By Greg Kuras
2014 has not been a good year for the Paladins thus far. Since the beginning of the New Year, the men’s basketball team has stumbled into conference play, dropping its first five games against conference foes. After being blown out by preseason conference favorite Davidson, the Paladins fell victim in two consecutive heartbreaking road losses, losing in the closing moments of a close game to Samford, 55-57, and then falling to Georgia Southern in overtime, 88-81.The Paladins finally won their first game this past Saturday with a 76-71 victory against the Citadel.
Despite the slow start, let’s not fail to recognize the progress made and the potential for growth the team and program have shown thus far. In his first year as head coach, Niko Medved, leading a very young and inexperienced team to a 6-12 record, is just one win away from matching last season’s total of seven wins, with a large chunk of the season remaining. You can expect the win totals to continue to rise in the next few seasons as Coach Medved’s plan to relaunch the Furman basketball program develops. Hard work is already beginning to show dividends with a group of talented freshmen and sophomores who will only grow and improve with more experience.
Leading the way for the Paladins is none other than point guard Stephen Croone. The sophomore sensation has been Mr. Everything for the Paladins, averaging nearly 20 points per game (second leading scorer in the SoCon), including an incredible 40 point performance in a win over Liberty in late December. However, with great power comes great responsibility, and often it seems that the Paladins rely too much on Croone’s play. In their recent loss against Samford, Croone shot a dismal two of 14 from the floor. In another tough game he turned the ball over seven times in the overtime loss at Georgia Southern. Taking care of the ball is one of the most important responsibilities as a point guard, and at 3.9 turnovers per game, the floor general for Coach Medved’s squad must improve as a facilitator and become a more consistent player. With his incredible talent and more experience holding the reigns of the offense, there is little reason to doubt that he will make this happen.
Sophomore forward Kendrec Ferrara has stepped up in a big way for the Paladins lately. A big man who can stretch the floor with his shooting ability while remaining a presence inside, Ferrara has provided Furman a viable and impactful option on offense. He’s scored in double digits in five of his last six games, including 20- and 21-point performances in his two most recent outings.
Along with Ferrara, freshman Will Gates has been a major contributor for the team. Averaging nearly 10 points off the bench, Gates was recently honored as the Southern Conference’s Freshman of the Week in late December. Hopefully, the award will only continue to inspire his great play moving forward as the team continues to see him grow and develop.
The next chance to see the Paladins in action is Saturday, Jan. 25, against our neighboring university and rival, Wofford. The game is set to tip off at 2 p.m.