By Mandrallius Robinson
Photo credit: BART BOATWRIGHT
After Western Carolina overpowered the Paladins 73-65 on Jan. 10, Paladins coach Jeff Jackson challenged his players' frontcourt physicality. Alex Opacic, a 6-foot-10 junior from Sydney, Australia, answered the challenge, aggressively attacking the basket against Elon on Saturday and scoring a career-high 20 points in a 60-58 loss.
"What you like to see is when you challenge guys, they step up and answer the challenge," Jackson said. "I was really pleased with the way Alex played."
That kind of play could help Furman (2-14, 1-6) when it hosts South Division leader Davidson (8-6, 6-0) in a Southern Conference game at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Timmons Arena. Opacic said he is focusing on becoming consistently aggressive.
"Coach told me he wanted me to be tougher, and every time I got the ball to attack the basket," Opacic said. "I put it in my mind that I was going to be aggressive. Every time I touched the ball, I was going to go quick and attack the rim no matter what."
Opacic joined the Paladins as a perimeter threat. During his first season, 36 percent of his field goal attempts were from 3-point range. Opacic gradually enhanced his interior game, dropping that percentage to 23.4 last season. He has taken only 13.3 percent of his field goal attempts from behind the arc this season, while improving his overall field goal percentage from .441 to .484.
He is Furman's second-leading scorer, averaging 10.1 points per game.
"Primarily, I was a bit more of a perimeter player, but I wanted to become tougher inside and get some better post moves," Opacic said. "I've been able to work at it and do it."
Opacic also registered the first double-double of his career, grabbing 12 rebounds against the Phoenix. His previous high was six, which he recorded twice in 2006. Furman outrebounded an opponent for the first time on Saturday, recording 32 to Elon's 29.