Greenville, S.C. -- Senior Stephen Croone, 10-for-10 at the foul line, drained two free throws with 2.5 seconds remaining to help Furman hold off East Tennessee State, 74-70, as the Paladins captured their fourth consecutive victory and seventh straight home win before a crowd of 2,004 on Saturday afternoon at Timmons Arena.
The victory, which helped Furman move into second place in the Southern Conference standings, improved the Paladins to 13-10 overall and 7-3 in league play. ETSU fell to 13-9 overall and 6-3 in the SoCon.
Furman looked to be on its way to a comfortable victory leading 72-57 with under four minutes left, but ETSU used a 13-0 run to cut the margin to 72-70 with 1:31 to go. T.J. Cromer opened the run with a three, Deuce Bello netted five consecutive points and the Bucs made 5-of-6 free throws to cap the run.
Furman worked the clock on its next two possessions only to miss three-point attempts from the top of the key. After the first miss Croone rebounded a missed jumper by Cromer. Following the second miss, ETSU's Ge'Lawn Guyn tried a fade away jumper from the left baseline with under 10 seconds left that missed and Croone grabbed another board. The senior stepped to the foul line on the other end and nailed his first shot prior to the Bucs calling timeout. After the break, Croone converted the second free throw to seal the victory.
Croone finished with a team-high 21 points, nine rebounds and three assists, while sophomore Devin Sibley poured in a season-best 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Freshman Matt Rafferty notched his sixth double-double of the campaign with 11 points and 10 boards, and junior Kris Acox added 10 points.
Sibley and Croone combined for 23 first half points and scored 11 for the Paladins during an 18-6 spurt late in the period that helped Furman to a 39-27 lead at intermission.
ETSU hit three consecutive treys to open the second half and trailed just 57-51 with under nine minutes remaining when Geoff Beans buried a three and recorded a steal seconds later to ignite an 11-1 run that staked the Paladins to a 68-52 advantage following Sibley's second straight layup with 5:56 to play.
Furman made just one field goal the remainder of the way, but Croone converted on all four of his free throw attempts in the final 5:30 and assisted on Acox's slam on the fast break with under four minutes left to help the Paladins survive.
Head coach Niko Medved's club shot 50% from the field, including 12-of-22 in the second half, and made good on 16-of-19 free throw attempts on the night. The Paladins shot 10-of-14 from two-point range of the final 20 minutes on the strength on Croone and Sibley's drives to the basket and Rafferty's post play.
Furman fashioned a 39-29 rebounding edge and 40-30 advantage in points in the paint. ETSU scored 21 points off 12 Furman turnovers while committing just five miscues.
Cromer paced the Bucs with 22 points and Guyn added 19 on 7-for-18 shooting. Bello came off of the bench to contribute 14 points and seven rebounds. ETSU shot 39% from the field, including 8-of-25 from three-point range, and made 16-of-22 at the charity stripe.
The Paladins hit the road next week when they travel to Samford on February 4, before visiting Chattanooga on February 6. Both games can be heard on the Furman IMG Radio Network at WGOG 101.7FM and FoxSports 1440AM, as well as, on your mobile device through the TuneIn Radio app. Links for the video stream, radio broadcast and live statistics are be posted at FurmanPaladins.com.
NOTES: Stephen Croone's 21-point performance versus ETSU moved the senior past former Paladin Mel Daniel and into eighth on the school's career scoring ledger with 1,719 points. Furman's seventh straight home win improved the Paladins to 10-1 at Timmons Arena this season.
Jordan Caskey, Furman Sports Information