|Furman's Le'Jzae Davidson (10) and Celena Taborn were selected to the|
preseason All-SoCon team announced Monday. Photo courtesy of Furman
Mercer, which defeated Furman 66-63 in last year's final, was the media's choice to finish atop the standings for a third consecutive season. The Bears haven't lost to a SoCon team since the 2017 Tournament final.
Coaches may often consider being a preseason favorite to be a double-edged sword because of the pressure that comes with it, as well as the bulls-eye for other teams to shoot for. For Furman coach Jackie Carson, it certainly beats the alternative.
"The alternative is 10 years ago we were picked dead last and second-to-last in the two polls, so I'm very proud of where the program has gone in the last nine years," Carson said. "The nerves haven't hit yet. We're just enjoying the moment of having the respect of our peers in the conference, knowing how well we've built the program back up."
The Paladins are coming off a 19-14 season in which they went 9-5 in SoCon play and participated in the women's NIT for the second time in school history.
When it comes to feeling pressure for Furman, last year's tournament final run should provide the Paladins with a "been there, don't that" mentality. Coming so close to its first title since 2000 should provide plenty of motivation. After seeing a five-point fourth quarter lead disappear in last year's championship, Furman had three shots a game-tying 3-pointer over the final 20 seconds but couldn't get any to fall.
"That game was one of the best I've ever been a part of as a coach. It will probably be one of the best our girls will be involved in as a player. We were just on the wrong side of it," Carson said. "I think that game made us hungry and it's made us work harder in the preseason.
"That was a very young team with 13 freshmen and sophomores and we only have two seniors this year."
Two of Furman's four returning starters made the preseason All-SoCon team in Le'Jzae Davidson and Celena Taborn. Davidson led the Paladins and finished fourth in the SoCon in scoring last season at 16.4 points per game. The senior was the top free throw shooter in the SoCon at 84.4 percent last season and enters this season as Furman's all-time leader in 3-pointers with 235.
Taborn came back from double knee surgery last March to average 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last season. The junior shot 64.2 percent from the floor to lead the league and establish a new school record.
"Le'Jzae is just a competitor. She shows up day in and day out. She loves the big moments and we love giving the ball to her. I think she's found a way to way more efficient and be even a bigger weapon than she has in the past," Carson said. "I don't think many people realize the tremendous pain Celena played in all last season. It was really hard for her to bounce back (from the surgeries).
"She did a lot in the preseason to transform her body and we gave those knees some rest. She's just been phenomenal. I look forward to her having a great year and getting back to that stride she had after her freshman year."
Furman will have an exhibition against Converse at Timmons Arena on Nov. 2 before opening the regular season at Clemson on Nov. 6.