ORLANDO, Fla. — With the game on the line, and a chance to become a hero, JP Pegues stepped up and hit the biggest shot of his career to send No. 13 seed Furman to an upset win over No. 4 seed Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The game-winning play unfolded in dramatic fashion, too.
Furman junior Garrett Hien knocked down two free throws to cut the deficit to two points with 12 seconds left. The Paladins then deployed their full-court pressure and forced the Cavaliers to throw an errant pass that was picked off by Hien around midcourt.
Hien then fired the ball up to Pegues, and the sophomore promptly let the ball go. He drained the 3-pointer to take the lead, 68-67, with just 2.2 seconds left. The final shot attempt by Virginia missed and Furman rushed the court to celebrate at Amway Center.
Pegues stayed ready for the moment.
As soon as I saw it go into Garrett Hien’s hands, I was like: ‘I want the ball!’ I feel like those are the moments I’ve craved my whole life and I feel like I’m built for it. As soon as I got the ball and saw a shot attempt, I knew all I could do at that point was just rise up and shoot it. I had full belief it was going in and it did.
ARE YOU SERIOUS?! 😨
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 16, 2023
Virginia started off the game with an 8-0 lead and eventually pushed its advantage to 10 points in the first half. Furman, aided by fifth-year seniors Jalen Slawson and Mike Bothwell, helped the Paladins cut the deficit to five points with 13 combined points at halftime. The Cavaliers then came out of halftime and added to their advantage behind an 18-11 run to take their biggest lead at 12 points with 11:54 to go.
Furman then started to cut into the deficit.
Slawson gave Furman its first lead with 5:02 left to play after scoring nine straight points. The group stayed ahead until 1:37 to go when Virginia reclaimed the lead, setting up the wild finish.
“There is a lot going on in my mind right now,” Furman head coach Bob Richey said. “It is an unbelievable moment and I give all of the glory to God for giving me the ability to be able to lead it, but this is a day that these players just found a way. This team has persevered and they did it today. It is a microcosm of what they learn and they just keep relearning the lesson and they just keep finding ways. I still don’t know what happened there late.”
Furman had four players score in double figures, including a game-high 19 points and 10 rebounds from Slawson. Junior Marcus Foster hit four 3s and finished with 14 points, and Pegues and Bothwell each added 11 points apiece.
The Paladins became the first 13-seed to win in the opening round since Ohio defeated Virginia in 2021. It was Furman’s second-ever win in the NCAA Tournament and their first win since 1974 against South Carolina in the first round.
— Cody Taylor (@CodyTaylorNBA) March 16, 2023
Furman (28-7, 15-3) will advance to the Round of 32 to face the winner of No. 12 College of Charleston and No. 5 San Diego in the South Regional on Saturday.
The team may take some time to reflect on its historic win first, though.
“This is the biggest crowd we’ve ever played in,” Pegues said. “To see not only our Furman fans but also the rest of the crowd with the other teams seeing the fight that we have, boosted us up. We’re just soaking it all in. We’re enjoying the moment.”