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Game Preview: Appalachian State rekindles Southern Conference rivalry with Furman

The Mountaineers look to avenge an embarrassing early season loss to the Paladins from a year ago.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Coaches: Niko Medved (21-43, 3rd Yr); Jim Fox (13-17, 2nd Yr)
Last Time They Met: Furman 84, Furman 65 (Nov. 19, 2014)
Series: Furman leads 46-39
Players To Watch: G--Frank Eaves (Appalachian State)
Players To Watch: F-- Matt Rafferty (Furman)
Records: Furman (1-0, 0-0); Appalachian State (1-0, 0-0)

Furman will head to Boone for its second game of the 2015-16 basketball season to take on Appalachian State in a key non-conference tilt at the Holmes Convocation Center.

The Paladins and Mountaineers, of course, are old Southern Conference rivals, and Tuesday night's meeting at the Holmes Convocation Center, which will mark the 86th meeting between the two former conference rivals, with Furman holding a 46-39 edge in the all-time series, while Appalachian is 20-15 vs. Furman in Boone.

Furman has won each of the past two meetings between the two, including an 84-65 victory last season in Greenville. Appalachian State head coach Jim Fox, a former Davidson assistant under Bob McKillop knows the Paladins well.

Fox led Appalachian State to a 12-17 finish last season, including a 9-11 mark in the Mountaineers' first season as a Sun Belt member, which was good enough for to tie for sixth in the league's final standings. The Mountaineers were 7-5 on their home floor last season, including a 74-69 win over eventual regular-season and conference tournament champion Georgia State last season.

Appalachian State opened up the season with a 76-68 win over Jacksonville out of the Atlantic Sun Conference on Saturday afternoon, while the Paladins were 63-53 winners over Presbyterian.

A Look At The Paladins:

Furman was impressive at times in its opening win over Presbyterian, getting a battle from the Big South foe, but pulled away for a 10-point win despite shooting just 34.6% (18-for-52) from the field on the night.

The Paladins, which welcomed in one of the top recruiting classes in the Southern Conference coming off a remarkable run to the title game in the Southern Conference Tournament, got their best performance in the season opener from one of those freshmen, as Hinsdale, Illinois product Matt Rafferty posted a double-double, with 17 points and 10 boards to help power the Paladins to a 50-29 edge on the glass and a 22-7 advantage in second chance points.

Furman was so good on the backboards in its opener, in fact, that it did not allow an offensive rebound by the Blue Hose until six minutes remaining in the game. Rafferty wasn't the only Paladins to excel on the backboards in the season opener, as junior forward Kris Acox posted 11 points and 10 boards for his seventh-career double-double in helping lead the Paladins to the win.No other Paladins were able to find their way into double figures in the contest, with Daniel Fowler adding eight points and nine boards, while John Davis III posted eight points, with five of those points coming from the charity stripe.

Kendrec Ferrara, who started the opener for the Paladins, posted three points, four boards and had one of the team's two blocks. Larry Wideman saw 13 minutes off the Furman bench, posting three points and a steal, while Geoff Beans also had three points in 14 minutes of action.

Devin Sibley, who was the 2015 Southern Conference Freshman of the Year Devin Sibley posted four points, two assists, three boards and a steal in 26 minutes of court action. The Paladins played 10 players, with all 10 seeing at least double-digit minutes of court action in the opener.

The opener for Furman also saw the debuts for players like Jonathan Jean, Andrew Brown and the aforementioned Rafferty. Jean and Brown were impressive, though it probably doesn't show up directly in the stats.
Jean dished out a pair of well-timed assists at a critical juncture in the second half, which led to Rafferty layups. It helped settle the Paladins down in the middle portions of the second half, and it was part of a debut that would see the Tampa, FL native lead the Paladins with three assists.

Brown, a native of nearby Travelers Rest, S.C., posted four points, four boards, and a steal in the his collegiate debut, with two of those points coming on the heels of a beautiful behind-the-back move around a defender and then a composed short jumper in the lane.

It's clear this Furman team is more versatile than the one the Paladins put on the court in Greenville last season, which defeated the Mountaineers by 18 points, playing maybe the best game of the regular-season until its run in the Southern Conference Tournament.

The question for this team for the early portion of the schedule is finding ways to compensate for not having preseason All-SoCon guard Stephen Croone, who is the SoCon's leading returning scorer, averaging 17.3 PPG last season. Ironically, it was Croone that made his return against the Apps last season after having missed the season opener with a concussion in a loss to College of Charleston by 35. There was a big difference when he was on the floor, and though he scored just 12 points, he dictated the offense and helped give the Paladins confidence.

Croone, a senior, suffered a thumb injury in mid-October and is expected to miss 4-8 weeks. It is now exactly four weeks, and could make his return at any point, including tonight, although it is more likely to be against UConn this coming Satutrday. Whenever that return is, you can bet that this will be a Furman basketball team that ups its level of play to be an upper echelon Southern Conference program.

A Look At The Mountaineers:

Appalachian State aquitted itself well in its first season in the Sun Belt under head coach Jim Fox, and a resurrecting Mountaineer basketball to its former glory in the Southern Conference under the likes of Bobby Cremins, Buzz Peterson and Houston Fancher are one of the reasons Fox saw the Appalachian job become available.

A highly thought of two classes brought in by Fox has many with cautious optimism about Mountaineer basketball for the first time in some time. The Mountaineers, who were picked sixth in the 11-team Sun Belt, got the most out of its talent last season, finishing the campaign with a 12-17 mark and a 9-11 mark in league play to finish sixth in the league.

Unable to compete in the postseason due to not meeting the four-year APR requirements, which were left over from the Jason Capel era, the Apps were not able to compete in the postseason, which was the only definitive negative that could be gleaned from an otherwise, positive and successful first season at the helm for Fox.

The Mountaineers looked impressive in spots in the season-opening win over Jacksonville this past Saturday, marking the fourth-straight homecourt win for the Black and Gold, dating back to last season. The Apps have a good nucleus back, including veteran guards Chris Burgess and Frank Eaves.

Burgess was in good form in the opener, leading the Mountaineers in the win over the Dolphins by posting 18 points in the win to lead the Mountaineer scoring efforts. The now junior point guard has matured into a veteran talent in the backcourt for the Apps, and last season, settled in to his role on the team and finished with a strong campaign, as he showed his poise and ability to hit timely shots last season

Burgess, a 5-8 senior guard from Lakeland, FL, led the club with 2.9 APG, and will once again run the point guard position for the Apps this coming season. Burgess was excellent in his role as a scorer last season, and took much better care of the basketball than in his first season.

In the win over the Dolphins in the home opener, Burgess tallied his 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the field, including going 3-for-6 from long range, while dishing out four helpers.

He teams in the backcourt with veteran Frank Eaves and newcomer Ronshad Shabazz. Eaves was a second-team All-Sun Belt selection last season, and was the Mountaineers' go-to-scorer. Eaves struggled in the season opener, going 0-for-7 from the field, including 0-for-4 from three-point land on what was a rare off night for the junior guard. All five of his points came from the charity stripe for Eaves, who went 5-for-7 from the charity stripe in the opener.

Eaves was at the forefront of the offense last season, and if he wasn't creating his own shot through dribble penetration, he was either a threat from the perimeter or getting to the charity stripe. Eaves took on the leadership role early on in the campaign, leading the Mountaineers to an early season win over ACC member Virginia Tech, with a last-second shot to help the Mountaineers emerge with their first win over an ACC foe since the 2006-07 season.

Offensively, Eaves scored in double figures 22 times, including 11 in which he posted 20 or more points in a game. He posted a career-high 29 points in an impressive Sun Belt road league win at Troy in January, and led the Mountaineers with 28 in a late-season 23-point win over 20-game winner and eventual CBI champion Louisiana-Monroe. He finished the season ranking fifth in the Sun Belt in scoring, while leading the league with an impressive 81.3 FT percentage.

Eaves, a product of the Gate City--Greensboro, N.C.--more often than not was a consistent, reliable scorer for the Mountaineers in 2014-15, but it wasn't only his offensive game that shine, but also his defensive effort. He posted a career-high 38 steals, which also ranked him second on the club in that category, and accounted for a career-high. He finished the season averaging 16.6 PPG and 3.9 RPG last season.

Eaves is a contributor in more than just the scoring column, however, and the biggest reason why he is one of the top players in the Sun Belt Conference, as he contributed eight boards and five assists to the Appalachian cause in the season-opening win.

Shabazz was one of those impressive incoming talents, drawing his first start for the Apps in Saturday's triumph over the Dolphins. Shabazz is an impressive 6-5 combo guard that can score in a variety of different ways, finishing the opener with nine points, but went just 3-for-14 from the field, including 1-for-4 from three. He also dished out a pair of assists and registered four boards.

Shabazz comes from Raleigh, N.C., by way of Huntington Prep School in Huntington, WVa. Huntington is of course ranked among the nation's best programs, and while Shabazz played high school basketball in the state of North Carolina, averaged 25 PPG, four rebounds and a pair of steals per outing.

The player that might be the most impressive player in the 10 newcomers brought in by Fox is Columbia, S.C. native Emarius Logan. Logan is a long-range specialist, and finished a perfect 3-for-3 from long-range to highlight his 13 points in the win over Jacksonville. All told, Logan went 5-for-8 from the field in the season opener. The 6-2 guard also had two assists, three boards and four turnovers.

Logan was an all-state performer as a senior at White Knoll High School, averaging 20.2 PPG, 3.2 APG, 2.2 steals-per-game, and 2.6 RPG as a sophomore. The lightning-quick guard garnered 4A Player of the Year honors as a junior, and was a three-time all-state performer as a prep. He is White Knoll High School's all-time scoring leader, with 1,288 career points.

Landon Goesling and Dustin Clarke add depth in quality minutes off the bench for the Apps. Newcomer Matt O'Boyle also provided some strong minutes off the bench for the Apps in the opener. O'Boyle came to Appalachian from Pima Community College in Sunrise, AZ, where he was second-team all-conference performer, averaging 15 PPG.

Three-point specialist Jake Babic saw 16 minutes in Saturday's win. Babic comes off a campaign which saw him post 6.1 PPG and 2.5 RPG. He posted three points and three assists in the opener.

The front court is comprised by veteran Michael Obacha and Griffin Kinney, who were effective in the season opener for the Apps. For Obacha, it was a strong offensive performance, as the native of Nigeria posted 11 points and pulled down nine boards, as he just missed a double-double in the season opener.

Obacha battled injuries last season, and he missed the game with the Paladins. His senior leadership and size, at 6-9 , 218 lbs, will be key to Appalachian's Sun Belt hopes this season. He will key the inside game for the Mountaineers. Obacha comes off a 2014-15 season which saw him average 3.0 PPG and 3.5 RPG, starting 23 of the 25 games he saw action in last season.

Obacha is a veteran leader and in the opening season win over Jacksonville, he will be the key cog underneath along with Griffin Kinney on Tuesday night. Obacha finished the night connecting on 2-of-3 shots from the field, and was an impressive 7-for-11 from the charity stripe.

Kinney is one of the most improved performers on the roster, and he turned in a solid effort in the opening game of the season against Jacksonville, as he posted nine points and five boards in the opener against the Dolphins.

Last season, Kinney was a player still getting adjusted to the college game. The 6-8 Kinney saw action in 28 games last season, but his start in the season opener against the Dolphins was the first of his career. Kinney is an inside-outside kind of threat, and he will forced defenses in the Sun Belt to extend out to defend him.

Not only has Kinney developed as an outside threat, but his post moves are also much improved. He finished the opener against Jacksonville by connecting on 4-of-5 shots from the field, and was 1-for-2 from the line to equal his nine points.

Athlecism would be the best word to describe the depth the Mountaineers have coming off the bench for the 2015-16 season, and in Tyrell Johnson and Jacob Lawson, the Apps have both a rim protector and a threat on the offensive boards. Expect Johnson to provide some highlight-reel type plays for the Mountaineers during his career, much like Lawson was able to do last season for the Apps. Johnson finished the opener with three points and five boards.

Lawson, a transfer from Purdue, was solid in the opener and could be one of the Sun Belt's top shot blockers this season, and should remind Mountaineer fans of one of its greatest shot-blockers in school history, in Ricky Nedd. Lawson certainly affected shots in the season-opening win over Jacksonville, swatting away five shots to go along with four points, five boards and a steal in 18 minutes of work off the bench. Lawson comes off a 2014-15 season, which saw him average 4.7 PPG and 2.7 RPG last season.

The Mountaineers, much like the Paladins did in their opener against Presbyterian, controlled the backboards, out-rebounding the Dolphins, 54-34, in the contest, which led to an advantage of 25-13 in second chance points, and like Furman, struggled shooting the basketball, connecting on just 36.9% (24-of-65) from the field in the opener. The Mountaineers registered 20 offensive rebounds in the season opener. Appalachian finished the contest connecting on 8-of-23 shots from long-range.

Matchups To Watch:

Judging from the season openers for both Appalachian State and Furman, the matchup that should be most worth the price of admission on Tuesday night will be underneath the basket, with Matt Rafferty and Kris Acox figuring to have a little tougher time on Tuesday night than they did in the season opener against PC.

Kendrec Ferrara and Geoff Beans looked to make more of a concerted effort in the paint in the opener, but the key will be Rafferty and Acox. The Mountaineers will be stretched a bit with Beans and Ferrara possessing the ability to connect from long range.

On the other end, Obacha, Lawson and Kinney accounted for 19 combined rebounds in the opener, and with Obacha's improved scoring touch underneath the basket, coupled with the addition of the athletic Shabazz and Johnson, the Paladins will face off with one of the few teams that will be able to match their physicality underneath this season, and it will be important for Furman to get to the line. Both teams were able to create scoring opportunities in their openers in large part due to how their respective frontcourts affected the game. Furman went to the line 39 times, scoring 24 points, while the Mountaineers went to the stripe 34 times and posted 20 points.

Did You Know:

One of the most meaningful clashes in the 85 previous meetings between the Paladins and Mountaineers came in the Southern Conference Tournament back in 2000, which was played in Greenville at the BI-LO Center.
At that time, the Paladins were coached by Larry Davis, while the Mountaineers were led by Buzz Peterson, who was in his fourth season at the helm and the Mountaineers, which had even knocked off ACC member Clemson earlier in the season, came in as the Southern Conference favorites. The Mountaineers and Paladins met in what was an epic Semifinal in front of a boisterous crowd of nearly 5,000 fans in Greenville.

The Paladins led nearly the entire way, however, the diminuitive Tyson Patterson would take over the game inside the final two minutes, which included an acrobatic reverse lay-up to bring the Mountaineer fans to their feet and Patterson was also hacked on the arm in the process. He went to the line and converted the old-fashioned three-point play, as the Mountaineers would escape the semifinal contest with a 60-56 win.

Appalachian, which had lost in the SoCon title game the previous two seasons to both College of Charleston and Davidson, would not be denied in Peterson's fourth season, as the Mountaineers downed the College of Charleston in the title game, defeating the Cougars 68-56 to reach the Big Dance for only the second time in program history.

The only other time the Mountaineers reached the SoCon Tournament came under the direction of retired Hall-of-Fame coach Bobby Cremins in 1979, as the Apps defeated Furman, 86-83, in Boone.

Who Wins:

Honestly, this game is hard to pick, but should Stephen Croone be sidelined once again, I think the Mountaineers edge the Paladins in Boone.

Appalachian State 70, Furman 67