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Furman vs. Samford preview: How to watch, who to watch, and more as a pair of 2-0 SoCon teams meet up

Two undefeated SoCon teams face off at the Pete Hanna Center in a key early-season SoCon clash.

NCAA Basketball: Samford at Florida State
Sophomore Center Wyatt Walker
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Furman (9-6, 2-0 SoCon) at Samford (11-4, 2-0 SoCon)
WHEN: Thursday, 8 p.m. EST
WHERE: Pete Hanna Center, Birmingham, AL
WHERE TO WATCH: ESPN3
ALL-TIME SERIES: 21st meeting/Furman owns a 13-7 all-time series edge

PREVIEW:

Furman takes to the road in Southern Conference play for the first time this season, and it will not be easy. The Paladins will take on Samford (Jan. 5), Chattanooga (Jan. 7) and Wofford (Jan. 14) in what is arguably one of the toughest road trips this season.

The Paladins are off to a 2-0 start in the SoCon for the first time since the 2010-11 season. They face a Samford team that they have beaten three out of their past four tries, including winning both meetings last season.

Head coach Scott Padgett has helped revitalize the Samford basketball program, and the Bulldogs sport the second-best record in the SoCon. Their 11 wins match two other clubs for the most in the league heading into Thursday night. The Bulldogs have opened SoCon play with a pair of impressive SoCon wins, defeating UNCG (73-62) and Western Carolina (70-65), both on the road.

The Bulldogs have been tough to beat at the Pete Hanna Center this season, sporting a 5-1 record and four straight wins overall.

WHO TO WATCH (Furman):

Furman has gotten production from a plethora of players in big moments, however, one of the constants has been junior guard Devin Sibley (16.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg).

Sibley enters the contest with five 20-point games so far this season, including 23 points the last time out against Mercer. He has scored in double figures in 13 out of 14 games in 2016-17.

His 16.3 points per game ranks him fifth among the SoCon’s leaders in overall scoring. Sibley is also shooting well from three-point land, connecting on 44.6 percent (29-for-65), good for second on the team in percentage and first in total makes.

Junior guard Daniel Fowler (11.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg) has been a key fixture in the starting five as well. Not only has Fowler been getting it done on the offensive end, ranking second on the team in scoring average, but its been his work as a distributor that has made him such valuable asset. On the other end, his defense has also been clutch.

Fowler comes into Thursday night’s contest averaging 4.3 assists-per-game, which ranks the Kennesaw, GA native sixth overall in the SoCon in assists this season.

Kris Acox (11.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg) rounds out the Paladins averaging in double figures. Though Acox struggled the last time out against Mercer, scoring just four points, he scored a career-high 21 and secured his third double-double of the season in the win over The Citadel in the SoCon opener.

Acox leads the Paladins on the boards, pulling down 6.6 rebounds-per-game and that also ranks him fifth overall in the Southern Conference. Acox is shooting 55.6 percent from the field this season, which ranks him ninth in the SoCon in field goal percentage.

The Paladins have shown to be a deep basketball team with different players stepping up in different situations each time out. The last time out, the Paladins had a couple of rising stars step up and play some big minutes, enabling the Paladins to overcome the Bears. Freshman forward Jalen Williams (3.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg) and sophomore guard Jonathan Jean (2.1 ppg, 16 assists, 5 turnovers) came up big for the Paladins, playing some clutch minutes. Williams added seven points and seven boards in 13 minutes of action.

WHO TO WATCH (Samford):

Samford might just be the darkhorse in this year’s Southern Conference race, as Padgett has the Bulldogs hitting on all cylinders to this point in the season with an 11-4 record.

The Bulldogs have one of the best backcourts in the Southern Conference, with UMass transfer Demetrius Denzel-Dyson (13.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Christen Cunningham (10.9 PPG, 94 assists) being the catalysts of the Bulldogs’ fast-paced attack.

Denzel-Dyson’s 13.9 points per game leads the team, while Cunningham is one of the best set-up point guards in the SoCon, ranking first in the league and ninth nationally in assists-per-game, with 6.3.

When the Bulldogs look inside, it will be to Jacksonville native Wyatt Walker (12.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg). The 6’9 sophomore center was a SoCon All-Freshman pick last season, and already has nine double-doubles this season. His 10.6 rebounds per gam leads the SoCon and ranks 15th in all of Division I.

Junior forward and Auburn transfer Alex Thompson (11.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg) rounds out the double-figure scorers in the starting five.