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Furman Hosts Louisiana Monroe in CIT Opener Tuesday Night

For the first time since the 2010-11 season, Furman (18-15) will find itself in the postseason with an opening round home game when it hosts Sun Belt runner-up Louisiana Monroe (20-13) Tuesday night at Timmons Arena.

ULM Comes To Timmons Arena Having Won 10 of its Last 11 Games
ULM Comes To Timmons Arena Having Won 10 of its Last 11 Games
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Louisiana Monroe (20-13) at Furman (18-15)

WHAT: CollegeInsider.com Tournament Opening Round (CIT)

WHEN: Tuesday, March 15, 2016, 7 p.m.

WHERE: Timmons Arena (3,500)

Series: First-ever meeting

PDF Link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3pAmZZj9TmHSWRHenRZMHUwOVE/view?usp=sharing

GREENVILLE, S.C.--For the first time since the 2010-11 season, Furman (18-15) will find itself in the postseason with an opening round home game when it hosts Sun Belt runner-up Louisiana Monroe (20-13) Tuesday night at Timmons Arena. Furman won its quarterfinal Southern Conference Tournament game, with an 80-64 win over the UNC Greensboro Spartans.However, the Paladins would bow out of the tournament with an 84-76 setback to No. 2 seed East Tennessee State in the semifinal round of the 2016 Southern Conference Tournament.

Furman tied a school-record with a 13-1 home record during the regular-season and will head into the CIT with nine-straight home wins at Timmons Arena.

The Paladins, which participated in the 2010-11 CollegeInsider.com Tournament, lost on the road at East Tennessee State (L, 76-63), who at the time was playing in the Atlantic Sun.

It's been nearly a month since the Paladins took the floor for what was an 84-75 win over Mercer. In what was thought to be his final game in front of the home crowd, Stephen Croone poured in a season-high 31 points in leading Furman to the 85-74 win.

Furman is 0-4 all-time on March 15. Furman will be facing Louisiana-Monroe for the first time in school history.FURMAN'S

LAST WIN IN A NON-CONFERENCE SPONSORED TOURNAMENT:
Mar. 9, 1974 Furman 75, South Carolina 67 (NCAA Tournament First Round/Philadelphia, PA)

PHILADELPHIA, PA--Furman came up with its lone NCAA Tournament win in Philadelphia in 1975, as the Paladins were able to knock off the South Carolina, 75-67, in the City of Brotherly Love. The Paladins would be led in the contest by Clyde Mayes' 21 points and 13 rebounds, while Bruce Grimm (19 pts), Craig Lynch (14 pts), Fessor Leonard (11 pts) and Ed Kelley (10 pts)rounded out the double figure performers for the Plaadins in what remains the programs most high-profile wins.

RECENT NON-CONFERENCE SPONSORED TOURNAMENTS:

ETSU 76, FURMAN 63 (Mar. 16, 2011/Johnson City, Tenn)

In 2011, Furman would take part in the CIT when it traveled to take on then Atlantic Sun member, with the strange irony being that that Paladins just finished the Southern Conference Tournament against those same East Tennessee State Bucs in the 96th edition of the Southern Conference Tournament.

The Paladins rolled into Johnson City with one of their best records in recent memory, as the Paladins had posted 22 wins, but were knocked out of the 2011 Southern Conference Tournament by College of Charleston, thanks to an explosion by the Cougars' Andrew Goudelock late in that contest, as he would go to the line on a flagrant foul late, sinking Furman hopes of a fourth game in four days.

With the CIT in just its second year of existence, naturally the Paladins were primed for any kind of postseason action, as it had been some two decades since the Paladins had played any real postseason games, taking on West Virginia during the 1991 season, dropping a 86-67 decision to West Virginia.

The Paladins found it hard to establish any sort of rhythm the entire night against a Bucs team that had many of its performers back from a team that had managed a near upset of a top-seed as No. 16 seed a couple of years earlier, and it the Bucs' experience shined in the CIT opener, as they bounced Furman 76-63 from the Paladins' first postseason tournament in two decades.

Mike Williams would lead the way for ETSU, pouring in 33 points to help the Bucs including 22 points in the second half. Furman ended its season with a 23-11 record on the season. For Furman in the contest, it was led by Jordan Miller and Charlie Reddick, who scored 12 points apiece. A 14-0 run in the second half helped cut ETSU's advantage to 62-54, but the Bucs would stretch their lead by as much as 15 point and coasted to a 76-63 win. ETSU shot 51-percent from the field, and Furman shot just 39% from the field for the game.

RECENT NON-CONFERENCE SPONSORED TOURNAMENTS:
WEST VIRGINIA 86, FURMAN 67 (Mar 15, 1991/Morgantown, WVa)

Furman tied with Chattanooga and East Tennessee State for the regular-season Southern Conference title, and lost to Appalachian State in the semifinal round of the Southern Conference Tournament. That meant the Paladins would take on the West Virginia Mountaineers in front of 8,000 at the Memorial Coliseum, where the Paladins, which trailed by just one at the half, saw the Mountaineers pull away for a 19-point, 86-67 lead with Chris Leonard's effort for the Blue and Gold, which featured five triples.

FURMAN'S LAST WIN IN A NON-CONFERENCE SPONSORED TOURNAMENT:
Mar. 9, 1974 Furman 75, South Carolina 67 (NCAA Tournament First Round/Philadelphia, PA)

PHILADELPHIA, PA--Furman came up with its lone NCAA Tournament win in Philadelphia in 1975, as the Paladins were able to knock off the South Carolina, 75-67, in the City of Brotherly Love. The Paladins would be led in the contest by Clyde Mayes' 21 points and 13 rebounds, while Bruce Grimm (19 pts), Craig Lynch (14 pts), Fessor Leonard (11 pts) and Ed Kelley (10 pts)rounded out the double figure performers for the Plaadins in what remains the programs most high-profile wins.

Stephen Croone
Stephen Croone's Outstanding Career Continues In CIT:-Simply one of the best players in mid-major college basketball, as the senior guard from Covington, GA native currently ranks fifth all-time in scoring 1,899-career points and has found himself in double figures in 86 of the past 91 games.

He is a three-time all-conference honoree and has led the Paladins in scoring each of the past three seasons, including helping Furman to 29 wins and a trip to the 2015 Southern Conference title game and 2016 SoCon Tournament title in his junior and senior seasons. That comes on the heels of freshman and sophomore campaigns, which saw the Paladins win just 16 games against 40 losses.

In addition to his scoring prowess, Croone also ranks in the Top 10 in school's annals in both assists (378/7th) and steals (176/5th).

This season, Croone has been held below double figures on just three occassions this season, with Piedmont (2 pts), UConn (4 pts) and last time out against East Tennessee State (9 pts). It is important to note that Croone was limited by a thumb injury early on this season, forcing him to wear a brace on his thumb. Croone became the first player to score 40 or more points in a game since Furman's Roy Simpson scored 45 in a game against East Carolina in 1972.

Croone was the catalyst in lasy season's run to the Southern Conference title game as the No. 10 seed, and carried over that strong play to the 2015-16 season, helping Furman claim a 18-15 overall record and an 11-7 Southern Conference mark, which was good enough for a third-place finish in the Southern Conference this season--it's highest finish in the league-race since tying for the Southern Conference crown in 1991-92--and he also helped the Paladins finish the season with a school-record tying 13-1 home mark, including a perfect 9-0 record against SoCon foes.

Croone helped the Paladins to a buzzer-beating win over Wofford on January 23, as he tipped in a Devin Sibley miss at the buzzer, helping Furman put an end to a six-game losing skid to the Wofford Terriers. Croone and the Paladins will be playing their first home game in front of the home folks since Feb. 13, and the lone loss of the season for Paladins came in the non-conference slate this season, having come against Big South foe Gardner-Webb, 70-50, back on Dec. 12.

Croone had just two points in the opening half, but posted 15 in the second frame, with none more important than the final two, as Furman posted its first win over Wofford since Jan. 14, 2013, when the Paladins posted a 69-65 win over the Terriers at Timmons Arena. Croone scored nine of the Paladins' final 11 points in the contest, as Furman closed the game on an 11-2 run to capture their first win over the Terriers of the Medved era.

In an early 70-55 win over eventual Southern Conference regular-season title winner Chattanooga, Croone helped combine with backcourt mate Devin Sibley to score 35 of Furman's 70 points. The senior from Covington, GA, posted 17 points, four assists, three steals and three boards in the win.

In his Senior Day finale against Mercer, Croone saved his best for last, finishing the contest with 31 points, one rebound, a steal and three assists in the win over the Bears.

PALADIN PLAYER NOTES HEADING INTO CIT:

G #12 Devin Sibley (11.9 PPG, 2.9 RPG)--The second key scorer in the lineup for the Paladins is Devin Sibley, who comes into Tuesday night's clash with the Warhawks as Furman's second-leading scorer. In the SoCon semifinal loss to East Tennessee State, the Knoxville, Tenn, native tied his career-high of 29 points, which he also set against ETSU last season. In the loss to the Bucs, Sibley connected on 10-of-22 shots from the field, but was just 1-of-9 from three-point range and went 8-for-8 from the foul line. The sophomore guard has scored 20 or more points four times this season, with three of those performances coming in the past three outings. He has scored in double figures in 23 games this season, including scoring in double digits in the past six games. His 40 triples rank third on the team behind Stephen Croone (42) and Geoff Beans (44), and Sibley is shooting 33.1% from long range this season.

G #35 Daniel Fowler (6.0 PPG, 3.9 RPG)--Daniel Fowler is one of Furman's two defensive stoppers, and has been akin to Robert Horry with his ability to make clutch long-range shots in now his second season for the Paladins. One of those shots came early in the season, in a 79-70 win at Sun Belt member Appalachian State. But Fowler is most noted for his athletic defensive play, and ranks third on the team in steals so far this season, with 28 thefts, ranking behind only Stephen Croone's 37 steals and freshman forward Matt Rafferty's 35 takeaways. Offensively, Fowler has found himself into double figures three times this season, with a season-high 12 points coming in a win at Timmons Arena over Samford. Fowler leads the team percentage-wise from beyond the arc this season, connecting on 38.5% (30-of-78) from three-point land.

F #32 Matt Rafferty (8.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG)--Freshman forward Matt Rafferty has been one of the main reasons the Paladins find themselves in the 2016 college basketball postseason, garnering SoCon All-Freshman honors this season. Rafferty's sensational freshman campaign for the Paladins has included leading the Paladins in scoring five times this season, as well as six double-doubles in his first season suiting up in the Purple and White. In the Feb. 11 win over The Citadel, the Hinsdale, Ill native posted a career-high 21 points and 10 boards to lead Furman to their 12th of 13 home wins this season. He garnered Mid-Major Madness Player of the week honors after a week which included a 19-point game at Appalachian State, a 10-point, 12-board effort at Charlotte and a 15-point effort against NCAA Tournament participant UConn. Rafferty does almost everything well, and along with Croone, might be Furman's most complete player across the board, ranking fifth in the SoCon and leading the Paladins in rebounding (6.8 RPG), while ranking eighth and leading the Paladins in blocks (28/0.8 BPG). Additionally, Rafferty ranks third on the team in assists (56), second on the team in steals (35) and is shooting 48.2% from the field this season. He is also capable of stepping out and canning the three, posting a 31.4% clip (16-of-51) from long range this season.

F #12 Kris Acox (9.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 62.3 FG%)--Kris Acox is the SoCon leader in field goal percentage this season and might be Furman's hottest player of late. Since scoring a combined two points in losses at Mercer and The Citadel, Acox has totaled double figures in 10 of Furman's last 14 games. He turned in his top performance with career-high 19 points in an early season win over Bluefield, and nearly matched that total the last time out against East Tennessee State, completing the contest with 17 points.

PREVIEWING THE LOUISIANA-MONROE WARHAWKS:

ULM Logo

GREENVILLE, S.C.--Furman will open play in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament on Tuesday night when it hosts the Louisiana-Monroe at Timmons Arena--a venue where Furman is 13-1 so far this season.

Like Furman, the Warhawks have been extremely tough to beat on their home floor, having posted a 13-0 record at Fant-Ewing Coliseum so far this season.

The Warhawks play as members of the Sun Belt Conference, and made it to the championship game of the Sun Belt Conference title game on Sunday afternoon, losing to top-seeded Arkansas Little-Rock, 70-50, in the title game. The Warhawks are coached by Keith Richard, and going into the championship game on Sunday afternoon in New Orleans, the Warhawks had won 10-straight before losing in the title game to the Little Rock. The 15-5 Sun Belt mark for the Warhawks was good enough to ensure a second place finish in the conference standings behind only Little Rock.

The Warhawks and Paladins were two of the five teams responsible for handing NCAA Tournament participant and Southern Conference champion Chattanooga early in the season, with the Warhawks posting a 64-54 home win over the Mocs, while Furman was a 70-55 victor over the Mocs in early January. The Warhawks played a Chattanooga team without one of its best players, in Justin Tuoyo, who was the Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year for the second-straight season, while the Paladins faced Tuoyo in their 15-point win back on Jan. 9.

The Warhawks have won their last two games against Southern Conference members, knocking Mercer out of the College Basketball Invitational (71-69) last season, getting a rare win at Hawkins Arena. The other win came earlier this season against the Mocs.

The other common opponent that both the Paladins and Warhawks had this season was Appalachian State, with the Paladins defeating their former Southern Conference opposition, 79-70, in the second meeting of the season, while the Warhawks were 2-0 against the Mountaineers this season, posting a 91-90 win over Appalachian State in Boone, while defeating the Mountaineers, 72-56, in Monroe. Shortly after defeating Chattanooga at the tail end of November, the Warhawks hit their worst slump of the season, losing nine of 11 games from Dec. 10-Jan. 15, with the lone wins in that stretch coming against Central Baptist (101-76) and the aforementioned win at home against Appalachian State.

The stretch included losses to MEAC champion Hampton (L, 75-64), at 2015 Sun Belt champion Georgia State (L, 65-51) and at former Southern Conference member and 2015 Sun Belt runner up Georgia Southern.

As far as the two leagues are concerned, the Sun Belt ranks slightly better in conference RPI, according to LiveRPI.com, with the Sun Belt ranking 17th nationally and the SoCon placing 18th nationally. The SoCon and Sun Belt have squared off several times this season, with the SoCon holding a 4-2 record against the Sun Belt.

The Paladins defeated the Mountaineers, as mentioned above, The Citadel defeated Georgia Southern, 95-90, Mercer bested Appalachian, 72-71, and Samford defeated Troy, 83-79. The two Sun Belt wins came as a result of Monroe's win over Chattanooga and South Alabama's 72-70 win over Samford. The SoCon and Sun Belt were two of the few league conference tournaments to have No. 1 seeds winning their respective league's conference postseason tournament, with both being No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups in the title game.

The appearance by the Warhawks in the Sun Belt title game was the first-ever trip to the title game for the of the conference tournament, and are now participating in the college basketball postseason for the second-straight campaign. Last season, Monroe participated in the College Basketball Invitational, and the the Warhawks made it to the title game of the 16-team tournament last season, losing 65-58 to Loyola-Chicago Ramblers on their home floor--the last home loss endured by Monroe.

The Warhawks are making back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons.

The Warhawks will be no easy foe for the Paladins in the opening round of the CIT, and the Paladins will have to find a way to stop one of the top big men they have faced this season, in 6-10 Majok Deng (18.6 PPG, ), who was a Sun Belt First Team All-Conference selection and the 18.6 PPG and ranks him third overall in the conference, while his 7.1 RPG ranked Deng sixth overall in the Sun Belt in rebounding. Of interesting note concerning Deng, he spent two years at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa, which is the same place former Chattanooga Moc and 17th pick of the Orlando Magic in the 1997 NBA Draft Johnny Taylor spent two season before matriculating to the Scenic City.

The regular-season saw Deng finish as the Sun Belt's scoring champion heading into league tournament play, averaging 18.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG and 3.0 BPG during the regular-season. Overall this season, Deng scored 20 or more points in a game 11 times during the regular-season, and posted 18 and 12 points, respectively, in both conference tournament games against UT-Arlington and Arkansas Little-Rock.

Deng, like Chattanooga's Tuoyo, is a tremendous presence on the defensive end of the floor, as the senior from Adelaide, Australia, ranks fourth in school history in blocked shots, having swatted away 104 shots in the his career to this point, and his 1.7 blocks-per-game were tied for second in the Sun Belt this season. His 47.7% field goal clip ranked ninth overall in field goal percentage this season.

Deng is not just a threat in the paint either, and in fact leads the team in three-point field goals this season, having knocked down 59 triples so far this season. The 6-10 center is shooting a solid 38.1% from beyond the arc this season. In all, Deng has scored at least 13 points in a game in 23 of his last 26 games this season. In the win over Chattanooga earlier this season, Deng posted a game-high 22 points, six boards and posted a block without the presence of Tuoyo in the paint for the Mocs.

Joining Deng in the paint for the Warhawks will be 6-9 senior forward Jamaal Samuel (12.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG), who comes into the clash as another talented big man for the Warhawks, having scored in double figures on 17 occasions this season, and along with Deng, will give the Warhawks a slight size advantage in the paint Tuesday night.

Deng has three 30-point games this season, and ranks sixth among internationally-born players in scoring this season, and is probably the best internationally-born player to suit up in Timmons Arena since both Senegalese products Moussa Diagne and Malaye Ndoye suited up for Larry Davis and Jeff Jackson-coached squads in the mid-2000s.

Samuel posted his best performance in a loss to NCAA Tournament-bound West Virginia earlier this season, finishing that contest with 19 points. Samuel has registered starts in all 33 games for the Warhawks this season. Like Deng, Samuel has proven to be effective at stepping outside and shooting the three, having posted 39 makes from long range this season, and is shooting 36.8% from beyond the arc this season.

Rounding out the starters in the paint for the Warhawks will be 6-7 DeMondre Harvey (7.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG), who has been solid from the outset this season, having started 16 times so far this season, and since he has been inserted into the starting lineup, the Warhawks are 14-2. Harvey posted a career-high 21 points in the Sun Belt Conference semifinals against UT-Arlington. He was a perfect 9-for-9 from the field in the win over UTA.

The backcourt is solid and comprised of junior point guard Nick Coppola (11.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 178 assists) and Justin Roberson (16.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG), who account for two of the three double-figure scorers in the starting five for the Warhawks. Roberson was a First-Team All-Sun Belt selection and was the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

Roberson has been a consistent scorer all season for the Warhawks, but when Monroe hit conference play, he improved his scoring average by six points. In nearly half of the 20 league games this season, he tallied his nine top scoring performances, including a career-high 26-point effort against Troy in a home win.

Roberson is the Warhawks' best perimeter shooter for the Warhawks this season, as he has connected on 41.7% (40-of-96) from three-point range this season. Coppola has already set the school record for assists (407) in just three seasons as the Warhawks' point guard, and will remind Paladin fans of former Chattanooga point guard Keagan Bell, who was a Furman recruiting target prior to attending Vanderbilt, and then transferring to become a Moc.

Coppola had a game-winning layup against Appalachian State, as the Warhawks scored the final six points of the game in a 91-90 win at the Holmes Convocation Center. Coppola comes in averaging 5.4 helpers-per-game this season, and his 38 minutes-per-game ranks among the nation's top 25 for minutes played average.

The two main players off the Warhawks' bench on Tuesday night will be both 6-6 freshman forward Travis Munnings (7.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG) and 6-2 senior guard Mack Foster (2.1 PPG, 1.1 RPG). Munnings ranks fifth overall in the Sun Belt in field goal percentage, connecting on 50.5% from the field this season, and is one of the best athletes on the roster. Foster is known for his presence as a defensive stopper off the bench for Monroe, however, as of late, he has scored at least seven points off the bench in the past four games.

As a team, the Warhawks led the Sun Belt in field goal pecentage (46%), third in three-point field goal percentage (36%), second in assists-per-game (14.3 APG), third in rebounding margin (+2.4) and third in assists-turnover-ratio (1.2). The Warhawks are averaging 73.2 PPG as a team this season, while limiting opponents to 69.8 PPG this season.

MORE FURMAN-UL MONROE NOTES:

--€”Furman has a total of three seniors entering Tuesday night's clash, with both forward Kendrec Ferrara (4.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG) and guard Larry Wideman (2.8 PPG, 2.4 RPG) accounting for the Paladins' three seniors. Wideman has been a defensive stalwart all season for the Paladins, and has three starts this season, and is one of Furman's first players off the bench, and is averaging 13.4 minutes-per-game. Wideman had a season-high 15 points in Furman's key Southern Conference road win at VMI. Ferrara ranks second on the team, with 23 blocks this season, and was especially key in the Paladins' early SoCon win over NCAA Tournament participant and SoCon preseason favorite Chattanooga, as he posted a key six blocks. Ferrara has three double-figure games this season, with a season-high 11 points coming in a home win over Samford.

€”--Another of Furman's top players off the bench this season has been three-point specialist Geoff Beans (5.5 PPG, 2.0 RPG), who has connected on a team-best 44 triples this season, and is shooting 37.3% from long range this season. He has a pair of season-high 16-point performances in wins over Samford and Western Carolina, with both coming inside the friendly confines. Beans had 14 points in Furman's SoCon Tournament win over UNCG, as the Paladins recorded an 80-64 SoCon quarterfinal win.

--€”John Davis III (4.8 PPG, 1.7 RPG) rounds out the primary rotation for the Paladins in the lineup this season, and the sophomore has 19 points in 31 games played for the Paladins this season. Davis III acts as a third ball-handler in the lineup, when the Paladins go to a smaller lineup and when playing against teams that put on full-court pressure. Davis III has one double-figure scoring game this season, with 10 points in a home win over Bluefield, and ranks second on the team with 57 assists. He is shooting 34.8% (24-of-69) from three-point land this season, and has shot the ball well extremely well from the charity stripe this season, connecting on 83.7% (36-of-43) from three-point land this season.

--€”Furman has never played a home game at Timmons Arena this late in March, and since the facility opened in late December of 1997-98, Furman has only played one other March home game in the friendly confines, with a 74-50 loss to College of Charleston on March 2, 2013. Furman has never played a home game in Greenville or on its home floor this late into the month of March in now its109th season of basketball. Dating back to 1916, Furman will be playing its 16th game in Greenville in March, sporting an 8-7 overall record. The Paladins All but one have come in tournament play (S.I.A.A or SoCon), and marks the first non-conference or association affiliated tournament in Greenville for the Paladins. The only other game in March in Greenville other than a conference or association affiliated tournament was the 24-point loss in the regular-season finale to College of Charleston three years ago.


FINAL PREDICTION: FURMAN 68, LOUISIANA-MONROE 64