Furman (14-15) vs. Samford (11-18)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, March 2, 6:00 p.m. (ET).
FACTS & STATS: Site: U.S. Cellular Center (7,654) -- Asheville, North Carolina. Television: SoCon Sports Network. Home Record: Furman 9-5, Samford 7-8. Away Record: Furman 5-10, Samford 4-10. Neutral Record: Furman 0-0, Samford 0-0. Conference Record: Furman 8-10, Samford 8-10. Series Record: Furman leads, 8-3.
GAME NOTES: First-round action in the 2012 Southern Conference Tournament continues tonight at U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, North Carolina, as the fourth-seeded Samford Bulldogs take on the fifth-seeded Furman Paladins.
Furman leads the all-time series, 8-3, although Samford notched a 55-49 victory when these teams met on Feb. 18. Both teams finished 8-10 in league play this season. The winner of this matchup will advance to face top overall seed Davidson in Saturday's quarterfinal round.
Furman split its last four contests and is coming off last Saturday's 67-52 setback at Wofford. The Paladins have six SoCon Tournament titles to their credit, although the latest came way back in 1980. They knocked off Samford and Chattanooga in last year's tourney, before falling to eventual runner-up College of Charleston in the semifinals.
Samford needed to win at Chattanooga in the regular-season finale in order to finish second in the conference's North Division and earn a first-round bye. A victory would have also secured the Bulldogs' best SoCon record in school history, topping their previous mark of 9-11 in 2008-09. Instead, they lost to the Mocs and finished their schedule with setbacks in three of their final four games heading into today's action. The Bulldogs have yet to win this tournament since joining the league in 2008, and last year as a No. 6 seed they were bounced by this same Furman team in the first round.
The main issue facing Furman right now is whether second-leading scorer Charlie Reddick (10.3 ppg) is healthy enough to play. Reddick, the team's top three-point shooter (54-of-141), missed the final two games with a wrist injury that he suffered in practice last week. Given their lack of scoring depth, the Paladins really need Reddick on the floor to spread Samford's defense. Furman shoots just 41.4 percent as a team and relies on strong defensive play, having limited foes to 43.1 percent shooting from the floor this season, including just 31.1 percent from beyond the arc. The Paladins rank second in the league in scoring defense (64.9 ppg). Another area where the Paladins have really helped their cause is at the free-throw line, where they possess the SoCon's second-best percentage (.725). Brandon Sebirumbi paces the offensive attack, averaging a team-best 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per tilt while shooting 52.6 percent from the floor.
Samford boasts a young but talented squad headlined by three underclassmen. Sophomore Drew Windler leads the way with 14.2 ppg and is the SoCon's second- most accurate three-point shooter (.436). In league contests, Windler saw his scoring average jump to 16.4 ppg while knocking down an impressive 41-of-91 threes (.451). Complementing him are a couple of SoCon All-Freshman team selections in Tyler Hood and Raijon Kelly. Both of those players got better as their inaugural collegiate seasons progressed, with Hood tallying 11.8 ppg in conference play and Kelly scoring 11.5 ppg against league foes. Behind that trio, Samford knocked down more three-point attempts than any other SoCon squad. But where the Bulldogs have had their share of problems is on the glass, as they are last in the conference in rebounding margin (-3.5). They'll look to senior Jeffrey Merritt (8.3 ppg) to step up in that department with his team-best 6.6 rebounds per game.
If Reddick is unable to suit up, the Paladins will need to look elsewhere for some scoring, although they'd be hard-pressed to replace his production along the perimeter. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs will rely on a couple of freshman to come through in their first taste of postseason play. Still, talent may win out over experience in this matchup, particularly if Furman is without one of its primary scoring options.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Samford 68, Furman 63
03/02 10:34:19 ET