Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sixteen 3-pointers, 29-0 run help Paladins roll

Daniel Fowler had 12 points to eclipse the 1,000-point mark in his career
as Furman defeated VMI 87-57 Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Two-and-a-half months ago, Furman's football team outscored VMI 28-0 to pull away for an easy win. On Saturday, the Furman men's basketball team did one better with a similar result. The Paladins used a 29-0 run to pull away for an 87-57 win at VMI in the Southern Conference opener.

Furman (10-4, 1-0 SoCon) overcame a 50 percent shooting day at the foul line, by shooting 50.8 percent (31-of-61) from the floor, including 51.6 percent (16-of-31) on 3-pointers. Eight different Paladins drained a 3-pointer as the 16 tied for the third-most in school history.

"We knew we'd be a little rusty not playing since the 20th, but the balls went in and the ball was moving for the most part," Furman coach Bob Richey told The Furman Sports Network afterwards. "Our ball movement was pretty poor in the beginning of the game, but I was pleased to see them be able to dig through some of that adversity."

That adversity included a 1-for-11 start from the floor for Furman over the first 7:25 of the game. With less than 11 minutes left in the first half, VMI led 15-6. But by the time VMI scored another 15 points, Furman led 62-30 with 12:55 left in the game.

Furman's run total was staggering. The Paladins trailed 15-6 before hitting five 3-pointers in a 24-0 splurge over just 4:37 of game time. Furman hit five 3-pointers during that flurry, including a pair by Daniel Fowler that gave the Paladins the lead for good. That run reached 29-0 a couple of minutes later as the Keydets went scoreless from the 11:19 to 3:22 mark of the first half.

"I thought Fowler got us going. He had a little spurt there where he really played with confidence and brought energy on both ends of the floor," Richey said. "His leadership today was phenomenal."

Jalen Williams' dunk with eight seconds left made it a 35-3 run and gave Furman a 41-18 lead at the break. A little over five minutes into the second half, a Clay Mounce putback dunk gave the Paladins their biggest lead of the game at 60-24 as the run reached 54-9.

"Jordan Lyons gave us a really good spark off the bench, but I thought our whole bench played well," Richey said. "Clay Mounce is getting acclimated to the defensive intensity that we play at, but he's really coming on. We're really excited about what he can bring to this team."

Lyons hit five 3-pointers to lead Furman with 17 points in 21 minutes. John Davis had 15 points, while Fowler had 12 points and five assists. The Paladins finished with 20 assists, giving them at least 20 in a game for the fourth time this season.

Fowler, who eclipsed the 1,000-point mark in his career Saturday, seemed most pleased with the zero half of that 29-0 run.

"Defense is what's going to carry our team to a championship level," said Fowler. "Regardless of how our offense is going ... as long as we stop the other team from scoring, we'll be alright."

Freshman Bubba Parham had a game-high 21 points for VMI (5-7, 0-1).

Furman returns to action Thursday, hosting rival The Citadel at approximately 7:30 p.m. It will be the second game of a doubleheader as the Furman women face Samford at 5 p.m.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Countdown to baseball season

Furman baseball coach Brett Harker
"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." - Rogers Hornsby

Don't fret Rogers. As we get closer to flipping the calendar to 2018, we're that much closer to baseball season. A Furman baseball team that was one win away from a Southern Conference Tournament championship is just as anxious as any of us to get back to the ballpark.

The Paladins get that chance seven weeks from today. Furman opens the 2018 season by hosting Marist at Latham Stadium on Feb. 16. After that opening weekend series against the Red Foxes, who are the reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions, the Paladins dive right in the "deep end" of the schedule. Furman has road trips to Clemson and South Carolina sandwiched around a weekend series at N.C. State.

"It may be tough to rack up wins (early), but this will be a team that will definitely be battle-tested," said Brett Harker, who guided Furman to a school-record tying 33 wins in his first season as a head coach last spring.

The Paladins will hope for home field advantage being a factor in March, as 17 of their 21 games that month are scheduled for Greenville. This includes four at Flour Field - Michigan St. (March 9), Illinois (March 10), Presbyterian (March 11) and Clemson (March 27). The month begins with a weekend series against reigning Northeast Conference champion Central Connecticut State March 2-4.

With one of those four road games being at Winthrop (March 13), Furman only leaves the state once in March for its longest road trip. The Paladins play a weekend series at Wichita State beginning March 23. Harker's happy to be playing a Shockers' program that has the fourth-highest winning percentage in Division I baseball history, even though they ended up on the schedule in an odd way.

Furman already had American Athletic Conference member Cincinnati on the schedule for quite some time. When Wichita State left the Missouri Valley Conference for the AAC, it reshuffled that conference schedule, bumping the Paladins off Cincinnati's slate. Ironically, the Shockers had an opening that same weekend clearing the way for the Furman series.

While the Paladins are in the Sunflower State that weekend, conference play will begin for the rest of the SoCon. That means no "off" weekend within SoCon play for Furman the rest of the way.

"It's a unique opportunity. We typically don't go that far west, but we were able to have a contract deal where it financially made sense for us to play out there," Harker said. "That will be a tremendous experience for our boys and will be fun.
"I personally like to schedule at least one big-name trip that our recruits and players can be excited about. Next year, we'll play a three-game series at Georgia. The year after that, we go to Alabama and the year after that, Ole Miss. We usually try to lock in those big ones in advance and then kind of build (the schedule) around there."

Furman opens SoCon action the following weekend by hosting Samford the last three days of March before Easter on April 1. After an April 4 home game against Georgia State, Furman has just four games at Latham Stadium - and a game at Fluor against South Carolina on April 24 - the rest of the month.

The Paladins wrap up the regular season against UNC Greensboro at home May 17-19. Furman and UNCG tied for third place in the SoCon last season, then met in the finals of the SoCon Tournament.

"They'll come back in January for individuals (workouts) and then practice will start Jan. 26," Harker said. "Then you've got to hit the ground running because we've got an NCAA regional team rolling into town Feb. 16.
"Ten of our first 11 games are against (2017) NCAA regional teams, and the only one that isn't is South Carolina. It's going to be tough, but I welcome the challenge."

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Paladins fall short at Tennessee

Furman's Devin Sibley had 22 points and 7 rebounds in the
Paladins' 66-61 loss at Tennessee Wednesday night.
No. 20 Tennessee used a 13-4 run over the final 5:09 of the game to knock off Furman, 66-61, at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday night. The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for the Paladins, who wrapped up non-conference play at 9-4 this season.

In a game that featured 14 lead changes, Devin Sibley's layup with 2:02 left provided the game's 13th tie at 61-61. Tennessee's Grant Williams hit the go-ahead jumper with 54 seconds left. After Furman's John Davis was bumped, slipped down and lost the ball, Tennessee's James Daniel hit 1-of-2 free throws with 22 seconds. Daniel added two more free throws with five seconds left to seal the win for the Volunteers (8-2).

"I thought we played really hard for 36 minutes. We didn't come out of the gate after the half strong," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "In the last two minutes, we didn't finish on the defensive end missing a free throw block out that was crucial. Then we had an execution error that was just inexcusable for a team this old.
"Those are going to be things that we can take away from this game. Understanding that in big environments, in front of 13,000 people against a top 20 team in the country, there's a lot of small things that end up being really big things."

Playing in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. for the first time since high school, Sibley was tremendous. The senior scored a game-high 22 points, to go along with seven rebounds and two steals. Of Sibley's 22 points, 19 came in the second half. Unfortunately for the Paladins, Sibley missed a few crucial minutes of the second half thanks to a pair of controversial offensive fouls.

Furman trailed 38-30 with 16:28 left when Sibley drove to the basket and drew contact. The official closest to the play signaled a blocking foul before he was overruled and Sibley was tagged with a charge. SEC Network color commentator Dane Bradshaw - a former Tennessee player - said he thought Sibley "did a good job avoiding the charge," and that Tennessee's defender "was still moving a little bit."

Sibley had Furman's first 13 points of the second half and Tennessee's lead was down to 45-39 with 13:10 left when a terrible call sent Sibley to the bench with his fourth foul. Furman freshman Alex Hunter was trapped in the corner on an inbounds play when he turned and fired a pass to Sibley. As Sibley turned around with the catch, he couldn't even dribble before colliding with a Tennessee defender and Sibley was called for another charge.

Despite missing the services of the best player on the court Wednesday, Furman had outscored the Vols 12-7 by the time Sibley returned at the 7:19 mark. Reserves Geoff Beans and Clay Mounce combined for 10 of those points.

"It was good to see Geoff knock down a few. We'd all been waiting on that and I thought he played really hard," Richey said. "The bench had 20 points tonight. For them to have basically 33 percent of our scoring, that's a positive we can take away from this."

After returning, Sibley picked back up where left off with a layup to give the Paladins a 53-52 lead. Another Sibley layup gave Furman's its biggest lead of the second half at 57-53 with 5:12 to play, but the Paladins scored just four points the rest of the way.

"We're definitely not satisfied with the outcome. This program is past moral victories," Richey said. "At the same time, you've got to commend our kids' effort and fight, because they definitely did that.
"I think it gives even more credit to the effort that we could shoot 25 percent from three and still have a chance to win that game. That's the beauty of this team."

A Tennessee team that defended Furman full court all night and that was averaging 23 fouls per game had 13 fouls on Wednesday. The Vols were called for one foul over the final 10:32 of the game. Sibley was 10-of-16 from the floor, including many drives to the basket where he ended up on the floor, but he was just 1-of-2 from the foul line.

Jordan Bowden led Tennessee with 21 points. Williams had 14 points, eight rebounds and a key block of Sibley's layup attempt with 14 seconds left with the Vols up 64-61. Admiral Schofield added 13 points and 12 rebounds for Tennessee, which outrebounded Furman 47-33.

Furman gets a 10-day break over Christmas before opening Southern Conference play Dec. 30 at VMI.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Football notebook: National honors pouring in

Furman senior center and co-captain Matthew Schmidt (62) has earned
multiple All-American honors. Photo courtesy of Furman.
After leading a turnaround season by paving the way for one of the best offenses in the FCS this season, members of Furman's offensive front continue to rack up national honors.

On Tuesday, Matthew Schmidt added to his collection as he made the STATS FCS All-America second team. Schmidt is also an Associated Press second team All-American and a Phil Steele third team All-American. Schmidt also was a consensus All-Southern Conference first team pick and earned the league's Jacobs Blocking Award.

Given his postseason haul thus far, Schmidt will likely be a part of the American Football Coaches Association All-America team announced Wednesday as well. Schmidt, a senior co-captain, started all 13 games at center for the Paladins (8-5) giving him a total of 39 starts along the line in his terrific career. This season, Schmidt helped Furman average a SoCon-best 32.6 points per game and 6.3 yards per play. The Paladins also allowed the fewest sacks in the country with seven.

"I think (offensive line coach) Pete Lusk did a great job with him, but I tell you what, he was a good player when we got here," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "That kid might be the ultimate team guy. He bought in from day one to what we were selling and he made those other guys around him better. He was never redshirted, so I just kind of hate that we didn't get him another year."

Despite playing multiple positions along the offensive line and snapping out of multiple sets in a new offensive system this season, Schmidt seemingly never had a bad snap.

"I don't even remember any bad snaps in practice," Hendrix said. "He was just a model of consistency. For me, consistency is probably the No. 1 thing and it's so important for that position
"With a defensive lineman, you don't mind the bad plays because of the good plays they can make. With an offensive lineman, a bad play will just kill you."

Furman tight end Andy Schumpert joined Schmidt on Phil Steele's All-America third team. Schmidt, Schumpert and offensive guard Terrell Bush were all first-team All-SoCon selections. Furman's Reed Kroeber, who started the first three games at left tackle and the final 10 at right guard, made the HERO Sports FCS Freshman All-America team.

On the recruiting trail
Since the season ended Dec. 2, Hendrix and his staff have been busy on the road recruiting ahead of college football's new early 72-hour signing period that begins at 7 a.m. Wednesday. Hendrix noted a key was making sure the offensive front depth was well stocked following the graduation of Schmidt, Bush and Schumpert.

"There's not a senior in the group next year, but we've just got to become more athletic and more durable and we will," Hendrix said. "This offseason will be huge for our football team."

The other senior starters that will have to be replaced are quarterback P.J. Blazejowski, running back Antonio Wilcox and wide receiver Logan McCarter.

On The Dan Scott Show Tuesday, Furman recruiting coordinator Duane Vaughn said he expects a total of about 17 signees in this year's class. Vaughn believes 10 or 11 of those players will sign Wednesday, while the others will file their paperwork on the traditional signing day of Feb. 7.

Quarles named offensive coordinator
In the middle of the recruiting efforts, Hendrix announced that George Quarles will take over as Furman's new offensive coordinator. Quarles replaces Drew Cronic, who left to take the head coaching position at Lenior-Rhyne. Quarles and Cronic were part of the new staff hired by Hendrix prior to this season.

"I'm happy for Drew. He did a great job for us and we wish nothing but the best for him and his family," Hendrix said. "When I was kind of putting things together this time last year, I really felt like we hired two guys that could (be offensive coordinator). I don't think we will miss a beat going forward.
"The plan for me was to put a system in place and then if you lose a coach, the system doesn't just go away. I want guys that can work within our system."

As associate head coach and tight ends coach, Quarles was a key part of perhaps the most important move last preseason for Furman. After catching one touchdown in his first three years combined at wide receiver, Schumpert hauled in nine touchdowns this year at tight end. Schumpert, who consistently burned opposing defenders on deep throws by Blazejowski, had 652 yards receiving on just 32 catches (20.4 yards per catch).

Quarles came back to his alma mater prior to this season after a legendary coaching career at Maryville (Tenn.) High School. He spent 22 years at Maryville, including 18 as head coach. He was the fastest coach in high school history to 200 wins, finishing with a career record of 250-16 (after a 10-7 start) with 11 state championships in 15 appearances. During one stretch, Quarles led Maryville to a 74-game winning streak.

"I think George would be the first one to tell you this has been a great year for him from a learning standpoint," Hendrix said. "Obviously, his track record as an offensive coach speaks for itself."

Hendrix said Quarles will likely take over as quarterbacks coach as well, and a new staff hire will come later - possibly after recruiting is wrapped up.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Hot-shooting Paladins get fifth consecutive win

Devin Sibley scored 24 points Sunday to lead Furman to a 90-84
win at UNC-Wilmington. Photo courtesy of Furman.
There's nothing quite like hot shooting to help overcome other things that aren't going your way on the basketball court. Furman shot 56.4 percent from the floor, and connected on 13-of-26 3-pointers, in a 90-84 win at UNC-Wilmington Sunday afternoon. It's UNCW's first non-conference home loss since Dec. 21, 2013.

The Paladins (9-3) earned their fifth consecutive win despite getting outrebounded 40-29 and shooting just 60 percent (15-of-25) from the foul line. Things were especially tough in those departments in the first half, but Furman hit nine 3-pointers to take a 47-44 lead into halftime.

In the second half, Furman posted an 18-16 edge in rebounding and got back on track at the foul line. The Paladins, who entered Saturday having made 76.3 percent of their foul shots this season, hit 11-of-15 in the second half as they led by as many as 13.

"When you go on the road, you've just got to try to get them any way you can," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Being down 24-11 on the boards at the half, a really big key at halftime was to make sure we got that fixed. ... We just had to have a five-man commitment to the defensive glass. Outrebounding them in the second half has to be the most important stat of the game."

Matt Rafferty actually started in on that second-half mission late in the first half, in what turned out to be arguably the key sequence of the game. Furman trailed 43-40 and were getting outrebounded 23-7. Over the final 56 seconds of the half, Matt Rafferty had four rebounds and hit a pair of shots sandwiched around a Devin Sibley 3-pointer. Rafferty's off-balance putback beat the first-half buzzer to give the Paladins a three-point lead.

"Huge, because we knew we had to get some things corrected," Richey said in reference to taking the lead just before half. "Once we got to halftime, I told the guys 'if you all win the rebounding battle in the second half, you're going to win the game.' To their credit, they went in there and did it."

The Seahawks regained the lead just 25 seconds into the second half, but an Andrew Brown 3-pointer 13 seconds later gave Furman the lead for good. Brown's three was followed by 3-pointers by John Davis and Sibley as the Paladins had a 9-1 run.

Furman put together another run later in the second half to take command. With UNCW's best player, Devontae Cacok, and fellow post player Marcus Bryan each on the bench with four fouls, the Paladins used a 12-5 run to take a 79-66 lead with 8:53 left. The Seahawks cut the lead to three on three separate occasions down the stretch, but never got closer.

"We won't see an environment like that in our league, sans I would say ETSU," Richey said. "The noise got in there and they started going nuts, but I thought our team did a good job of not flinching there in the last couple of minutes."

Sibley finished with 24 points and four assists to lead Furman. Brown added 18 points. Rafferty had 16 points and nine rebounds, while Davis scored 14. Sibley, Brown and Davis combined to connect on 11-of-13 3-pointers.

Cacok had 24 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out for UNCW (2-7), which fell to 37-6 at home over the last four years. Jordon Talley and Jaylen Fornes added 21 and 20 points, respectively, for the Seahawks.

"We wanted to get Andrew going because look, we weren't going to shut down Cacok and we knew that. In game-planning, we looked at how to get something out of it on the other end of the floor and neutralize the matchup," Richey said. "We tried to pull him away from the basket. First play of the game, we ran an action for Andrew and he was just wide open and hits the three-ball right there at the top of the key. I thought him stretching their No. 4 man out was a huge key to the game today."

Furman wraps up the non-conference portion of its schedule at No. 20 Tennessee Wednesday at 9 p.m. The game will be televised by the SEC Network.

"For Devin to be able to go home and play in Knoxville, that's neat. Coach (Rick) Barnes is a heck of a coach who's done a phenomenal job with them. They're very physical and tough," Richey said. "It's going to be a challenge for us to really commit to moving and cutting, trying to neutralize their pressure."

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Paladins tally most points in 13 years in victory

Jordan Lyons scored a career-high 19 points in Furman's 103-47
win over Montreat Thursday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Jordan Lyons led six Furman players in double figures with 19 points as the Paladins cruised past Montreat, 103-47, Thursday night at Timmons Arena. It's the highest point total in a game for Furman since a 126-33 win over Virginia Intermont on Dec. 29, 2004.

Thursday marked the final home game of 2017 for Furman and wrapped up a five-game homestand. It was the the fourth consecutive win for the Paladins (8-3), who held the Cavaliers to 26.5 percent shooting from the floor. Furman opened the game with a 22-4 run and shot 39-of-78 (50 percent). That's the most field goal attempts by the Paladins in a game in more than 15 years.

"It was a lot about the start tonight. I thought our starters did a good job of making sure they brought intensity from the jump (ball)," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "Now, it's what can we take from these wins that we can continue to improve on. Now that exams are over and we've got a little practice time, there's some things I think we can focus in on before we get to conference play."

Furman forced 20 turnovers, had 10 steals and a season-high 27 assists, which is the most assists since 29 in that Virginia Intermont game. Over the last three games, the Paladins have forced 63 turnovers and tallied 71 assists. It's the fourth straight game with double-digit steals for Furman, which has totaled 46 in those games.

It was the lowest point total of the season for Montreat (12-2), an NAIA school just outside of Asheville. The Cavaliers, who are ranked No. 17 in the latest NAIA Division II Coaches Poll, entered Thursday with a 12-1 record and an average of 92.2 points per game.

"We know we're at our best when we're guarding and that's something we didn't do at all against Winthrop (Furman's last loss)," said Furman senior Geoff Beans, who drew three charges Thursday. "So each game - no matter who we're playing - we're holding our own standard and we know it all starts with defense for us."

Lyons had 13 points in the first half as Furman led 49-23 at the break. The Paladins went through a mini-slump offensively scoring just eight points over the final 7:07 of the first half, but only allowed seven during that same time frame. Furman outscored Montreat 32-8 over the first 11 minutes of the second half to push its lead to 50.

Lyons hit 5-of-10 3-pointers to finish with a career-high 19 points in 16 minutes. Daniel Fowler had 14 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals in 20 minutes. Matt Rafferty, John Davis and Clay Mounce each had 13 points, while Devin Sibley scored 12. Rafferty and Jalen Williams each had 11 of Furman's 53 rebounds. Rafferty also had a game-high three steals, while Williams had nine points and two blocked shots.

"When the game comes to Jordan simply and naturally, I think he's unstoppable. He can make threes at will and he's a great playmaker," Fowler said. "I'm very proud of this team (coming back since the Winthrop loss). ... It's not easy to win at this level, so we're cherishing every moment that we're out there and using every game as an experience to get better."

Furman wraps up the non-conference portion of its scheduled with games at UNC-Wilmington Sunday at 2 p.m. and at Tennessee Wednesday at 9 p.m. After Christmas, the Paladins open Southern Conference play at VMI on Dec. 30.

"We've got good players in those (reserve) positions," Richey said. "We're just looking forward in the next couple of weeks to just try to get consistency so that we can go into league play with kind of a mapped-out rotation."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Furman women's hoops off to fast start

Senior Cierra Carter leads Furman in scoring (14.6 points per game) and
rebounding (6.6 rebounds per game) this season. Photo courtesy of Furman.
The Furman women's basketball team has overcome a couple of significant preseason injuries to get off to a hot start this season. Following it's latest win - a 93-46 victory over Bob Jones, the Paladins are 7-2 this season.

Last season, Furman played the final month without one of the greatest players in school history after Whitney Bunn suffered a season-ending injury. While her career ended prematurely, Bunn still finished as the fifth-leading scorer in school history and the school's all-time leader in 3-pointers and assists.

"When she went down last year, it just rocked our entire world. I had to learn a lot of lessons for myself as a coach - how not to put ourselves in that position and to just talk to my team about taking everything one day at a time," Furman coach Jackie Carson said. "That's how we've approached this season. We say every day in practice, 'let's be better than we were yesterday,' and we've had a lot of success doing that."

Learning how to deal with Bunn's injury last year has unfortunately paid off before this season even got started. Furman lost two players expected to make major contributions in the preseason. After Tierra Hodges suffered a torn ACL, Milica Manojlovic had the same injury less than a month later. Both are out for the season.

Hodges started 18 games as a freshman last season and averaged 5.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Manojlovic, a freshman and native of Montenegro, was projected as Bunn's replacement at point guard this year.

"It was devastating to have Baby T (Hodges) go down because she worked probably the hardest in the postseason. She took it personal when we said we needed more out of her as a leader and for her game to expand," Carson said.
"Milica got hurt at our Midnight Madness (practice) and she'd been through so much already. She had just gotten cleared by the NCAA because they couldn't read her transcripts from Montenegro. Her visa got messed up, so she had to go home early for summer school. That injury's been really hard because that kid is 24 hours away from home."

Carson said the injuries allowed Furman to utilize those lessons learned last season.

"As disappointing as it was to lose both of them, we can't let one person or injury define what our team is going to do. It just means everyone else has to step up and that's exactly what's happened," Carson said. "Our upperclassmen have done a great job of being tremendous leaders through the adversity."

Senior Cierra Carter leads Furman in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounding (6.6 rebounds per game). The Paladins' top outside shooter, sophomore Le'Jzae Davidson, is second on the team at 13.8 points per game.

Celena Taborn is the other player in double figures at 10.4 points per game off the bench for Furman. Taborn, who's one of seven freshmen on this year's squad, also averages 5.4 rebounds per game and has pulled down 30 offensive boards.

"Cierra's played the four her entire career, but this year she's our starting three. ... She's probably been in the gym more this year than she was in three years combined just trying to work on it," Carson said. "Celena's given us something we've never really had in this program. ... She's a presence who uses her body well and has tremendous hands. Our guards are confident throwing any kind of pass in there and expect her to finish."

After a November schedule filled with home games, the Bob Jones game was the lone one at Timmons Arena in December. Furman begins a five-game road trip Sunday at 2 p.m. at North Carolina. The Paladins are 1-2 away from home this season, but are coming off an 80-59 win over USC Upstate in their last road game. That marked Furman's first non-conference road win since another victory over USC Upstate on Dec. 12, 2015.

By the time the Paladins return to Timmons Arena, it will be a new year and time to begin Southern Conference play. Furman hosts Samford and Mercer on Jan. 4 and 6, respectively.

"We have to get ready because it can't get too much tougher than Samford and Mercer coming out of the gate in conference play," Carson said. "These (road) games will be good for us."

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Big runs help Furman cruise past S.C. State

Furman's John Davis III had 21 points and five assists in the Paladins'
101-72 win over S.C. State Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
The turning point of a basketball game is sometimes difficult to pinpoint. In Furman's 101-72 win over South Carolina State Saturday at Timmons Arena, it was crystal clear albeit a little odd considering the final score.

When S.C. State's Justin Jones got free to drain his fourth 3-pointer, the Bulldogs led 20-16 with 10:31 left in the first half. That's when Furman coach Bob Richey vigorously encouraged the Paladins to stick with Jones whether he had the ball or not. Furman proceeded to go on a 25-3 run over the next 7:47 to take a commanding 18-point lead that was never threatened.

"We went back to our gameplan principles and tried to slow him down a little bit," said John Davis III, who scored 21 points and had five assists. "We hang our hat on defense. Whenever anything starts to click, it's predicated on defense. Defense just ignites our offense."

Davis, who was just 7-of-33 on 3-pointers entering Saturday, hit 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. Devin Sibley, who scored a game-high 24 points, was 4-of-5 on 3-pointers as the Paladins were 14-of-33 (42.4 percent) overall on 3-pointers. Sibley, who also had four assists and two steals, moved into 15th place on Furman's all-time scoring chart with 1,516 career points.

The victory avenged a home loss to S.C. State last season. It also marked the first time the Paladins scored 100 points against a Division I opponent since a 103-98 win at Charleston Southern on Dec. 18, 1993.

Richey said the best thing the Paladins did Saturday was collect 24 assists against just 10 turnovers. All five starters had at least three assists. Furman (7-3) also helped force 22 turnovers, collecting 12 steals along the way.

"We knew they were going to throw multiple defenses at us and part of the game plan was to just keep it simple, make sure we know what we want to do on each attack and just keep the ball moving," Richey said. "Credit our guys, 24 is a lot of assists."

S.C. State (2-9) went scoreless over the final 6:24 of that 25-3 first-half run by the Paladins. Furman forced six turnovers during that span, including turnovers on five consecutive possessions. The Paladins stretched the lead to 23 on their final possession of the first half when Davis dribbled on nearly all the shot clock before finding Jalen Williams for a dunk.

After scoring his 14th point less than 10 minutes into the first half, Jones did not get another shot off until a 3-pointer just past midcourt at the first-half buzzer. That cut Furman's lead to 52-32 at the break. The Paladins used an 18-2 run midway through the second half to take its biggest lead of the game at 87-54. The cherry on top came on Furman's final possession when Jonathan Jean threw an alley-oop from midcourt that Clay Mounce dunked.

"I thought we had 30 good minutes of basketball. I wasn't real thrilled about our start in either half. We were just trading baskets with them," Richey said. "But after about the 15-minute mark of each half, we really stepped it up."

The Paladins shot 56.7 percent in the first half and 55.9 percent in the second half. Furman outscored S.C. State 36-22 in the paint, 28-11 off turnovers, 23-7 on fast breaks and had a 33-14 advantage in bench points.

In addition to Sibley's 24 and Davis' 21, Daniel Fowler had 15 points, three assists and three steals. In 19 minutes off the bench, Williams posted career-highs in points (14), rebounds (8) and steals (3).

"Each time I've gotten on the floor, I've gotten more and more comfortable with this being my second year," Williams said. "My goal is to be bring physicality to the game each night and I feel like that's what I did tonight. Whether that's playing five minutes or 19 minutes, I've just got to bring that every day."

Richey felt that Williams, a sophomore from Wade Hampton High, turned a corner and provided a needed presence against the bigger Bulldogs.

"I'm really, really proud of him. They definitely had an advantage on us with size ... and we decided to give Jalen some more minutes. To his credit, he maximized his opportunity," Richey said. "He rebounded at a high level tonight and played with some physicality. Once we put him in there, they weren't getting those easy layups and put-backs."

Jones finished with 19 points to lead S.C. State, while Donte Wright added 15.

Furman wraps up its five-game homestand Thursday when the Paladins host Montreat at 7 p.m.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Rafferty powers Paladins past UNC Asheville

Furman raced out to a 14-2 lead less than four minutes into the game Tuesday as the Paladins cruised past UNC Asheville 83-72. Furman (6-3) had 14 steals and 20 assists in recording its first win over the Bulldogs (5-4) since 69-67 decision seven years ago.

For the second game in a row, the Paladins stymied a team that was shooting the lights on 3-pointers coming in. On Saturday, Furman held Tennessee Tech to 2-of-19 shooting from beyond the arc. UNC Asheville hit 4-of-13, but didn't connect on its first until 7:36 left in the game when the Paladins were up 68-51. UNCA then hit three of its final four shots from beyond the arc, all over the final 2:41 when Furman led 80-59.

For the Paladins, it's been a case of not overthinking defensively since suffering a 93-74 loss to Winthrop last Wednesday.

"I was so worried about Winthrop's 3-point shooting and we put a focus on it and extended our defense a little bit more and it backfired on us," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "What we realized is that you've got to do what you do."

In the last two games, the Paladins faced Tennessee Tech, which was shooting 40.4 percent on 3-pointers entering Saturday, and UNC Asheville, which entered Tuesday ranked No. 7 in the country at 44.6 percent from beyond the arc.

"For both of them, we strictly focused on our defensive principles - can you disrupt the ball, can you keep the ball in front, can you be in your gaps to support your teammates and can you communicate?" Richey said. "It's just a funny paradox. When you just go out there and play hard, focus on your assignment and play connected, they just don't get the clean looks.
"Whereas against Winthrop, we got extended, they started driving us and it looked like a circus out there trying to rotate and scramble all over the place."

Three layups from Matt Rafferty, an Andrew Brown 3-pointer and a Devin Sibley layup gave Furman an 11-0 lead 2:22 into the game. Alex Hunter's 3-pointer a minute later put the Paladins up 14-2 and they never led by single digits the rest of the way. Less than five minutes into the second half, Furman had an 18-4 run to push its lead to 26.

The Paladins and Bulldogs were each 29-of-57 from the floor - thanks to UNCA making five of its last six shots. The difference came from beyond the arc, where Furman was 8-of-24, and at the foul line, where Furman hit 17-of-22. The 20 assists and 14 steals were season highs for the Paladins.

"I think it started with getting back in transition and on-ball pressure. That really interrupted their offense," Rafferty said. "We got steals off deflections. It was overall a good team defensive performance by us. I think after Winthrop these last two games have been needed to give us some confidence back on defense.
"My job (offensively) was easy tonight. It was the guards that were driving in there and dumping to me for layups, so all the credit to them."

Rafferty had a near perfect game. He was 8-of-9 from the floor and 6-of-6 from the foul line for a career-high 22 points. He also had nine rebounds, three assists, three steals, one blocked shot and no turnovers.

"The guy just literally gets every single drop out of the rag. He just rings it completely out," Richey said. "He never asks for a sub. He never says he's tired. He never misses an assignment. He's just steady.
"We had a season-high 36 deflections tonight and he had 13 of them. So your guy that quantitatively-speaking, probably has the lowest amount of athleticism led our team in deflections. That's because he cares, he anticipates and absolutely plays as hard as he can play."

After getting injured against Winthrop and having an off-day shooting against Tennessee Tech, Devin Sibley bounced back with 16 points and a game-high five assists. Andrew Brown had 11 points, three assists and a game-high four steals, Daniel Fowler had nine points and three steals, and John Davis had seven points and three steals also for Furman.

Kevin Vannatta led the Bulldogs with 18 points.

Furman returns to action Saturday for game four of the five-game homestand. The Paladins host South Carolina State at 4 p.m.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Paladins basketball bounces back with defense

Matt Rafferty (32) had nine points, 14 rebounds, three assists and five steals
in Furman's 64-50 win over Tennessee Tech. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Following its first loss this season to a team that hasn't played in the national championship game in the last seven years, the Furman men's basketball team bounced back strong Saturday with a 64-50 win over Tennessee Tech at Timmons Arena.

The defensive effort was more like what the Paladins have come to expect during the program's rise the last couple of years. It came days after allowing 52 points in the opening half of a 93-74 home loss to Winthrop.

Furman (5-3) held Tennessee Tech to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor, including 2-of-19 (10.5 percent) on 3-pointers. The Golden Eagles (7-2) saw their six-game winning streak, which included a victory at The Pit over New Mexico, snapped.

Furman led 14-13 midway through the first half before an 11-0 run over the next five minutes gave the Paladins a commanding lead that was never seriously threatened. Tennessee Tech did have a 10-0 flurry over a 78-second stretch early in the second half, capped by Aleksa Jugovic's four-point play. That cut Furman's lead to single digits for the only time in the second half.

On the Paladins' ensuing possession, Matt Rafferty's 3-pointer pushed the lead back to 10. That sparked a 13-1 run that ended on another Rafferty 3-pointer as Furman took a 49-30 lead with 11:35 to play.

Furman didn't exactly shoot the lights out either at 34.4 percent. The difference came from beyond the arc as the Paladins hit 10 3-pointers, albeit in 36 attempts. John Davis scored a game-high 16 points to lead Furman. Daniel Fowler scored 12, while Rafferty had nine points, 14 rebounds, three assists and five steals.

After suffering an injury that sidelined him for most of the Winthrop game, Devin Sibley returned to the Paladins' lineup but may have still been feeling the effects of the injury. Sibley was 1-of-12 from the floor, including 0-of-7 on 3-pointers.

• Furman returns to action Tuesday as it hosts UNC Asheville at 7:30 p.m. Prior to the men's game, the Furman women host Bob Jones at 5 p.m. Fans who bring a new, unwrapped toy for the Think Twice Foundation's toy drive will receive a $6 general admission ticket.

• The 2017-18 season debut of Furman coach Bob Richey's radio show will be tonight from 6:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at Shortfield's Restaurant in Travelers Rest. The show can be heard on FoxSports 1440-AM, on the TuneIn Radio app and through Stretch Audio at

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Furman falls in rematch at Wofford

SPARTANBURG - Being unable to run and unable to stop the run was the root of Furman's struggles the past few seasons. Getting it fixed was perhaps the biggest key to the Paladins' turnaround this year.

On Saturday, Wofford brought those struggles back. The Terriers rushed for 291 yards and held Furman to just 52 yards on the ground as Wofford won 28-10 in the second round of the FCS Playoffs. The eighth-ranked Terriers (10-2) advance to play at North Dakota State next Saturday in the quarterfinals.

The 52-yard rushing total was easily the lowest output by No. 22 Furman (8-5) of the season. The previous low was 133 yards at N.C. State. Wofford's 291 rushing yards were the most allowed by the Paladins this year.

"Credit Wofford. They just were clearly better than us today," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "They were certainly committed to stopping the run. When you don't run the ball any better than we did, it's hard to beat anybody.
"I've been doing this a long time, but I couldn't be prouder of this group. Just where they came from. We were sitting here three months ago today with our backs to the wall and they fought to put us in position to get to the second round."

Just as happened in each of Furman's other losses this season, Wofford's first possession resulted in a touchdown. In the Paladins' eight wins, the opposition didn't get a score of any kind on its first possession.

It appeared that Furman was set to tie things up on its opening drive, but leading rusher Antonio Wilcox was dropped for no gain on 4th-and-1 at the Wofford 31.

In a rematch of a one-point game the first time the team met to open the 2017 season, there was a thought that any turnover could be a key factor Saturday. But Furman couldn't take advantage of the game's only one on the next play.

After Jaylan Reid forced a fumble that Chris Washington recovered at the Wofford 34-yard line, Furman drove to the five-yard line. On 3rd-and-4, P.J. Blazejowski threw to Jake Walker, who dropped the touchdown. The Paladins settled for a 22-yard field goal attempt that was blocked by Dominique Lemon.

Furman reached the red zone again on its next drive, but Blazejowski was sacked for just the seventh time this season on third down. Grayson Atkins' 41-yard field goal cut Wofford's lead to 7-3 early in the second quarter.

On the Paladins' next possession, Blazejowski threw a deep ball on the money to Cam Burnette for a 44-yard gain. On the next play, Blazejowski hit Logan McCarter for a 20-yard touchdown and Furman took a 10-7 lead with 6:52 left in the half.

Perhaps the biggest drive of the game came with just 1:30 left in the first half. When Wofford took possession of the ball at its own 36-yard line, it might've been expected that the run-heavy Terriers would simply run out the clock and settle for a three-point halftime deficit. However, Brandon Goodson took to the air. He completed 3-of-4 passes for 58 yards on the drive, including a 33-yard touchdown throw to a wide open Blake Morgan as Wofford took a 14-10 lead into halftime.

"In the first half, I kind of thought we were doing some things we wanted to do. We just had three really crucial plays - the dropped touchdown, the blocked field goal right after that and then we bust a coverage and give them a cheap one before the half," Hendrix said. "Those are just mistakes you can't make, but I still thought we were right where we wanted to be.
"I was disappointed we gave it back to them (with 1:30 left in the first half). We hit a pass for a first down, but we get a procedure (penalty) and end up having to punt to them."

That was just one of two penalties for the least penalized team in the FCS, but both proved costly. Wofford's fourth quarter touchdown drive was extended when Furman was flagged for holding on a third down incompletion.

It marked the first time Furman trailed at the half since the N.C. State game on Sept. 16. The only other time the Paladins trailed at the half this year was Sept. 9 against Elon.

A Wofford team that made a living off of close wins all season cruised to Saturday's win with a dominant second half.

Prior to their final drive, the Paladins had just one first down in the second half which came on a personal foul for leaping by Wofford on a Furman punt. The Terriers took a 28-10 lead on a 13-play, 68-yard touchdown drive that shaved 8:23 off the fourth quarter clock. The Paladins then drove to Wofford's two-yard line and had 1st-and-goal, but could not crack the end zone.

Furman, which played without injured second-leading rusher Kealand Dirks (concussion), had just 107 yards and had the ball for only 9:01 of the second half.

"In the second half, they were just plain and simple better than us," Hendrix said. "To be quite honest, and I've known this all year ... we're just not big and strong enough. We will be, but it's just where we are right now with the youth of our group.?

In his final game as a Paladin, Blazejowski was 18-of-30 passing for 257 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

"This year's been unbelievable. ... To be in that locker room and feel the momentum swing that took place, especially in the middle of the year," Blazejowski said. "I'm excited for a lot of the young guys. I think they're going to do some really great things, especially under the leadership of Coach Hendrix and the rest of the staff."

Friday, December 1, 2017

Furman-Wofford set for Round 2 in Round 2

Chinedu Okonya (98) celebrates Furman's win over Elon. Okonya has
4.5 of the Paladins' 34 sacks this season. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Perhaps the biggest game in the Furman-Wofford series comes 128 years after the first meeting Saturday at Gibbs Stadium. The Deep South's oldest rivalry resumes for the 92nd time, but for the first time ever in the FCS Playoffs. Saturday's winner advances to the quarterfinals against the North Dakota State-San Diego winner next weekend.

The Paladins (8-4) will try to avenge one loss a week after avenging another against Elon in the opening round. Furman lost the season opener at Wofford, 24-23, on a missed two-point conversion with 46 seconds left.

Playing the preseason Southern Conference favorite - who went on to live up to those expectations - that close on the road in Clay Hendrix's first game as head coach turned out to be a positive sign of things to come for Furman. But quite a few Paladins who were essential in the team winning eight of their last nine games either didn't play or had little impact in the season opener:

RB Antonio Wilcox - 150 carries, 790 yards, 14 TD, 5.3 ypc
RB Kealand Dirks - 152 carries, 720 yards, 9 TD, 4.7 ypc
TE Andy Schumpert - 27 receptions, 572 yards, 9 TD,  21.2 ypr
LB Reynard Ellis - 79 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception
LB Elijah McKoy - 70 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss
CB Darius Kearse - 34 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 4 PBU, 6 PD
CB Bradford Lemmons - 20 tackles, 2 PBU, 2 PD

(DNP - did not play)
RB Antonio Wilcox - 10 carries, 23 yards, 1 TD, 2.3 ypc
RB Kealand Dirks - DNP
TE Andy Schumpert - 1 reception, 13 yards, 0 TD
LB Reynard Ellis - DNP
LB Elijah McKoy - DNP
CB Darius Kearse - DNP
CB Bradford Lemmons - 0 tackles (played very little)

In addition to those listed above, Furman's offensive line will also have a different look Saturday from the opener. On that night, Reed Kroeber (left tackle), Chris Breedlove (right guard) and Bo Layton (right tackle) each made their first career start as did Schumpert, who shifted from receiver to tight end in the preseason.

While seniors Terrell Bush and Matthew Schmidt were All-SoCon mainstays at left guard and center, respectively, the rest of the front was tweaked during the season. Kroeber shifted to right guard with Andy Godwin inserted at left tackle. Jacob Conrad has started at right tackle as Layton has been sidelined by injury.

That offensive front has helped pave the way for a Furman running game that ranks 10th in the FCS at 240.1 yards rushing per game. They've also allowed the fewest sacks in the country with six.

"We're still a work in progress, but we've made really good strides up front," Hendrix said. "We didn't run it as good early in the year as I wanted to. I think a lot of that was figuring out how to go about it. I think in weeks 4, 5 and 6 we started feeling more comfortable in how to attack and knowing what our strengths are in the running game.
"If you can run it, then all of a sudden your defense gets better because they have to practice against it all the time."

That strong running game has offered up big play opportunities in the passing game and P.J. Blazejowski has cashed in. The senior captain has thrown for 2,204 yards, 18 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He's second in the country with a passing efficiency rating of 176.6. Seven of Blazejowski's touchdown throws have gone for at least 57 yards.

Schumpert has established a new record for Furman tight ends with his nine touchdown catches, two shy of the overall school record for touchdown receptions. Schumpert (21.2) and teammates Thomas Gordon (19.1) and Logan McCarter (18.6) easily rank 1-2-3 in the SoCon in yards per reception.

Furman's young defensive unit, which has 15 freshmen and sophomores on this week's two-deep depth chart, has improved throughout the year. The Paladins have developed depth on the defensive side of the ball that wasn't there in the opener. That night, Wofford's offense dominated the fourth quarter wearing down Furman to the point that the Paladins' late two-point conversion attempt was almost a given.

True freshmen Ellis and McKoy were pressed into duty after Furman lost three inside linebackers for the season in the first three weeks. Kearse and Lemmons joined the starting lineup at each cornerback following Furman's 56-35 win over ETSU, which threw for 434 yards. Defensive improvement this season has been highlighted by Furman's 34 sacks, which have been collected by 16 different Paladins. The previous two seasons combined, Furman had just 20 sacks.

"Defensively up front, we've been able to rush the passer because you can roll a few more guys (in and out) because of the depth we've built," Hendrix said. "For a lot of the guys, that (opener) was the first game they'd ever played in college."

Hendrix said that experience built since week one has not been limited to the players. He expects another barn-burner Saturday afternoon.

"That goes for all of us. That was my first game as a head coach and the first time we were together as a staff," Hendrix said. "You would think you'd always improve, but I think ours was a little bit more drastic because of where we started (0-3).
"I think it's going to be two pretty even teams and it will come down to who can execute and take care of the ball. I think the difference in the (first) game was we were twice inside the (Wofford) eight (yard line) and got three points. That's what's hurt us the last two weeks as well."