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Pegues’ March magic keeps Paladins dancing

After a 43-year absence from the Big Dance, Furman is making the most of this trip to the NCAA Tournament

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Furman vs Virginia
JP Pegues hit the game-winning three with 2.2 seconds left to lift Furman past Virginia.
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Furman hasn’t appeared in an NCAA Tournament in 43 years, and hadn’t won a game in the Big Dance in 48 years, however, when JP Pegues knocked down an NBA 3-pointer, it was a fitting return to the NCAA Tournament for the Paladins, as the No. 13 seed posted a 68-67 win over fourth-seeded Virginia in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday afternoon at the Amway Center in Orlando.

Pegues might not know what platform shoes are, but he extended Furman’s dance for the first time since they were all the craze.

It was the SoCon’s first win in the Big Dance since Wofford knocked off Seton Hall in 2019.

Pegues’ game-winning dagger was set up by some excellent defending by the ‘Dins, who trapped Cavaliers senior guard Kihei Clark in the corner, and with a rare moment of indecision, Clark lofted the ball up in the air. Paladin junior forward Garrett Hien intercepted the errant throw and found Pegues at the right elbow for the triple with just 2.2 seconds remaining.

The ball was quickly inbounded to Armaan Franklin, who heaved it from just inside halfcourt, but it hit off the glass and the side of the rim as time expired, allowing the Paladins to have a moment nearly half-a-century in the making. Furman improved to 2-6 all-time in tournament action and improved on its school-record win total to 28.

The Paladins move on to face San Diego State, who took down College of Charleston, 63-57, in the second matchup of the day. It will mark the first-ever meeting between the Paladins and Aztecs.

Things looked bleak for the Paladins when Mike Bothwell fouled out of the contest with 11 points and 6:25 remaining. Earlier in the game, he eclipsed the 2,000-point plateau to move into the school’s top five all-time in scoring. He currently sits at 2,001 career points.

At that point, Virginia had extended its lead to 54-48, but then Furman’s Jalen Slawson went to work, scoring nine straight points, which gave the Paladins a 57-54 lead following an old-fashioned 3-point play with 5:02 left. It was Furman’s first lead of the afternoon.

Slawson, who was the SoCon’s Player of the Year, finished with a game-high 19 points and 10 rebounds for his 19th career double-double. He also added four assists. He surpassed 1,500 points in his career in the same game.

From that point on, the game see-sawed back and fourth and remained within four points. Virginia went up 67-63 on a Clark free throw with 19 seconds remaining. Cue the drama.

Then Pegues drove hard to the basket before dishing to Hien, who went in for a dunk but was fouled by Shedrick. The 55% foul shooter calmly knocked down both shots with 12.2 seconds left. The Paladins then pressured Virginia on the ensuing inbounds pass, with Pegues and Marcus Foster, forcing Clark, who had no timeouts left, to aimlessly throw the ball away to Hien, which set up Pegues for his March moment.

The Paladins trailed by as many as 12 with less than 11 minutes to play.

Slawson was joined in double figures by Foster (14), Bothwell (11) and Pegues (11). Pegues recorded his eighth straight double-figure scoring effort and has now posted double digits in the score column in 16 of his past 17 games.

For Virginia, this marks the third time in five years it fell to a double-digit mid-major seed, including the second-straight loss in the Big Dance to a 13 seed. The fourth-seeded Cavaliers lost 63-58 to 13th-seeded Ohio Bobcats back in 2021, its most recent trip to the NCAA Tournament.

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