No. 23 Furman looks to stay undefeated against UNC-Wilmington
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With the loss of four seniors last spring, Furman was not supposed to be 11-0 in the middle of December.
And the Paladins, who host UNC-Wilmington on Saturday at Timmons Arena in Greenville, S.C., certainly were not expected to be ranked No. 23 in the country.
"I think one of the awesome things about it is, that with the loss of four instrumental seniors, everybody thought we would drop off," leading scorer Jordan Lyons told the Mid-Major Podcast this week. "Everyone, with the exception of us, ourselves, thought that the program was going to take a downfall, when we knew we were going to be much better.
"It's been awesome to go on some national stages and prove everyone wrong."
Furman stamped itself a program to be reckoned with November wins over Loyola-Chicago and defending champion Villanova, half of last season's Final Four.
Paladins coach Bob Richey said the team's success is the product of hard work.
"We've out a lot of blood and sweat equity into this program over the past five years, and we kept this vision alive that we can win here," he told the podcast. "We kept this vision alive that we can do great things that this community can get excited about."
Richey's pointed to his team's rise as a positive for the game itself.
"It's not just about us winning," he said. "The thing that you celebrate is -- you get on Twitter, you get on social media, and you got this FBI stuff and all the stuff about college basketball that's so negative -- we got a group of guys (who) care about their academics, they care about living life, they care about working hard."
In Tuesday's 77-69 win over Charleston Southern, freshman forward Noah Gurley became just the second player other than Lyons (18.4 points per game) and forward Matt Rafferty (17.5) to lead the team in scoring. It was the second straight game in which Gurley set his career high.
UNC-Wilmington (4-6) is facing a Top 25 team for the second straight game.
The Seahawks, who've been off for 10 days for finals, lost at No. 12 North Carolina 97-69 last time out.
During the break, coach C.B. McGrath has tried to balance studying with preparing for the Paladins.
"We had some shooting workouts, conditioning, and lifting," McGrath told WECT. "More so just to break a good sweat. We have worked out for an hour, no longer than that because I know it's hard to go through finals."
Senior forward Devontae Cacok leads the Seahawks with 14.7 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Junior guard Jaylen Fornes is tied for 30th in the country in free-throw shooting (89.7 percent).
Fornes said he was happy for the extra study time.
"We know coach cares about academics," Fornes said. "We have had some time off, but we have had some conditioning and shooting. We have been in the gym keeping things intact."
Furman has one major non-conference test, a Friday game at LSU, before what will be a challenging Southern Conference schedule begins in earnest on Dec. 29 at East Tennessee State. The Paladins are 1-0 in the SoCon after beating Western Carolina earlier this month.
Updated December 14, 2018