One of Jason Donnelly’s first orders of business when he was hired as Furman’s new athletics director in July was to renew the basketball team’s deep ties to downtown that had lain dormant for the better part of 20 years. The first step toward reaching that goal – and the many others he has for the program – comes Saturday, when the Paladins host Winthrop at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in the first of three “Weekends at the Well” games this season.
“We’ve got to get back to being Greenville’s team,” Donnelly said. “It gives us a chance to grow our brand. Greenville is now the largest city for Furman alumni, and it gives us a chance to be front and center for them.”
Furman played its home games downtown at Memorial Auditorium for 38 years until Timmons Arena opened on campus in 1998. Since then, the Paladins have played a sprinkling of games in Bon Secours, which also opened in 1998, but none since the 2006-07 season when they hosted Davidson and College of Charleston.
Bon Secours, with a capacity of 15,000, is much larger than Timmons, which seats about 2,500 as currently configured for basketball, and its location in the heart of Greenville’s bustling downtown gives Furman a chance to merge an enthusiastic student fan base with the larger community at a time when the program is experiencing its most success in four decades.
The Paladins are coming off a season in which they set a school record with 25 victories, upset No. 6 Villanova, played in the NIT for the second time and achieved their first national ranking by the Associated Press. Over the past three years Furman has won 23, 23 and 25 games – its most victories ever over three consecutive seasons.
Under third-year coach Bob Richey, the 2019-20 team is off to an 8-3 start that includes an 81-78 overtime loss at No. 13 Auburn on Dec. 6 in which Furman led for almost the entire second half. Noah Gurley ’22 paces the Paladins in scoring at 15.5 points per game, while Jordan Lyons ’20 and Clay Mounce ’21 both average 14.5 points. Mounce leads them in rebounding with 6.6 per game.
“Baseball does this at Fluor Field,” Donnelly said in reference to several games the Paladins host at the minor league stadium downtown. “To take this environment downtown is going to allow us to try go get in front of more people that may get engaged with Furman.”
Saturday’s contest will tip off at 6 p.m., but the festivities will begin at 4 p.m. in the Furman plaza outside the stadium. There will be tailgate games and a live DJ as well as study break coffee available for free to students.. Food and beverages will also be available for purchase, and holiday-themed Furman basketball T-shirts will be given away to 450 students.
Furman is also providing a free shuttle to the game that will loop beginning at 3:30 p.m. from Timmons to Bon Secours and run until 11 p.m. Students can also receive a discount if they take an Uber to the game.
General admission student tickets are available for pickup Friday, Dec. 13, from 3-6 p.m. in the Timmons Arena lobby and again at the Furman plaza outside of Bon Secours beginning at 4 p.m. on game day.
“In a perfect world, we’d have all 2,800 (students) go,” Donnelly said. “We want everyone to be a part of it. Every student has a ticket, and every one of them has guaranteed transportation to this.”
Furman will also host Samford, UNC Greensboro and Wofford later this season at the Well. Jan. 11 will feature a doubleheader, with the women’s team taking on Samford at 4:30 p.m. followed by the men battling UNC Greensboro at 7.
The men will square off against Wofford at noon on Feb. 22.
Donnelly envisions Weekends at the Well becoming an annual tradition, with some big-time opponents.
“We may have a chance to get some of the Power 5 schools who will never play in Timmons but will play at the Well,” he said. “So instead of playing Auburn at Auburn, maybe we have a chance to play Auburn (in Greenville) to broaden our national exposure.”
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