By: Greg Peterson, Sports Writer
Despite national recognition, a multitude of accolades, broken records and postseason conferences, both Furman men’s and women’s basketball teams cemented their legacies on and off the court in a season that Greenville will never forget.
All of the success that women’s head coach Jackie Carson experienced this season was reminiscent of her time as a player for the Paladins. Carson was a standout forward of the Furman squad that won the last Southern Conference championship in 2000.
This year was the Paladins first time back in the championship since Carson was crashing the boards at the start of the millenium. To say that casual basketball fans expected this is a serious understatement.
“A lot of people outside of our team did not really believe,” Carson said. “Our players were not going to be denied the opportunity of the success that this team was capable of.”
The Paladins (19-14) had a shaky journey to get to the championship game, which included some heartbreaking losses early in the season.
“Our second game in January we lost to a Division II team,” Carson said. “In the middle of March we were in the SoCon championship for the first time in 19 years.”
Although Furman had a tough 66-62 loss to Mercer in the championship, the newfound success of women’s basketball is exciting for Paladin fans. Twelve of the fifteen players on the roster are underclassmen with only senior forward Kaitlyn Duncan graduating the program.
“Everything in the post-season right now is about culture and mindset,” Carson said as Furman women’s basketball looks to improve upon the historic season.
Men’s basketball experienced one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory, and standout senior forward Matt Rafferty attests all of the hard work and success to the family dynamic of the program.
“It is a family environment unlike any other,” Rafferty said. “You build lifelong friendships and family when you join Furman basketball, which is something that I will always cherish.”
Rafferty was the foundation of a Furman team that recorded the program record for all-time wins in a season, boasting a 25-8 record overall. Two of the wins garnered national media attention, with Furman knocking off two of the Final Four teams from 2018, Loyola University Chicago and Villanova University.
The big-time wins carried over to the national media, where men’s basketball saw itself ranked at number 23 in the Associated Press poll for three straight weeks. This was the first time in school history that men’s basketball has been in the AP Top 25.
The Paladins finished the regular season with the third best record in the SoCon, but were not able to carry the regular-season momentum into the conference tournament. The Paladins fell to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the conference semifinals.
Men’s basketball has not reached the NCAA tournament since 1980, but all of the hard work the team put forth did pay off in a chance to continue playing in the postseason. The Paladins were selected to play in the National Invitation Tournament as a three-seed against Wichita State, a game they ultimately lost.
“We didn’t exactly reach our end-goal, but our all-time wins record shows what we did on and off the court,” Rafferty said.
Fan support for both teams this season was historic and played a key role in many close home games. Women’s head coach Jackie Carson is thankful and hopes that student support will continue in the future.
“I would like to thank the band, fraternities, sororities, cheerleaders, dance team, and groups that contributed to our team,” Carson said. “It meant more than we could probably say.”
While the seasons for both teams did not end in victory, the thrills of the season will not be forgotten.