-way tie atop the SoCon standings with the top seed. In Thursday's opening game, the Bulldogs (16-14) defeated Western Carolina, 77-62. This is one of the rare 1 vs. 4 match-ups in which the No. 4 seed swept the regular season series against the top seed. Furman defeated Samford, 77-69, at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Jan. 11 and won at Samford, 72-59, on Feb. 6.