Stephen Croone posted his breakout game for Furman, posting a game-high 22 points, but it wasn't enough to overcome a talented Texas A&M Corpus Christi team that posted four players in double figures and connected on 57.7% from the field in the second half to post a 73-69 win on a Thanksgiving Thursday at Elon's Alumni Gym in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament.
The loss, which was Furman's third-straight, drops the Paladins to 2-3, while the Islanders improved to 3-2 on the young season.
Croone finished the contest connecting on 5-of-13 shots from the field and 11-of-12 from the charity stripe in the loss. Croone also contributed five boards and four assists in the contest. His 22 points moved Croone into 18th place of Furman's all-time scoring list, surpassing Robby Bostain and Derek Waugh on Furman's all-time scoring ledger. Croone now has 1,416-career points.
The senior-laden Islanders were led in the contest by senior guard Brandon Pye, who posted 19 points, including knocking down five of the team's seven three-point field goals. Pye was joined in double figures in the contest by Rashawn Thomas (12 pts), Bryce Douvier (11 pts) and Jelani Currie (10 pts) were part of a solid evening for the Islanders. Thomas, a preseason All-Southland selection, also added six rebounds in the contest, as did his his senior teammate, as Douvier also ripped down six boards.
Croone was joined in double figures by Matt Rafferty, who posted his third double-double in five collegiate games, finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds, as he finished by connecting on 5-of-9 shots from the field and 6-8 from the charity stripe. Six of Rafferty's rebounds were offensive.
Croone's backcourt mate Devin Sibley would round out the Paladins in double figures in the contest, posting 12 points, as he connected on 5-of-13 shots from the field, including going 2-for-5 from three-point range in the contest. Daniel Fowler did not start the game, marking the first time in what was his 38th-career game for the Paladins that the sophomore was not in the starting five. Fowler finished with nine points, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal. Freshman Andrew Brown drew his first start in his Paladin career.
The Paladins played sloppy in the opening half of play, turning the ball over 10 times, but Croone kept the Paladins close by posting his best half of the year, as he had 10 at the break, and the Paladins trailed by just two, at 29-27.
The Islanders defense was solid throughout the game, recording six blocks in the game, and limited the Paladins to just 35% shooting for the game (21-for-60), and had a key 10-2 run to help rebound from a 54-51 deficit with 9:10 remaining and turned it in to a five-point lead with 6:36 remaining following a Pye jumper, making it a 61-56 game. Pye was key during the 10-2 run, scoring eight of the Islanders' points during the spurt.
After the Islanders increased its lead to six points late (64-58) following a pair of Hameed Ali free throws with 3:53 remaining, however, Furman's star freshman forward Rafferty responded with layup off an offensive rebound, and then a steal by Fowler led to a pair of Croone foul shots to trim Texas A&M Corpus Christi's lead back to a bucket, at 64-62, with 3:19 left.
The Islanders then responded with a Thomas layup, but the Paladins wouldn't go away, as Rafferty added another layup on a feed from Fowler with 2:25 left. Following a Paladin foul, Currie hit 1-for-2 at the line to increase the Islanders' lead to three, at 67-64, with 1:58 remaining.
Furman had a wide open look from three and a chance to tie the game, as Fowler fed Larry Wideman with a beautiful diagonal pass at the left elbow, but Wideman's shot was too strong and Currie rebounded the ball. Despite the Currie rebound, the Islanders turned it over, and the Paladins would get to within a point following a Furman timeout, as Rafferty converted another layup to make it a 1-point game, at 67-66.
Bryce Douvier's two free throws following a foul by Sibley put the Islanders back up three, and after Croone went 1-for-2 from the line after Thomas' fifth foul to make it a 69-67 game, the Islanders would make a heads-up play late in the contest, as Pye broke free on a long pass down court and was unguarded and hauled in a beautiful pass from Ehab Amin to make it a two-possession game with 26 seconds left.
Rafferty would convert again on a layup following an offensive rebound off a Fowler miss with 10 seconds left, trimming the Islander lead back to two (71-69) with 10 seconds left, but the Paladins were forced to foul Amin and he converted both free throws to set the final margin of four points.
With the win, Southland Conference member Texas A&M Corpus Christi takes on Elon in the Mainland championship game tomorrow at approximately 7 p.m. The Paladins will play Mount Saint Mary's, who dropped a 79-74 game to Elon in Thursday's first game, in the consolation game at 4:30 p.m.
One of the positives of the night for Furman was the Paladins' performance from the foul line, connecting on 20-of-26 for the night, with Croone and Rafferty combining to connect on 17-of-20 of the Paladins' free throw attempts.
Both teams turned the ball over 14 times in the contest, however, the Paladins did a much better job of taking care of the basketball in the second half, turning it over only four times in the second stanza. The Paladins out-rebounded its third opponent in five outings, posting a 42-31 edge on the boards, including 18 offensive boards.
The 11-rebound advantage on the boards led to an 18-10 edge in second chance points, but Texas A&M CC held advantages in fast-break points (12-6) and points in the paint (26-24). Furman held narrow advantages in bench points (15-13) and points off turnovers (14-8). The Islanders finished the game connecting on an impressive 48.1% (25-for-52) from the field.