No. 13 seed Furman hands UVA its latest early March exit
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Kihei Clark sat in the locker room watching video on his phone, trying to figure out how Virginia could have avoided another early exit from the NCAA tournament.
Exactly five years to the day after losing the No. 1 spot to 16th seed UMBC, the Cavaliers were eliminated again in the first round on Thursday as the higher seeded team – this time falling 68-67 to 13th seed Furman.
Virginia has not won an NCAA tournament game since defeating Texas Tech in 2019 for the title. Clark’s misguided pass was intercepted by Garrett Hien in the final seconds, resulting in a wide open 3-pointer that JP Pegues pocketed without hesitation.
Clark played as a freshman on Virginia’s national team, which won the title in 2019. His long career with the Cavaliers had a much more unsatisfactory ending.
So what would he have done differently?
“Call timed out, maybe Armaan (Franklin) could have thrown it on the right wing,” Clark said. “He was open. couldn’t see It was a good trap.”
Coach Tony Bennett wasn’t surprised when Clark patiently answered questions from reporters.
“It’s part of the game. I’ve used this line before, but when you step between the lines you take the good and the heavy with you. They try to treat both of them with dignity and respect,” Bennett said.
“I loved coaching him in his career. He had the most amazing assist to take us to a Final Four. We wouldn’t be where we are without him, all the success,” added Bennett. “He’s had an incredible career. You’re always looking at that last moment, and there are so many what-ifs and who knows.”
The Paladins (28-7), making their first trip to the NCAA tournament in 43 years, advanced to the second round in the South Region, where they will face fifth-placed San Diego State (28-6) on Saturday. The Aztecs held off Charleston 63-57 in 12th place.
“All year we’ve been saying that this team just knows how to win. … It’s an incredible moment,” said Furman coach Bob Richey.
“This game is — interesting might be the word I would use,” Bennett said. “You feel like, we’ve got it, we’ve got it, and then suddenly, in the blink of an eye, it ends up changing. That is hard.”
Furman secured his first spot in a tournament since 1980 by beating Chattanooga for the Southern Conference title, ending a season-long search for redemption after earning the automatic spot with a 35-foot buzzer-beater in overtime last year of the League had lost to the Mocs.
“I couldn’t help but look back a year ago when I saw the shot in the air. It’s just a reminder, like we’ve said all year, count on joy, and you don’t know the timing of things. … This team persevered, and they made it today,” Richey said. “It’s a microcosm of what they’ve learned, and they keep reliving the lesson and they keep finding new ways.”
After last year’s disappointment, Jalen Slawson and his best friend Mike Bothwell both decided to return for their fifth season with the Paladins. Slawson took over the game when Bothwell fouled just over six minutes from time and scored nine straight points to convert a 54-48 deficit into Furman’s first lead of the game, 57-54, 5:02 to go.
Southern Conference Player of the Year Slawson finished the tournament with 19 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
“I told Mike that today wouldn’t be the last time he puts on a leotard and I know the same thing would have happened if the roles had been reversed,” Slawson said. “It didn’t have to be just me. But the game was up there and these guys were telling me they believed in me and telling me to be a little bit passive, telling me to be a little bit more aggressive.”
The winning shot was Pegues’ only 3 of the game.
“As soon as I saw it go into Garrett Hien’s hands, I thought, I want the ball. I feel like these are moments that I’ve created my entire life and I feel like I was made for it ‘ Pegues said. “I was adamant it was going to go in and it did.”
Reece Beekman’s deep 3-pointer on the buzzer bounced off the rim and Virginia (25-8) was eliminated in the first round as the higher-seeded team for the third time in the last four NCAA tournaments. The Cavaliers were also No. 4 two years ago when they were beaten by 13th seed Ohio.
Kadin Shedrick led the Cavaliers with 15 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks. Beekman scored 14 and Isaac McKneely added 12.
Marcus Foster scored 14 points and Pegues and Bothwell both finished with 11 for Furman.
Pegues’ shot sent shockwaves throughout the tournament.
Gradey Dick shot free throws late in the first half in Des Moines, Iowa as the crowd roared, startling the Kansas freshman. Fans reacted to the final seconds of the Furman-Virginia game shown on the Center Court video board. Dick made the first free throw, turned and looked at the video board to see what the riot was about, and then sunk the second. Another loud roar erupted as time ran out for Furman’s excitement, but it didn’t spoil Kansas’ win over Howard as the teams were on a time-out.
Furman: The Paladins played six times in the tournament between 1971 and 1980. Their only other win came in 1974 against South Carolina. Slawson sees no reason why the Southern Conference winner couldn’t win again.
“This team did a great job making history all year,” Slawson said, “so you know Saturday is going to be another chance to make history.”
AP sportswriter Eric Olson of Des Moines, Iowa contributed to this report.
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