By: Sammy Clough, Sports Editor
The Furman Paladins men’s basketball team won a school record 22 games last year, had three all Southern Conference players and created an exciting brand of basketball under new head coach Bob Richey.
Now in his second full season, Richey and the Paladins look to keep last year’s energy as the regular season finally gets underway.
This year’s men’s team is full of familiar veteran players as well as new faces and expanded roles.
One of the Paladin’s rocks this year will be senior Matt Rafferty. Rafferty averaged 11.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists last year on his way to being named to the third team All SoCon. The center from Hinsdale, Ill. was recently named to this year’s Preseason All SoCon team and his veteran leadership with be vital to the Paladin’s success. At 6 feet 8 inches, Rafferty is crafty in the post and shows flashes of outside shooting while maintaining impressive court vision.
Rafferty is joined by fellow senior Andrew Brown, a hometown guard from Travelers Rest, S.C. Brown has built up a reputation as the Paladin’s sharp-shooter, going 47.4 percent from range while averaging 8.6 points per game last season.
Rafferty and Brown combined to start 64 games for last year’s team, and boast the most experience in the purple and white.
Many know him from his flashy warmups or his dunk contest performance at ‘Dins After Dark, but Clay Mounce enters the season looking to make a big difference for the Paladins.
After only averaging 12.8 minutes per game last year, Coach Richey expects the redshirt sophomore Mounce to see much more action this year.
“He made big improvements over the summer,” said Richey. “Clay’s role will change this year and he’ll definitely play a lot more minutes.”
Richey also expects expanded roles for returning guard Jordan Lyons and Alex Hunter.
Lyons, a junior with a reputation as a deep ball threat, started the final 8 games of the season last year, a trend that will carry into this year.
After a breakout season as the backup point guard, sophomore Alex Hunter is “locked in as the starting point guard” for this year’s Paladins according to Coach Richey.
Furman’s schedule is headlined by two of last year’s Final Four teams as well as an SEC matchup. The Paladins travel to Rafferty’s hometown of Chicago Nov. 9 to play Loyola Chicago. The Ramblers were last year’s Cinderella team, and play a very similar style to Furman.
Following their trip to Chicago, the Paladins travel to play the defending National Champion Villanova Wildcats Nov. 17 in a nationally televised game.
Finally, Furman will visit LSU in their last game before conference action to face Richey’s hometown Tigers.
The Paladins have an exciting team that needs the support of the Furman fans to continue their home court dominance. The regular season home opener is on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 5:00 p.m. against Gardner-Webb. Improvements to Timmons Arena including new video boards will create an exciting environment for fans to watch an exciting team in the 2018-2019 Furman men’s basketball team.
Coach Jackie Carson challenges the Furman women’s basketball team to “Be distinct” in everything they do on and off the court. In her ninth year as head coach, Carson has a new challenge ahead as a new stock of young talent replaces a veteran squad lost to graduation.
While this year’s Furman team will see expanded roles for many younger players, the Paladins will continue to rely on the always dependable senior Katie Duncan.
Duncan, a forward from Commerce, Ga., might not put up the flashiest numbers every night, but is truly the glue for this Furman squad. Duncan is a brilliant defender who picks her spots well, can block shots and provides steady rebounding night in and night out.
While Duncan is the only senior, Coach Carson chooses to not name any team captains.
“We don’t do captains because we expect everyone to be a leader,” says Carson.
With three major contributors last season graduating, leadership will have to come from all over the team.
One of the Paladins’ most prominent stars, who will now be thrust into leadership, is junior guard Le’Jzae Davidson. Davidson is a quick, flashy player who is always a threat from 3-point range. Carson views her as the team’s “number one competitor,” and will count on Davidson in the biggest moments.
Another Paladin that will make a huge difference this year is redshirt-sophomore Tierra Hodges.
“Her effort is monstrous,” Carson comments on Hodges, “It is contagious to the rest of the team.” Hodges, who missed all of last year with a knee injury, is a hard-working forward who relentlessly pursues rebounds and plays with tangible intensity every time she steps on the court.
Finally, Furman will also lean on redshirt-junior Taylor Petty. Petty, who was forced to sit out last season after transferring from Presbyterian College. She was named Big South Freshman of the Year for the Blue Hose, and will play her first minutes in purple this season. Petty is a 5 foot 9 inch guard with a pure shot from downtown. “She’s more than just a shooter,” adds Carson. While constantly remaining a threat behind the arc, Petty also has an uncanny ability to get to the rim and draw fouls. Although it is her first season with the Paladins, Petty is sure to provide veteran leadership for this Furman squad.
Coach Carson expects the Paladins to be magnetic this season. She prides her program on being hardworking and disciplined on the court while maintaining a reputation of role models off the court. Carson and the Paladins will lean into the support of the fans, and hope to distinguish themselves amongst the top of the Southern Conference this season.