Furman opens 2022 at VMI

Paladins look to end two-game skid vs Keydets

Furman travels to VMI looking to end two-game series skid

Game 15: Furman (9-5, 1-0 SoCon) at VMI (8-5, 1-0 SoCon)

The Venue: Cameron Hall (5,000)

Date and Time: Jan. 1, 2022/1 p.m.

The Series: 103rd meeting/Furman leads 66-36 

Last Meeting: VMI 91, Furman 90/Mar. 6, 2021/SoCon Tny

1The Coaches: Bob Richey (98-39/5th yr);  Dan Earl (65-128/7th yr)

Furman looks to end two-game skid at VMI when the two face off against each other inside what has become one of the tougher road venues in the Southern Conference, as the Keydets come in having won 15 ot their past 16 games on their home hardwood. Included in that streak is a 74-73 win over the Paladins last January, which accounted for Furman’s first loss following a 4-0 start to Southern Conference play.

Furman completed the 2021 calendar year with a 25-14, and it will mark the second time in a three-year span that the two have met on New Year’s Day. The last time the two squared off against each other on New Year’s Day in Lexington was in 2020, and it would be a day when Jordan Lyons went for 40 points, putting on a shooting display, as he connected on 10-of-12 from long range, leading to an 89-73 Paladin triumph. It also marks Furman’s last win at Cameron Hall. 

A win by VMI would mark its third-straight against Furman, which would mark its first three-game winning streak since contiguous SoCon membership seasons in 2002-03 and a pair of wins during the 2014-15 campaign. 

In the SoCon quarterfinals last March, the Keydets held the Paladins without a field goal for the final 6:11 of regulation to rally from a 15-point deficit and provide a disappointing ending to what started out as a promising season for the Paladins.

The only regular-season meeting between the two, which was not canceled as a result of COVID-19 as the scheduled February meeting in Greenville had been, saw the Keydets hand the Paladins their first Southern Conference setback of the 2020-21 season, as Dan Earl’s Keydets handed Furman a 74-73 setback at Cameron Hall, bringing an end to the Paladins’ four-game winning streak to open league play last season.

Just like the conference tournament clash, the Keydets were forced to rally down the stretch, trailing by five (60-55) with just under eight minutes remaining before rallying from behind for the win on freshman Trey Bohnam’s foul shot with 3.2 seconds remaining, which gave VMI the 

lead by the narrowest of margins.

The two wins by the Keydets over Furman last season allowed VMI to end a 10-game skid against the Paladins, as well as giving sixth-year head coach Dan Earl his first two wins over the Paladins.

VMI, which won its only road game of the 2020-21 season at Wofford, duplicated that feat to open SoCon play in the only other league game on Wednesday night, as the Keydets claimed an 80-73 win at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium.

The Keydets are coming off a 13-12 record, which included a 7-7 mark in regular-season league play last season-easily its best season in Earl’s tenure at VMI. It was good enough to afford the Keydets a No. 6 seed in Asheville, meaning the Keydets got to sit out the opening day of the tournament, which they had not done since the 2015 league tournament.

Earl’s Keydets made the most of that opportunity, knocking off Furman by a point to make it to the SoCon semifinals for the first time since 2003 before eventually losing to Mercer. The past three meetings between Furman and VMI have been decided by a combined four points. 

VMI enters the clash off to an 8-5 start this season and were picked to finish seventh by both the league’s coaches and media coming into the 2021-22 campaign. The Keydets’ 80-73 win at Wofford last time out was their first game in 15 days after having a game canceled vs. Hampton. 

The Keydets enter Saturday afternoon’s contest looking for their second-straight win. A win over the Paladins would also mark the Keydets’ sixth win in their last seven outings, with the only blip on the radar in that span having been a 77-70 setback at Wake Forest in a game, which saw the Keydets lead nearly the entire night. 

The one common non-conference opponent for both Furman and VMI is Presbyterian, which Furman beat handily, 75-61, while VMI dropped a 73-72 overtime contest at PC and a 59-54 contest on a neutral floor. 

In many ways, both Furman and VMI are mirror images of each other in terms of what they do offensively. Both Furman and VMI are among the top three-point shooting teams in the country. 

The Keydets enter Saturday’s contest ranking third nationally in total three-point field goals made (165), while Furman ranks fourth  nationally, with 164. The two schools also rank third and seventh nationally in three-poiint feld goal attempts,  with the Keydets’ 414 attempts ranking third, while the Paladins’ 359 attempts ranks the Paladins seventh nationally.

Furman and VMI are the lone game in league play not to have been postponed for Saturday, with four of the five matchups having been postponed due to COVID-19 protocols. ETSU at Western Carolina, Wofford at UNC Greensboro, The Citadel at Samford, and Chattanooga at Samford have all already been postponed. That means Furman and VMI is now the Nexstar SoCon Game of the Week and will be shown on local affiliates throughout the SoCon footprint. 

VMI is averaging 79.5 PPG, while Furman comes in averaging 80.1 PPG, as the two teams rank third and second in the SoCon in scoring, respectively. The Paladins rank third in the SoCon in team field goal percentage (47.2%), while the Keydets rank fifth in the SoCon in the same category (45.0%). 

Where the Keydets have excelled most this season is on the defensive end of the floor, leading the SoCon in field goal percentage defense (37.2%) and three-point field goal percentage (28.1%). The Keydets are also fourth in the league in scoring defense (66.2 PPG). 

Meanwhile, defense has been a work in progress for Bob Richey’s Paladins this season, ranking eighth out of 10 in scoring defense (72.3 PPG), however, in each of the past four games the Paladins have held opponents to 69, 61 and 49 points, respectively. 

The Paladins are middle of the pack in the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage defense, holding foes to 31.4% shooting from beyond the arc through 14 games. 

Defensively, VMI is similar to Navy–a team that defeated Furman 77-66 to hand Furman its only loss at Timmons Arena this season. Keydets head coach Dan Earl both played for current Navy head coach Ed DeChellis at Penn State, while also serving as an assistant under DeChellis for six seasons at Penn State (2006-11) and three seasons at Navy (2012-15). 

A Look at the Keydets:

VMI is one of the versatile teams in the SoCon, playing four out and one in, and its motion offense precepts are almost identical to Furman’s, focusing on constant cutting and fluidity to find the open shot, which is usually from long-range.

Also like Furman, the Keydets have one of the league’s most-skilled and complete big men, as well as one of the nation’s purest shooters, making them maybe the toughest team to guard in the SoCon.

The two players I am referencing are both 6-11 senior center Jake Stephens (16.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG) and 6-1 sharpshooting junior guard Kamdyn Curfman (18.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG) . For the second-straight game in Southern Conference play, the Paladins will be facing off against the current SoCon Player of the Week, in Stephens.

Stephens was outstanding in VMI’s win at Wofford last week, posting 27 points and 12 boards in the Keydets’ third road win already of the 2021-22 season after garnering only one true road win a year ago. Stephens was also impressive in the heartbreaking 77-70 loss at Wake Forest, posting 12 points and 10 rebounds. 

He had his top performance of the season in a hard-fought 64-61 win over Gardner-Webb, as he posted 28 points to become the 43rd player in Keydets basketball history to join the 1,000-point club. 

Stephens’ 8.5 RPG rank him second in the SoCon in that category, while his 2.1 blocks per game are also second in the league in that particular category. It will be interesting from a defensive standpoint to see how Furman approaches that matchup in the paint. 

The native of Bunker Hill, WVa, is a player you must guard all over the floor. Stephens’  24 triples made rank him third on the team, and he leads the team in three-point field goal percentage, canning 42.9% of his shots from long range this season. 

Stephens turned in one of his best career outings as a Keydet in the 91-90 win over the Paladins in Asheville in the SoCon quarterfinals last March, as he posted 25 points and nine rebounds, connecting on 9-of-14 shots from the field, including going 4-for-6 from three. 

While the Keydets are a relatively experienced basketball team, Stephens is one of only two seniors on the entire roster, with forward Connor Arnold (2.7 PPG, 1.8 RPG), who comes off the bench being the other. Stephens has logged action in 103 games in his VMI career, starting 81 of those contests. 

Stephens’ 27-point, 12-rebound effort in the win over Wofford last week marked his fourth-straight double-double, as he his playing maybe the best basketball of any single player in the SoCon at the moment. 

Curfman has become one of the most consistent long-range shooters in college basketball in his three years in Lexington. 

The junior guard from North Betheseda, MD, posted a career-high six threes in the road loss at Wake Forest, as he went 6-for-12 from downtown in the 77-70 setback to the Demon Deacons. 

Curfman’s 18.6 PPG scoring average sees him come into the clash with the Paladins ranking fourth in scoring average. His 52 three-pointers made this season ranks him fifth nationally in three-pointers made. He’s a major part of a VMI offense that ranks third nationally in three-pointers made per game as a team, as the Keydets connect on almost 13 triples (12.7) per game coming into Saturday’s matchup.

Curfman has scored in double figures in all 13 games for the Keydets this season, and has five performances of 20 or more points, with his top effort of the season and of his career in a loss at Marist, as posted 27 points. His 4.0 threes made per game leads the SoCon. 

Sophomore Trey Bonham (8.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG) is one of the quickest guards in the SoCon, and junior guard Sean Conway (9.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG) is yet another excellent shooter and has a knack for creating second shot opportunities by crashing offensive glass. He’s averaging 2.1 offensive rebounds per contest.

Conway’s 26 triples made this season is second to only Curfman’s, having connected on exactly half of the aforementioned junior guard’s 52 this season. 

Both Conway and Bonham played particularly well in two solid non-conference wins in the great northwest, as the Keydets picked up maybe their two most impressive non-league wins at Portland and Seattle. Bonham, who was a SoCon All-Freshman pick last season, turned in a season-high 16-point night in the win over the Pilots. Bonham has missed three games with injury this season. 

Like Bonham, Conway was impressive in the win over Portland, notching his fifth-career double-double, posting 11 points and 13 points. He established his current career-high scoring outing in a loss at Marist, posting 18 points. His 13 boards against the Pilots marked a career-high. 

Rounding out VMI’s starting five is 6-6 sophomore guard Tanner Mans (6.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG). Mans enjoyed the best performance of his career in the 90-82 win at Portland, posting his 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, including going 4-for-6 from three. He has started 10 of 13 contests for VMI this season. 

The top options off the VMI bench include 6-4 junior guard Louis Tang (3.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG), who acts very much as a “glue guy” for the Keydets. Tang is the top of player that has a knack for tracking down loose balls, and personifies the term gritty. He posted eight points and eight boards off the bench in a 73-67 win over Central Arkansas at the University of New Orleans Classic.

Freshman guard Honor Huff (6.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 30 assists) enjoyed the best game of his young career in the seven-point loss at Wake Forest, as he posted 13 points, while posting 12 points and dished out six helpers off the bench in a win at Seattle. 

Furman’s Projected Starting Five and Notes:

G-#10 Alex Hunter (5th yr Sr/17.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.9 APG)

G–#51 Conley Garrison (Gr transfer from Drury/8.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.8 APG)

G–#3 Mike Bothwell (Sr/15.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.8 APG)

G–#15 Tyrese Hughey (Fr./6.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG)

F/C–#20 Jalen Slawson (Sr./15.9 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 2.1 SPG)

–Jalen Slawson recorded the first triple-double in program history, when he posted 15 pts, 10 rebounds and 12 assists vs. Wintrhop.

–Guards Alex Hunter and Mike Bothwell became 1,000-point scorers in non-conference play, becoming the 48th and 49th Furman players to do so. Hunter did so in Furman’s 80-72 overtime over Louisville, with a pair of consecutive second half threes, while Mike Bothwell accomplished his 1,000th point on an early second half triple vs Appalachian State last time out in Furman’s 73-65 win. 

–Furman guard Joe Anderson has established new career highs in each of the past two outings, posting 12 in a win over Presbyterian and 14 points off the bench last time out vs. Samford. 

–Tyrese Hughey is slated to make his second-career start in just the third game of his collegiate career after having his redshirt removed. 

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