Sophomore Stephen Croone poured in a career-high 40 points and Furman held off a furious Flames rally to down Liberty, 86-83, in non-conference men’s basketball action Friday evening on YP Court at Timmons Arena.
Croone, a native of Covington, Ga., connected on 11-of-16 shots from the field and 13-of-21 free throw attempts to become the first Paladin to reach 40 points since Roy Simpson netted 45 versus East Carolina on February 5, 1972. The point guard, who also pulled down a career-best 11 rebounds to notch his first double-double of the season, established a new Timmons Arena scoring record.
After leading 43-32 at intermission, Furman held a 49-41 advantage with 16:30 to play when sophomore Kendrec Ferrara ignited a 14-1 run with seven straight points. The forward knocked down back-to-back jumpers in the lane to begin the run before draining a three-pointer in transition to put the Paladins ahead 58-42. William Gates Jr. followed with eight straight points, including consecutive treys, to push the Paladin lead to 66-42 with 12:26 to play.
Liberty (5-7) answered with a 19-4 spurt of its own to trim the margin to 70-61 on Joe Retic’s free throw with under 6:30 remaining, and the Flames cut the Paladin lead to 82-79 when Antwan Burrus scored in the paint with just 1:11 to play.
Charlie Reddick drew a foul and converted on both free throw attempts to restore the five-point lead, but Retic answered for Liberty with a driving layup to make it 84-81. After Croone made 1-of-2 at the line on the Paladins’ next possession, Burrus answered to bring the Flames within two at 85-83.
The Paladins (5-6) ran down the shot clock to under five seconds on the next possession and Ferrara missed a jumper from the left side of the lane with three seconds left. Liberty’s Thomasz Gielo grabbed the rebound, but the forward fell to the ground as the buzzer sounded. The officials determined the Gielo traveled, giving the ball back to Furman, and they placed 1.2 seconds on the clock. Ferrara made 1-of-2 free throws after being fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass and time expired as the Flames failed to hold onto a long pass with under a second to play.
Furman shot 56.3% for the floor, including 10-of-19 from three-point range, to improve to 3-0 all-time versus Liberty and 3-0 this season against Big South Conference competition. Gates came off the bench to join Croone in double figures with 16 points while Ferrara added 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
Burrus paced four Flames in double digits with 19 points. Gielo and Retic tallied 16 points apiece and John Caleb Sanders hit 4-of-7 triples to contribute 15 points. Liberty shot 45.2% and converted on 18-of-27 free throw attempts while also holding a 40-32 rebounding margin.
Trailing 25-21 with six minutes left in the first half, Furman finished the period on a 22-7 run. Croone, who netted 23 of his game-high 40 points in the first half, scored 12 during the spurt.
The Paladins will be idle for a week during the holidays before returning to action on December 28, when they take on the California Golden Bears in a 6 p.m. ET game at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif. The game will be televised live on the Pac-12 Network. Furman will cap its California road trip at UC Davis on December 30, at 10 p.m. ET.
Both games can be heard live on WGOG FM 96.3, Fox Sports 1440 AM and through StretchAudio at www.FurmanPaladins.com. Fans can access live in-game updates on Twitter by following @FurmanHoops.