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The Athletic: Furman’s Upset is the Stuff of March Madness Lore

JP Pegues hits the game-winning jumper to beat the University of Virginia in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.

Last updated March 17, 2023

By Clinton Colmenares, Director of News and Media Strategy

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The Athletic reporter Brendan Marks wrote a poetic recount of Furman’s upset win against the Virginia Cavaliers in the first round of the 2023 NCAA Tournament.

He captured the drama of the last few seconds of the game:

“The ball hung in the air forever, it seemed, silencing the Amway Center as it did.

“And then, kaboom. Eruption.

“It was almost anticipatory, as if the rows of purple-clad supporters were willing history to happen. With 12.3 seconds left to play, it looked as if Virginia — still searching for its first NCAA Tournament win since the 2019 national championship game — would survive Furman’s furious upset bid. Leading by two, all the Cavaliers needed was one inbound pass, a few free throws, get out of Dodge. It started the right way: Virginia inbounded the ball to Reece Beekman, who quickly passed back to Kihei Clark, Virginia’s fifth-year point guard. Even as Furman’s defenders closed in on Clark in the corner of the court, surely, he of the miracle March Madness pass four years against Purdue would play his way out of a jam. Beat the trap, get fouled, hit shots, game over.

“‘I was calling for a foul,’ Furman coach Bob Richey said, ‘but the good Lord knew they couldn’t hear me — and they threw it to us.’

“Even in hindsight, it’s almost unbelievable. It absolutely was in real time, 8.2 ticks still on the clock, but there Clark was, chucking a right-handed heave up into space. ‘I knew when we were trapping that he was leaning back,’ said Furman guard JP Pegues, ‘so I knew it was about to be an air pass.’ The ball floated, seemingly stuck in space — until its trajectory changed course, rocketing back to earth like a meteorite. Garrett Hien, his feet fittingly planted on the dual Ms of the midcourt MARCH MADNESS logo, saw it speeding his way before it arrived. ‘I just told myself I need to make a play,’ Hien said. ‘I know someone on my team will hit the big shot.’

“There was still time, some 6.1 seconds, but not much. Hien took a single dribble to his right, and his eyes widened as he saw something else unthinkable: Pegues, posted up behind the 3-point arc, wide freaking open.

“‘As soon as I’d seen it go in Garrett’s hands,’ Pegues said, ‘I’m telling myself, ‘I know he sees me. I want the ball.’’

“And he got it. There was no second thought in the sophomore guard’s mind, no hitch or hold or doubt about what to do next. He did what true hoopers do, what he’d always dreamed of: fire up a would-be game-winner.

“Nothing but net.”

Marks provided some background about Pegues, writing, “His first two months on campus he committed to making 1,000 3-pointers a day, even knowing he’d be behind two senior guards on the depth chart, ultimately scoring 97 total points all year in 12.6 minutes a game. More than that, he even warms up from that specific spot on the court before every game, and during practices back in Greenville, S.C. ‘Sometimes he’ll miss ’em and take out managers or stuff like that underneath the basket,’ teammate Ben VanderWal said, ‘but today, he freaking made that thing right in. It was unbelievable.'”

Marks said of the start of the second half, “Virginia exited the halftime locker room on a heater, and built a 12-point lead with 11:54 to play. Against normal teams, who play at a typical pace, that’s daunting. Against Virginia, 360th in the nation in tempo, per KenPom? It’s damn near a death sentence.”

“(Mike) Bothwell was in foul trouble, but his roommate, (Jalen) Slawson, took matters into his own hands, Marks wrote, “with a takeover, a personal 9-0 run that flipped Furman from down six to up three. Included in that were two incredibly tough and-1s, and a top-of-the-key 3. ‘He was player of the year for a reason,’ Hien said. ‘You know, 9-0 run? We believe he’s the best big, honestly, in this tournament.’ At the same time, Richey made a risky coaching move: He told his team to break out its 1-3-1 zone defense, a rarely-used tactic the Paladins hadn’t practiced in months.

“Understandably, the Cavaliers were stumped. ‘I think 0.6 percent on Synergy, or whatever,’ Bennett said postgame, when asked if Furman had shown any zone on tape. ‘Maybe 15 possessions this year,’ Pegues added, smirking as he said so.

“Between Slawson’s singular brilliance and that 1-3-1 zone, the game tightened into a knot, all the way down to those final 12.3 seconds.

“That unthinkable, unbelievable final sequence.”

Read the entire story online at The Athletic.

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Clinton Colmenares
Director of News and Media Strategy