The Francis Marion University men's basketball team will open its 2017-18 season when the Patriots take on Catawba College at 1 p.m. on Friday (Nov. 10) as part of the annual Peach Belt Conference/South Atlantic Conference Challenge. This year's four-team event will be hosted by UNC Pembroke on the Braves' Lumbee Guaranty Bank Court.
FMU will face Lenoir-Rhyne University on Saturday at 5 p.m. on the second day of the challenge.
The Patriots will play their home opener on Thursday, Nov. 16, at 6 p.m. against Johnson and Wales University.
Head coach Gary Edwards welcomes back seven lettermen from last season's 11-17 squad that placed fifth in the PBC's East Division standings. Leading the returnees is senior guard Detrek Browning. Browning earned All-Conference accolades in 2016-17 and was recently selected to the PBC's 2017-18 Pre-Season All-Conference squad.
Last season, Browning led the Patriots in scoring (19.6 points per game) and field goal percentage (48.7%) and was fourth in rebounding (4.5 rebounds per game). He also compiled 4.4 assists per game, and 58 steals. The 6-2 guard needs just 245 points to take over the top spot on the FMU career scoring list.
He could also end up as the Patriots' all-time leader in assists, steals, three-pointers made, and minutes played.
"He's been our leader really for three or so years," Edwards said. "He's got to be our leader and has to do a lot of things for us. We need him to score the ball, distribute the ball, and make sure we're all on the same page, but he is up to that, and I can't wait to see his senior year."
Also returning are 6-7 senior forward Judah Alexander (11.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg), 5-7 sophomore guard Jaquez Smith (3.5 ppg, 2.1 apg), 6-2 junior swingman Brandon Parker (10.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg), 6-0 junior guard Douglas Dwight (1.4 ppg), 6-1 senior guard John Jenkins (1.1 ppg), and 6-5 senior forward Warren Specht (7.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg). Parker came on strong at the end of last season, averaging 16.6 ppg over the final 13 contests.
Edwards' 2017-18 roster includes seven newcomers: 6-3 junior red-shirt guard Ryan Davis, 6-4 junior forward Victor Hunt, 5-11 sophomore guard Andrew Barber (transfer from Mars Hill University), 6-6 junior forward Joshua Oliver (Indian River State College), 6-4 sophomore forward Kendall Wall (Charleston Southern University), and 7-0 junior center Kingsley Nwagboso (Connors State College). Barber is a second-generation Patriot as his father Robert was a sharp-shooting guard for Francis Marion in the late 1980s.
Edwards pointed to several keys to success for 2017-18. "One of the things we need to do this year is be a great defensive team. I think we have to create some offense from our defense, and that means we really have to get after the ball and pressure the ball to help us get some easy buckets at the other end." The Patriots forced 22 turnovers in a 68-63 exhibition win over Division I Chattanooga last weekend.
"Another thing that is a high priority and I think we have to do a good job this year is rebounding. We do have some size that we can bring in off the bench if we need some rebounding help, but you know Judah Alexander, and people like that need to be great rebounders for us this year. So we are going to have to get some boards against a very physical, very tough Peach Belt Conference slate."
"I am exciting about our offense this year," Edwards said. "We are really going to spread the floor, and I think the guys are going to get some open shots. I am looking for us to shoot better this year, and I think we are going to have some good open looks. It's going to be a matter of us knocking them down."
Francis Marion trails in the all-time series with Catawba 5-4, including 75-62 loss in last year's challenge hosted by Lenoir-Rhyne. The Indians finished their 2016-17 season with an 18-11 record and feature two players – senior Jameel Taylor (17.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and senior Jerrin Morrison (15.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg) – named to the preseason All-SAC Team.
The Patriots' schedule includes 14 home games in the Smith University Center – a facility where FMU has posted a 20-9 record over the last two years. Edwards enters his 12th season on the Patriot bench and his 34rd year as a college head coach. His career coaching mark stands at 540-410, with 151 victories coming from his time in Florence.