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Game Preview: Furman hosts Liberty on Tuesday Night

Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Furman hits the hardwood again on Tuesday night, as the Paladins welcome Big South member Liberty to Timmons Arena for a Tuesday night non-conference clash, as the Paladins will go in search of a third-straight win.

Liberty comes into the non-league clash having posted a 3-6 record and an 0-2 mark in the Big South entering the matchup. The Flames were most recently in action on Saturday night, dropping a 68-61 contest to Charleston Southern.

Since getting an 86-50 win over Central Penn back on Nov. 21, the Flames have dropped five-straight games entering the Tuesday night clash with the Paladins. The five-game skid started with a 73-62 loss to Appalachian State back on Nov. 26. That was followed by losses to Western Michigan (L, 68-58), Tulane (L, 72-51), at Radford (L, 56-52) and Charleston Southern (L, 68-61).

The meeting between the Paladins and Flames will mark the fifth all-time meeting between the two programs, with Furman holding a 3-1 all-time series edge. The Paladins and Flames have met each of the previous two campaigns, with the two teams splitting those two meetings. The Paladins were able to get a 86-83 win a couple of years ago on the strength of a 40-point night from Stephen Croone. In last season's meeting between the two, the Flames were 66-52 winners over the Paladins in last season's meeting, as Furman went cold from the field in the second half.

The Paladins have started to play well of late, and have seemingly found their stride over the past couple of games. It has a lot to do with the improved play of Stephen Croone, who has seemingly found himself over the past few games, having missed the first two games of the season with a thumb injury.

A Look at the Flames:

Liberty comes into the matchup against Furman under the direction of a new head coach, as the Flames are under the direction of Ritchie McKay, who succeeded Dale Layer, who was fired following a 8-24 season for Liberty in 2014-15.

McKay came to Liberty from New Mexico in 2007, and was an assistant under Layer until 2009 until he moved to Virginia's staff as one of Tony Bennett's top assistants while with the Cavaliers. Now, McKay finds himself back in Lynchburg, where he inherits a team that posted a 8-24 record last season and was picked to finish 11th out of 11 teams in the Big South heading into the season.

This season, the young roster has seen some bumps along the way through the first nine games, as the Flames are still in search of their first win against a Division I foe so far this season, with wins coming against Covenant (W, 64-62), Summit (W, 90-52) and Central Penn (W, 86-50). The six losses have come against all Division I foes, including two Big South opponents.

The Flames have participated in one tournament so far on the season, traveling to Nashville, where they competed in the Music City Challenge, facing Appalachian State, Tulane and Western Michigan.

The Flames welcomed just one starter that finished with starts in over half the games last season, in 6-4 guard Ryan Kemrite (9.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG). The Flames have maintained pretty much the same starting five throughout the first nine games this season, and expected to team with the veteran Kemrite in the backcourt on Tuesday night at Timmons Arena will be A.C. Reid (8.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG), Lovell Cabbil (11.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG) and Anthony Fields 7.3 PPG, 1.2 RPG), as the Flames will start four guards and a center.

So far this season, the backcourt has gotten the most solid production out of Cabbil, who has been one of the more impressive freshman performers in the Big South through the early portion of the season. The 6-3 shooting guard ranks second on the team in scoring, averaging 11.3 PPG this season, and he is the top perimeter threat for the Flames so far this season, having connected on a team-high 19 triples this season, shooting 38.8% (19-of-49) from beyond the arc so far this season.

Cabbil enjoyed his best game of the season with a 19-point effort in what was a 90-52 win over Summit back in the second game of the season. Cabbil his found his way into double figures seven times in nine games this season for the Flames, with his top effort from three-point range coming in that 19-point perfomance in the win over Summit, as he went 5-for-7 from long range in that particular contest. Cabbil was held to just seven points the last time out, which was a seven-point loss to Charleston Southern. Cabbil is tied for the team-lead in assists so far this season, having dished out 22 helpers on the campaign.

Kemrite and Reid are looked to for leadership in the backcourt, as two of upperclassmen on what is an extremely young roster. Kemrite, the aforementioned 6-4 sophomore guard, is another proficient perimeter threat for the Flames, ranking second on the roster in three-pointers made this season, having knocked down 18 triples from beyond the arc, connecting on 37.5% (18-of-48) from three-point land this season.

Like his teammate Cabbil in the backcourt, Kemrite enjoyed his best game of the season in a win over Summit, posting a season-high 22 points, including connecting on 6-of-7 shots from beyond the arc in the win.

However, since starting the season with three-straight double-figure scoring games, Kemrite has only scored in double figures only once over the past six outings, posting 15 points in a 68-58 loss to Western Michigan. Kemrite hit nine of his 18 triples this season in the first three games of the season, and was held scoreless in the loss to Charleston Southern the last time out.

Reid comes into the contest as a heady sophomore guard, who has been solid through the first nine games this season for the Flames. Reid has ended up logging starts in eight of those contests. Reid has posted double figure scoring efforts in three contests this season for the Flames, highlighted by a 20-point effort the last time out in the loss to Charleston Southern. The 20 points was a career-high for Reid, as he ended the contest connecting on 6-of-15 from the field, including going 5-for-11 from three-point land in the loss.

Reid's 20 points against the Bucs eclipsed his previous career-high of 16 points, which came against Central Penn earlier this season. The sophomore guard also posted 12 points in a loss to William & Mary. Reid is a player that shows little resistence to a shot he likes, having connected on 16-of-59 shots from three-point land this season, which averages out to 27.1%.

The most experienced player in the lineup for the Flames is redshirt senior guard Anthony Fields, who hails from Detroit, Michigan. The 6-0 guard will run the point for Liberty, and is a transfer from Bradley. Last season got off to a strong start, however, Fields would injure his knee on Feb. 3 of last season, and was forced to have surgery and it brought a premature end to what had been a solid season. Fields originally started his career at Wake Forest in 2011-12 before transferring to Bradley.

Fields comes into Tuesday night's clash with the Paladins coming off a double-figure scoring effort against Charleston Southern the last time out, posting 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field. Fields also dished out a team-best four assists in the loss to the Bucs.

All told, Fields has found himself in double figures on three occasions this season, including the last time out against Charleston Southern. Earlier this season, Fields set a new career-high for scoring for the Flames, as he posted 15 points in a game against Appalachian State in an 11-point loss.

In the loss to the Mountaineers, Fields was able to connect on 5-of-12 shots from the field, including going 2-for-4 from three-point range. Fields is shooting just 50.9% (28-of-55) from the field, and is shooting 36.4% (4-of-11) from three-point land this season. Fields leads the team with 29 assists and only 17 turnovers this season. He also has contributed eight steals to the Liberty cause this season.

Rounding out the projected starting five for the Flames is 6-10 sophomore center Evan Maxwell (14.0 PPG, 7.9 RPG), who comes into the contest as the team's leading scorer and leads the Big South and ranks fourth nationally in field goal percentage, posting an outstanding 71.6% (53-of-74) conversion rate so far this season.

Maxwell has found his way into double figures in seven of nine games for the Flames this season, including starting the first four games of his sophomore season by notching double-figure scoring efforts.

Maxwell had a solid performance in the 66-52 win over Furman last season, posting four points in four minutes off the bench, with a pair of dunks that got the crowd at the Vines Center energized and behind the Flames, fueling them down the stretch in what was a big second half for the Big South members.

In the Big South opener just a couple of games back against Radford, Maxwell help establish a new career-high for himself, having posted 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field and 6-of-8 from the charity stripe. The native of Pennsylvania has also dished out eight assists in 2015-16 and has a pair of steals and blocks to go with his offensive numbers.

The two biggest contributors off the bench for the Flames are 5-10 freshman guard Hansel Atencia (1.9 PPG, 1.6 RPG) and 6-8 forward Ezra Talbert (7.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG). Both have been solid off the bench this season. Wing guard Caleb Holmsley (3.4 PPG, 2.7 RPG) is also a solid contributor on both ends of the floor, providing about 13 minutes per game off the bench per contest.

As a team through the first nine games of the season, Liberty is averaging 64.8 PPG through the first nine games of the season, while yielding just 63.4 PPG to opponents this season. Thanks in large part to Maxwell's efforts in the paint so far in 2015-16, the Flames are shooting 44.5% (70-of-208) from the field as a team this season, while having connected on 33.7% (93-of-137) from three-point land. Opponents are shooting 43.6% (57-of-169) from the field, while limiting foes to 33.7% (122-of-180) from three-point range.

A Look at the Paladins:

Furman will look to remain unbeaten at home (2-0) and win its third-straight overall when it entertains Liberty on Tuesday night.

The Paladins were 66-52 losers to the Flames last season, and although it appeared the Paladins might notch a road win if the first half were to be any indicator of future success that evening, as the Paladins used an 18-4 first half run to take 23-14 lead after trailing 10-5 early.

However, despite the strong half of play, which saw the Paladins make six triples, Furman found itself leading just 27-26 at the break, as the Flames closed the half on a 12-3 run. The Flames would continue that strong play into the second half, out-scoring Furman 40-25 in the second stanza to run away with the 14-point win.

The last time the Flames paid a visit to Timmons Arena, it would be the Stephen Croone (15.0 PPG, 3.0 APG) show, as the then sophomore guard notched a 40-point scoring effort--the first since Roy Simpson accomplished the feat in 1972. Croone also added 11 rebounds in the contest to complete the double-double for the Paladins.

Croone has consistently gotten better for the Paladins as the season has progressed, and has scored in double figures in four out of five games in which he has seen action in this season. Croone posted a season-high 22 points in a loss to Texas A&M Corpus-Christi earlier this season.

In the last game, which was a 99-38 win over Piedmont, Croone notched his third-straight double-figure scoring effort by scoring 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field and 2-for-3 from three-point range. Croone, who led the team from the perimeter last season, has shot just 25% (5-for-20) from beyond the arc this season. Despite missing those first two games against Presbyterian and Appalachian State, Croone leads the club with 15 assists and eight steals this season.

Teaming with Croone in the starting backcourt on Tuesday will be Devin Sibley (9.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG) and defensive specialist Daniel Fowler (6.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG).

Sibley was the SoCon's Freshman of the Year last season, and is once again flirting with double figures this season after averaging just over 10 PPG a year ago. Sibley has proven to be the Paladins' most consistent shooter from the perimeter so far on the campaign, as he has knocked down 41.7% (10-of-24) from three-point range so far this season.

Sibley enjoyed his best performance in the second game of the season, as he posted 18 points against Appalachian State in a 79-70 road win for the Paladins. In the nine-point win, Sibley connected on 5-of-9 shots from the field and was 4-for-5 from three-point range. Sibley has also fashioned double-figure scoring performances against Charlotte (10 pts) and Texas A&M Corpus-Christi (12 pts).

Fowler is noted as the best defender the Paladins have on their roster, and has also at times early this season, provided some clutch shots with the game hanging in the balance, with wins over Appalachian State and Mount St. Mary's coming to mind. The 6-4 athletic sophomore guard was named to the SoCon's All-Freshman team last season, and has scored in double figures twice this season, posting a pair of 10-points in wins over Appalachian State. Fowler is shooting 40.0% (8-of-20) from three-point range this season and ranks second on the team with 12 assists so far in 2015-16.

Set to start underneath the basket for the Paladins will be freshman sensation Matt Rafferty (12.0 PPG, 9.3 RPG) and junior Kris Acox (6.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG). Rafferty, a 6-9 freshman from Hinsdale, Ill, leads the SoCon with 9.3 rebounds-per-game, and he has helped power the Paladins to 13th in the nation and second in the SoCon in rebound margin (+12.1) so far this season.

Rafferty was the Mid-Major Madness Freshman of the Week a couple of weeks ago after getting his collegiate career off to such a strong start. The true freshman, who is just seven games deep in his career, has already registered three double-doubles and has scored in double figures in five of seven games to start his career, however, he did not score the last time out against Piedmont International. He has recorded double-figure rebounds in four out of his first seven games in his collegiate career. Rafferty is also shooting 55.1% (27-of-49) from the field this season. He will be key against the Flames, especially on the defensive end against Liberty's big man Evan Maxwell.

Acox, who led the SoCon in rebounding last season, rounds out the starting five for head coach Niko Medved heading into the Tuesday night clash, is coming off a strong performance the last time out against Piedmont, posting a season-high 15 points. With that performance, Acox has reached double figures three times this season, including a double-double in the season opener against Presbyterian, posting 10 points and 11 rebounds. So far this season, Acox sports a team-leading 57.1 field goal percentage (16-of-28).

The Paladins have gotten important support off the bench from veteran senior forward Kendrec Ferrara (6.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG) and sophomore Geoff Beans (4.9 PPG, 1.4 RPG) in the front court, while newcomer Andrew Brown (6.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG) has combined with John Davis III (4.3 PPG, 2.0 APG) and veteran senior guard Larry Wideman (3.0, 2.8 RPG) to give the Paladins quality minutes off the bench this season. Last season's loss in Lynchburg saw Beans have a coming out party for the Paladins, hitting the first three shots of his career from long-range, as he finished with nine points in the 14-point loss.

Entering the matchup, the Paladins are averaging 72.1 PPG as a team, while allowing 64.9 PPG on the campaign. As a team, the Paladins are shooting 42.5% (167-of-393) from the field and 33.5% (59-of-176), and have limited foes to 41.2% (45-of-145) shooting from the field, while holding foes to 31.0% () from three-point range.

Who Wins:

--This game will be exciting to watch, as the Flames seemingly get better with each outing under the direction of their first-year head coach. In many ways, Liberty this season is a mirror image of what Furman what was last season in terms of youth and developing talent. Expect Liberty to keep it close, but the depth for the Paladins will be the difference.


Stay tuned to Mid-Major Madness this evening for a complete recap of tonight's contest.