Greenville Winter Invitational: Furman faces Stephen F. Austin Saturday

Who: Furman (7-4) vs. Stephen F. Austin (6-4)

What: Greenville Winter Invitational

When: Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, 4:30 p.m. EST

Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena (13,951)/Greenville, S.C.

Series: First-ever meeting between the two

Coaches: Furman–Bob Richey (118-50/6th yr)/Stephen F. Austin–Kyle Keller (132-55/7th year)

Preview and Overview:

One of the more interesting games to highlight Furman’s non-conference slate heading into the 2022-23 basketball season is the one between a pair of schools that sport purple as their primary color, with Furman welcoming the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks to the Bon Secours Wellness Arena just eight days before Christmas.

The Paladins and Lumberjacks will be meeting in that is slated to be the second game of the Greenville Winter Invitational, as the premier mid-major matchup, which will be streamed by “The Field of 68 podcast”, will follow the clash between South Carolina and American Athletic Conference member East Carolina, which is slated to take place at 2 p.m. EST. The nightcap will feature Clemson taking on Atlantic 10 member Richmond at approximately 7 p.m.

The meeting between Furman and SFA will mark what will be the first-ever meeting between the two programs, and Stephen F. Austin is a program that has enjoyed a rich history of success on the college basketball hardwood.

The Lumberjacks play as a member of the Western Athletic Conference, and are coming off a 2021-22 season, which saw the ‘Jacks finish with what was a 22-10 overall record, including a 14-4 record in the WAC to tie with Seattle for the regular-season conference title.

The Paladins come in looking to rebound from what was a 92-73 loss on the road to North Carolina State on Tuesday night, while Stephen F. Austin comes in with a 6-4 mark following a thrilling 80-79 contest on the road at a Louisiana Tech team that won at Samford a couple of weeks ago.

One of the more impressive wins for the Lumberjacks this season was a 75-58 win over Southern Conference member UNC Greensboro, which came back in November in the Montreal MTE.

The Lumberjacks play as a member of the Western Athletic Conference, and are coming off a 2021-22 season, which saw the ‘Jacks finish with what was a 22-10 overall record, including a 14-4 record in the WAC to tie with Seattle for the regular-season conference title.

The Lumberjacks were knocked out of the conference tournament in the quarterfinals, as Abilene Christian knocked off the Lumberjacks, 76-62. That loss may have put an end to the NCAA Tournament hopes of the Lumberjacks, however, it did not put an end to the postseason hopes for SFA.

The Lumberjacks accepted an invitation to play in the College Basketball Invitational, where the Lumberjacks were knocked out of the tournament in the opening round by UNC Asheville, who knocked off the Lumberjacks, 80-68. SFA is under the direction of head coach Kyle Keller, who enters his seventh season at the helm of the Lumberjacks basketball empire.

Keller has generated plenty of excitement in the East Texas region for his basketball program, catching the nation’s attention during the 2019-20 campaign, which saw the Lumberjacks finish with a 28-3 record, including an impressive 19-1 mark in conference play.

During that remarkable season, the Lumberjacks will be best remembered for going into Cameron Indoor Stadium and handing the Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski-led and top-ranked Duke Blue Devils an 85-83 non-conference home loss. The win was arguably the biggest win in the history of SFA basketball, and arguably its biggest athletic accomplishment.

SFA Tradition and Recent History:

Prior to his arrival at SFA, Keller spent five seasons as an assistant at Texas A&M and has led the Lumberjacks to three 20-win seasons in his five as the head coach, with the lowest win total being a 14-win campaign during the 2018-19 season.

He has led the Lumberjacks to an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017-18 and in 2019-20 was on course to achieve that goal for a second time until the COVID-19 pandemic deprived him with a chance to follow up leading the Lumberjacks to a regular-season title with a conference tournament title. The Lumberjacks basketball program is one of three involved in NCAA sanctions as a result of not meeting the NCAA required academic progress report (APR) criterion for NCAA Division I basketball programs.

In May of 2020, it was found that SFA had the lowest APR score of any team in NCAA Division I men’s basketball, at 810. The NCAA requires a score of 930 over a four-year period. The fallout from the NCAA’s findings meant the Lumberjacks were forced to forfeit three conference titles.

Not only has SFA become a mid-major power, it has also enjoyed a rich history as a strong NAIA power prior to joining the NCAA Division I ranks. In the 1969-70 season, the Lumberjacks had one of their best teams in school history, as SFA finished the campaign with a 29-1 record, which included an 18-0 record in the Lone Star Conference.

From 2012-22, the SFA basketball program has posted an impressive 242-75 overall record, which ranks as the seventh-best record in NCAA Division I basketball during that span. It’s also a program that has taken down Duke, Baylor, LSU, West Virginia, Oklahoma, VCU and Memphis during that same span.

The 2022-23 Lumberjacks:

The Lumberjacks come to Greenville playing some excellent basketball, which includes Wednesday night’s thrilling, 80-79, road win at Louisiana Tech. That win came courtesy of a AJ Cajuste game-winning layup in Rushton, LA, handing the Bulldogs their first home loss of the season in overtime. It was Cajuste who drove down the lane with just under five seconds remaining, slicing through four different LA Tech defenders to convert the layup with just under a second to play, allowing the Lumberjacks to escape with the thrilling win.

Making the win even more that impressive for head coach Kyle Keller’s club was the fact that the ‘Jacks only traveled eight healthy players, due to a rash of injuries that has hit the team. It meant that all eight players that made the trip, and as a result of the game needing an extra five minutes to be decided, would each log season highs for minutes played by the time the battle was settled on the road. The road win came in ‘against all the odds’ type fashion for SFA, with the Lumberjacks committing what was a season-high 28 turnovers.

The Lumberjacks featured what was a balanced scoring effort in the win last time out, as junior guard Kyle Hartman scored a career-high 18 points to lead five SFA players in double figures in Wednesday night’s road win. Hartman, who connected on 5-of-6 shots from the field, which included going a perfect 4-for-4 from three-point range, fittingly turned in what was such a strong performance in what a return to his home state.

Joining Hartman in double figures in Wednesday night’s road win for the Lumberjacks was Sadaidriene Hall (16 pts), AJ Cajuste (16 pts), Lattrell Jossell (15 pts), and Nigel Hawkins (13 pts). Listed below is SFA’s probable starting five for Saturday’s showdown with the Paladins, based on the starting five, which SFA sent out against the Bulldogs this past Wednesday night.

SFA Probable Starting 5:

G-Sadadriene Hall (East Tennessee State) 13.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG

G-Lattrell Jossell (Kansas) 13.0 PPG, 1.2 RPG

G-Nigel Hawkins (UTEP) 12.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG

F-Nana Antwi-Boasiako 8.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG

G-Roti Ware (East Central CC) 8.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG

Top players off the bench:

G-AJ Cajuste 8.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG

G-Kyle Hartman 7.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG

As noted above, the Lumberjacks are a perennial conference title contender NCAA Tournament auto bid challenger, with NCAA infractions having really been the only thing that has derailed the program in recent seasons.

Coming into the 2022-23 season, the Lumberjacks were picked to finish third in both the coaches’ and media preseason WAC basketball polls, with only Grand Canyon (picked 1st in both polls) and New Mexico State (picked 2nd in both polls) having been picked ahead of the Lumberjacks.

The Lumberjacks had two players selected to the preseason All-WAC team, with both sophomore guard Jaylin-Jackson Posey and sophomore wing Sadadrienne Hall both selected to the preseason All-WAC second team in the preseason.

The Lumberjacks start four of five players that transferred into the program, with some pretty prestigious schools being represented within those four transfers slated to start Saturday’s contest for the Lumberjacks. Most Paladin fans will recognize leading scorer and Sadadrienne “Day Day” Hall, who transferred into SFA from East Tennessee State. After injuries severely affected his time at ETSU, Hall found a place at SFA, logging 19 minutes-per-game last season and has become the go-to-scorer in what is a balanced offensive attack for the Lumberjacks.

Hall enjoyed a solid performance the last time he took the floor in the Lumberjacks’ win over Louisiana Tech last time out, as he posted 16 points, eight rebounds and dished out three assists. Hall posted a season-high 20 points for the Lumberjacks in the season-opening win over LeTorneau. Hall has posted double-figure scoring performances in eight out of 10 games this season for the ‘Jacks and is currently shooting an impressive 62.0% (57-of-92) from the field this season.

Hall is athletic and will act as a wing guard/forward in SFA’s offense. Set to team with Hall in the backcourt for the Lumberjacks in Saturday’s contest against the Paladins will be Latrell Jossell (13.0 PPG, 1.2 RPG), Roti Ware (8.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG), and Nigel Hawkins (12.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG) will all be part of what is a four-guard offense for the Lumberjacks.

Ware is looked at as the veteran leader of the Lumberjacks backcourt, and he was limited to seeing action in only 10 games last season, due to an ACL injury. Ware enjoyed his best performance of the season in the win over UNC Greensboro, posting 17 points in that contest. It marks one of four double figure scoring performances for Ware this season, however, was held scoreless in 28 minutes of floor time last time out against Louisiana Tech.

Jossell comes into Saturday’s contest against the Paladins having had to miss four games this season due to injury, however, has managed to remain as SFA’s top three-point shooter this season, as he is connecting on a blistering 53.1% of his shots from three-point range (17-of-32) so far this season, and despite missing those four games, still leads the team with 17 three-point field goals this season. Jossell has only 11 two-point field goals this season, and has scored in double figures in each of his past three outings, including 15 in each of the past two in wins over both Paul Quinn and Louisiana Tech.

Hawkins is another fifth-year senior for the Lumberjacks that has had his collegiate playing experience altered by injuries, however, the UTEP transfer is making the most of his senior season so far, as he ranks third on the team in scoring, averaging 12.2 PPG. Hawkins had a fractured hand, which limited his time last season, as he was able to only log action in 18 games, with 14 starts. This season, he’s seen his scoring average increase 7.0 PPG and posted a career-high 25 points in SFA’s win over South Dakota State earlier this season. Hawkins has a string of seven-straight games in which he has scored in double figures, and he enters Saturday’s contest shooting 44.2% (38-of-86) from the field and has knocked down 36.1% (13-of-36) from three-point land this season.

Rounding out the projected starting five for the Lumberjacks entering Saturday’s contest for SFA will be Nana Antwi-Boasiako (8.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG), who has started nine out of 10 games this season. His performances have been all over the place this season, as he has posted five double figure scoring performances this season, however, was held scoreless in 27 minutes against Quinnipiac earlier this season, and just last time out, finished with just two points in 36 minutes of floor time against Louisiana Tech. Antwi-Boasiako is a local product, who hails from Nacodoches, TX, and his 21 points in an 86-71 win over Gardner-Webb earlier this season marked a career-high scoring effort.

The 6-9, 240-lb junior forward gives this guard-oriented SFA offense a physical presence underneath the basket. He is connecting on 54.3% from the field (25-of-46) from the field this season and leads the team with 13 blocks this season.

The two top players coming off the bench for the Lumberjacks are the two players that arguably impacted the Lumberjacks’ most-recent road win at Louisiana Tech more than any other player on the roster, as both junior Kyle Hayman (7.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG) and AJ Cajuste (8.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG) both factored significantly into the road win over the Bulldogs.

Hayman came off the bench for the Lumberjacks to post a career-high 18 points in 25 minutes of court time, which included a perfect 4-for-4 effort from three-point land.

Joining him with a big performance off the bench against the Bulldogs was Cajuste, who not only hit the game-winning layup in the waning seconds, but also added 16 points, which included a 3-for-4 shooting effort from three-point range. Both Cajuste and Hayman combined to go 7-for-8 from three-point land off the bench for the Lumberjacks, which accounted for exactly half of what was a 14-for-32 effort (43.8%) from long-range in the contest.

In its last two wins, the Lumberjacks have connected on 29 of their 75 three-pointers this season, connecting on a combined 48.3% (29-of-60) from long-range in wins over Paul Quinn and Louisiana Tech, respectively.

For the season, the Lumberjacks are scoring 79.3 PPG as a team and allowing 67.4 PPG. SFA is connecting at a solid 48.5% (283-of-584) from the field this season, while posting an impressive 42.1% shooting clip (75-of-178) from three-point land.

Probable Starting 5 for Furman:

G-Mike Bothwell 19.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.4 APG

G-J.P. Pegues 8.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG

G-Marcus Foster 9.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG

F-Jalen Slawson 14.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG

C-Garrett Hien 9.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG

Top Players off the Bench:

F-Tyrese Hughey 8.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG

F-Ben VanderWal 3.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG

G-Joe Anderson 2.2 PPG, 0.9 RPG

Furman vs. WAC Opponents: (1-1)

SFA (0-0)

New Mexico State (0-0)

Seattle University (0-0)

Grand Canyon (0-0)

Sam Houston State (0-0)

Utah Valley (1-1)

Southern Utah (0-0)

Abilene Christian (0-0)

Cal Baptist (0-0)

Tarelton State (0-0)

Utah Tech (0-0)

UT-Rio Grande Valley (0-0)

Furman vs. schools from the state of Texas: (6-10)

UT-Arlington (1-0)

TCU (1-1)

Texas Tech (0-2)

Texas (1-0)

Texas A&M (1-1)

Texas A&M Corpus-Christi (0-1)

SMU (0-1)

Baylor (0-2)

Houston (1-0)

Rice (1-1)

West Texas State (0-1)

Published by soconjohn

I am a lover of all things SoCon, and I have had a passion to write about, follow and tell the world about this great conference for pretty much my entire life. While I do love the SoCon, and live in the SoCon city, which is home to the Furman Paladins, have a passion for sports in general, with college football and college hoops topping the list.

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