ORLANDO, Fla. — It took nearly 50 years, but Furman finally has another NCAA tournament win.
The Paladins did it in pretty dramatic fashion, too.
Garrett Hien intercepted a wayward pass and fed the ball to JP Pegues, who hit a long 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds to play to give the 13th-seeded Paladins a 68-67 victory over 4th-seeded Virginia at the Amway Center on Thursday. It’s the program’s first NCAA tournament victory since 1974.
“It’s an unbelievable moment,” said Furman head coach Bob Richey, who wasn’t born until three years after the Paladins had made their last tournament appearance in 1980. “… What a day to be a Paladin.”
It was a pretty good one for Pegues, too. The sophomore guard had missed his previous three 3-point attempts but the Paladins’ leader in 3-point field goals this season buried his last from several feet behind the 3-point line. It’ll go down as one of the biggest shots in program history since the Paladins had just one other NCAA tournament win.
“As soon I saw it to into Garrett Hien’s hands, I was like, I want the ball,” Pegues said. “I feel like those are moments I’ve created my whole life and I feel like I’m built for. So as soon as I got the ball and I [saw] a shot attempt I had, I knew all I could do at that point was just ride up and shoot it and I had full belief that it was going in and it did.”
Furman’s victory was the first upset of the tournament and they were a trendy pick to get it done. At Caesars Sportsbook, the betting was on the Furman side, with 61.6% of the tickets and 55.6% of the money on the Paladins.
At BetMGM books, more bets were placed and more money wagered on Furman plus the points (5.5) than on any other team in Thursday’s games by tipoff.
The Paladins (28-7), who have won 15 of their last 16 games, will play the winner of the San Diego State-Charleston game on Saturday in a second-round game.
“This team’s done a great job making history all year so Saturday’s going to be another chance to make history, and this team has performed the best under the brightest lights all year,” Furman forward Jalen Slawson said. “We played well in [the Southern Conference] championship, but we played better today. Imagine if we go play better Saturday.”
For Virginia (25-8) it was a reminder of another heartbreaking first-round loss. Thursday’s game came on the five-year anniversary of their loss to UMBC, the first time a 16 seed had beaten a 1 seed. The Cavaliers rebounded to win the national title in 2019 but have lost in the first round of their last two tournament appearances.
It was also a heartbreaking moment for Virginia guard Kihei Clark, who got caught in a trap on the baseline and threw an errant downcourt pass that Hien intercepted. Virginia still had a timeout remaining but neither Clark nor coach Tony Bennett called one.
“Couldn’t see out of it,” Clark said. “Saw Reece [Beekman] going back a little bit and then saw Jayden [Gardner] down there. Just tried to throw it up.
“… Maybe could have threw it to Isaac [McKneely] on the right wing. Just couldn’t see. It was a good trap.”
Virginia had a 12-point lead with 15:11 to play but Furman switched to a zone defense and chipped away at the lead, eventually going ahead on a Slawson layup with 5:02 to play. Clark put Virginia ahead by four with 19 seconds to play on a free throw but two Hien free throws with 12 seconds to play set the stage for Clark’s turnover.
“I thought we battled to get that lead back,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “That’s where I thought, ‘Okay, we got it back. Good, tough play and thought we were going to be playing on Saturday. But we’re not.”
That’ll be Furman, instead.
“We’re just soaking it all in,” Pegues said. “We’re enjoying the moment.”