Matt Rafferty scored 17 points and grabbed 10 boards, leading Furman to a 63-53 win over visiting Presbyterian in the season opener for both clubs Friday night in front of 1,483 fans on hand at Timmons Arena.
Rafferty's double-double in the home opener for the Paladins was part of a night which saw the Paladins post an astounding 50-29 advantage on the backboards on a night when baskets did not come easy. Rafferty's double-double was also joined by that of junior forward and 2015 SoCon rebound champion Kris Acox, who posted 11 points and 10 boards round out the Paladins in double figures.
"This is going to be a good learning experience for us, but our guys found ways to get it done Presbyterian is a well-coached basketball team, and we knew they were gonna come in and give us a battle tonight. I thought at times in the second half, it was the freshmen that actually helped settle our guys down," said Furman head basketball coach Niko Medved.
Furman had to find other ways to win the basketball game on a night when the shots weren't falling, as Furman shot just 34.6% (18-for-52) from the field on the evening. One of those areas in which the Paladins had a decisive advantage on the glass, out-scoring the Blue Hose 24-5 at the charity stripe, posting 39 free throw attempts, while the Blue Hose found their way to the charity stripe on just 13 occasions.
The Paladins did not allow an offensive rebound until a little over six minutes remaining in the game, and owned a 22-7 advantage on the offensive glass, which equaled a 22-10 advantage in second-chance points. Perhaps the most impressive margin was that of the bench scoring, as Furman owned a 19-6 disparity in that particular category--a testament to the job Niko Medved and staff have done on the recruiting trail in now just their third season in Greenville.
Presbyterian was led by last year's Big South Freshman of the Year, De'Sean Murray, who led all scorers in the contest with 18 points, connecting on 7-of-11 shots from the field, while going 4-for-6 from the charity stripe.
"It didn't feel any different. We have worked as a team, and it was because of my teammates that I was able to have a strong debut. They put me in good positions to score more than anything I did," freshman forward Matt Rafferty said.
Rafferty finished the night connecting on 6-of-9 shots from the field and went 5-for-8 from the charity stripe in the season-opening win.
Acox, now a junior veteran acknowledged what it was like having the infusion of talent that has seen come through the program over the past couple of seasons.
"It really started last year when that freshman class came through. We started to become an exciting team to watch and those guys grew. Then, when those guys arrived here last year and we started getting on the court and playing with them, it was like we were already teammates. That's how well they fit in."
Acox finished the night connecting on 2-for-6 from the line and had one of the best games of his career at the charity stripe, connecting on 7-for-11 from the stripe, including making his final five charity shots of the night to close out an impressive opening night, showing little if any ill effect from a second foot fracture of his career, which he suffered in last season's Southern Conference title game.
The opening minutes of the game were tense, as the Blue Hose came to play, jumping out to their largest lead of the night just under midway through the opening half of play, when Murray's layup gave the Blue Hose a 15-10 with 11:09 remaining in the half.
From there, the Paladins put the clamps down on the defensive end, holding the Blue Hose for an eight-minute span, taking a 22-17 lead before the Blue Hose got a three from Jaron Withers with 3:10 remaining in the half to bring Presbyterian within two. Over the final 11:08 of the half, the Paladins were able to out-score the Blue Hose 17-9 to take a 27-24 lead to the halftime locker room.
The second half would see legendary head coach and former Furman assistant coach Gregg Nibert's club play scrappy, hanging tough throughout. The Blue Hose used defense to trim a Paladin lead, which grew as large as 11, at 49-38, with 9:25 left by holding the Paladins scoreless for a 5:30 stretch to cut the Furman lead to 49-43 on another Murray bucket with 5:12 remaining.
Rafferty would answer with a layup to push the Furman lead to eight, and then less than a minute than the dynamic sophomore Murray had brought his team within striking distance, he was forced to watch the remaining 4:20 of game action from sidelines after committing his fifth foul to close out a strong season opener.
Markus Terry would can a triple with 3:07 left to cut it to a seven-point deficit (56-49), however Acox was fouled and converted a layup on the other end, finishing off the old-fashioned three-point play with his fifth-straight made foul shot to push Furman's lead back to 10 with 2:20 remaining. The Blue Hose would get layups by Terry and John Majors II, but could get no closer than eight the rest of the way, and a pair of Andrew Brown foul shots closed out the Furman 10-point win.
Sophomore Daniel Fowler finished his first game of the season with a solid performance, posting eight points and nine boards, while John Davis III added eight points, fashioning a strong performance at the charity stripe, going 5-for-6.
The Blue Hose shot a solid 41.5% (22-for-53) from the field, but struggled from the perimeter, connecting on just 19.0% (4-for-21) from three-point land.
Furman returns to action on Tuesday night, tangling with an old Southern Conference rival when it travels to Boone, N.C., to tangle with Appalachian State. Tip-off for that contest is set for 7 p.m.and can be viewed on ESPN3.
The Blue Hose will take on another from the Upstate of South Carolina, when they host Atlantic Sun member USC Upstate at 7 p.m. on Monday night at the Templeton Center.