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Preview: How Furman stacks up with Tennessee

The Paladins haven’t beaten a ranked opponent since 1991.

Junior forward Matt Rafferty posted 12 of his 16 points in the second half against UNC Wilmington
Photo Courtesy of UNC Wilmington Athletics

Fresh off its fifth-straight win, Furman will head to No. 20 Tennessee for its final non-conference game of the season. The Paladins come to Knoxville fresh off a 90-84 win over UNC Wilmington, handing the Seahawks their first home loss to a non-conference foe since 2013.

Meanwhile, Tennessee was involved in a battle with No. 7 North Carolina Saturday afternoon in Knoxville, dropping a 78-73 decision to the Tar Heels at Thompson Boling-Arena.

Furman and Tennessee will meet on the college basketball hardwood for the first time since 1994-95 season, when the Volunteers picked up a 68-51 win over the Paladins. The Paladins entered the contest on a string of five-straight losses and had to deal with Steve Hamer and Etdrick Bohannon inside.

The Paladins are 0-10 all-time against the Volunteers, with their closest loss coming by 11 in the 1980 NCAA Tournament.

The Paladins will probably gain some confidence from the performances of league brethren UNC Greensboro and East Tennessee State from this past weekend. The Spartans were 81-76 victors at North Carolina State, while East Tennessee State, despite leading by as many 22 points in the second half, dropped a heartbreaking 68-66 game on the road at No. 10 Xavier.

Furman is led by Knoxville native Devin Sibley, who is coming off a season-high-matching 24-points against UNC Wilmington. He finished 9-11 from the field, including 4-5 from three-point range.

Sibley was a standout at Karns High School in Knoxville, where he averaged 25.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game during his senior campaign, leading Karns to a 23-7 record and a playoff appearance.

Now a senior at Furman, Sibley is both the reigning and preseason Southern Conference Player of the Year. Sibley comes back to his hometown off to a strong start in the 2017-18 campaign, having posted 20-point efforts in six out of 12 games this season and 10 double-figure scoring games. Sibley currently ranks third in the Southern Conference in scoring, averaging 15.7 PPG, and is shooting 45 percent from three.

Against UNC Wilmington, Andrew Brown (18 pts), Matt Rafferty (16 pts), and John Davis III (14 pts) joined Sibley in double figures. Rafferty added nine rebounds to lead the Paladins on the glass, while Davis added three assists and a steal.

Meanwhile, Tennessee has gotten off to an outstanding start this season. The Vols have recorded wins over No. 16 Purdue, NC State, and at Georgia Tech. Losses have come to a pair of teams ranked in the Top 10, included the most recent setback to North Carolina Sunday. The other loss came to No. 1 and unbeaten Villanova. The Vols also own a lopsided win over fellow SoCon favorite Mercer. Despite Tennessee’s tough schedule to start the season, the Vols are allowing just 67.9 PPG.

If Furman is going to have a chance for a major upset and a win over a ranked opponent for the first time since 1991, the Paladins will have to find a way to contain a talented group of low post players for the Vols, which includes 6’7 Grant Williams (16.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG) and 6’5 Admiral Schofield (11.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG).

The Vols’ top performer in the backcourt this season has been 6’5 guard Jordan Bowden (10.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG), who will likely be countered by Furman’s top defensive wing Daniel Fowler (12.0 PPG, 3.6 RPG).