No. 13 Furman offers another early NCAA Tournament exit to No. 4 Virginia

ORLANDO, Fla. — It took almost 50 years, but Furman has won another NCAA tournament.

Paladins also did it brilliantly.

Garrett Hien caught a foul pass and fed the ball to JP Pegues, who hit a long 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left to give the 13th-ranked Paladins a 68-67 win over No. 4 Virginia on Thursday at the Amway Center. It was the program’s first NCAA Tournament win since 1974.

“It’s a great moment,” said Furman head coach Bob Ritchie, three years after the Paladins last made the tournament in 1980. “… What a day to be a paladin.”

It was also very good for Pegus. The sophomore missed his previous three 3-point attempts, but the Paladins’ leader in 3-pointers this season made his last one just a few feet from the 3-point line. It will go down as one of the biggest upsets in program history as the Paladins earned another NCAA Tournament victory.

“When I saw Garrett Hien get it, I thought I wanted the ball,” Pegus said. “I feel like these moments made my whole life and I feel like I was built for it. So as soon as I get the ball, I’m me [saw] I took the shot and I knew at that point all I could do was just go up and shoot it and I had full confidence it was going to go in and it did.”

Furman’s win was the first upset of the tournament, and they were the fancy picks to make it happen. At Caesars Sportsbook, bets were on Furman’s side, with 61.6% tickets and 55.6% money on the Paladins.

BetMGM has more bets placed on Furman and points (5.5) than any other team in Thursday’s games and more money in play.

The Paladins (28-7), who have won 15 of their last 16 games, will play at San Diego State in a second-round game on Saturday.

“This team has done a great job of making history all year, so Saturday will be another opportunity to make history, and this team has been at its best all year under the brightest lights,” Furman forward Jalen Slawson said. “We played well [the Southern Conference] championship, but we played better today. Imagine we play better on Saturday.”

For Virginia (25-8), it was a reminder of another first-round loss. Thursday’s game marks the fifth anniversary of their loss to UMBC, the first time a 16 seed has beaten a 1 seed. The Cavaliers won the national title in 2019, but lost in the first round in the last two tournaments.

It was also a heartbreaking moment for Virginia guard Kihei Clark, who was initially trapped and threw an errant ball that was intercepted by Hien. Virginia still had a timeout, but neither Clark nor coach Tony Bennett called it.

“Couldn’t see it,” Clark said. “I saw Rhys [Beekman] turned back a bit and then saw Jayden [Gardner] on site. Just tried to throw.

“…Perhaps it was thrown to Isaac [McKneely] on the right wing. He just couldn’t see. It was a good trap.”

Virginia led by as many as 12 points with 15:11 to play, but Furman switched to a zone defense and chipped away at the lead, eventually going ahead with a layup by Slawson with 5:02 to play. Clark put Virginia up by four on a free throw with 19 seconds to play, but two free throws by Hien set up a Clark turnover with 12 seconds left.

“I thought we struggled to get that score back,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. I thought, “Okay, we got it back.” Good, tough game and I thought we’ll play on Saturday. But we’re not.”

He will be replaced by Furman.

“We’re just soaking it all in,” Pegus said. “We’re enjoying the moment.”

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