GREENVILLE, S.C.--For the second time in the 2015-16 season, Furman sent an opponent away with a heartbreaking loss, as the Paladins claimed an unprecendented 14th home win in a, 58-57, win over Louisiana-Monroe on Daniel Fowler's fade-a-way shot at the buzzer in the opening round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament Tuesday night at Timmons Arena.
"It's never happened before, I've never hit a buzzer-beater in my career," Fowler said. "I saw the ball got tipped back out by Kris Acox and no one boxed me out and I really didn't know how much time I had, and I just put up the shot and it went in and that's pretty much it."
The win was Furman's second at the horn this season, as the Purple and White was also able to secure a 63-62 win over Wofford back on Jan. 23
With just its second win all-time in the college basketball postseason, Furman moves to 19-15 overall and now the Paladins await seeding for the second round of the CIT Tournament to which opponent the Paladins will be matched against, as well as the whether Furman will get a chance to get a 15th home win or have to go on the road for the next round of the 26-team postseason tournament.
The win marked Furman's first since in a non-conference sponsored postseason tournament since 1974, when the Paladins scored a 75-67 win over South Carolina in the NCAA Tournament in a first-round matchup in Philadelphia. Furman improved to 2-6 all-time in the postseason. The Paladins have now set the single-season record for home wins, improving to 14-1 on the home hardwood this season.
The Warhawks, which led virtually the entire way, leading for 30:56 of the forty-minute physical defensive battle, concluded the season with a 20-14 overall mark. The Warhawks knocked off SoCon foe Mercer (71-69) on the road last season en route to making it to the College Basketball Invitational Tournament (CBI) championship game. The Warhawks had been red-hot winning 10-straight before losing in the title game game of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, 70-50, to Arkansas-Rock last Sunday.
Making Fowler's heroics even more remarkable was the fact that the Paladins trailed the contest, 57-47, following a Nick Coppola foul shot with 2:08 remaining, but that's when the Paladins started to make things interesting.
First, Fowler connected on a triple from the left corner, making it a 57-50 game with 1:52 remaining. Following a miss on a Justin Roberson jumper with the shot-clock winding down, Stephen Croone skyed for the rebound, and he fed Acox in the open floor, who missed his initial attempt at a layup, however, pulled down his own rebound and got a putback to get the Paladins within five, at 57-52, with 1:08 remaining.
Following a 30-second timeout by Furman head coach Niko Medved to set up Furman press, the unthinkable happened, as the Paladins trapped Coppola in the corner, and when he tried to throw back across the middle of the floor, the ball was stolen by Croone and he put in the easy lay-up, trimming Furman's deficit to just three, at 57-54, with 55 ticks on the clock remaining.
Just seconds later, Fowler registered one of his five steals on the night, forcing the ball free to Devin Sibley, who missed the layup, however, Acox was able to crash the boards and register the layup, getting the Paladins to within a point (57-56) with 45 seconds remaining.
Following a Furman missed shot attempt, the Warhawks went to their big gun down the stretch, in 6-10 center and NBA prospect Majok Deng, who was the Sun Belt's regular-season scoring champion and came into the contest with the Paladins averaging 18.6 PPG, however, his shot caromed off to the right and Furman's Acox registered the rebound with just 19 seconds remaining.
The ball would eventually find its way into the 2016 SoCon Player of the Year Stephen Croone's hands, and the senior from Covington, GA, would begin his drive to the bucket on Roberson with 6.9 seconds remaining, however, his double-reverse layup off the window was in-and-out and the ball was tipped back out to a wide open Fowler by Acox who released the ball in mid-flight, falling backwards to deliver the final dagger to the Warhawks, as the shot hit nothing but net as the buzzer sounded and fans rushed the floor in celebration of the one-point win.
"The win certainly wasn't a pretty one, but we'll take it. These guys just never quit," said head coach Niko Medved.
The opening half of play saw Furman struggle offensively, entering the halftime locker room trailing 29-23, and falling behind by as many as 13 points with 2:25 remaining in the opening frame (29-16). However, Furman closed the first half with a 7-0 run to close the half with some momentum.
Furman connected on just 8-of-21 shots (38.1%) in the opening half of play, with five of those eight makes coming from beyond the three-point arc, as the Paladins finished 5-of-14 (35.7%) from long-range in the opening half of play. Meanwhile, Monroe would shoot 50% (11-for-22) from the field, and 5-for-10 (50%) from three-point range in the opening half.
Furman stepped up its game defenisively in the second half, especially from the perimeter, as the Paladins would hold the Warhawks without a three-pointer (0-for-8) for the entire half, as well as holding the visitors to a modest 32.3% (10-for-31) overall shooting percentage in the second half. Furman improved its shooting percentage immensely in the second half, connecting on 44.1% (15-for-34) in the second half, but were just 1-for-8 (12.5%) from long-range in the second half of play.
After a 7-0 run to close the opening half of play, Furman would score eight of the first 10 points of the second half, knotting the score, at 31-31, with 14:42 remaining and completed what was a 15-2 run stretching back to the end of the opening half.
Furman's solid shooting performance in the second half, coupled with a 32-20 edge in points in the paint, enabled the Paladins to overcome 23 turnovers on the night. The Warhawks held a 26-19 edge in points off turnovers, and the Warhawks themselves committed 17 miscues in the contest. Thanks in large part to Acox's team-leading nine rebounds to go with his 11 points, the Paladins were able to own a 14-6 edge in second-change points.
Monroe's Roberson led all scorers in the contest with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field, and 2-of-5 from beyond the arc. Roberson, the Sun Belt's Defensive Player of the Year, showed why he was so highly thought of by the Sun Belt's coaches and media, as he held Southern Conference consensus Player of the Year to just eight points on just 3-for-13 shooting from the field, and 0-for-5 from three-point range. Roberson also had a game-high six steals and three boards, while going a perfect 5-for-5 from the line. Croone finished below double figures in scoring for the second-straight game, as East Tennessee State limited Croone to just nine points in Furman's 84-76 SoCon semifinal loss to the Bucs back on March 6.
The only other Warhawk in double figures was Deng, who was held six points below his average, as Fowler led the defensive charge, holding the senior to a modest 12 points in his final game for Monroe.
Sibley led Furman in scoring for a fourth-straight game, posting 15 points and five boards in the game, while Fowler and Acox posted 11 apiece to round out the Paladins in double digits. For the sophomore Fowler, who hails from Kennesaw, GA, it marked his fourth double-figure scoring performance of the game, with two of those coming in wins against Sun Belt foes, as he also had 10 points in a 79-70 road win at Appalachian State earlier this season.
For the game, Furman held a huge edge on the boards (40-28), and ended up with a slight edge in field goal percentage (41.8%-39.6%). The Warhawks entered the game as the top field goal percentage club in the Sun Belt (46%), while the Paladins were the SoCon's top scoring defense entering the contest, holding foes to just 66.5 PPG.
Stay tuned to Mid-Major Madness for a preview of all the SoCon action coming up in the postseason, including the battle of the Catamounts (Western Carolina vs. Vermont) in the CBI slated for tomorrow night, as well as Furman's next game in the CIT to be announced later in the week.