College Hoops

Pegues’ March magic keeps Paladins dancing

Pegues’ March magic keeps Paladins dancing

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…

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