Stephen Croone posted a game-high 22 points, while junior forward Kris Acox chipped in 15 points, four steals and six boards, as Furman captured a decisive, 85-57, win over VMI in its Southern Conference opener Saturday afternoon at Timmons Arena.
The win marked Furman's largest margin of victory in a SoCon game under third-year head coach Niko Medved, and was the largest win in Southern Conference play since Jan. 5, 2012, as the Paladins defeated The Citadel, 77-45, at Timmons Arena.
The Paladins shot the ball a blistering 51.7% from the field in the opening half of play, as the Paladins took control of the contest midway through the opening half of play, with a 13-0 run to increase a narrow three-point lead (12-9) into a decisive 16-point (25-9) by the close of the run. VMI was never able to recover from the early knockout punch thrown by the Paladins.
Furman was able to finish the half with a 15-point advantage (42-27) and the Paladins helped their own cause by shooting ball well from beyond the arc in the opening frame, as well as from the charity stripe. The Paladins knocked down 5-of-11 from long range in the opening half of play after connecting on just 4-of-18 from three-point range in the opening half against UNC Asheville in their final non-conference game.
Acox was sensational in the opening half of play, posting 11 of his 15 points in the opening frame. He started the second half in strong fashion, as he posted a pair of free throws to help spark the Furman offense once again. Those two points helped lead the Paladins to a 15-1 run out of the locker room, capped by a Devin Sibley made foul shot at the 15:40 mark.
The Paladin lead would grow to as much as 30 points after Croone's four-consecutive points, with a pair of free throws and a dunk off a steal, extending the Paladin lead to 67-37 with 11:46 remaining. Furman's largest lead of 31 points would come with a little less than two minutes remaining, following a Daniel Fowler layup made it 83-52 with 1:50 remaining.
The story of the night was the Paladin defense, which held the Keydets to just 38.8% 19-of-49) shooting from the field for the night, and a meager 15% (3-for-20) from three-point land in the contest, including 0-for-7 in the second half. Furman used a collective defensive effort to hold SoCon leading scorer QJ Peterson under wraps the entire game. Peterson, who came into the came averaging 20.2 PPG to lead the league, was held to just nine points on 3-for-10 shooting from the field. Peterson, who came in with a league-leading 31 triples, was held to 0-for-3 shooting from three-point land in the contest.
Croone finished the contest connecting on 6-of-11 shots from the field, including going 1-for-2 from three-point land and was a perfect 9-of-9 from the charity stripe. Acox finished the the night connecting on 6-of-7 shots from the field en route to posting his third double-figure scoring performance from the field in two seasons. He also went 3-for-5 from the line.
VMI was led by Julian Eleby, who finished with a team-high 18 points, while Adrian Rich added 10 points off the bench for the Keydets.
Furman returns to SoCon action on Tuesday night, traveling to UNC Greensboro for a 7 p.m. tip. VMI returns to the floor on Tuesday night, hosting Wofford at Cameron Hall, with tip-off 7 p.m.