Saturday, March 31, 2018

Paladins swept in opening SoCon series

After a pair of close losses in the first two games of its series against Samford, Furman went out with a whimper Saturday at Latham Stadium. The Bulldogs had 25 baserunners, allowed just three hits and and completed the sweep with a 10-0 win. It's the eighth consecutive loss for the Paladins (13-15, 0-3 SoCon).

Samford (15-14, 4-2) got all the runs it needed with a five-run third inning. The Bulldogs led 3-0 and had the bases loaded with two outs and a 2-2 count on leadoff man Branden Fryman when Heath Hawkins came on in relief of starter Matt Lazzaro. Fryman sent Hawkins' first pitch up the middle for a two-run single to cap the inning.

Brooks Carlson had three hits and three runs to lead the Bulldogs' 13-hit effort. Fryman had two hits and three RBIs, while Ryan Crockett went 2-for-2 with a two-run home run. Samford also drew 10 walks as each of Furman's six pitchers issued at least one free pass.

Back-to-back two-out singles in the third and a double in the ninth made up all of the Paladins' hits. Leadoff man Ben Anderson accounted for half of Furman's eight baserunners as he went 1-for-1 with three walks. The Paladins didn't sniff snapping what's now an 80-inning homerless streak as Samford recorded just one flyball out on a shallow pop to center.

Samford starter Stephen Jones (2-4), who entered with an ERA of 5.06, allowed two hits in seven scoreless innings to get the win. He had three walks and two strikeouts.

Furman returns to action Wednesday, hosting Georgia State at 5 p.m.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Samford hurlers continue Furman's woes

Two things pretty much told the story of Furman's baseball game against Samford Friday afternoon at Latham Stadium: 1. The Paladins made the ERA of Samford starter Samuel Strickland rise ... to 1.64. 2. Strickland had the highest ERA of the three Bulldogs who took the mound Friday.

The pitching trio led Samford to a 4-2 win, clinching the Southern Conference series win while handing Furman its seventh consecutive loss.

After two-out singles by Jason Costa and Jake Crawford, Costa came home on a wild pitch in the bottom of the third to give Furman a 1-0 lead.

Samford answered with a three-run fourth. The Bulldogs (14-14, 3-2) got consecutive run-scoring hits by the No. 6, 7 and 8 batters (Max Pinto, Ayrton Schafer and Taylor Garris) to take a 3-1 lead.

The Paladins (13-14, 0-2) came back with a run in the fifth on Brandon Elmy's RBI-single, but left the bases loaded.

Samford added an insurance run in the ninth when Connor Burns led off with his first home run. Burns had entered the game defensively just before the final pitch of the bottom of the eighth.

Furman starter Grant Schuermann was solid despite being tormented by the bottom half of the lineup. Pinto, Schafer and Garris, who entered the series batting .239, .205 and .195, respectively, went a combined 7-for-11 Thursday. Meanwhile, the top five batters in Samford's lineup went 3-for-20. Schuermann (2-5) allowed four runs on 11 hits in eight innings. He had no walks and six strikeouts.

Strickland (4-0), a left-handed freshman who entered Friday with a 1.61 ERA, four walks and 36 strikeouts in 28 innings, got the win. He gave up two runs, one earned, on five hits in five innings. He had two walks and three strikeouts. Josh Rich worked three scoreless innings, with one walk and four strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 1.37. Wyatt Burns, the SoCon's active leader in career saves, tossed a 1-2-3 ninth lowering his ERA to 1.27. For the second day in a row, Burns struck out the side in the ninth to earn his fourth save.

Bret Huebner was the lone Paladin with multiple hits as he went 2-for-4. Furman's homerless streak extended to 71 consecutive innings.

The Paladins will try to salvage the final game of the series on Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Samford rallies past Paladins in SoCon opener

Jake Crawford went 3-for-4 with an RBI in Furman's 4-3
loss to Samford Thursday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Samford rallied from a 3-0 deficit to defeat Furman 4-3 Thursday night at Latham Stadium in the Southern Conference opener for the Paladins. It's the sixth consecutive loss for Furman, dropping it to 13-13 overall this season.

Jabari Richards staked Furman to an early lead with two-run triple with two out in the second. The Paladins added a run an inning later on Jake Crawford's RBI-single. That made it 3-0, but Furman was shut out over the final six innings.

Furman starter Nik Verbeke blanked the Bulldogs over the first five innings. Samford trailed 3-1 with one out in the seventh when the Bulldogs' Ayrton Shafer singled and Taylor Garris doubled to chase Verbeke. Samford got a sac fly from No. 9 hitter Sam Teague and an RBI-single from Branden Fryman off reliever Heath Hawkins to tie the game 3-3.

After Samford put runners on second and third to start the eighth, Tyler Kimbrell came on in relief of Hawkins. Kimbrell got a popup for the first out, but Samford's Max Pinto followed with a single to left to snap the 3-3 tie. The Bulldogs (13-14, 2-2) looked to add more with a potential sac fly, but Furman leftfielder David Webel threw the runner out at home for an inning-ending 7-2 double play.

The Paladins got leadoff singles in the eighth and ninth, but stranded the runner both times. Samford standout reliever Wyatt Burns struck out each batter of the Paladins' top third of the lineup swinging to end the game. Burns (2-1) allowed no runs on three hits in 2 2/3 innings to earn the win. He had no walks and six strikeouts. Hawkins (0-1) took the loss.

Jake Crawford went 3-for-4 to lead Furman, while Jason Costa and Brandon Elmy also had two hits apiece. Brooks Carlson was 3-for-3 to lead the Bulldogs.

It was another power outage offensively for the Paladins, who have a total of five extra-base hits during the six-game skid. Furman has gone 62 innings without a home run, the last coming on Ben Anderson's leadoff shot against Harvard on March 17.

Game 2 of the three-game series is scheduled for Friday at 4 p.m.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Paladins fall to Clemson at Fluor

Jabari Richards had two hits and two RBIs in Furman's 10-5 loss
to Clemson Tuesday at Fluor Field. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Clemson slugger Seth Beer's grand slam highlighted a six-run fourth inning and the Tigers went on to a 10-5 win over Furman Tuesday night at Fluor Field. No. 8-ranked Clemson improves to 19-6, while the Paladins fall to 13-12.

"I'm just disappointed overall because that should've been a one-run, or even a tie, game in the ninth," Furman coach Brett Harker said. "I hurt for our boys because I know how bad they want it. ... We're playing Thursday, Friday and Saturday, so we've got to have a short memory but come out that much hungrier."

Furman trailed 2-0 when starter Trent Alley retired the first two Tigers in the top of the fourth. But Clemson's next six batters reached base. With the Paladins trailing 4-0, John Michael Bertrand came on in relief and got a groundball that should've ended the inning. However an error loaded the bases for Beer, who hammered a 1-0 pitch over the right-centerfield wall to make it 8-0.

The Paladins got on the scoreboard in the fifth. After an RBI-single by Jake Crawford, Sims Griffith came home on a passed ball. Jason Costa capped the three-run inning with an RBI-double.

Furman inched closer an inning later as Jabari Richards' two-run double cut the lead to 8-5. The Paladins loaded the bases with nobody out, but got no closer. After Crawford struck out, Costa hit a line drive up the middle that Clemson second baseman Jordan Greene made a great play on to begin an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.

"The game came down to they made a big play with the bases loaded and we didn't," Harker said. "Obviously, Beer is as good as anybody in the country.
"I'm proud of the way we came back and battled and didn't roll over. At the same time, we've got to learn how to win these games against the Tigers. Until then, we'll just continue to be the little brother that don't get a whole lot of respect."

Chris Williams capped the scoring in the top of the seventh with a two-run homer. Beer was the lone Tiger with multiple hits as he went 3-for-3 with five RBIs. Clemson leadoff man Logan Davidson reached base in each of his five trips to the plate with a double and four walks.

Crawford, Costa, Brandon Elmy and Richards each had two hits to lead Furman, while leadoff man Ben Anderson drew three walks.

Travis Marr (2-0) tossed two scoreless innings of relief to get the win. Alley allowed six runs, three earned, on six hits in 3 2/3 innings to take the loss.

Next up for the Paladins is the opening series of Southern Conference play at home against Samford. First pitch of Thursday's Game 1 is scheduled for 6 p.m.

"I feel pretty good about our guys. I don't know if anybody has ever said that on a five-game losing streak, but I feel like we've seen all different types of arms and velocities and we should be very prepared for the Southern Conference," Harker said. "I think tonight was the best we've swung it in a awhile. We've got to clean up some things defensively, but I feel good about our starting pitching on the weekend as well.
"The reason we've had this challenging start was to prepare for the SoCon."

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Wichita State completes sweep of Paladins

Furman starter Matt Lazzaro allowed three runs in a career-long 7 2/3 innings
Sunday in the Paladins' 3-1 loss at Wichita State. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Furman got a much-needed solid start from Matt Lazzaro Sunday, but the Paladins fell at Wichita State 3-1. The Shockers (17-4) improved to 13-1 at home this season after completing the three-game series sweep.

Furman's offense was once again handcuffed by Wichita State's starter. Freshman Tommy Barnhouse (2-1) allowed one unearned run on two hits and no walks in four innings. He had eight strikeouts. For the series, Wichita State starters worked a combined 16 innings and allowed two runs, one earned, on five hits. They had four walks and 25 strikeouts.

The Paladins (13-11) took their first lead of the series in the third inning. After Dillon Love reached on an error, Jabari Richards and Ben Anderson had singles to load the bases. Bret Huebner's groundout gave Furman a 1-0 lead.

The Shockers answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning. After opening the frame with three singles to load the bases, Alec Bohm walked to tie the game. Furman then turned a double play, but the go-ahead run scored.

From the fourth to the eighth inning, Lazzaro retired 11 consecutive batters before Luke Ritter's one-out homer to wrap up the scoring. Lazzaro (2-3) allowed three runs on seven hits in 7 2/3 innings. He had one walk and five strikeouts. Over his last three starts, the freshman left-hander has a 3.04 ERA with three walks and 17 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings.

Wichita State's Chandler Sanburn worked a perfect ninth for his third save. For the second day in a row, Furman was held to two singles for the game.

This challenging portion of the Paladins' schedule continues Tuesday when Furman takes on Clemson at Fluor Field in downtown Greenville. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Shockers crush Paladins, clinch series

For the second day in a row, Wichita State's starter worked six dominant innings and the Shockers clinched the series win with a 14-3 victory over Furman Saturday in Wichita, Kansas. Wichita State (16-6) piled up 17 hits, drew eight walks and struck out just three times in improving to 12-1 at home this season.

Shocker freshman Liam Eddy maintained his perfect record this season and lowered his ERA to 1.57 with six shutout innings Saturday. Eddy (5-0) allowed just two singles, one walk and struck out six.

After Furman was unable to turn what would've been an inning-ending double play in the first, Paxton Wallace belted a two-run homer to give Wichita State a 2-0 lead.

The Shockers added a run in the third then broke the game open with a five-run fourth. Dayton Dugas led off the fourth by hitting Grant Schuermann's third pitch of the inning for a double. Two pitches later, Jordan Boyer doubled to score Dugas. On the next pitch, Gunnar Troutwine hit a two-run homer.

Furman's lone highlight of the day came in the eighth inning when five consecutive Paladins reached with two out. It was capped by an RBI-single by Dillon Love and a two-run single by Jake Crawford to cut the lead to 9-3. Wichita State answered with a five-spot in the bottom of the inning to close out the scoring.

Greyson Jenista went 3-for-3 with two runs scored to lead the Shockers offensively.

No one had more than one hit for Furman (13-10), which finished with a total of six singles.

The three-game series wraps up Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Paladins drop opener at Wichita State

Six Wichita State pitchers combined to allow two hits and rack up 16 strikeouts as the Shockers defeated Furman, 11-1, in Friday's opener of a three-game series in Wichita, Kansas.

Wichita State (14-4) jumped on top with a pair of runs in the first inning. It remained 2-0 until the Shockers added a run in the bottom of the fifth. The Paladins (13-9) did not get a hit until the sixth inning when Bret Huebner's one-out double scored Ben Anderson to cut the lead to 3-1.

Wichita State answered with a run in the bottom of the sixth before blowing the game open with a seven-run seventh.

Furman's only other hit came on Landon Kay's two-out single in the ninth.

Paladin starter Nik Verbeke (3-2) allowed five runs on six hits in six innings to take the loss. He had two walks and one strikeout.

Wichita State starter Codi Heuer (4-0) stayed perfect this season after giving up one run on one hit in six innings. He had three walks and 11 strikeouts.

Luke Ritter had three hits, while Jordan Boyer went 2-for-3 with a home run and a two-run double to lead the Shockers offensively.

Game 2 of the series is scheduled for Saturday at 3 p.m.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

College of Charleston powers past Furman

Landon Kay had three hits in Furman's 15-6 loss to the College
of Charleston Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Latham Stadium has never been known as a pitchers' park. With a stiff, steady wind blowing to left field, Wednesday afternoon was no different. Furman and the College of Charleston combined for 28 hits, but the Cougars' knocks went much further as they won 15-6.

Five of Charleston's 15 hits left the yard, all flying out to left, and the Cougars (16-6) also drew seven walks. Meanwhile, all of Furman's 13 hits went for singles and the Paladins (13-8) had no walks.

Charleston opened the game with three straight hits, capped by Logan McRae's three-run home run. Furman came back with two runs in the bottom of the inning to cut the lead to 3-2 before the Cougars took command with a five-run second. After McRae walked with the bases loaded, Danny Wondrack hit a grand slam to chase Furman starter Trent Alley.

Paladin reliever Jordan Beatson came on and worked the next 5 2/3 innings, giving Furman a chance to get back in it. After solo homers by Charleston's Tommy Richter in the fifth and Wondrack in the sixth, the Paladins scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth to cut the lead to 10-6.

The Cougars came back with a pair of unearned runs in the seventh. After Charleston's K.J. Bryant struck out but reached first on a passed ball, he later scored on Bradley Dixon's two-out homer. The Cougars tacked on two more runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to finish the scoring.

Wondrack finished with five RBIs, while McRae had four for Charleston. Luke Morgan and Dixon added three hits and three runs apiece.

Jason Costa and Landon Kay each had three hits to lead Furman. Sims Griffith went 2-for-3 with two RBIs also for the Paladins. Griffith left in the sixth inning after limping a bit following a single in the fourth, and Jabari Richards departed in the fourth after being hit on the knee by a pitch.

Wednesday's game began another tough stretch of games for Furman. Next up is a weekend series at Wichita State (14-4), which improved to 10-1 at home this season with a 2-1 win over Oklahoma Tuesday. First pitch of the three-game series is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Six double plays help Paladins edge Harvard

Furman's Ben Anderson went 4-for-5 Saturday to lead Furman to an 8-6 win
over Harvard. Anderson had 11 hits and 11 RBIs in the four-game series.
If double plays are a pitcher's best friend, Furman pitchers made a lot of new BFFs Saturday at Latham Stadium. The Paladins turned six double plays and freshman sensation Ben Anderson continued his dominant series as Furman defeated Harvard 8-6. The four-game series win improves the Paladins to 13-7 this season.

"It was unbelievable how many double plays. ... We had a good one where our pitcher covered (first), which is not easy to convert and another with interference," Furman coach Brett Harker said. "There were all different types of double plays, but that was the definitely the difference in the ballgame."

After Harvard jumped on top 2-0 in the top of the first, Anderson led off the bottom half with an opposite field home run for the third time in the series. Sims Griffith followed with a double and later scored on Jason Costa's sac fly to tie the game 2-2 after one.

Anderson led off the third with a scary single as his rocket up the middle nailed Harvard starter Buddy Hayward in the back. After a brief delay, Hayward stayed in but was clearly hampered as he hit two of the next three batters to load the bases. After Harvard went to the bullpen, Anderson came home on a wild pitch.

Anderson's RBI-single in the fourth pushed Furman's lead to 4-2. The Paladins led 4-3 in the sixth when Anderson and Griffith hit back-to-back RBI-singles. The Crimson (7-11) tied the game with a three-run rally in the seventh.

With the scored still tied 6-6, Jabari Richards led off the bottom of the eighth with a single and stole second. Anderson's only out of the day was a grounder to second that moved Richards to third. Griffith then ripped a double down the leftfield line to give Furman the lead. Jason Costa's RBI-single bounced over the Harvard third baseman's head to make it 8-6.

After getting a double play to end the eighth, Furman reliever John Michael Bertrand (3-0) got another one in the ninth to end the game. Bertrand allowed three hits, no runs, no walks and struck out one in his two innings of work.

"What a gutsy performance. He comes to me after the eighth and tell me he wants the ninth. I said, 'you got it,' " Harker said. "That's what you want out of guys and he's doing that on three days rest after a start."

Anderson went 4-for-5 with two run and three RBIs raising his season average to .412. For the four-game series, Anderson was 11-for-17 with 11 RBIs. Griffith went 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs Saturday, while Bret Huebner and Richards each went 2-for-3 and each scored two runs. Huebner had eight hits in the series, while Griffith had seven.

"I'm sure there's some players out there in the country that played better (than Anderson) this week, but I don't know. He's got to be in contention for SoCon Player of the Week and in the mentions for national. He was just so good and even his outs were productive," Harker said. "Sims has really hit the ball this week.
"Bret's average has jumped through the roof. ... To have him hitting eighth in our lineup makes us pretty dangerous."

Ben Skinner and Patrick McColl each had three hits to lead Harvard.

Furman returns to action Wednesday, hosting the College of Charleston at 6 p.m.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Furman splits doubleheader with Harvard

Ben Anderson and Bret Huebner had three hits apiece and Furman held on for a 7-6 win over Harvard to split a pair of seven-inning games Friday at Latham Stadium. After scoring 16 runs in the series opener on Thursday, the Paladins' bats were silenced in the first game Friday as Harvard won 6-2.

After four hits, five RBIs and a leadoff home run in Thursday's win, Anderson led off the second game Friday with his second career homer. On the next pitch, Sims Griffith hit his first homer of the season and Furman led 2-0 after one.

Anderson added an RBI-single in the second, then capped a three-run fourth with an RBI-double that pushed the lead to 6-0.

Furman starter Matt Lazzaro threw 5 2/3 innings of shutout baseball before Harvard's Buddy Mrowka hit a three-run homer to cut the lead in half. The Paladins (12-7) added what turned out to be an important insurance run in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI-single by Huebner.

Trailing 7-3 in the seventh, the Crimson (7-10) greeted Furman reliever Austin Wood with back-to-back home runs. Tyler Kimbrell came in and allowed another run as Harvard cut the lead to 7-6. With the potential tying run at second, Kimbrell struck out Mrowka to end the game and earn his third save. Lazzaro (2-2) allowed three runs on seven hits in six innings. The freshman had two walks and four strikeouts.

In Friday's opener, Harvard starter Simon Rosenblum-Larson dominated the Paladins going all seven innings. Rosenblum-Larson (1-0) allowed two runs, one earned, on three hits. He had one walk and 11 strikeouts.

Matt Rotherburg led the Crimson offensively as he went 3-for-3 with a pair of home runs and three RBIs.

Brandon Elmy had two of Furman's three hits, along with a run scored and an RBI.

Paladin starter Grant Schuermann gave up six runs, four earned, on seven hits in six innings. He had two walks and seven strikeouts.

Furman will try to take the series win when the series wraps up Saturday at 1 p.m.

Paladins hammer Harvard in series opener

Furman's baseball game Friday wasn't exactly beautiful and it lasted longer than some relationships I've had, but the Paladins will always take a lopsided win. In a game that went over three-and-a-half hours, Furman overcame 10 walks in a 16-3 win over Harvard in the opener of a three-day, four-game series at Latham Stadium.

"That's what it's like to be a cricket coach I think. They say those last three and four days long." Furman coach Brett Harker said. "That's the least we've commanded the strike zone all year and that's very frustrating. But at the end of the day, that's a good team and we put up a ton of runs."

Ben Anderson kicked off his big night leading off the bottom of the first. The freshman hammered an 0-2 pitch that sliced into a stiff wind and escaped over the centerfield wall for the first home run of his career. The Paladins loaded the bases, but got no more in the first. Anderson made it 3-0 an inning later when he sent an 0-2 pitch up the middle for a two-run single. He later came around to score on a groundball by Jason Costa.

From that point on, Harvard starter Noah Zavolas settled in and shut out Furman over the next four innings. Zavolas (1-1) scattered 10 hits over his six innings of work, walked two and struck out eight.

Meanwhile, Furman starter Trent Alley cruised through four shutout innings and took a streak of five consecutive strikeouts into the fifth. But as it has in the past, the fifth inning proved to be a bit of a challenge for Alley. With two out and nobody on, Harvard's Ben Skinner doubled, Devan Peterson walked and Patrick McColl hit a three-run home run to cut the lead to one. Alley (2-0) then got a groundout to end the inning and his pitching night.

"For the most part, Trent Alley was very good. That's the best his changeup has been," Harker said. "He's frustrated by (not going longer), but that's a good sign that he's not happy with that outing.
"I think it was a big mental block to get there (through five innings) because he didn't last week. He needed to prove to himself that he could get that out. That kid will hit a hurdle, figure out how to cross it and get a little better. I think you'll be able to see him work into the sixth and maybe even the seventh now that he got past that hurdle."

Heath Hawkins made his 2018 debut in relief of Alley to start the sixth. Hawkins, whose been perhaps Furman's biggest key reliever the past couple of years, worked two scoreless, hitless innings. In his first game back from an arm problem that he's dealt with since the preseason, Hawkins overcame four walks.

"The biggest positive of the night is that Heath Hawkins is back. Was he at his best? No, but he put up two big zeros for us," Harker said. "We're really excited that he's healthy and got his feet wet."

After Hawkins protected the one-run lead for two innings, Furman took command with a five-run seventh. Jake Crawford homered on the first pitch of the inning. Later, Bret Huebner had a two-run double, Jabari Richards hit an RBI-triple and Anderson capped the inning with an RBI-double.

The Paladins (11-6) removed any doubt with a seven-run eighth in which 12 Paladins batted. The big blows came on Brandon Elmy's two-run triple - the first of his career - and Logan Taplett's two-run double.

Anderson went 4-for-5 with two runs and five RBIs to lead the Paladins, while Huebner was 3-for-5 with three runs and two RBIs. Furman racked up a total of 17 hits and drew seven walks.

"Everybody was sitting there saying 'that ball's gone,' and I was going 'not today,' but sure enough he rode it out of here," Harker said of Anderson's leadoff homer. "The kid's really good and he seems to play exceptionally well at home."

No one had more than one hit for the Crimson (6-9), who totaled five as a team.

The teams will play the second and third games of the series Friday with a pair of seven-inning games. The doubleheader is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Paladins pass on CIT, CBI invites, look ahead

Jordan Lyons will be one of the key returning leaders
to Furman next season. Photo courtesy of Furman.
The Furman men's basketball team has picked up plenty of postseason experience the past two seasons with five games combined over the last two Tournaments. For the 2017-18 Paladins, it's only postseason destination would either be the NCAA or NIT. Furman declined invitations from the CIT and CBI tournaments over the weekend, wrapping up another record-breaking season with a mark of 23-10.

The Paladins tied the school record for wins in a season for the second year in a row. The only other Furman teams with 23 wins came in the 1979-80 (23-7) and 2016-17 (23-12) seasons. Despite going 11-22 as freshmen in the 2014-15 season, this year's senior class finished as the second-winningest in school history at 76-59. Only the senior class of 1980 (80-37) finished with more victories.

"When this group of seniors set out their goals for this season, they obviously wanted to go play in the NCAA Tournament. Either do that or win a league (regular season) championship, which would allow us to play in the NIT," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "A lot of people have opted out besides us, teams like ETSU, Belmont and Northeastern. In the pay-for-play format, it's not quite as appealing for this group as it has been in years past when we were building it."

While these lesser tournaments are a way to somewhat prepare for the future, they can also hold things up. When Furman advanced to the CIT semifinals last year, that game was played the Wednesday before the Final Four.

"It almost knocks out your whole spring by the time you get back," Richey said. "After these two weeks off (since the SoCon Tournament), we're going to get things cranked back up on Monday with a five-week individual development plan. I think that's going to bode well for this group as opposed to continuing to practice.
"Investing in their development and individual growth and making sure we finish strong in the spring will springboard us into summer when we have our whole team here."

After what Furman fans have witnessed the past four years, it's going to be strange next season to not see Geoff Beans, John Davis III, Daniel Fowler and Devin Sibley out there. While those seniors helped massively change the culture of the program, it's going to be fun to see what the next chapter brings.

There's quite a few players returning who've been key parts of past success. Junior Matt Rafferty will be the leading returning scorer (11.2 points per game) next year. He also led this year's team in shooting (59.8 percent), rebounds (7.2 per game), assists (2.8 per game), steals (54) and blocked shots (21).

Leading 3-point shooter (43.3 percent) Andrew Brown, who hit his stride at the end of the regular season following what was feared to be a season-ending injury, and sophomore Jordan Lyons, who joined the starting lineup down the stretch, return. Brown and Lyons averaged 8.6 and 8.3 points per game, respectively. Lyons, who earned a spot on the All-SoCon Tournament team after 15- and 17-point showings in Asheville, figures to likely make the biggest jump in scoring next season.

It will also be interesting to see the improvement of younger players such as sophomore Jalen Williams, and freshmen Alex Hunter and Clay Mounce. Williams was often a solid backup for Rafferty, highlighted by a showing against South Carolina State in which he had 14 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks in 19 minutes off the bench. Hunter displayed the protection of the ball that Furman counts on with a 37-14 assist-to-turnover ratio, while Mounce shot 57 percent from the floor - thanks in part to several highlight-reel dunks.

"I'm really excited because we have great people in the program, but it's going to be a different team in a lot of ways," Richey said. "It's going to be a team that's longer and we're going to be able to do some different things defensively. Who knows who's going to start, but I think it's safe to say we're going to have a lot of guys that will be playing.
"We've got a lot of guys that are ready, with a great spring and summer, to really take that next step."

There will also be the four incoming freshman, guards Mike Bothwell, Jaylon Pugh, Andrew Taylor and forward Jalen Slawson, who each signed back in November. All of them have helped lead their teams to their respective high school playoffs.

"Bothwell's deep into the Ohio playoffs and I'm headed up to see him tonight. Taylor's playing in Rupp (Arena) tomorrow. They (Kentucky) still just have one classification and the top 16 teams all go to Rupp," Richey said Tuesday. "Pugh's team made it to the (Georgia) Elite 8 and Slawson's made it to the (SCISA) semifinals. We've got some guys coming in that understand winning."

There will be a lot more to replace than numbers when it comes to this year's senior class. Lyons, who's displayed a fearless, confident playing style, is looking forward to the challenge of taking on more of a leadership role next season.

"These four have done a great job of setting the standard and the expectations for us," Lyons said in the press conference following the Paladins' SoCon semifinal loss. "I'm excited to take on a role where I can fill those shoes and be there for the underclassmen. I promised the seniors that I'm going to do everything I can to keep the culture where it's at."

While the pain of his college career being over was evident, Fowler sat stoically alongside Lyons and Richey at that press conference. Without being questioned by the media, Fowler added his own thoughts to Lyons' comments.

"I don't think he's stepping into a leadership role. He's already been a leader on this team," Fowler said. "Ever since Jordan first got here I thought he was a leader, and he's just grown tremendously in that these past two years."

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Freshmen toss Furman to win at Winthrop

Furman's John Michael Bertrand pitched so well in seven relief appearances this season, that he earned a start Tuesday night at Winthrop. While the freshman left-hander scattered nine hits and two walks over five innings, he allowed just three runs, and the Paladins rallied for an 8-3 win. It's the seventh win in the last nine games for Furman (10-6).

The Paladins trailed 3-0 through five innings before the offense came to life in the sixth. Furman's Jake Crawford, Jason Costa and Brandon Elmy led off the inning with consecutive walks off Winthrop reliever Turner Scruggs. After Macklin Ohs relieved Scruggs, Landon Kay drove his second pitch into left-center for a two-run double. Three pitches later, Logan Taplett gave the Paladins another two-run double to left-center.

With a 4-3 lead, Furman handed the ball to freshman Jordan Beatson and he delivered four dominant innings of shutout relief. Beatson allowed just two singles, no walks and had four strikeouts in earning his first collegiate save. He retired each of Winthrop's final seven batters.

"I'm so proud of the way they threw the ball. Bertrand really battled ... and just kept us in the game," Furman coach Brett Harker told Dan Scott afterwards. "That was Beatson's coming out party. ... The whole game plan was to get us to the eighth, so we can go to T.K. (Tyler Kimbrell) ... and (Beatson) went ahead and finished for us."

The Paladins gave Beatson plenty of support by following up the four-run sixth inning with a four-run seventh. Elmy had an RBI-double, Taplett had an RBI-single and Jabari Richards capped the seventh with a two-run single.

Costa and Taplett each had two hits accounting for half of the Paladins' hit total for the game.

"I'm so excited about the culture of this program," Harker said. "Winning these midweek games is becoming a regular thing."

Winthrop starter Riley Arnone allowed two hits and three walks, with two strikeouts, in five scoreless innings. Leadoff man Mitch Spires went 3-for-5 with two RBIs to lead the Eagles (5-12).

The pitching performances by Bertrand and Beatson were all the more important given Furman's upcoming four-game, three-day series against Harvard. The Paladins host the Crimson in game one of the series Thursday at 6 p.m.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Illinois cruises over Paladins

Illinois topped Furman 14-5 Saturday at Fluor Field.
A day after shutting down Michigan State, Furman found Illinois to be an entirely different Big Ten beast Saturday. Illinois batters collected 15 hits and seven walks in a 14-5 win over the Paladins in the annual First Pitch Invitational at Fluor Field.

Illinois (8-3) scored in all but the first and fourth innings. The Illini led 6-1 in the seventh when Furman tried to mount a comeback. With one out, Bret Huebner and Ben Anderson singled ahead of Sims Griffith's RBI-double. After Jake Crawford's groundout plated another run, Jason Costa added an RBI-single to cut the lead to 6-4.

Illinois responded in a big way with a four-run eighth and added four more runs in the ninth to remove all doubt. Ben Troike finished a double away from hitting for the cycle for the Illini, while Doran Turchin also had three hits. Troike and Jack Yalowitz drove in three runs apiece for Illinois, while Bren Spillane and Grant Van Scoy each had two RBIs.

Andy Fisher (1-0) allowed one unearned run on two hits in 5 2/3 innings to get the win. He had three walks and five strikeouts. Furman's Grant Schuermann (2-2) gave up five runs on eight hits in six innings, with three walks and two strikeouts.

Costa was the lone Paladin with multiple hits as he went 2-for-3 with his fifth double. Anderson's single in the seventh extended his hitting streak to eight consecutive games.

Furman returns to action Tuesday at Winthrop. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lazzaro hurls Paladins past Michigan State

Furman freshman Matt Lazzaro allowed one run in seven innings
Friday for his first collegiate win. Photo courtesy of Furman.
During Furman's current run of excellent baseball, freshman Ben Anderson has led the way offensively. On Friday night at Fluor Field, another freshman stole the show. Left-hander Matt Lazzaro had the kind of pitching performance that earned him a spot in the weekend rotation as the Paladins defeated Michigan State 3-2 in the annual First Pitch Invitational at Fluor Field in downtown Greenville.

Lazzaro, who entered Friday's game with a 7.31 ERA in 16 innings over three starts, allowed one run on four hits in seven innings for his first collegiate win. Lazzaro (1-2) had no walks and eight strikeouts, doubling his season total for Ks to 16, as the Paladins won for the sixth time in their last seven games.

"I said in the pregame show that Matt Lazzaro was doing everything we wanted him to do, his numbers just aren't showing. The kid's going to be special, just like I've said about Ben Anderson," Furman coach Brett Harker said. "I said he was going to have a breakout game and what better place than this venue.
"That was a dominant performance and one of the best I've seen. It reminded me of (Grant) Schuermann's outing as a freshman at Gardner-Webb. That's the last time I've seen a freshman look that good."

Michigan State starter Ethan Landon entered the game with a 3.63 ERA, one walk and 21 strikeouts in 17 innings this season. On Friday, Furman posted seven hits and five walks off Landon. While the Paladins let Landon (0-3) off the hook a bit, they were still able to push across three runs over his seven innings of work.

After Jason Costa and Brandon Elmy began the Furman second with singles, Landon Kay walked one out later to load the bases. Costa scored on a wild pitch to give the Paladins a 1-0 lead. In the fifth, Anderson's third triple of the season was followed by a Sims Griffith single to push the lead to 2-0.

Furman (9-5) added its final run an inning later. Singles by Elmy and Kay put runners on the corners. With two outs, Bret Huebner's hopper up the middle got in between the Spartans' shortstop and second baseman, who each pulled up and looked at each other as the ball neared.

"They threw some power arms at us, but we had some opportunities," Harker said. "I felt like we had control the whole game. We got a little sloppy there, but we made the plays when the game was on the line."

The Spartans (3-10) got on the board in the seventh and threatened for more with runners on second and third. However, Lazzaro got a ground ball to second to end the inning and wrap up his terrific outing.

Michigan State sliced the lead to 3-2 in the eighth and put the tying run in scoring position, but Furman reliever Tyler Kimbrell got a strikeout to end the inning. Kimbrell tossed a 1-2-3 ninth, ending the game with his third strikeout, for his second save. Kimbrell has 21 strikeouts and three walks in 12 1/3 innings of relief this season.

"It's nice to have someone on the back end where I can sit there and say, 'if you beat us with him out there, I can sleep at night,' " Harker said. "He just pounds the (strike) zone. He's a 6-foot-8 intimidating dude, who's mean as a snake out there.
"If we want to wear rings we've got to play well at Fluor and that was a heck of a start to playing here this season."

The First Pitch Invitational continues Saturday when Furman takes on Illinois for just the second time in school history. First pitch at Fluor Field is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Verbeke helps Paladins sweep Penn

Furman junior right-hander Nik Verbeke tossed seven strong innings and won for the third time this season as the Paladins defeated Penn, 4-1, Wednesday at Latham Stadium. The two-game series sweep gives Furman (8-5) wins in five of its last six games.

Verbeke (3-1) allowed one run on six hits in seven innings. He had no walks and six strikeouts. Fellow Spartanburg Methodist alum Tyler Kimbrell worked the final two innings for his first save. Kimbrell allowed no runs, one hit, no walks and three strikeouts. The Paladins used just four pitchers in the midweek series and they combined for 17 strikeouts and five walks.

"That's the best Nik has pitched in a Furman uniform. He just looked so confident and relaxed out there," Furman coach Brett Harker said. "He got a lot of weak contact on 2-0 and 3-0 counts, so even when he was behind his fastball had late movement on it to get poor swings. As much as you preach pitching ahead, obviously sometimes you do fall behind and it's a lot better to see that kind of contact rather than balls flying over the trees."

For the second day in a row, Ben Anderson led off the game with a hit and came around to score to give Furman an early lead. On Wednesday, Anderson doubled and scored on Jake Crawford's single.

With two outs and nobody on in the fifth, the Paladins got consecutive singles by Bret Huebner, Anderson, Sims Griffith and Crawford to push the lead to 3-0.

After being picked off of third base in the second inning, Jabari Richards made up for it in a big way the rest of the game. In the third inning, Furman's junior leftfielder threw out a Penn runner at home. In the sixth, Richards belted his second home run of the season the opposite way.

Anderson and Crawford each went 3-for-4 to lead the Paladins' 13-hit effort. Anderson is batting .541 during his current six-game hitting streak. The freshman has also scored 11 runs over that span.

"Ben Anderson just continues to set the tone. Out of a freshman, that's incredible to see," Harker said. "I feel like the boys are just learning what it takes to win on a consistent basis.
"In order to get to the next level, we've got to learn how to win midweek games, whether it's at South Carolina or two midweeks at home. We've checked off two of those now. I'm pretty sure we hadn't won (both games of) a Tuesday-Wednesday midweek in my four years here. That tells you we're getting the arms in here to do that, but we're also getting that confidence from learning how to win those games."

Brendan Bean went 2-for-3 with an RBI to lead the Quakers (1-7).

Furman will be back in action this weekend with a pair of games at its downtown Greenville home of Fluor Field. The Paladins will face Michigan State at 6 p.m. Friday and Illinois at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Paladins ride big innings to win over Penn

Furman reliever John Michael Bertrand allowed one run in 4 1/3 innings and
struck out five for his first win Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Furman scored four runs apiece in the first and third innings and went on to a 12-4 win over Penn at Latham Stadium Tuesday evening. Brandon Elmy had four RBIs and Logan Taplett had three to lead the Paladins (7-5).

Freshman leadoff hitter Ben Anderson stroked Penn starter Jack Hartman's first pitch of the game the opposite way for a single. After a one-out single by Jake Crawford, Jason Costa had an RBI-groundout and reached on an error. Elmy followed by hammering a 1-2 pitch over the leftfield wall for a three-run homer, the 20th of his career.

Elmy started the scoring in the third with an RBI-single. After a two-run single the other way by Taplett, Bret Huebner's single the opposite way plated another run to push the lead to 8-0.

"That's the best we've went opposite field all year and when we're doing that, we're rolling," Furman coach Brett Harker said.

Penn (1-6) cut the lead to 8-3 in the in the fourth and threatened for more in the fifth. The Quakers loaded the bases with two outs thanks to a pair of walks sandwiched around an error. With Furman starter Trent Alley at 106 pitches, Harker called on John Michael Bertrand out of the bullpen. Bertrand got out of the jam with a strikeout and that was just a sign of things to come.

Bertrand stayed in for the next four innings to close out the game and earn his first collegiate win. The redshirt freshman allowed one ninth-inning run on on three hits in 4 1/3 innings of relief. Bertrand (1-0) had one walk and five strikeouts. With another game in the series looming tomorrow afternoon, Bertrand's showing was vital.

"That's probably the best relief performance I've seen in three or four years," Harker said. "Give credit to (pitching) Coach (Kaleb) Davis. He messed with his breaking ball over the last couple of days and it was really sharp and the ball was coming out really good. What he really did was just attack the (strike) zone. ... I'm very proud of his effort today."

Alley allowed three runs on five hits and four walks over 4 2/3 innings. He had three strikeouts.

"Trent wasn't at his best and he knows that, but he still competed. ... If we make that play at short, he's got five innings and may go six," Harker said. "I hated pulling him before he could get the decision, but he was at over 100 pitches and I just couldn't do that to the kid."

Crawford went 3-for-4 with two runs scored to lead Furman's 13-hit performance. Anderson, Elmy, Taplett and Huebner also had two hits apiece for the Paladins.

Leadoff hitter Chris Adams went 3-for-4 with two RBIs to lead Penn.

Furman will go for the two-game sweep of the midweek series Wednesday afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

ETSU overpowers Paladins in SoCon semifinal

Jordan Lyons had 17 points in Furman's 63-52 loss
to ETSU Sunday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. - This wasn't how it was supposed to end.

But ETSU wasn't interested in Furman's storybook.

The second-winningest senior class in Furman men's basketball history saw their collegiate careers come to an end Sunday as ETSU defeated the Paladins 63-52 in the Southern Conference Tournament semifinals. The second-seeded Bucs advance to face top-seeded UNCG in Monday's championship game at 9 p.m.

A week to the day after Furman spoiled the Bucs' Senior Day, ETSU avenged that setback in a major way. The third-seeded Paladins (23-10) shot 31.7 percent from the floor, it's poorest shooting day since Dec. 22, 2015 when Furman lost at Navy 62-49. Furman, which led the SoCon in assist-to-turnover ratio, had a season-low five assists (on 19 field goals) and 12 turnovers.

"First off, credit to Coach (Steve) Forbes and ETSU. I thought they played with tremendous energy and came out with the right defensive mentality," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "They brought a lot of pressure to the game early and it got to us. By the time we settled in and started to get some rhythm on offense, unfortunately we couldn't make any shots."

Sitting alongside sophomore Jordan Lyons and senior Daniel Fowler at the postgame press conference, Richey ended his opening statement by reflecting on Fowler and fellow seniors Geoff Beans, John Davis III and Devin Sibley.

"I'm not going to let tonight take away from what this group of guys has done for this program. I'm really proud of this group and this program, and proud to be the coach of this program," Richey said. "There's been three programs in the history of Furman that have won 23 games (in a single season) and the guy down to my left, Daniel Fowler, has been on two of them. They've changed the whole identity of this program and how people view it. For that, I'm extremely proud.
"We will mourn tonight, but the sun will come up tomorrow and we look forward to trying to continue to build this program and make it the best it can possibly be."

There could not have been a worst start offensively for the Paladins Sunday, as they could simply get nothing to fall.

Lyons' 3-pointer at the 17:38 mark was Furman's only make out of its first 11 field goal attempts. The Paladins' next points came on Lyons' 3-point play at the 13:44 mark. The next came with 11:47 left on Jalen Williams' layup. By the time Sibley's jumper got Furman in double figures, the Paladins were 3-of-18 from the field, trailed by 10 and there was just a little over eight minutes left in the half.

The Bucs led by as many as 15 in the first half before taking a 32-19 lead at the break. Furman had more turnovers (eight) than field goals in the opening half as it shot 24.1 percent (7-of-29).

"The energy got pretty high in the building and their defensive energy created that. With the amount of fans they had in the building, they started to flow off of that a little bit and started to get a lot of stops," Richey said. "Combine that with us not being able to connect and it was a bad combination.
"When you fall behind to a team that talented and athletic, that's been here before, it's usually not a good recipe. I will say this that our guys continued to fight. It wasn't pretty, but they didn't quit."

ETSU led by as many as 23 in the second half. Furman got the lead down to 13 three times and 12 once on Beans' 3-pointer with 3:33 left, but the Bucs had an answer every time. Davis' jumper with 1:01 left and Fowler's layup in the final seconds provided the final margin of 11.

A week after hitting 10-of-20 3-pointers in the win at ETSU, the Paladins were just 4-of-26 from beyond the arc on Sunday. While the Bucs finished with one more turnover than Furman, ETSU enjoyed a 15-4 advantage in points off turnovers. Many of those turned into momentum-grabbing dunks that sent the partisan crowd for ETSU into a frenzy.

"I just feel like they increased their pressure," Fowler said of the difference between last Sunday and this Sunday. "Other than that, I think the game plan was pretty similar."

SoCon Player of the Year Desonta Bradford had a game-high 20 points, eight rebounds and four steals to lead ETSU (25-8). Devontavius Payne added 12 points and seven rebounds, while Mladen Armus had 10 points and 12 rebounds also for the Bucs.

Lyons was the lone Paladin in double figures with 17 points.

"These four seniors we have are the best role models and leaders, on and off the court, that I could have for my first two years here at Furman," Lyons said. "They all bought in the day they got here and this class is legendary. No one can ever take away what they've done and how they've changed this program.
"What they've done for me is something I can use to keep the standard at where it needs to be for my last two years. I'm forever thankful for them. Basketball is fun, but it's only temporary. The relationships that I've built with these four will last a lifetime."

Anderson leads Furman to series win

Freshman Ben Anderson had four RBIs in Furman's 9-1 win over
Central Connecticut State Sunday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Furman freshman leadoff hitter Ben Anderson drove in four runs, Grant Schuermann hurled seven strong innings of one-run ball, and the Paladins claimed the series win over Central Connecticut State with a 9-1 victory Sunday at Latham Stadium.

Furman trailed 1-0 in the third when Logan Taplett led off the bottom half with a triple. Bret Huebner followed with a groundout to tie the game 1-1. The Paladins (6-5) took a 2-1 lead in the fifth when Huebner hit a one-out double and came home on a single by Anderson.

Furman busted the game open an inning later. Brandon Elmy had a sac fly and Taplett followed with an RBI-single to make it 4-1. With two outs and the bases loaded, Anderson drilled a bases-clearing double to right-center. Sims Griffith singled home Anderson to cap the six-run inning.

The Paladins closed out the scoring in the eighth when Huebner belted the second home run of his career.

Schuermann, who worked Sunday instead of Friday this weekend after recording a two-inning save at South Carolina last Tuesday, gave up one run on five hits in seven innings. Schuermann (2-1) had one walk and six strikeouts. Tyler Kimbrell closed out the game with to scoreless innings of relief. He allowed one hit, had one walk and struck out three. Kimbrell has 15 strikeouts and two walks in 8 1/3 innings this season.

Anderson, Taplett, Huebner and Jason Costa each had two hits to lead Furman.

The reigning Northeast Conference champion Blue Devils fell to 2-4 with the loss.

The Paladins return to action Tuesday for the first of two home games against Penn. Tuesday's game is scheduled for 4 p.m., while Wednesday's is set for 2 p.m.

Paladins cruise past Western Carolina again

Matt Rafferty had 14 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals in just 21
minutes Saturday in Furman's 97-73 win. Photo courtesy of Furman.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. - A year after being upset in the Southern Conference Tournament quarterfinals by an opponent it had swept in the regular season, Furman emphatically made sure that wouldn't happen again Saturday. Five Paladins scored in double figures as Furman whipped Western Carolina for the third time this season with a 97-73 win at the U.S. Cellular Center.

The victory runs the Paladins winning streak to seven and ties the school record for wins in a season set last year. Most importantly, third-seeded Furman (23-9) advances to face No. 2 seed ETSU at 6:30 p.m. in Sunday's second semifinal.

"The guys came out with the right mentality tonight. ... We came out with a lot of confidence offensively. They switched some things up defensively, but we kept cutting and kept the ball moving," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "They cut the lead down a little bit there in the second half and I thought we had a great response and finished our business."

In the regular season meetings, Furman led 13-0 in Greenville and 12-2 in Cullowhee before going on to blowout wins. That wasn't the case Saturday as the Catamounts led 13-12 six minutes in. However, Furman went on a 14-0 run over a 5:03 stretch to take a commanding 26-13 lead with 9:15 left in the first half.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Jordan Lyons and freshman Alex Hunter gave Furman its biggest lead of the first half at 42-21 and Daniel Fowler's 3-pointer with 11 seconds left staked the Paladins to a 50-31 halftime lead. The Paladins shot 64.3 percent from the floor in the first half and hit 7-of-12 (58.3 percent) 3-pointers. Furman outscored Western Carolina 152-85 in the first half this season.

"They were switching on defense that threw off our game plan a little at first, but then we adjusted," said Fowler, who led the Paladins with 18 points. "We started making the right plays, then we started making shots."

Furman maintained the comfortable lead throughout the second half. The Catamounts (13-19) got as close as 13 in the second half, but John Davis III answered with back-to-back buckets and was fouled on the second one. His free throw pushed the lead to 69-51 with 10:06 left. The Paladins stretched the lead to as many as 29 down the stretch.

"We were able to exploit their switches a little bit. Getting the ball inside, opened up some easy kicks for threes in the first half," said Matt Rafferty, who had 14 points, nine rebounds, five assists and a career-high five steals in only 21 minutes. "We scored on more cuts in the second half."

In addition to Fowler (18) and Rafferty (14), Lyons (15), Davis (12) and Hunter (10) also scored in double figures. Davis also had five assists, while Hunter's showing was a career high. Eleven out of 12 Furman players who saw action scored. Ironically, the only one who didn't was Andrew Brown, who scored 22 against WCU last Friday. No Paladin played more than 24 minutes thanks to the lopsided win.

Furman finished at 55.9 percent shooting from the floor, including 38.1 percent on 3-pointers. The Paladins also converted 23-of-28 free throws (82.1 percent).

"It was a great atmosphere, and I enjoyed every moment of just getting out here," Hunter said of his first SoCon Tournament. "I couldn't ask for a better night."

Marcus Thomas scored a game-high 19 points to lead the sixth-seeded Catamounts.

While Mercer made an excellent run at the end of the regular season to nab the No. 4 seed, Sunday's semifinals are set to feature what many considered to be the best four teams in the SoCon for most of the season. Prior to ETSU-Furman, UNCG takes on Wofford at 6 p.m.

"We've got four teams left and everybody's going to have their best punch. The team that responds the most is going to be able to get this done," Richey said. "We've just got to be us (Sunday). We can't try to do anything more or anything less, just go out and play our game."

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Central Connecticut State evens series

Central Connecticut State catcher Nick Garland belted a pair of homers to power the Blue Devils to a 10-2 win at Furman Saturday afternoon at Latham Stadium. Garland went 4-for-5 with four runs and three RBIs, while T.T. Bowens and Peyton Stephens had three hits apiece for CCSU.

Brandon Elmy's RBI-double gave Furman a 1-0 lead in the first before the Blue Devils stormed back with two runs in the second and four in the third. Garland's two-run homer was the big blow in the third.

Mike Appel allowed two runs on four hits in six innings to get the win. Appel (2-0) had two walks and seven strikeouts. Jared Gallagher allowed one hit in three shutout innings of relief for his first save. He had no walks and five strikeouts.

Furman freshman Matt Lazzaro (0-2) gave up nine runs, six earned, on 12 hits in seven innings to suffer the loss. He had one walk and four strikeouts.

Ben Anderson went 2-for-3 and scored both runs for the Paladins (5-5).

The rubber game of the series is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Furman basketball's turnaround: Sibley

Furman senior Devin Sibley. Photo courtesy of Furman.
The is part five of a five-part series on how Furman's senior class of Geoff Beans, John Davis III, Daniel Fowler and Devin Sibley became the nucleus of the remarkable turnaround of the men's basketball program.

The Scorer
"Connected" has been a keyword for the Furman men's basketball team under first-year coach Bob Richey this season. The more connected the Paladins play - on both ends the court, the better the results thus far.

Connections can also help off the court. After signing Geoff Beans in November of 2013, the Paladins had one more scholarship available going into the next year prior to the 2013-14 season. They were looking for a guard, and Richey hit the recruiting trail to take a look at three in Tennessee. As he made his way back home from Nashville, Richey called a high school friend in Knoxville.

"I told him I want to see the best player in the city that nobody knows about," Richey said. "He said, 'you need go over to Karns High School. There's a kid named Devin Sibley over there and nobody is recruiting him.' "

Upon visiting the school, Richey saw transcripts and noted Sibley was a great student. Then he met with Karns' coach, got three films and drove back straight to his office to watch them.

"I called Niko (Medved) and told him that this kid is an all-conference player," Richey said. "He's a three-level scorer, who's 6-2, athletic and strong. He' got great balance and great hands."

After watching Sibley's film, Richey was left wondering why no one was recruiting him. Richey believes it was due to the fact that Sibley played on a small, local AAU team and for a high school without a high reputation.

"He was just off the map, so we really started recruiting him hard and went up there a few times," Richey said. "You've got a week to sign in November and if you don't sign my midnight on that last night, you can't sign again until April.
"I'll never forget I came up here to the office that night and the fax came in at 10:30 p.m. on the last day of the signing period. I came in just to make sure it made it through."

Sibley went on to lead Karns to a 23-7 record his senior year, and he led the entire state of Tennessee in scoring.

"Getting him signed early was an important piece of the equation," Richey said. "That was just the persistence of us and basically having faith in our evaluation."

Sibley said his visits to Furman made him want to come back for good. While the program was coming off a 7-24 season the year before he signed, he was impressed with the people he met on each trip. Getting to know the fellow members of that signing class made him eager to play with them.

"It really just felt like home, and it was close to home too," Sibley said. "My mom and dad thought it was the best place for me to go, so it all just added up."

Making a splash
After 770 points (25.7 per game) as a senior in high school, Sibley didn't take a break from scoring the next season. Sibley had five 20-point games, including a 29-point performance at ETSU, on his way to being named Southern Conference Freshman of the Year by the league's media and coaches. For his role in guiding the Paladins on their run to the SoCon championship game that season, he also earned All-Tournament honors.

"That tournament helped his realize how good we could be and then we got better every year since then," Sibley said. "It's been fun to be a part of us just taking off."

Last season, Sibley added more hardware to his trophy case when the media and coaches voted him as the SoCon Player of the Year. Sibley averaged 17.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists last season, and hit 44.9 percent of his 3-pointers.

It gave Furman back-to-back seasons with the SoCon's top player, as Stephen Croone - another Richey recruit - won the previous year.

"Going into Devin's junior year, Stephen was gone and everybody was picking us fifth and we snuck up on everybody. We knew we were going to be good even if nobody else did," Richey said. "Everybody thought we were going to drop off with Stephen leaving, but Devin emerges."

Sibley enters this weekend's SoCon Tournament as the seventh-leading scorer in Furman history with 1,808 points.

"He's got a very unique ability to score from all kind of different spots on the floor," Richey said. "He's got a great ability to finish around the basket and a unique combination at this level of length, athleticism and speed. On top of all that, he can make shots from the perimeter."

For Sibley, that personal success is a byproduct of what Furman has done as a team. A big part of that team success is the program's family atmosphere, which extends beyond the court. For example, I personally have seen plenty of basketball players at Furman baseball games over these past four years, but's it never just one or two guys. It's always three or four, and the groups are always different.

"We always hang out together off the court, which helps build chemistry," Sibley said. "When we get on the court, it helps us just read each other even better. We know what each other is going to do and where they're going to be on the court. The more you get to know somebody, the more you know their tendencies.
"Our coaches have done a great job of recruiting good guys that can play basketball, but have a bigger mindset of just helping the team win."

Bumps in the road
There's been no sneaking up on anybody this year for Furman or Sibley. Sibley is now atop every opponent's scouting list and he's game-planned around. Richey said there's been one specific way opponents have tried to slow him down.

"They've made a very strong intent not to foul him. When you compare his game from this year to last year, he got to the free throw line a lot more then and he hasn't been as efficient there," Richey said. "They're really trying to take charges. A lot of people are falling down when there's contact created with him because of his strength.
"That comes with the territory. If you're the reigning player of the year, they're not going to make it easy for you. That element wasn't there last year and a lot of people don't realize that."

To Richey's point about the fouls this season, Sibley has 101 free throw attempts, by far the fewest in his career and 61 fewer than last season. Meanwhile, there's been the offensive fouls. From Dec. 2 to Jan. 18, Sibley was called for at least one offensive foul in all 10 games against Division I opponents with a total of 15. By comparison, Sibley was called for 16 offensive fouls over 34 games last season.

This didn't include a ridiculous technical foul at UNC-Wilmington that Sibley was hit with after driving to the basket and drawing a foul. After the UNCW fouler was shaken up, officials reviewed the play and determined that Sibley - after soaring to the basket and being fouled in mid-air - had enough body control to intentionally kick the defender.

A few days later, Sibley returned home as Furman played at Tennessee. There was anything but home cooking for him that night. While he scored 22 points and pulled down seven rebounds, that all happened in just 28 minutes thanks a pair of offensive foul calls that sidelined him early in the second half. The second one, which saw Sibley turn as he caught an inbounds pass and collide with the defender before he could take a dribble 60 feet from the basket, gave him four fouls with 13:10 left. Furman's upset bid came short 66-61 that night.

Against ETSU at home, Sibley injured his shooting hand with eight minutes to go and didn't return in Furman's 61-60 loss.

After coming back fully healthy two games later, Sibley seemed to get past the foul situation and began to hit his stride. He had a 23-point game against Western Carolina and a 21-point effort in a win at Mercer. Sibley scored 18 two days later at The Citadel, but missed a pair of free throws late in regulation in a game that Furman lost in overtime.

"That really messed with him," Richey said of the missed free throws. "It created a lot of self-doubt and frustration."

With a ton of pressure put on himself, Sibley had a poor game the next time out against UNCG. After that home loss, Sibley began coming off the bench. While taking a reigning player of the year out of the starting lineup may have been a bold move for a first-year coach, Richey was simply trying to help unload that pressure.

"That was hard for me because I love him to death. ... What I told him was, 'you let the pressure exceed the pleasure of this. You've got to get back to having fun, being free and going out there and enjoying the game,' " Richey said. "The more he does that, the better he plays."

Moving forward
As it turns out, having an outstanding player to bring in off the bench hasn't been such a bad thing. The Paladins haven't lost since the switch and carry a six-game winning streak into Saturday's quarterfinal game against No. 6 seed Western Carolina at the SoCon Tournament.

Richey is proud of the way Sibley has responded every game since the change, capped by his showing in Furman's 79-76 win at ETSU in Sunday's regular season finale. With the game tied 71-71, Sibley's four-point play with 1:26 left put the Paladins in front for good. He finished with 17 points, six rebounds and hit 5-of-7 free throws.

"It's one of his most complete games of the year. ... He was really good defensively, attacked the rim on offense, connected on his threes and made his free throws," Richey said. "They way he's responded to this slightly adjusted role is a credit to his character. ... He's playing with a lot better spirit about him than he was three weeks ago."

Whether he's coming off the bench or starting, Sibley knows what it takes to ensure he spends plenty of time on the court when called on.

"It all about playing as hard as I can and contributing," Sibley said. "That's all I'm thinking about."

Through all the highs and lows this season, Sibley still leads the Paladins at 14.8 points per game and is pulling down a career-high five rebounds a game. That earned him All-SoCon first team honors by the media and coaches.

Sibley will be content to look back on his accomplishments at some point well down the road. He chooses not to reflect on the ups or the downs of the past. Sibley's also not looking ahead to the potential pro career that awaits.

"Anybody that worries about the future - or the past - too much will lose. ... It's all about right now," Sibley said. "I think we all have the same mentality. The next task at hand is to win that first one on Saturday."

Friday, March 2, 2018

Costa, Sanders power Paladins to victory

In his first game since 2016, Deon Sanders homered in
Furman's 12-8 win Friday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Jason Costa and Deon Sanders each returned to Furman's starting lineup with authority Friday. Both homered for two of Furman's 15 hits as the Paladins defeated Central Connecticut State 12-8 in the opening game of a three-game series at Latham Stadium.

The game was tied 2-2 going to the bottom of the fourth before the Paladins put up a four-spot. After Logan Taplett led off the inning with a single, Sanders sent the next pitch well over the wall in left-center to give Furman a 4-2 lead. The Paladins (5-4) added a run on an error and Costa added an RBI-single.

It was Costa's first game back after missing the last three games with a back injury. Meanwhile, Friday marked Sanders' first baseball action this season after the running back wrapped up spring football practice earlier this week. It was also the first game back for Sanders in two years as he missed all of last season with an injury.

The Blue Devils (1-3) cut the lead to 6-4 in the seventh before Furman responded with half a dozen runs in the bottom half. Sims Griffith, Bret Huebner and Ben Anderson hit back-to-back-to-back RBI singles before Costa capped the inning with a two-out, three-run homer to right-center pushing the lead to 12-4.

Anderson and Griffith each had three hits, while Griffith also scored three runs for the Paladins.

After normal Friday starter Grant Schuermann picked up a two-inning save at South Carolina Tuesday, Nik Verbeke took the mound for Furman Saturday. He actually replaced usual Saturday starter Jake Crawford, who was scratched for the weekend. That opened the door for Sanders to start at third in place of Crawford as well.

Verbeke (2-1) allowed two runs, one earned, on six hits in five innings for the win. He had two walks and three strikeouts.

Mitch Guilmette went 4-for-5 with three RBIs to lead Central Connecticut State.

Game two of the series is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m.

Furman basketball's transformation: Fowler

Daniel Fowler is mobbed by teammates after hitting the game-winning shot
against Louisiana-Monroe on March 15, 2016. Photo courtesy of Furman.
This is part four of a five-part series on how Furman's senior class of Geoff Beans, John Davis III, Daniel Fowler and Devin Sibley became the nucleus of the remarkable turnaround of the men's basketball program.

The Glue
March 15, 2016 will always be one of the most memorable dates ever for Furman athletics. On that night, Daniel Fowler's off-balance putback as he was falling down beat the final buzzer and lifted the men's basketball team to a 58-57 win over Louisiana-Monroe in the Tournament. That was the Paladins' first postseason victory in 40 years.

About an hour later across campus at Latham Stadium, Carter Grote hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift Furman to a 9-7 walkoff win over former Southern Conference rival College of Charleston. The next morning, ESPN showed highlights of both game-winning plays. The next image on the screen was a live shot of Fowler and Grote sitting next to each other being interviewed by ESPN anchors.

It's ironic that the stars aligned for that particular duo to have the game-winning plays the night before. In a school full of brilliant students, Furman could have no finer representatives on national television than Fowler and Grote. Grote, who graduated in 2016, was the heart and soul of the baseball team, and that's precisely what Fowler is for the basketball team.

I called Fowler "the glue" here for two reasons. He holds everything together for Furman and has the ability to provide whatever is needed - scoring, passing or rebounding - in a given situation. Then there's defense. No player in the SoCon sticks to their opponent better than Fowler. After a full game of being hounded defensively by Fowler, many an opponent's leading scorer hasn't sniffed their per-game average.

"In the recruiting process, his defensive baseline was pretty high for a high school player," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "That's why he's the defender he is now."

Fowler understands how great defense can often lead to easy offense, and Furman has scored a bunch of points that way this season. In 18 SoCon games, the Paladins have had an advantage in points off turnovers 14 times.

"Defense wins championships. I've always taken pride in playing defense and I really love to do it," Fowler said. "Being paired on the other team's best scorer is a challenge I like to accept, just to see if I can stop them from doing what they want to do.
"I know it may make me less efficient on offense, but if I can prevent a team's best scorer from going off, I'm fine with that."

There's also the "it" factor. There were plenty of memorable plays in Furman's 79-76 win at ETSU to close out the regular season Sunday. So many that it's easy to overlook a huge one like Fowler rebounding his own miss with 15 seconds left after Furman had ran out the shot clock. That led to ETSU being forced to foul and John Davis III helping seal the win at the foul line.

For Richey, the biggest moments in that game weren't plays at all though. He pointed to two occasions where ETSU had made a run and Fowler called for his teammates to huddle each time. The Paladins came out of both with a positive response.

Fowler's high school defensive proficiency led to early collegiate playing time. As a freshman in 2014-15, he was the on Paladin to start all 33 games. He's rarely left the starting lineup since. Out of 131 career games, Fowler has made a school-record 125 starts.

While many may look at the run to the SoCon Tournament final Furman made in 2015 as the turning point that began the positive transformation of the program, Fowler has a more big picture view. For him, it goes back to that season's opener when the Paladins were hammered at home by College of Charleston, 75-40.

"Stephen (Croone) was out that game, so the young guys were playing. Early on, it really just helped us humble ourselves and understand that nothing would be given to us at this level," Fowler said. "We learned that we were going to have to work really hard and it was going to take a whole team effort for us to be successful.
"Going through the growing pains early on and just figuring things out as we continued to play. I think those were just the stepping stones ... to reaching our end goal."

There's been plenty of big moments and games among all those starts for Fowler. One came on Nov. 14, 2016 when Fowler had a career-high 23 points, a career-high eight assists, seven rebounds, two steals and no turnovers in Furman's 84-74 win at UAB. That snapped one of the longest runs in the nation as the Blazers entered on a 26-game home winning streak.

Fowler earned All-SoCon third team honors this season after posting career-highs in scoring (11.3 points per game), field goal percentage (46.6), 3-point percentage (40.9), free throw percentage (81.8), assist-to-turnover ratio (2.3 per game) and steals (1.4 per game) and a career-low in turnovers (1.4 per game).

"On the court, he can really just do it all. His passing ability, vision and decision-making are outstanding," Richey said. "That's another thing from Sunday (at ETSU). You go against that defense and have five assists and one turnover? That's incredible."

Staying committed
After signing Geoff Beans and Devin Sibley early on in the 2013-14 season, Furman had a couple of more scholarships open up as the season went along. That's when the recruitment of Fowler and Davis began.

When the Paladins played at Samford that season, Richey went separately to make a pit stop in Acworth, Georgia to see Fowler's Allatoona High team - that went 29-2 that season - play. The next morning at breakfast in Samford, then Furman head coach Niko Medved asked Richey about Fowler.

"I said, 'we've got to go after this kid. He could be special.' He was 6-4, athletic, a great kid from a great family - all the things we were looking for," Richey said. "In addition to defense, we loved his versatility. We just really connected with him as a person and his parents, Lynette and Roy, were phenomenal."

Like every other member of this year's senior class, Fowler played for a non-shoe AAU team. Being out part of the AAU season with an injury left Fowler further off recruiting boards. Richey said there were two mid-level projected wings in that recruiting class in Georgia - Fowler and Cam Johnson, who's gone on to a solid career at College of Charleston. While many schools ended up pursuing Johnson, one last visit to Fowler sealed Furman's decision.

"It was Martin Luther King Day and Niko and I went together to watch Daniel play. On the two-hour drive back, he and I just made a collective decision to go all out for Daniel and see what happens," Richey said. "We offered him that night expecting him to get more offers, but they all went after the other kid. By the time Johnson committed to Charleston and the other schools all circled back (to Fowler), it was too late."

Fowler said that strong connection with Medved and Richey from the start of his recruitment meant his commitment never flinched.

"They showed trust and just really believed in me. With Furman being my first offer, they showed loyalty and I felt loyal to them," Fowler said. "This is the place that I knew I needed to be."

That loyalty didn't waiver during a rough freshman season in which the Paladins went 11-22. That almost perfect run in Asheville made the lasting thought of that year much better than it could've been. While they are focused on the first task at hand - Western Carolina at 8:30 p.m. Saturday - this weekend as they try to get back to the final, those memories will always stay for the seniors.

"All the pain and hurt from being right there and losing that game as close as it was, it will always be in the back of your mind," Fowler said. "It does kind of give you a blueprint for what it takes to get there.
"It's nice to reflect on how we've gotten better over the years, but now we're very excited for this last (tournament) go-round. We're looking forward to getting the weekend started."

Paying it forward
In doing this series, I've become well aware that while the seniors still have plenty of business to tend to this season, they are fully invested in how the program carries on in the future. Fowler's proven that in a unique way. When recruits came visiting during the fall, he requested to host them.

"There's no senior in the country that does that. He's not even going to be here (next season)," Richey said. "But at the recruiting meal, Daniel's sitting there with (2018 signee) Michael Bothwell and he's hosting him. Ninety-nine percent of other seniors in the country would rather go hang out with their girlfriend or friends. They don't have to recruit. Daniel's always been like that."

Fowler's influence has reached his younger teammates and younger fans. A popular request these days from Richey's five-year old son is to have Fowler come spend the night at their house some day.

"There's nothing I can tell you negatively about Daniel, except I wish that he would shoot the dang ball more," Richey said with a smile. "From the person he is, to what he values, to his character and how unselfish he is, he's one of the best teammates I've ever been around.
"His motives are so pure and he wants to see everybody have success. There's no selfish bone in the guy's body and that piece has been so critical to what we've been about here."

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Furman basketball's transformation: Davis

Furman senior John Davis III. Photo courtesy of Furman.
This is part three of a five-part series on how Furman's senior class of Geoff Beans, John Davis III, Daniel Fowler and Devin Sibley became the nucleus of the remarkable turnaround of the men's basketball program.

The Alpha
In the final weeks of the recruiting season in March of 2014, Furman had already signed Geoff Beans and Devin Sibley and received a commitment from Daniel Fowler. That left one scholarship available. Coach Bob Richey, then an assistant and recruiter for Niko Medved, wanted a point guard - a very specific type of point guard.

"I thought it was critical in that class that we get an alpha," Richey said. "Not that the others weren't but I knew at the point spot, we were going to need that very serious, tough-minded, competitive guy."

For Furman coaches, persistence paid off. After flights to Cleveland were cancelled by snow on three different planned recruiting trips to visit Davis, Richey finally beat the weather.

"The neatest thing about when I was finally able to get up there is that I changed my view of his game. I started about five rows up at half-court, then I wanted to get down on the baseline and watch from the floor level to get a look into his eyes," Richey said. "That view told me we needed to go after him. He just had the look of an extreme competitor."

Richey got to meet Davis and his parents following that game. He was impressed with Davis' demeanor and his support system at home. For Davis, the positive vibe was mutual.

"We probably talked for an hour-and-a-half after that game," Davis said. "Right after he left, I told myself that I trusted him and I'm going to Furman. He hadn't even offered me yet, but I knew.
"At that moment, I didn't know that he would be someone that would actually change my life. As long as he and I are on this earth, he will be my life mentor. He will be somebody I can call when I get married or when I get out in the real world and meet some adversity. Or when the doctor tells me, 'its a boy,' so I can tell him to recruit my son."

That relationship was such that when the Furman head coaching position became available after Medved left for Drake, Davis and his teammates campaigned for Richey to get the job. That included leaning on their parents for advice on presenting Furman AD Mike Buddie with "the best e-mail that he's seen all year." Davis said he will never forget waking up to the news on Twitter that he'd been hoping for when it became official.

"I asked Daniel to lend me his car and I drove up to Coach Richey's office. I went right in and gave him a hug. A few tears were shed," Davis said. "Nothing was said for a few minutes before I just told him, 'thank you.' That's all I needed to tell him."

Deja vu all over again
Davis said coming to Furman was like "Beachwood all over again." When he was an eighth-grader, he had a chance to play basketball at another high school with a winning tradition in basketball. Instead, he stayed put and led a downtrodden Beachwood program into the No. 1-ranked team in Ohio Division III as a senior.

"My parents and I had a vision for Beachwood when I was in the eighth grade, then we had a vision for Furman when I decided to come here," Davis said. "We like being the underdogs and turning nothing into something."

Of the four seniors, Davis was the one that didn't play as much early. That was primarily due to the presence of the fifth-leading scorer in school history, Stephen Croone, his first two seasons. So while everyone got an idea of the other three, there were still unknowns about Davis. Davis' numbers slightly improved from his freshman to sophomore year, but rose quite a bit in the last two seasons.

Davis is second on the team in scoring at 11.5 points per game this year, to go along with 79 assists, 47 steals and only 44 turnovers. His scoring average has increased from 3.8 points per game as freshman, 4.5 as a sophomore and 8.9 last season. His shooting percentage has gone from 32.8 to 33.3 to 41.6 to 48.0 over these four seasons.

"It's been awesome to see that growth. I think he's progressed more than anyone and that's why we took him," Richey said. "Having the desire to develop, that puzzle piece was evaluated. He just goes to work every day and competes."

Letting his play do the talking is something that teammates over the years have noticed, and often been confused by. He said at least one person on every team he's ever been on has asked him why he never talks on the court. Davis said it's just not who he is. Playing confident but not cocky has come through postgame talks with his mother.

"She either says, 'John Davis III, you went straight to work tonight,' or she tells me, 'you took the night off.' When she tells me I went straight to work, I know I had a good game," Davis said. "The only two things on my checklist are did we win, and was I the best point guard on the floor. None of the other stats matter to me."

Furman's bread-and-butter for turning around the program has been defense. The Paladins keep track of deflections and have made a living in points off turnovers. The flipside of that is protecting the ball as well. Furman leads the Southern Conference in turnover margin (+3.23 per game) and turnovers committed (11.7 per game). That begins with Davis and for him, that began a long time ago at home.

"When I was about eight years old after a YMCA game, we stopped at a red light and my dad turns around and starts grilling me because I had three turnovers," Davis said. "I think I had about 18 points, but he didn't care. He just hates turnovers. So I kind of get that from him. It's just been ingrained in me.
"They (parents) are like a head coach and assistant, but my mom's always the head coach."

Davis is a throwback kind of player, not only in on-court mannerisms and focus, but also in his play. Many players these days either drive to the basket or pull up for a 3-pointer and Davis is adept at both. The difference is, he consistently knocks down 12-foot jumpshots. If there was any Paladin who drives into the paint, pulls up and drains a rainbow jumper, there's a pretty good chance it's Davis.

There's also a pretty good chance a teammate is getting an assist on the play. Furman is one of 21 teams in the country with at least 500 assists, ranking No. 18 with 505. Davis said it's fun playing with a bunch of other guys that have point guard passing ability and it helps remind him that he has to keep the ball moving too.

"He's just obsessed with competing in every aspect of the game and the program," Richey said. "He just has this fearlessness to him. The moment doesn't really get too big for him. I think that's because of his preparation and how committed he is outside of the game."

Early confidence
While he did not get a ton of playing time as a freshman, Davis gave an early glimpse of what he could do in the regular season finale. With Croone sidelined by an injury, Davis was called on to replace him against SoCon champion Wofford. After scoring a total of 28 points over the other 17 SoCon games, Davis poured in 20 that afternoon as the Paladins just missed the upset, falling 62-60.

That gave Davis confidence going into the SoCon Tournament that saw the 10th-seeded Paladins make a run to the final.

"In the semifinal game against Mercer, we looked like dead ducks in the first half. We got down 12 with about two-and-a-half minutes to go and he came in and hit two huge shots right before halftime," Richey said. "With he and Stephen out there together, his defense and intensity just started to bring some more energy to what we were doing.
"All the guys stepped up in that run, but I thought John was the one that elevated the most from what he'd been doing in the regular season. That gave us a huge lift."

While the Paladins went 11-22 that season, Davis said the whole year was a learning process. Everything began to click that final week of the regular season and on into the tournament.

"I feel like we had to take all of those losses and go through those woes and moments of adversity because that's what really helped us in the long run," Davis said. "We wake up now with a smile our our face because we're in a winning program. It took hard work and dedication to get there. We don't take that for granted."

Three years after providing that huge lift that Richey mentioned, Davis is looking to do the same this weekend. While the focus is on Western Carolina, who the Paladins will play at approximately 8:30 p.m. Saturday, nothing would be a better final chapter for the seniors than a SoCon championship.

"We've experienced all three levels. We've been to the finals, been to the semifinals and got knocked out in the quarterfinals," Davis said. "Now it's our turn to win it. The story couldn't be written any better, but we're focused on taking it one step at a time."

Furman fan events at the SoCon Tournament