Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Halfway home in the SoCon season

Furman's John Davis has scored 37 points and hit 6-of-9 3-pointers
over his last two games. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Whoa, we're halfway there in the Southern Conference regular season. It appears ETSU has everyone else livin' on a prayer in the chase for the regular season championship. After surviving a scare at The Citadel Monday night for their 13th straight win, the Buccaneers improved to 10-0 in the league. Wofford and UNC Greensboro are 2 1/2 games back in the standings at 7-2, while Furman is alone in fourth place at 6-3.

At the halfway point of the conference season, those top four teams have kind of separated themselves. They are the only SoCon teams with a winning record - in league play or overall. It's hard to imagine ETSU losing three of its final eight games and someone else winning out to claim the regular season title, but you never know. The most important part of the season is still the first weekend in March in Asheville at the SoCon Tournament. Obviously, positioning for it is also important.

The Paladins wrapped up the first half of league play with a 100-66 win over Western Carolina Saturday. Furman's fifth 100-point performance of the season followed probably its poorest game of the first half in a 71-61 loss at UNCG.

"Sometimes when a team goes through adversity, you want to sit there and talk about the things you don't do well. ... That's human nature. What we tried to figure out the past two days was 'what are our strengths' and let's get back to them," Furman coach Bob Richey said in Saturday's postgame. "Tempo, ball movement and making sure that we're trying to bring fatigue to the game through our speed. I think those are things that we have to be able to do."

Reigning SoCon Player of the Year Devin Sibley got back on track with a 23-point performance Saturday, John Davis scored 18, and every Paladin starter had at least three assists as the team finished with 21 versus just seven turnovers. Geoff Beans came off the bench and generated the biggest ovation from the Timmons Arena crowd with an eye-popping dunk. Richey said 3-point specialist provides much more that fans don't get to see.

"What Geoff did this week individually behind-the scenes and the way he led this team ... was incredible. I wish people could see it. This program is indebted to him in a lot of different ways," Richey said. "This team has dealt with a lot of adversity here lately and it's been neat to see and convince these players that that's a life lesson as well. Adversity is not what defeats you, it's the response to that adversity.
"I was really pleased with seeing these guys come through that, getting their head up and shoulders back and saying, 'hey, let's go get back to who we are and march forward.' I appreciate Geoff's involvement with that."

Going into the second half of the SoCon, the Paladins will look to maintain that momentum with a couple of intriguing road games this week. Furman plays at Mercer Thursday before taking on rival Citadel Saturday. The Paladins beat the Bears by three and the Bulldogs by 40 earlier this season in Greenville.

Since the 2014-15 season, each of the eight Furman-Mercer games have produced single-digit final margins. The Paladins have won the last four games, the last three of which have been decided by three points or less.

Furman has also won its last four against Citadel. While those wins have been in a much more convincing fashion than the Mercer series, last year's 99-91 win in Charleston was an adventure. The Paladins led 68-40 in the second half before the Bulldogs whittled Furman's lead down to three with 1:30 left. While Citadel is 2-7 in the league, it just missed upsetting ETSU in a 73-71 loss Monday and used a 51-point second half to win 76-74 at Mercer on Saturday.

Richey said whatever happened the first time around against SoCon opponents shouldn't be overly valued in the rematches.

"The second time's always different from the first. ... You're much more fixated on your first game and adjustments off that game," Richey said. "You'll still watch their previous games, but it's more about what you did well and did poorly, what adjustments you can do and what adjustments they could potentially do.
"You'd be amazed at the new wrinkles teams put in - new sets, new lineups sometimes. Usually when you play them again, it's never the same game."

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