Virginia Exits NCAA Tournament With Stunning End Against Furman

Virginia Cavaliers
Kihei Clark and Virginia lost in the NCAA Tournament. ~ File Photo by Mike Ingalls/

The Virginia basketball team was excited to return to the NCAA Tournament after missing the field last year, but it would have liked to avoid the madness part of the month. Instead, the Cavaliers suffered another heartbreaking defeat in the first round as Furman nailed a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds remaining to win 68-67.

That marked the second straight tournament appearance where UVA exited as a 4 seed in an upset by a 13 seed. Ohio defeated Virginia in the same situation in the 2021 event. That undoubtedly will create conversation anew about style of play, schemes, and systems that were quieted by the 2019 National Championship.

“I mean, you just keep working. I think the guys had a terrific year this year being co-champs in the ACC, got to the championship game of the conference tournament and felt like we had this, and certainly lost,” Cavalier coach Tony Bennett said. “The last time we were in the tournament we had the COVID deal and we got one practice. We had a key injury. So I can make situations why it’s been tough, but we lost in the first round. … It is what it is. It doesn’t take away from what these guys have done and what we’ve experienced over the years, but you wanted it when you felt like you had it, and that was a tough one. But grateful to coach them, and keep building, keep trusting. And you’ve got a choice how you respond, and I will choose to respond the right way.”

Thursday’s loss in Orlando was a tough one because Virginia had responded to a surge from Furman to retake the lead in the final two minutes. That’s when a series of chances to seal the deal turned into a nightmare ending.

With 35 seconds to go, Isaac McKneely caught the ball on a cut toward the basket but was fouled while passing and he missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity. Just 16 seconds later after a defensive stop and rebound, Kihei Clark stepped to the line for two free throws but made only the second. The Hoos still led by 4 points in that moment, but the advantage could have been 6 points instead.

Furman’s Garrett Hien made two free throws with 12.3 seconds remaining after Clark could not contain a drive from JP Pegues, who dropped a pass to Hien near the rim. Hien was fouled on a block attempt from Kadin Shedrick. Still, the Paladins needed a turnover or missed free throws to have a chance to win. Clark inbounded against a fullcourt press to Reece Beekman, who quickly shuffled the ball back to his teammate. Clark had a split second to make a decision, but got stuck by a trap – Furman coach Bob Richey “was calling for a foul, but the good Lord knew they couldn’t hear me.”

With a timeout still in hand for Virginia, the senior guard went for the home run pass toward the far end of the court where Shedrick had relocated, a difficult play to complete at any juncture but an incredibly risky choice at that moment on that stage.

“Call timeout, maybe could have threw it to [a teammate] on the right wing maybe,” Clark said per The Associated Press. “He was open. Couldn’t see. It was a good trap.”

Hien intercepted the ball just beyond halfcourt, took one dribble, and fired the ball to Pegues on the right wing. The sophomore guard had missed his last 15 3-point attempts, including an 0-7 outing against Chattanooga in the Southern Conference title game and an 0-3 day to that point against UVA, but he drained the one his team needed most.

“I knew we were down, late-game situation. As you can see, we needed to get a steal, a turnover somehow,” Pegues said. “And we did pretty good denying out, making them force a tough pass, which he did. And he threw it to 13, Garrett Hien, and as soon as I saw it go into Garrett Hien’s hands, I was like, I want the ball. I feel like those are moments I’ve created my whole life, and I feel like I’m built for. So as soon as I got the ball and I seen a shot attempt I had, I knew all I could do at that point was just ride up and shoot it, and I had full belief that it was going in, and it did.”

That shot changed this March’s story for both teams in a blink.

For Furman, it extended a redemption story that started a year ago. The Paladins lost on a buzzer beater in the 2022 Southern Conference title game to miss the dance last season, but used that fuel to make it into the field for the first time since 1980 this year. They overcame Mike Bothwell fouling out and a 12-point second half deficit in this game to advance. They had four players in double figures with 11 points from both Bothwell and Pegues in addition to 19 from Jalen Slawson and 14 from Marcus Foster. Bothwell and Foster combined for 6 3-pointers as their team made 10-28 (35.7%) in the win.

While there was a brief hold-your-breath moment as Beekman got a shot on line from near halfcourt at the buzzer, when it missed, Furman celebrated their continued journey.

“I couldn’t help but go back when I saw the [Beekman] shot in the air to a year ago … and that ball floated in the air, and it missed,” Richey said. “It’s just a reminder, like we said it all year, count on joy, and you don’t know timing of things, you don’t know timing of left. This team has persevered, and they did it today, and it’s a microcosm of what they learned, and they just keep reliving the lesson and keep finding ways.”

For Virginia, the ending opened old wounds. The Hoos have suffered tough losses to Syracuse, UMBC, and Ohio in this Madness, the latter two being attention-getting first round upsets. Clark, who won more games than anyone in UVA or ACC history, saw his career end with the critical turnover, a moment as crushing as the pass against Purdue as a freshman that propelled the Hoos into the 2019 Final Four was uplifting.

While that snapshot sealed the outcome, the Cavaliers also faced other issues in the game. Chief among them, perhaps, was another poor shooting day in the NCAA Tournament. Virginia made just 44.4% of its shots overall (24-54) and 2 of 12 triples (16.7%). That last number left UVA with a -24 difference in the 3-point category compared to Furman. The Hoos also struggled for a few possessions against a 1-3-1 zone that Richey said Furman had used less than 20 times all season.

Only three players finished in double figures. Shedrick put up a monster line of 15 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 1 steal for his first double-double of the season. Beekman added 14 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocked shots while McKneely scored 12 points with UVA’s only 2 treys coming from 2-7 shooting. Clark had 5 points and 5 assists, while fellow senior Jayden Gardner chipped in 8 points and 7 rebounds. Armaan Franklin had 8 points on 3-6 shooting.

Beyond the offense, the defense gave up 41 points and allowed 6 3-pointers in the second half. It all added up to an upset loss for Virginia.

“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 a moment’s notice, it changes at the end. That’s tough. It is. Because I was proud of our guys to play well, and then all of a sudden, Furman, who congratulations to them. They’re a terrific team. They played well, and they threw that zone on us and we struggled a little bit. We got ourselves situated. The guys did a great job of retaking the lead, which is very difficult to do, so I was proud of how they played. Then the pass at the end, we missed a front end of a bonus. We missed – made one out of two, so there was some free throws that could have salted that away. I’ll have to see on tape how it all played out. Again, it’s just that feeling of it’s there, I think we’re going on to the second round or whatever round we call it now, and then it’s gone. That’s a gut punch.”

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5 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. This team was at best a sweet 16 team. Love my Hoos but Tony needs to work on his offensive coaching as well. Really zero offense since 2019.

  2. UVA needs to work on press/trap breaking as well. I do not understand why after the ball is thrown in it is immediately passed back to Kihei usually the shortest guy on the court. I can’t believe how many times this year, the ball has been thrown back to Kihei who is under the opponents own basket or in a corner (easiest place to trap). Sure he is a good ball handler but he is easier to trap because of his height. He can’t see over the trap. If the ball is thrown in to Beekman then he should look to advance it up the court himself, by dribbling if he can or passing it to another player further up court. UVA got beat by the trap against Syracuse and has struggled against it almost every time they face it. Spend more time on offense CTB and I think you’d get better outcomes in the NCAAs.

  3. If the offense is creating open shots with rhythm shooting opportunities, the problem is not with the schemes.

  4. Par Forde of SI wrote a real snarky article about TB and the Virginia program. I guess his only measure of success is the NCAA
    a tournament. Suspect he would be one of the cheaters if he did coach. I’ll take who we have as coach and the program he has built over anybody else in the country.

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