By Carter Hunt and Forest Stulting, Staff Writer and Sports Edtior
No one knows drama like the Furman men’s basketball team.
Up by one with just over ten seconds to go against Western Carolina, senior Stephen Croone hit a free throw to put the team up by two. WCU got the ball and drove all the way into the paint but was denied by freshman Matt Rafferty and the game’s final seconds ticked off the clock.
The win last Thursday was Furman’s sixth in a row in Timmons Arena and third straight overall. Sophomore Geoff Beans led the Paladins with 16 points and Rafferty led the team in boards, coming away with nine total against the Catamounts.
While the game’s final minutes were gut wrenching, the game was not always so close. Entering the locker room at halftime, Furman had secured an 11-point lead. That lead was drastically cut into early in the second half when Western Carolina was able to go on an 18-2 run and steal the lead away.
The middle of the second half featured a few lead changes, but with just under six minutes to go, Beans knocked down three consecutive free-throws to take a lead that the Paladins would maintain the rest of the game.
Away from home, the Paladins have struggled throughout the season, having only won one game entering a road contest at Virginia Military Institute on Mon., Jan. 25. Sophomore Devin Sibley put on a show at the Cadets home court, scoring 19 points and assisting on five more baskets as Furman easily secured its second road win of the season.
While they let VMI back in the game a few times, the Paladins earned the tough fought victory. They trailed 18-17 but after a 17-2 run, Coach Medved’s squad would not give the lead up the rest of the game. Leading by 14 at the half, the final scoreboard read Furman 68, VMI 56. Rafferty, who leads the team averaging seven rebounds per game, grabbed nine against VMI as the freshman continues to prove himself as the team’s leading big man.
In its third and final game of the week, the Paladins narrowly escaped a pair of furious comebacks by East Tennessee State in the second half to win its fourth straight conference game and seventh in a row at Timmons Arena 74-70.
In the first half, the Pirates were able to hang around for the first 13 minutes until the Paladins closed out the half with a 18-9 run to carry a 39-27 lead into the break.
Though the Pirates would respond by sailing out of the break with a 12-3 run to pull within three points, the Paladins countered right back with a 8-0 run to regain a comfortable 11-point lead.
It would not be an easy finish for the Paladins though. With 3:30 on the clock, the Pirates began to ratchet up their defense and apply full-court pressure forcing five Paladin turnovers in the final minutes.
With the Pirates in the midst of a 13-0 run to close the gap to just two points, Croone grabbed a defensive rebound off an ETSU miss with eight seconds remaining. He was fouled to send him to the line with a chance to seal the game.
The 6’0” 170-pound senior from Covington, Ga. did just that.
Croone finished the game with a team-high 21 points to go along with nine rebounds. Sibley added 20 points and Rafferty had 10 rebounds to help the Paladins beat the second place Pirates.
Furman now sits in second place with a record of 7-3 in the SoCon trailing only Chattanooga with a record of 6-1.
After traveling to Samford (Feb. 4) and Chattanooga (Feb. 6), the Paladins will return home for a three-game homestand against UNC Greensboro (Feb. 8), The Citadel (Feb. 11) and Mercer (Feb. 13).