The Furman Paladins, seeded 13th, pulled off a shocking upset against the 4th-seeded Virginia Cavaliers, securing a 68-67 victory in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament at the Amway Center. The thrilling win was punctuated by a last-second three-pointer from sophomore JP Pegues, propelling the Paladins into the round of 32.
This marks Furman’s first tournament win since their 75-67 victory over South Carolina in the first round on March 9, 1974.
Furman head coach Bob Richey praised the team’s resilience and determination after the nail-biting win, “All year, we’ve been saying that this team just knows how to win.” Adding, “this team has persevered, and they did it today. It’s a microcosm of what they learn; they just keep reliving the lesson and finding ways.”
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Down 67-63 with just 12 seconds remaining, it was Furman’s Garrett Hien (52.7% free-throw shooter) who made two crucial free throws, cutting the deficit to only two points. Richey commented on his struggles with free throws in the past this season, saying, “He’s had some issues with free throws this year. It’s not because he can’t shoot them. He just had to believe.”
After trapping the Cavaliers on the inbounds pass, Hien intercepted an underthrown pass near midcourt and fed the ball to Pegues, who hit the game-winning three-pointer. Peques expressed his confidence to Lauren Shehadi after the game saying, “I was born for those moments.” When asked about the shot again during the press conference, he responded, “Those are moments I’ve craved my whole life, and I feel like I’m built for it.”
"I was born for those moments."
JP Pegues joined @LaurenShehadi after becoming a March Madness hero. pic.twitter.com/sPs95Dpu6B
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 16, 2023
Jalen Slawson, a fifth-year senior, led the Paladins with 19 points, ten rebounds, and four assists, earning his ninth double-double of the season and the 19th of his career. Redshirt junior Marcus Foster contributed 14 points, while Pegues and Mike Bothwell added 11 points each. After the game, Slawson was found walking to the locker room in disbelief, saying, “he just freaking threw it!”
Jalen Slawson: “He just freaking threw it!” pic.twitter.com/xMLCWtPMjD
— Brendan Marks (@BrendanRMarks) March 16, 2023
Despite the Cavaliers holding a 39-31 edge on the glass and limiting Furman to 39.3% shooting, the Paladins managed to outscore UVA by 24 points behind the arc and scored 11 points off eight turnovers. Moreover, Furman’s second-half performance was impressive, hitting 6-of-14 three-point attempts and making all nine of their free throw attempts to net 41 points.
The Paladins (28-7) secured their school-record 28th victory and became the first Southern Conference (SoCon) team to claim a tournament win since 2019. In this historic win, Bothwell became the fifth player in school history to reach 2,000 career points, while Slawson surpassed 1,500.
With momentum on their side, Furman will look to build on this stunning victory as they face San Diego State in the round of 32 on Saturday. The Paladins will tip off against the Aztecs at 12:10 pm. As Bob Richy said in the press conference following the victory, “it’s a great day to be a paladin.”
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