The Francis Marion University men's basketball team will open its 2019-20 season on Friday and Saturday (Nov. 8-9) as the Patriots host the Peach Belt Conference-South Atlantic Conference Challenge.
FMU will take on Newberry College on Friday at 11 a.m., followed by UNC Pembroke playing Catawba College at 1 p.m. On Saturday, the Patriots will face Catawba at 4 p.m. and UNCP battles Newberry at 6 p.m.
Daily admission is $8 for adults, $5 for students, and FMU students are admitted free. All games will be streamed live online courtesy of the Patriot Sports Network.
Head Coach Gary Edwards returns for his 14th season at the helm of the Patriots, and welcomes back seven lettermen from the 2018-19 squad that went 21-9 and earned the program's second consecutive NCAA Tournament invitation.
Senior point guard Jaquez Smith is the lone returning starter although the other returnees logged considerable minutes last season. The remainder of the Patriot roster includes seven freshmen, one junior college transfer (Kainan Pouncy), and one Division I transfer (Keith Matthews).
Smith was the quarterback of last year's NCAA squad, averaging 11.0 points per game and ranking ninth in the Peach Belt with 3.7 assists per contest. He already stands 11th on the FMU career assists list with 247. With a similar season to last year, he could threaten the Top-3 on that ranking.
"It has been nice to watch the progression of Jaquez from his freshman year until now, including how he controls the game, how he runs the team, and how he controls his emotions," Edwards said. "He has improved each season, and will definitely be a key for us this year. He is a much better shooter, and that opens up his game. We need him to be a calming influence on the floor."
Other returnees include 6-0 senior guard Douglas Dwight (2.2 ppg), 6-4 junior forward Kendall Wall (5.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg), 6-7 sophomore center Winston Hill (9.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg), 6-2 sophomore guard Alex Cox (1.0 ppg), 6-2 sophomore guard Gabriel Dickerson, and 6-2 sophomore guard Trey Jones.
"If Winston stays healthy, he can be one of the best big men in the Peach Belt. He is an important cog in our attack and a nice weapon to have in our arsenal." Hill averaged 13.6 ppg and shot 60 percent over the final eight games of his freshman season.
Pouncy, a 6-2 guard, was a two-time All-Conference (second-team) selection at Enterprise State Community College in Alabama, where he averaged 20.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season. Matthews, a 6-6 forward, joins the Patriot program after two seasons at Stetson University where he appeared in 59 contests.
The freshmen include 5-9 guard JaVarion Calhoun, 6-5 forward Jamal Edmonson, 6-5 forward Stan Eze, 6-1 guard Loginn Norton, 6-4 swingman Ja'Lil Robinson, 6-4 guard Derrick Sinkler Jr., and 6-3 guard Quinten Thomas.
"We have fought through some injuries, but overall the pre-season has gone well," Edwards said. "Our biggest question for this season will be where will the points come from. We will rely on the returners and the two transfers at the outset so the freshmen have the time to acclimate themselves to the college game. Conditioning will also be a key for us. Until the first-year players are ready for the college game, our depth will be limited, and especially due to the fact that several key players missed time in the pre-season due to injuries.
"Our schedule may play to our favor in that we play two games, have a break, play three games, have a break, and then play three games before Christmas. During the breaks, we can work on what needs fixing as well as work on conditioning.
"Our probable starters for Friday will be Smith, Hill, Cox, Matthews, and Pouncy.
"We are concentrating more on defense this season as points will be at a premium. How well we play defense will indicate how we do. We improved in our two scrimmages. We also need to stay out of foul trouble.
"Among the freshmen, Robinson has had his moments during the pre-season and Edmunson will certainly add some strength to our rotation."
Francis Marion finished the 2018-19 campaign third in the Peach Belt in scoring offense (87.0 ppg) and second in three-pointers made (342).
FMU leads the all-time series with Newberry 25-19 and trails in the series with Catawba 6-5.
The Patriots' schedule includes 13 home contests in the Smith University Center, where the Patriots are 24-4 over the past two seasons.
Edwards is the second winningest coach in program history with 192 victories, and owns a career head coaching mark of 581-429 in 35 seasons. He is sixth among active Division II coaches for total wins.