March Madness lived up to its name with Virginia—on the anniversary of its stunning loss to 16th-seeded UMBC in 2018—suffering another first-round collapse, bowing out to Furman in one of the most improbable finishes you’ll ever see. Making only its seventh NCAA appearance and first since 1980, the Paladins sprung the tournament’s first big upset on the strength of 41 second-half points, overcoming a four-point deficit in the game’s final seconds.
Leading by two with seven seconds to go, Furman’s smothering defense swallowed up senior guard Kihei Clark, who, rather than using a timeout (Virginia still had one left), got tunnel vision, resulting in a costly turnover. After intercepting Clark’s errant pass, Garrett Hien fed teammate JP Pegues, who salvaged a poor shooting performance (3-for-9) by drilling the go-ahead bucket with 2.2 seconds remaining.
The 13th-seeded Paladins, who entered Thursday as 5.5-point underdogs, were just as surprised as all of us watching from home, with leading scorer Jalen Slawson (game-high 19 points) marveling at an inexplicable mistake that will haunt Virginia for weeks, if not months to come.
“He just freaking threw it!” said Slawson after leaving the court at Orlando’s Amway Arena, reflecting on the chaotic chain of events that has Furman headed to the Round of 32, ending a tournament dry spell of almost 50 years.
Located in Greenville, South Carolina, Furman has a student body of just 2,662, far less than the 17,000+ undergrads attending Virginia this year. The Southern Conference champs have never advanced past the tournament’s second round, something they’ll have a chance to do Saturday against either Charleston or San Diego State.
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