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No. 13 seed Furman hands UVA his final departure in early March


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.

Five years to the day after losing as No. 1 to 16th-seeded UMBC, the Cavaliers were knocked out as the higher-seeded team on Thursday in the first round – this time falling 68-67 to 13th-seeded Furman.

Virginia has not won an NCAA Tournament game since winning over Texas Tech in 2019 for the title. Clark’s poor pass was intercepted by Garrett Hien in the closing seconds, leading to a wide open three-pointer that sank JP Pegues without hesitation.

Clark played on Virginia’s 2019 national title-winning team as a freshman. His long career with the Cavaliers had a much more unsatisfactory end.

So what would he have done differently?

“Call time out, might have thrown it to Armaan (Franklin) on the right wing,” Clark said. “It was open. Couldn’t see. It was a good trap.”

Coach Tony Bennett was not surprised to see Clark patiently answering reporters’ questions.

“This is part of the game. I’ve used this line before, but when you step between the lines, you take the good and the hard. You try to treat them both with dignity and respect,” said Bennett.

“I loved coaching him in his career. He had the most amazing assist to take us to a Final Four. We wouldn’t be in this place without him, all the success,” Bennett added. “He has an incredible career behind. You always look at that last moment, and there are so many what-ifs and who knows.

The Paladins (28-7) made their first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 43 years, advancing to the second round in the South Region, where they face fifth-seeded San Diego State (28-6) on Saturday. The Aztecs held off No. 12 seed Charleston 63-57.

“We’ve been saying all year 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’d use,” Bennett said. “You feel like we got it, we got it, and then all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, it changes at the end. That is heavy.”

Furman earned his first tournament spot since 1980 by defeating Chattanooga for the Southern Conference title, marking a season-long redemption after losing the league’s automatic berth to the Mocs in overtime on a 35-foot buzzer last year.

“When I saw the shot in the sky, I couldn’t help but go back to a year ago. It’s just a reminder, as we’ve been saying all year, count on joy and you don’t know the timing of things. … This team persevered, and they did it today,” Richey said. “It’s a microcosm of what they’ve learned, and they keep reliving the lesson and keep finding ways.”

In the wake of 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 left to score nine straight points to convert a 54-48 deficit into Furman’s first lead of the game, 57-54, with 5 to go :02 to go.

Slawson, the Southern Conference Player of the Year, finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

“I told Mike we wouldn’t be the last time he put on a jersey today, and I know if the tables had turned, the same thing would have happened,” said Slawson. “I didn’t have to be alone. But the game was up for grabs, and these guys told me they believed in me and said I was a little passive, told me to be a little more aggressive.

The winning shot was Pegues’ only 3 of the game.

“As soon as I saw the ball go into the hands of Garrett Hien, I thought: I want the ball. I feel like these are moments I’ve been creating all my life, and I feel like I was made for it.” Pegues said, “I was very confident that it would go in, and it did.”

Reece Beekman’s deep 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced off the rim and Virginia (25-8) was knocked out in the first round as the higher-seeded team for the third time in the past four NCAA tournaments. The Cavaliers were also a No. 4 seed two years ago, when they were defeated by 13th-seeded 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 ahead of 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 and startled the Kansas freshman. Fans reacted to the final seconds of the Furman-Virginia game shown on the center field video board. Dick made the first free throw, turned and looked up at the video board to see what the commotion was about, then sank the second. There was another loud roar as time expired on the Furman upset, but it didn’t disrupt Kansas’ victory over Howard as the teams were in timeout.


Furman: The Paladins entered the tournament six times between 1971 and 1980. Their only other win was against South Carolina in 1974. Slawson sees no reason why the Southern Conference champions can’t win again.

“This team has done a great job all year making history,” said Slawson, “so you know, Saturday is going to be another chance to make history.”


AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.


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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.