GREENVILLE, S.C.--For the first time since Dec. 12, 2015, Furman tasted defeat at Timmons Arena, as Louisiana Lafayette posted an 80-72 win in CollegeInsider.com (CIT) second-round action Saturday afternoon at Timmons Arena.
With the win, the Ragin' Cajuns improved to 19-14 overall and moves on to the CIT quarterfinals for a second straight season against an opponent to be announced, while Furman's season comes to an end, with the Paladins posting a 19-16 record overall and an impressive third-place finish in the Southern Conference standings, posting a 12-8 mark.
The 80 points recorded by the Ragin' Cajuns were the most scored by an opponent against the Paladins on their home floor this season.
The third-place finish helped the Paladins exceed preseason expectations, which had the Paladins projected to finish fifth in the SoCon by the media and coaches. The loss by the Paladins snapped what was an 11-game winning streak on the home floor by the Paladins, as Furman ended the campaign with a 14-2 mark at home. The 14 wins are the most victories on the home hardwood in school history, the the opening round, 58-57, buzzer-beating win over Louisiana Monroe.
The Ragin' Cajuns, who came in leading the Sun Belt Conference in points-per-game as a team, at 80 PPG, hit their average Saturday as a result of their balanced scoring, with four players finishing in double figures, led by Kasey Shepherd's 18 points. With that performance, Shepherd became the 43rd player in school history to go over 1,000 points in his career.
Joining Shepherd in double figures were both Devonta Walker and Jay Wright, who scored 17 points apiece in the loss, while Sun Belt Player of the Year Shawn Long, who finished with 10 points and five boards, found himself on the bench most of the day, saddled with foul trouble from the outset, eventually ending up being disqualified on fouls from the contest, committing his fifth foul with 1:45 remaining. He came into the game, averaging 19.4 PPG and 12.4 RPG coming into the contest.
Shepherd was most lethal from beyond the arc, hitting three of the team's six treys and was 3-for-7 from downtown, as part of a 6-for-16 perfomance from the field. Walker added a double-fouble, adding a game-high 12 rebounds to go with his 17 points.
Walker's 17 points matched what had been a season-high established way back in November, when he posted 17 in the opener against Louisiana College. He was a Third-Team Preseason All-Sun Belt selection, and had his scoring average coming into the contest as a result of a big first half, scoring nine points to go with seven boards in the opening half. It marked Walker's third double-double of the season.
In his final game as a Paladin, fittingly, 2016 SoCon Player of the Year Stephen Croone posted a game-high 29 points, going 8-for-18 from the field and 5-of-11 from three-point land, and was 8-of-12 from the charity stripe. Croone also added five rebounds and four assists in the loss. The 29-point performance saw Croone have two of his best performances of the season in front of the home folks, as he also posted a season-high 31 points in his Senior Day performance against Mercer. His 1,936 points rank fifth all-time in program history in scoring.
Also adding double figure games for the Paladins were Devin Sibley, posting his eighth-straight double-figure game to end the season, chipping in with 15 points, while Daniel Fowler, who was Tuesday night's hero with the buzzer-beater that made Sportscenter, chipped in 10 points, two assists, two steals and a block. It was the Kennesaw, GA native's fifth double-figure scoring game of the season, including his second-straight in double figures. All told, Furman's three starting guards combined for 54 of the team's 72 points.
In the opening half of play, the Ragin' Cajuns took control of the game from the outset, and took the game to the Paladins, and getting out to an 18-point (27-9) lead following a Jonathan Stove made layup with 9:27 remaining in the half. The Paladins would battle hard over the final half of the opening frame, using six-straight from Sibley to close the half cutting the Lafayette lead to 13, at 41-28, at the break.
Furman was better in the second half, as the Paladins ended up out-scoring the Ragin' Cajuns 44-39 and shot the ball much better in the second half, connecting on a much better percentage from the field, making good on 47.1% (16-of-36) from the field, which improved the Paladins to 43.1% (25-for-58) for the game after shooting just 37.1% in the opening half of play. The Paladins would get as close as eight points, at 77-69, on one of Croone's five triples. However, Walker connected on 3-of-4 foul shots down the stretch before Sibley connected on a long triple to set the final margin, at eight, 80-72.
In the opening half of play alone, the Ragin' Cajuns shot 47.1% from the field, while holding Furman to just 37.5%. The Ragin' Cajuns were 5-of-6 from charity stripe in the opening half of play, as part of a 20-for-28 (71.4%) performance for the game. The Paladins struggled all afternoon from the line, going 6-of-16 from the stripe in the opening half, and went just 50% (12-of-24).
Like Croone, it was also the final act for two other Paladins, who put together stellar careers, in guard Larry Wideman and center Kendrec Ferrara. The ultra-athletic and defensive stalwart Wideman finished his final game for the Paladins with four points, while Wideman, who finished his career as one of the program's best shot-blockers (123-career blocks/3rd in Furman history) finished out his career with two points in his final game in the Purple and White.
The Ragin' Cajuns finished the game with advantages in points in the paint (38-30), points-off-turnovers (11-8), second-chance points (14-11) and bench points (11-9). Both teams tallied 37 rebounds in the contest. The Ragin' Cajuns held a slight edge in shooting percentage (47.4%-43.1%), while the Paladins hit four more three pointers, going 10-for-30 from three-point land, however, Louisiana owned the better percentage from long-range, connecting 42.9% (6-for-14) from long range in the game.