FLORENCE S.C. - Twelve new players will suit up for the Francis Marion University men’s basketball squad along with three returning starters as the Patriots open their season Friday (Nov. 11) at 8 p.m. against Coker College at the UNC Pembroke Holiday Classic in Pembroke, N.C.
FMU holds a 43-11 advantage in the all-time series with the Cobras, including an 86-69 win last season to run their current winning streak over Coker to four. The Patriots then will round out the weekend classic against St. Andrews University on Saturday at 6 p.m. Francis Marion leads that all-time series 16-8.
FMU posted a 16-11 record last year, the team’s third consecutive winning campaign, and finished third in the Peach Belt Conference’s East Division. FMU is 22-19 all-time in season openers, including 4-1 under head coach Gary Edwards.
“It will be a great test for us this year,” said Edwards. “We’re going to have to be a hard working, blue collar team to be successful. We will have to do the little things well, and really get after people.”
Edwards also added how that blue collar mentality is crucial in changing the team’s fortunes on the defensive end.
“To win tough road games you have to be strong defensively, something we had trouble with at times last year. We may not score as much, so we’re going to have to be tough on the defensive end.” The Patriots led the PBC in scoring offense last year at 80.6 points per game.
Despite the small number of returnees, Edwards is quick to point out the Patriots welcome back three very solid players who started much of last season. The frontcourt will be manned by familiar faces in seniors Liki Turner and Andrew Smith. Turner (16.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg) is coming off a second-team All PBC selection, as well as being selected the Team MVP for 2010-11. He is a pre-season honorable mention All-American as named by the Sporting News and a pre-season All-PBC selection. The 6-10, 248-pound Smith (8.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) will benefit down low, thanks to some sharp shooters FMU brought in.
“Liki [Turner] is such a good inside out player, and isn’t afraid to take it strong to the basket to draw a foul, and when he does get to the line, he’s a very good free throw shooter (81.4%). Looking at Andrew Smith, he’s been knocking on the door for a couple years now, so this could really be a breakout year for him.”
Sophomore Evrik Gary is the only FMU holdover in the backcourt. Gary (11.3 ppg, 2.0 apg) is the team’s best outside threat early in the season, and has gotten bigger and stronger in the offseason. The Camden, S.C., native also ranked eighth nationally in free throw shooting at a 90.1 percent clip.
Of the new players suiting up for FMU this year, four transfer in from Motlow State Community College: 6-4 guard Maurice Grant (Marion, S.C.), 6-4 forward Darryn Frazier (Meridianville, Ala.), 5-11 guard Derek Hosey (Memphis, Tenn.), and 6-6 forward Zamarius McLendon (Clarksville, Tenn.).
Other transfers include 6-4 junior guard Mi’Kyel Nero (Richmond, Va.) from Georgia State University, 6-0 senior guard Marcus Wright (Winston-Salem, N.C.) from Appalachian State University, 6-4 forward Lorenzo Williams (Brooklyn, N.Y.) from Kingsborough Community College and 6-6 senior forward Marcel Williams (Ocoee, Fla.) from Austin Peay State University. Williams already owns his undergraduate degree and appeared in 98 career games for the Govs.
Solidifying the guard positions are 6-2 redshirt-freshman guard Sam Caron (Grimbergem, Belgium), and the freshmen trio of 6-0 Clayton Williams (Atlanta, Ga.) and 6-2 Cameron Lee and 6-2 AJ Caldwell, both from Columbia, S.C.
Francis Marion will open their home schedule on Friday, Nov. 18, when it hosts Morris College as the part of the Zaxby’s Tip-Off Clazzic starting at 8 p.m. in the Smith University Center.
Edwards is entering his 28th year as a college coach with a 460-324 record, including a 71-68 mark in five seasons in Florence.