The Francis Marion University women's basketball team will open its 2017-18 season at home when the Patriots play host to the annual Peach Belt Conference/Conference Carolinas Challenge this Friday and Saturday (Nov. 10-11).
The four-team event will begin with FMU playing Erskine College on Friday at 5 p.m. in the Smith University Center. The second game at 7:30 p.m. will feature the University of North Georgia and North Greenville University.
Francis Marion and North Georgia will swap opponents on Saturday with FMU playing the nightcap at 7:30 p.m.
General admission is $8 for adults and $5 for students (FMU students are admitted free with ID). The game will be streamed live online, at https://www.youtube.com/user/FMUPatriots , courtesy of the Patriot Sports Network.
Third-year FMU head coach Jeri Porter welcomes back nine of 12 letterwinners from last year's 18-12 squad that placed second in the PBC's East Division standings. At the end of the season, the Patriots won nine straight games before falling to Columbus State in the semifinals of the PBC Tournament.
Among the nine returnees are four starters: senior forwards Briana Burgins (12.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and Khai Chandler (13.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg), senior center Kristin Tines (2.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and junior All-Conference guard Shaunice Fulmore (17.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg). Fulmore led the Peach Belt Conference in scoring last season, while scoring in double-figures in 29 of 30 games, including eight 20-point contests.
Chandler (978), Burgins (889), and Fulmore (818) are all on track to become the first Patriots to surpass 1000 career points since Shannon Singleton-Bates in 2010.
The Patriots have been picked to finish third in the Peach Belt according to the annual pre-season poll conducted by the league's coaches. Porter has registered 42 wins during her first two seasons at FMU and recorded her 250th coaching win at the end of last season.
"The keys to our success this year will be consistency and senior leadership, settling into our identity, and being able to play through adversity," Porter said. "We have four seniors and a graduate student who have been through the battles. They know our system and they know what it takes to win in the Peach Belt. In addition to scoring, their rebounding abilities and on-floor communication skills are important. There are many ways they will influence our squad.
"Our success at the end of last season was due to the fact we settled into our identity of playing good defense and playing at a fast pace. We understand that we can't take plays off at the defensive end. We want to continue that flow and open the season with the same mentality that we ended last year.
"Playing through adversity includes injuries and negative things that occur during a game. I hope that with our five upperclassmen this will be something that we can excel at. We can use adversity as a growing experience.
"In the preseason, we have rebounded the ball extremely well and shot a high percentage from the foul line. I also like the fact that we have played aggressively enough to get many trips to the line.
"We want to be as good as we can be at the opening tip, but also improve and get better as the season goes along. It is nice that we are starting with three home contests: the PBC/CC Challenge and a match-up with nationally ranked Wingate University on Nov. 15. Opening week brings a different kind of energy to the practice gym. The players are ready to face an outside opponent, and it is not lost on us that Erskine beat us last year on their home floor."
In addition to the returning starters, also back for 2017-18 are senior guard Keauna Williams (5.4 ppg), graduate student Victoria Dye (6.2 ppg), junior guard Brooke Dixon, junior forward Lauryn Bush, sophomore center Tatyana McClaney, and sophomore guard Abigail Bullock (8.0 ppg). Dye missed all of last season with a knee surgery, and is awaiting clearance from the NCAA to play this season.
This year's roster includes four newcomers: 5-5 junior guard Alliyah Gillespie (a transfer and two-time first-team All-Region selection at Niagara County Community College), 5-7 freshman guard Khamele Manning (Little Rock, S.C., and Dillon High School), 5-10 freshman guard Macy Passmore (Flowery Branch, Ga.), and 5-9 freshman forward Briana White (Mitchellville, Md.).
Porter added that she expects all of her newcomers to see action this year.
Erskine, under the direction of first-year head coach Shannon Reid, returns 10 letterwinners from last season's 12-17 squad. FMU leads the all-time series 23-3, including last year's narrow 68-65 loss.
Francis Marion's 27-game slate includes 14 home contests in the Smith University Center – where the Patriots have posted a 22-6 mark over the last two years.
The Patriots own a 29-15 mark in season openers, including a 17-5 record when opening at home.
Francis Marion ranks 11th on the all-time Division II wins list with an 853-448 mark in 44 seasons. The Patriots have advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 10 of the past 21 seasons.