Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Furman basketball set to begin big next chapter

Furman sophomore point guard Alex Hunter. Photo courtesy of Furman
A new chapter in Furman basketball begins Tuesday night when the Paladins open the 2018-19 season against Bob Jones at 7 p.m. The core of a group that led the program's historic turnaround - capped by a school-record 22 regular season wins last year - has graduated and it should be exciting to see what lies ahead.

While Geoff Beans, John Davis III, Dexter Fowler and Devin Sibley will no longer be suiting up, Furman does return quite a few experienced players. Seniors Andrew Brown and Matt Rafferty have made more than 100 combined starts in their career, while junior Jordan Lyons started seven of the Paladins' final eight games last season.

"Last year ... we basically played four guards around Matt. We were anywhere from 5-foot-11 to 6-4 at the four spot," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "This year it's going to look way different. There's going to be lineups where you go 6-7, 6-7, 6-8 at the three, four and five.
"I like where we are. We've got a good mix of old and young and we know what we're going to get out of the old guys because they're proven. ... The young guys have shown a willingness to work and figure out a way to grow and get better."

Rafferty will look to build off an All-Southern Conference season in which he averaged 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. In addition to ranking fourth on the team in scoring and first in rebounding, Rafferty also led Furman in steals (54) and blocked shots (21) and was second in assists (91). Rafferty also had just 33 turnovers last year. Among the six Paladins who averaged more than 18 minutes a game, only Brown (32) had fewer turnovers.

Brown should be ready to go after missing much of the preseason as he recovered from a broken foot. That came after surviving a life-threatening scare following a complication from hernia surgery right after the 2018-19 season. Brown averaged 8.6 points a game last season and ranked third in the SoCon in three-point shooting making 43.3 percent.

Lyons provided instant offense off the bench for much of last season before sliding into the starting lineup. He averaged 8.3 points per game last year and earned SoCon All-Tournament honors after scoring 15 points in the win over Western Carolina and 17 in a semifinal loss to ETSU. Lyons could take on a bigger role in a number of ways this year.

"Jordan's taken great shots and letting the game come to him (this preseason). He's always been a good defender, but now he's just doing every single possession and buying into the communication piece," Richey said. "He's just playing with a great confidence about him right now.
"I'm really proud of his growth. Those games that he was able to start towards the end of last season really ended up working out in his favor. It really pushed him into the offseason motivated and determined."

Others returning who've logged solid minutes for Furman include sophomores Clay Mounce and Alex Hunter, along with junior Jalen Williams. Thanks quite a bit to some dazzling dunks, Mounce shot 56.3 from the floor last year and should have a larger role this season. Richey said that Mounce had 17 points and nine rebounds in the "secret scrimmage" at Florida, then had 16 points in the Paladins' other scrimmage against Alabama-Huntsville.

Hunter looks to fill the big shoes of Davis at point guard. As a freshman last season, Hunter showed a terrific knack for protecting the ball. Hunter averaged 14 minutes a game and had just 16 turnovers all season. He had 37 assists last year and scored a career-high 10 points in the SoCon Tournament win over Western Carolina.

"Whatever (Hunter) ends up going out there and doing this season, I won't be surprised by any of it. He's as dedicated as any guy that I've seen in an offseason," Richey said. "Last year for him it was: take care of the ball, play defense and make the open shot.
"This year, JD's gone so he's got to be the guy that gets the ball in the paint. He can't just be a facilitator, he's got to be an aggressor. It's been nice to see his growth there."

It will be interesting to see how redshirt freshman Noah Gurley and sophomore Tre Clark, who redshirted last season due to an injury, contribute this year. Gurley, who grew one inch and added 25 pounds since last season, and Clark have each had impressive offseasons. According to Richey, incoming freshmen Jaylon Pugh, Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson have all shown solid flashes of what they can do in the preseason and could also be in the mix. From a depth standpoint, however, it could make the most sense for at least one to redshirt this season.

"It sounds cliche, but we really have six starters and we're going to have to manage that," Richey said on his latest All Din podcast. "Noah Gurley could start for anybody in our league right now, including us.
"We've got Clay, Matt and Noah all playing really well. We're going to want those three guys out there a lot."

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