GREENVILLE, S.C.--Furman placed four players in double figures, led by Stephen Croone's 17 points, as the Paladins reeled off a sixth win in their last seven outings, with a 79-72 win over UNC Greensboro in Southern Conference Basketball action Monday night at Timmons Arena.
With the win, Furman improves to 15-11 overall and 9-4 in Southern Conference play, while UNCG dropped to 9-16 overall and 5-7 in league action. The win was Furman's eighth in a row at home, as the Paladins improved to 11-1 mark at home this season, matching the 11 victories won by the 2010-11 Paladin club on the home Timmons Arena floor.
The 15 wins by the Paladins marks the most since the 2011-12 season, when the Paladins finished with a 15-16 overall record, while the nine league wins marks just the fourth time in the past 26 years that the Paladins have recorded nine or more wins within a conference campaign.
For the second-straight outing, the game was a physical and mental challenge for both clubs, and early on, it was nip-and-tuck for much of the opening half of the half, and the two teams went to the half with the score tied, 33-33, as the Paladins connected on 50% (13-of-26) of their shots from the field in the opening half, while shooting 30% (3-for-10) from three-point land in the contest.
Early in the second half, fouls would begin to mount up for the Paladins in the physically grueling contest, as Kris Acox, who finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, picking up his third and fourth fouls prior to the first media timeout of the second half, which was significant considering the Paladins were facing two of the top big men in the Southern Conference, in Kayel Locke and RJ White, who combined to finish with a combined 29 points and 14 rebounds in the contest, but Furman's defense in the frontcourt would ultimately be what propelled it to the Paladins over the top in the end.
Acox's composure and discipline were a microcosm of how the 2015-16 Furman team has matured in comparison to its predecessors of a year ago.
"Last year we were losing so much that at some point, I think we just became numb to it," Acox said. "We kind of just went out there and treated it like just another game or whatever and we really didn't expect a lot of things I think individually and as a team but this year is different like with the maturity factor I mentioned before. We don't care who we're playing, and we treat every game like an opportunity to win and we have done a great job playing at home, but we still have to be road warriors, too," Acox added.
Acox wouldn't re-enter the matchup for better than 10 minutes, but would prove to be a key cog in helping the Paladins close out their 15th win of the season down the stretch before fouling out with just 1:37 remaining.
Meanwhile, the Paladins kept trying to put the Spartans away, however, UNCG would not go quietly into the Greenville night, as the Spartans continued to use their inside-outside game to perfection, and according to head coach Niko Medved, makes the Spartans one of the toughest teams in the SoCon to guard for 40 minutes in the Southern Conferene.
"These guys [UNCG] are tough to guard because they can score from so many different spots. [Kayel] Locke and [RJ] White are a load underneath and both guys force you to guard them in the paint as well as from mid-range and and perimeter, and that makes them a really really tough team to defend," Medved said.
"We also did some different things differently when Kris [Acox] got in foul trouble early in the second half, and that allowed us to put Larry [Wideman] on Locke, and I thought he did a tremendous job defensively on him defensively," Medved said.
Furman would assume a 35-33 lead on a pair of free throws from John Davis III, early in the second half, and would never trail again in the contest, however, the Spartans simply wouldn't go away, cutting the Paladin lead to one possession five times in the second half when it seemed Furman was on the brink of breaking open the game.
A pair of Diante Baldwin foul shots would bring the Spartans within three points, at 64-61, with 5:38 remainining in the contest, but it would turn out to be the final of the five times that the Spartans would be able slice the Paladin deficit to a one-possession game, as Furman was able to flex its muscles down the stretch to close out their seventh Southern Conference home win of the season with its defense and some timely buckets from Croone, Acox and Matt Rafferty to close out the win.
A quick 5-0 spurt on a layup by Croone and three free throws by Acox allowed the Paladins to run its from three back up to eight points, at 69-61, with 2:58 remaining. Baldwin would capitalize on a missed layup from Croone, and after a Acox tip-in, Locke knocked down a jumper from the middle of the lane to make it a 71-65 game with 1:59 remaining.
On Furman's ensuing possession, a heavy press was applied by UNCG, and Croone appeared to be trapped between the sideline and a pair of UNCG defenders on the scorers table side of Timmons Arena, however, he maneuvered a pass over the two Spartans right to a wide-open Daniel Fowler across the timeline, who then threw a diagonal pass to Acox for the wide open monster dunk to bring the crowd to its feet and give the Paladins a 73-65 lead with 1:47 remaining.
The Spartans would only manage to slice the Furman lead to five twice the remainder of the way, with Francis Alonso's triple with 24 seconds remaining being the final time the Spartans would get within that margin, making it a 75-70 Spartan deficit after his fade-away three from the right elbow. Four foul shots by three different Paladins would help close out the Spartans and help Furman remain in second place in the Southern Conference standings.
Croone led four Paladins in double figures with 17 points, connecting on 5-of-8 from the field, 1-of-3 from three-point range and 6-for-9 from the charity striple. It was another solid performance for the senior from Covington, GA, who added two assists, four boards and a steal in addition to his 17 points.
Acox posted 15 points and eight boards for his 10th double-figure scoring game of the season, as Furman moved to 10-0 in games when the native of Reykjavik, Iceland adds a double-digit scoring performance.
Acox, despite seeing only 22 minutes of floor action as a result of being saddled with foul trouble for much of the contest, connected on 6-of-9 shots from the field and was 3-for-5 from the line, including a block and an assist as a part of his overall stat line.
Rafferty added 11 points and eight rebounds for his third game out of the past four in double figures, and it also marked the 11th time the true freshman from Hinsdale, Ill, has added a double-digit scoring game to his impressive freshman resume'.
Sophomores Geoff Beans and Daniel Fowler were clutch for the Paladins off the bench, with each hitting timely threes in both halves, as the pair finished by combining to connect on five of the team's six triple in the contest. Both players finished with nine points, with Beans connecting on both of his long-range efforts, while Fowler was 3-for-5 from long-range.
Beans' strong play as of late continues, having posted nearly a 50% clip from long-range from three-point range since the start of SoCon play, going 22-of-47 (46.8%) from beyond the arc in 13 SoCon games. Prior to the start of SoCon play, Beans was just 13-of-49 from three-point range in non-conference play.
John Davis III was also solid and looked at a full 100-percent against the Spartans following a hand injury suffered in a win over Western Carolina a little over a week ago. He finished the night with a solid seven points, four assists and did not turn the ball over in 28 minutes of court time.
As a team, the Paladins shot the ball at a 52.9% (27-of-51) clip from the field, while connecting on 6-of-19 from three (31.6%) and 19-of-25 (76.0%) from the line.
UNCG was led by four players in double figures, with Locke posting a game-high 19 points to go with five boards and a steal, while White just missed another double-double against the Paladins with 10 points and nine boards. Baldwin and Alonso added 12 apiece in the losing cause. Alonso, a guard born in the Andalusian (Malaga) region of Spain, went 3-for-8 from downtown to add three more triples to bring his season total of 64 in what has been an outstanding freshman season.
The Spartans shot 43.1% (28-of-65) from the field and 24.0% (6-of-25) from three-point range in the loss. Furman held advantages in points in the paint (36-32), assists (15-8), bench points (22-14), while UNCG edged the Paladins in rebounds (37-34), second chance points (11-6) and points off turnovers (13-7).
Furman returns to the floor on Thursday night hosting arch-rival The Citadel, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. at Timmons Arena, while UNCG will be on the road at VMI for a game slated for a 7 p.m. at Cameron Hall.