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Furman Holds Off Furious ETSU Rally To Win Its Fourth-Straight

Stephen Croone and Devin Sibley combined for 41 of Furman's 74 points, as the Paladins held off East Tennessee State for a 74-70 win in Southern Conference action Saturday night at Timmons Arena.

Croone Moves Into Eighth On Furman's All-Time Scoring List (1,719 pts) In Leading Furman To 74-70 Win Over ETSU
Croone Moves Into Eighth On Furman's All-Time Scoring List (1,719 pts) In Leading Furman To 74-70 Win Over ETSU
Photo Courtesy Furman Athletics

ETSU Out-Scored Furman 18-6 Over The Final 5:56, But Paladins Did Enough To Ensure Fourth-Straight Win

GREENVILLE, S.C.--Stephen Croone and Devin Sibley combined for 41 of Furman's 74 points, as the Paladins held off East Tennessee State for a 74-70 win in Southern Conference action Saturday night at Timmons Arena.

With the win, Furman moves into second place in the Southern Conference, improving to 13-10 overall and 7-3 in league play. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers fall to 13-9 overall and 6-3 in Southern Conference action.

The Paladins got 21 points from Croone, while Sibley added 20 in the win for the Paladins. Croone once again did a lot of his damage from the charity stripe, knocking down 10-of-10 foul shots, and went 5-of-12 from the field. Sibley, meanwhile, connected on 7-of-11 from the field and went 3-of-5 from long range, while also connecting on 3-of-6 from the charity stripe in the win.

Furman looked to be on the way to another blowout win on its home floor, following a monster slam of a dish from Croone to put Furman up 72-57 with 3:56 to play. However, ETSU mounted a furious rally and went on a 13-0 run to cut Furman's lead to two, at 72-70 following a pair of free throws by Ge'Lawn Guyn with 1:31 remaining.

Croone missed a three on the other end, but ETSU's T.J. Cromer missed a jumper on the other end, and Croone rebounded with 52 seconds remaining. After running the shot clock all the way down, Daniel Fowler's three caromed out and Deuce Bello rebounded.

A missed jumper by Guyn would be rebounded by Croone with eight seconds remaining and he would eventually be fouled with 2.5 seconds to play and the Paladins were in the two-shot bonus. Croone hit the first to put Furman up and then ETSU used a timeout, with the Paladins leading 73-70. The timeout, however, did not affect Croone, who stroked home the second foul shot to make it a 74-70 game.

Guyn opened the game with a jumper to give the Bucs a 2-0 lead, however, Furman used a strong 9-1 run to take a 9-3 lead following a step-back triple and a layup by the Knoxville, Tenn, native Sibley with 15:10 remaining in the first, as Furman had once again come out strong on its home floor.

Coming out of the first media timeout of the game, Furman would extend its lead to seven, at 12-5, following a three-pointer by Geoff Beans, but ETSU's Cromer answered with a triple to cut the Furman lead back to four.

Following a missed triple by Daniel Fowler, ETSU would corral the rebound and Deuce Bello would cut the Furman lead to two, at 12-10, with 12:53 remaining in the opening half. Kendrec Ferrara's jump-hook would put Furman up by four once again, however, the Bucs scored four unanswered points on a dunk by Peter Jurkin and two free throws by Benny Lufile to make it 14-14. The two would trade baskets again on layups by Larry Wideman and Guyn, tying it at 16-16 with 9:17 remaining in the half before Furman would take control of the remainder of the opening frame.

Furman held a narrow 18-16 lead at the under eight media timeout. From that point, the Paladins would go on a 12-4 run over the next 3:24 to take their first double-digit lead of the game, as Devin Sibley's high-arching three helped the Paladins extend their lead to 30-20 with 4:01 remaining in the half.

Matt Rafferty's layup would extend Furman's lead to as much as 15 (39-24) at the 1:44 mark of the half, but Guyn finished out the half by connecting on a triple, trimming the ETSU deficit to a dozen (39-27) at the break.

The second half would see Sibley open with a triple, picking up where Furman had left off in the opening frame, matching the Paladins' largest lead to that point, making it a 42-27 contest, however, the Bucs would trim the gap in a hurry over the next 2:27 of game, clock trimming the Furman lead to a meager four after an 12-0 run to get within 42-39 following a Guyn three-point play the old-fashioned way after being fouled by Croone. Guyn knocked in the foul shot to make it a one-possession game with 17:15 left.

However, the next possession, which was maybe the most important of the game, saw Daniel Fowler score his lone bucket of the game on a jumper in the lane to extend Furman's lead back to five points, at 44-39, giving the Paladins a little breathing room. Furman welcomed back Fowler, who had not played since last Saturday's game against Wofford. He suffered a partially separated shoulder late in the 63-62 win over Wofford, and without an injured John Davis III in the lineup, Fowler's presence was much needed in the win over the Bucs.

A layup by Acox and a pair of free throws from the native of Reykjavik, Iceland, and two free throws by Croone finished out an 8-0 run by the Paladins to extend their lead back to double digits, at 50-39, with 14:39 remaining.

Furman's lead would hover from 6-10 points over the next six minutes of game action, and then the Paladins would start to open up some distance at the 8:31 mark, following a Beans triple from the top of the key after Rafferty's hustle kept the loose ball alive and the ball eventually found its way into the hands of Fowler, who threw it to a wide-open Beans at the top of the key, who then stroked home a triple to make it 60-51.

Then Beans got into the act on the defensive end, stealing the ball and finding Croone, who caught the ETSU transition defense napping and went all the way to the cup to extend Furman's lead to double-digits once again, at 62-51, with 7:51 left. A little less than two minutes later, Furman had stretched its lead to its largest of the contest, when Sibley's driving, acrobatic layup made it 68-52 with 5:56 remaining. Despite getting outscored 18-6 over the final 5:56, Furman did enough to come away with another nail-biting win.

"We were running on fumes there," Furman head coach Niko Medved said. "Daniel Fowler needed a sub so bad. He hasn't even really practiced since (getting injured) last Saturday. Our kids just showed a ton of toughness."

The win marked Furman's fourth-straight and marked the first four-game winning streak for Furman since the 2010-11 season. The win was also Furman's seventh-straight at home, improving to 10-1 on the home floor, which is also the most wins at home since the 2010-11, when the Paladins went 11-2 on the home hardwood.

"I'm so happy for our fans and our players, particularly these seniors. They've been through a lot here," Medved said. "To stay with the process, finally see the stands full and play meaningful games in the conference, you really want those kids to believe they can do it. To see them do it is really cool stuff."

Furman's defense was once again a major factor, which held the Bucs to just 39% from the field, and Medved specifically cited the halfcourt defense by the Paladins.

"I don't think they liked to be defended in the halfcourt a whole lot, but they are so quick and so athletic and we knew we couldn't get into a running game with them. Give Steve Forbes credit, he has done a great job and he's a great coach," Medved said.

Furman, meanwhile, finished the contest connecting on 50% (26-of-52) from the field for the contest, but were just 27.3% (6-of-22) from three-point range in the game. Fortunately, Furman's perimeter defense was solid, holding the Bucs to just 32% (8-of-25) from three-point land in the win.

Croone and Sibley were joined in double figures by Rafferty and Acox, who posted 11 and 10 points, respectively, while Rafferty also added a team-high 10 boards to notch his sixth double-double of his true freshman season. Meanwhile, the Paladins moved to 9-0 under when Acox has posted a double-figure scoring effort this season.

ETSU got a game-high 22 points from Cromer, while Guyn posted 19 points and Deuce Bello added 14. Those three transfers accounted for 55 of the Bucs' 70 points in the loss.

After turning it over just twice in the opening half, the Paladins suffered 10 giveaways in the second half, which saw the Paladins finish the game with 12 total turnovers. ETSU took excellent care of the ball, turning the ball over under five times the entire game. The Bucs held major advantages in points off turnovers (21-8) and bench scoring (23-10). Thanks in large part to a 10-of-14 performance in the second half in shooting inside the three-point line, the Paladins held a 40-30 advantage in points in the paint. The Paladins held a 39-29 edge on the boards, which led to a narrow 15-14 edge in second chance points.

Furman returns to the road on Thursday night, traveling to the Pete Hanna Center to put its four-game winning streak on the line against the Samford Bulldogs, with tip-off set for 8 p.m. EST Thursday night in Birmingham. The Bucs will be on the road at VMI on Thursday night to battle VMI in a tip-off set for 7 p.m. at Cameron Hall on Thursday night.