Texarkana Gazette

No. 13 seed Furman hands UVA its latest early March exit


ORLANDO, Fla. — 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 a No. 1 seed to 16thseeded UMBC, the Cavaliers were eliminated in the first round as the higher-seeded team again Thursday — this time, falling 68-67 to 13thseeded Furman.

Virginia hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since its 2019 triumph over Texas Tech for the title.

Clark’s bad pass was intercepte­d by Garrett Hien in the closing seconds, leading to a wide-open 3-pointer that JP Pegues sank without hesitation.

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

So, what would he have done differentl­y?

“Call timeout, maybe could have threw it to Armaan (Franklin) on the right wing maybe,” Clark said. “He was open. Couldn’t see. It was a good trap.”

Coach Tony Bennett wasn’t surprised Clark patiently answered questions from reporters.

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

“I’ve loved coaching him in his career. He had the most amazing assist to get us to a Final Four. We would not be in this spot without him, all the success,” Bennett added. “He’s had an unbelievab­le career. You always look to that last moment, and there’s so many what-ifs and who knows.”

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

“All year we’ve been saying that this team just knows how to win. … It’s an unbelievab­le moment,” Furman coach Bob Richey said.

“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.”

Furman earned its first tournament berth since 1980 by beating Chattanoog­a for the Southern Conference title, capping a season-long quest to redeem itself after losing the league’s automatic berth to the Mockingbir­ds in overtime on a 35-foot buzzer-beater just a season ago.

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