GREENVILLE, S.C.—In the wake of the 79-72 loss to Wofford on Saturday, Furman sits at 9-10 overall on the season and 3-5 in Southern Conference play. It's certainly a far cry from where the Paladins found themselves last season, as Furman was sitting pretty at 14-5 overall and 6-2 in Southern Conference play, and were coming off an 86-68 win over Chattanooga.
Though a lot may have changed, expectations for success remain the same, despite the Paladins losing four starters to graduation from that squad that won 20 games for the first time in two decades. Prior to the season, head coach Jeff Jackson talked about this team being as good as the one that won 22 games last season.
The lone returning starter coming into the campaign was post player Brandon Sebirumbi. Sebirumbi has really started to develop into a leader on the 2011-12 edition of the Furman Paladins. Sebirumbi enters Thursday evening's contest against College of Charleston averaging 17.8 PPG and has scored in double figures in four-straight games, leading the Paladins to a 2-2 record over that stretch. He's the only Paladin player averaging in double figures to this point on the season—averaging 10.6 PPG, Sebirumbi was again at it on Saturday afternoon, as he posted 18 points and five boards in the loss to Wofford on Saturday.
Sebirumbi has had to be kind of the leader in the post for the Paladins this season, who have not gotten the production in the front court that some might have desired coming into the season. Colin Anderson (4.1 PPG, 3.7 RPG) and Chris Toler (3.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG) have been more role players this season for the Paladins, and unlike last season, the Paladins have lacked a second scorer in the post. If you look back to last season, the post scoring was a team strength for the Paladins, as Amu Saaka (15.6 PPG) and Noah States (10.4 PPG) were two of the team's three top scorers last season, and the Jackson's 2011-12 club simply does not have that kind of scoring punch.
The Paladins have gotten some solid play out of their front court players which have come off the bench this season, led by Bryant Irwin (7.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG), Bryson Barnes (7.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG) and Dominic Early (4.1 PPG, 1.7 RPG). Irwin, a transfer from St. Joseph's, was originally touted by Jackson to be the great remedy for losing the player of Saaka's status and was thought to be able to fill some of that scoring void left by Saaka.
Jackson admitted that Irwin wouldn't be a player that was going to replace Saaka's athleticism, but he felt like his ability as a perimeter threat could be the "X-factor" in the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Annual's preseason previews, which highlighted the Paladins for the upcoming season.
Irwin, at least initially, looked like he might live up to some of that preseason billing, but has seen his scoring and minutes decrease over the past couple of weeks. His 26 triples this season rank him second on the team in three-pointers made, and has made him a versatile performer with his ability to step out and hit the perimeter jumper. Going into the Wofford game, Irwin had scored a combined two points in three games since a 10-point performance in the win over The Citadel.
Early has looked good at times for the Paladins in the post this season, with his best performance against The Citadel, scoring a career-high 15 points in the win over them. But Early has been inconsistent. Barnes has given the team a definite boost, but has yet to find the kind of game he had in his first game back after serving an academic suspension, in which he scored a career-high 26 points in helping the Paladins to the impressive 76-63 road win at Western Kentucky back on Dec. 17.
The backcourt has been impressive at times this season for the Paladins, but has had to battle injury issues as of late. Both starting point guard Richard Brown (8.8 PPG, 3.3 APG) and backup Jordan Lloyd (3.9 PPG, 2.9 RPG) have had to miss the last couple of games with back spasms, but both are expected back for Thursday night's game against College of Charleston.
Little used David Brown (2.7 PPG, 0.9 APG), who has done a nice job in holding down the starting responsibilities in the absence of Richard Brown and Lloyd the past couple of games. When it's all said and done, it might be David Brown who turns out to be the Paladins' answer at point guard. Richard Brown has not been as aggressive on the offensive side of things as of late, and when he has been asked to be less of a scorer and more of a distributor, he has not been as effective a player.
Lloyd continues to seem to be on the cusp of really being a breakout player this season for the Paladins. He has yet to show the kind of maturity as of yet, in which he's able to limit turnovers and take good shots within the offense. However, when he comes around, Lloyd has the potential to be the best point guard in the Southern Conference.
The real surprise this season for Furman has been the play of Charlie Reddick, who has simply been sensational for the Paladins. Reddick has really stepped up to become a leader for the Paladins this season. He is a tremendous athlete and is one of the league's best perimeter threats, having knocked down 41 triples this season to lead the team, and ranks fourth in the SoCon in three-pointers made.
Reddick's leadership and improvement can be summed up in two games this season for Furman. First, his three-pointer to beat Western Carolina in the waning seconds showed Reddick to be a fearless floor leader. With Western Carolina having forged a tie (55-55) for the first time all afternoon, it was Reddick, who was 0-for-11 from the field previously in the game, who stepped up and knocked down the game-clinching triple, leaving only 1.8 seconds on the clock for the Catamounts. The shot not only showed Reddick to be a fearless leader, but also a confident player that had shed the tentative personality he had at times in his first season as a Paladin.
The second game in which Reddick showed himself to be a real leader and a player ready to take the role of "go-to-scorer" was in the 64-54 win over Georgia Southern last week. Reddick was simply huge, posting 16 points and a career-high 14 rebounds to record his first double-double and help the Paladins to the 10-point win. Reddick posted his second-straight double-figure scoring performance in the loss to Wofford, posting 14 points on 4-of-9 from three and 2-for-2 from the charity stripe.
Bobby Austin (7.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG) is another player that has been a leader for Furman, and the redshirt senior is having his best season in an injury-plagued career. Austin had his best career performance in the early-January win over The Citadel by posting a career-high 17 points. Austin might Furman's best on-the-ball defender, and he comes into Thursday's game ranking second on the team with 10 blocked shots this season.
Halfway through Southern Conference play, it's clear this isn't the same Furman team that threatened to make its first postseason appearance in 20 years last season. However, it's a Furman team that could still be a dangerous team come tournament time. The main reason that will keep the Paladins in most every game for the rest of the season is the way they can frustrate teams with their defense. The Paladins are a different team in terms of chemistry and talent this season, and this Paladin team has had to work hard for its nine wins this season. Furman isn't going to find an Amu Saaka or Noah States for the remainder of the season, but the good news is the league is nowhere near as strong as it was a year ago.