Furman will continue play in the Battle 4 Atlantis when it takes on Texas A&M Corpus Christi on Thanksgiving Day in Elon, N.C. The winner will take on either Elon or Mount St. Mary's tomorrow.
The Paladins' first opponent will be the Islanders, who are coming off a 2014-15 season which saw them win 20 games. Like Furman, Texas A&M CC has played a couple of games in the Battle 4 Atlantis, and have lost both, with setbacks to Texas (L, 67-56) and Texas A&M (95-70). The Islanders ended that two-game skid with a win at home on Monday night against St. Edwards (78-50).
Thursday's meeting between the Paladins and Islanders will obviously mark the first-ever between the two programs. The Paladins come in looking to rebound from an 83-58 setback to No. 19 UCONN this past Saturday, as the Paladins are in the third game of what is a four-game road swing following the season opening win over Presbyterian.
The Islanders are one of the favorites to take the Southland Conference Title this season, coming off that 20-win season of a year ago. The Islanders took part in the postseason as a part of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, and posted an impressive opening-round win in that tournament, as the Islanders traveled to Alico Arena on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast, and came up with an impressive 75-69 road win. The Islanders bowed out of the tournament, however, with a loss in the following round, dropping a 69-65 decision at Kent State.
Texas A&M CC is just in its 16th year of a Division I men's college basketball program. Four times in the past 16 years the Islanders have finished out a season with 20 wins. During that same time frame, Furman has just one 20-win campaign, which came back in the 2010-11 season. The lone NCAA Tournament appearance in school history came back in the 2006-07 season, which saw the Islanders post a program record 26 wins to finish the season as Southland Conference champions and qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first and only time. The Islanders would face No. 6 Wisconsin, dropping a 76-63 contest in Chicago.
That campaign was part of what was the greatest era of Islander basketball, which saw then head coach Ronnie Arrow produce three-consecutive 20-win seasons.
The program has had success each of the past two seasons, as last season's invite to the CIT marked the second in as many seasons for Texas A&M CC. The Islanders have been a tough out in the Southland over the past two seasons, with a combined 27-9 mark in that league over the past couple of seasons. The Islanders were one of the most improved teams in college basketball a couple of years ago, as the Islanders improved their win total by 12 games from the 2012-13 campaign to the 2013-14 season.
Texas A&M CC is now under the direction of its third head coach in program history, as Willis Wilson took over the program in the 2012-13 and started rebuilding the program. He took over for the former legendary coach Perry Clark, who is now an assistant on Frank Martin's staff at South Carolina.
A Look at The Paladins:
When Furman takes the floor on Thursday evening, it will be looking to shake off a pair of back-to-back road losses at Charlotte (L, 77-68) and UConn (L, 83-58). Shooting woes at critical junctures of both games ultimately spelled doom for the Paladins.
Against UCONN, it would be detrimental, as the Paladins opened the game struggling from the field, not able to score for the first six-and-a-half minutes before a three-pointer by Matt Rafferty broke the ice for the Paladins. The Paladins' shooting touch would also go cold early in the second half against Charlotte, which ultimately saw Charlotte overtake the Paladins and go on to get the win.
Stephen Croone (10.5 PPG, 1.0 RPG) will back in the lineup for the third time this season, but has looked a little rusty in his first time back in the lineup for the Paladins, but he managed to score 17 points in his return to the lineup last week, but had just four points the next time out against No. 19 UConn.
Croone's struggles from the field were a micrcosm of the struggles the Paladins experienced shooting-wise on the afternoon, as he connected on just 1-of-9 shots from the field and was 0-for-4 from three-point land in the loss. It's only a matter of time before Croone has that breakout game, and Thursday night might just present that perfect opportunity.
Croone will be joined in the backcourt by 2015 Southern Conference Freshman of the Year Devin Sibley (9.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG). Sibley, who scored 18 and 10 points in back-to-back games against Apppalachian State and Charlotte, was held to just seven points and an assist in the setback at UConn.
Sibley has played a lot of minutes through the first four games. In fact, his 119 minutes are the most among any Paladin entering Thursday night's game. The next closest Paladin in terms of minutes is freshman forward Matt Rafferty, who has logged 95 minutes this season. Sibley has picked up where he left off last season in terms of shooting from the perimeter, having connected on 50% (7-for-14) from three-point range so far this season to lead the team.
Rounding out the backcourt starters on Thursday night will be the always-reliable Daniel Fowler (5.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG). Fowler comes into the game as Furman's "glue guy" from what he does on the defensive end and what he can do on the offensive end, especially as far as the timely baskets he has provided in now his second season. He's kind of like Furman's own version of Bruce Bowen. The 6-4 guard has his most productive offensively against Appalachian State this season, as he posted 10 points, five boards and three assists in the road win over the Mountaineers. Fowler has started all 37 games for the Paladins in his career. Fowler only attempted two shots from the field, going 0-for-2. Furman is at its best when Fowler is aggressive and looks to score, whether it be off dribble penetration or looks to shoot from beyond the arc, as he did in the win at Appalachian State.
The Paladins will start Kris Acox (5.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG) and Kendrec Ferrara (4.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG) off the bench on Thursday night, as each have started all four games this season. The veteran leadership has benefitted the Paladins this season, in that each players game off-sets the other. Acox likes to mix it up in the paint, and was the SoCon's leading rebounder last season, averaging 7.5 RPG.
This season, Acox is just off that pace, averaging 6.8 RPG through the first four games of the season, with a double-double in the opener against Presbyterian, recording 10 points and 11 rebounds. Acox had 10 boards the last time out in the loss at UCONN.
The Paladins were a +35 in their first two games on the boards against their opposition, however, the last two times the Paladins have taken the floor, they are -3 on the boards. The Paladins finished even on the backboards against Charlotte (37-37), while getting out-rebounded by three against UCONN(41-38). If Acox can find a more consistent offensive game by the time the Paladins enter league play, the Paladins will tough to handle in the paint.
Ferrara provides the Paladins a perimeter threat, and as a result, pulls the opponents' bigs out to the three-point arc with what he can do as a shooter from long-range. This season, Ferrara has hit 3-for-9 from downtown, and posted his best game of the season in the win at Appalachian State, finishing with 12 points and eight boards. Ferrara also provides a solid presence on the defensive end of the floor, having led the Paladins in blocks last season (41 blocks).
So far this season, the Paladins have had their leading scorer coming off the bench, as freshman Matt Rafferty (15.3 PPG, 9.5 RPG) is four rebounds from having a double-double in every collegiate game he has played in for the Paladins. Rafferty's 9.5 RPG leads the Southern Conference, and his 15.3 PPG ranks sixth in the league in scoring through the first week-and-a-half of the season.
His 57.6 field goal percentage ranks fourth in the league. Rafferty has also proved to be able to step out and effectively shoot from the perimeter so far this season, having connected on 40% (4-for-10) from three-point range so far this season.
For his efforts last week, Rafferty was named the SoCon's Freshman of the Week by Mid-Major Madness and is coming off a 15-point, nine-rebound effort in the loss at UCONN this past weekend. Rafferty has recorded double-doubles against Presbyterian (17 points, 10 rebs) and Charlotte (10 points, 12 rebs). He and Acox have helped the Paladins lead the SoCon in offensive rebounds (15.0 RPG) through the first week-and-a-half.
The Paladins will also look to Geoff Beans (5.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG) for scoring off the bench. Beans was at his best the last time out, as he posted 14 points and 5-for-10 shooting from the field, including 4-of-9 from three-point range in the contest. Beans will team with Rafferty, Andrew Brown (5.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG), Larry Wideman (2.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG), Jonathan Jean (3.7 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 1.0 APG) and guard John Davis (5.3 PPG, 1.0 RPG) as the primary players to contribute as reserves for Niko Medved.
A Look at the Islanders:
The Texas A&M Corpus Christi Islanders is a program that has experienced its share of success in its short history of hoops, producing four 20-win seasons and a Southland Conference title in only 16 years of existence.
The Islanders are under their third head coach as a program, with Willis Wilson heading up the program, and the Islanders are coming off what was an impressive 20-win last season.Wilson spent 16 years at Rice, where he became the winningest coach in that school's history prior to making his trip to the Gulf Coast of Texas.
The biggest adjustment for the Islanders come into the season having to replace a legend, with guard John Jordan having graduated. All Jordan did was finish his career as the school's all-time leader in points, assists, and steals.
The Islanders are coming off a 78-50 win over St. Edwards on Monday night, and sport an identical 2-2 record to that of the Paladins. The Islanders will present a challenge underneath for the Paladins defensively, as the Islanders have two of the better scorers in the post the Paladins have seen this season.
One thing about the Islanders this season is they are one of the most experienced teams the Paladins will face this season, boasting nine players with at least five-career starts, including six with at least 25.
It all starts with preseason All-Southland selection Rashawn Thomas (14.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 12 BLKs), who is a 6-8 senior center who does everything for this team. Not only is Thomas a threat on the offensive end with what he can do as an offensive threat, he has also blocked 12 shots this season, making him one of the top shot-blockers in college basketball early on in the campaign.
He is shooting 52.1% (25-of-48) from the field so far this season, and has also hit 2-for-4 from three-point range, proving he can step outside and shoot the ball. Thomas recorded 40 blocks and 18 steals last season, and finished the season with 452 points. Thomas is coming off a 10-point, eight-rebound, three-block effort in the win over St. Edwards.
Teaming with Thomas in the paint on Thursday night will be Bryce Douvier (12.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG), who posted what was a career-high 28 points in a loss to Texas A&M earlier this season, and was solid in the loss to Texas, adding 14 points in that contest . The 6-7 senior is another reliable scorer in the post for the Islanders and can also step out and shoot from the perimeter, having connected on 5-of-15 shots from the perimeter so far this season.
Three talented players will form the backcourt for the Islanders, as Hameed Ali (7.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG), Brandon Pye (11.5 PPG, 1.3 RPG), and Jelani Currie (3.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG) comprise the backcourt for the Islanders, with Pye and Ali combining to score 33 points the last time out against St. Edwards, with Pye adding 17 points and 16 coming from Ali. The trio of Pye (61 starts), Ali (76 starts) and Currie (19 starts) have combined for 156-career starts.
Ali runs the point for the Islanders, and will be starting his 77th-career game, posting a season-high 16 points the last time out against St. Edwards. The 6-2 native of Haywood, CA, has 200 assists and 100 steals in his career, and is one of only six players in the history of the program to accomplish that particular feat. He has 78-career triples, which ranks him eighth in school history and an aspect of his game which the Paladins will need to be wary of coming into Thursday's contest.
Pye is the biggest threat from the perimeter for the Islanders, having connected on 115 triples in his career, which ranks sixth all-time in the history of the program. The last time out, Pye connected on three triples the last time out against, and he has accomplished that feat in three out of four games for the Islanders this season. Pye leads the team with nine triples this season. Pye scored 17 points in both the season opener against Our Lady of the Lakes and the last time out against St. Edwards.
Currie rounds out the starting five for the Islanders, and is currently fifth all-time in school history in three-point field goal percentage, hitting a blistering 40.6% from downtown over the span of his career. He does not shoot the ball from downtown with the propensity of a Ali or Pye, but comes into the season having connected on 26-of-64 from three-point land in his career.
The top players coming off the bench are guards Joe Kilgore (10.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG), Ehab Amin (5.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG) and Jake Korcher (5.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG). Kilgore had one of his best games the last time out against St. Edwards, posting 17 points off the bench.
Furman 66, Texas A&M Corpus Christi 61