One of many first thrilling finishes of the 2023 NCAA Event additionally gave us our first March Badness play to eat within the type of Virginia’s gorgeous 68-67 loss to the Furman Paladins. Clad in Willy Wonka purple, Furman earned their golden ticket to the event for the primary time in 43 years, after successful the SoCon Championship Sport. Nevertheless, it was Virginia’s remaining minutes that sealed their very own ignominious destiny. There’s the Princeton offense after which there’s the South Harmon Institute of Expertise (S.H.I.T.) offense, Virginia ran down the stretch.
Early within the second half, it appeared Virginia was about to overwhelm Furman, till the latter switched to a 1-3-1 zone halfway by means of the second half and instantly started chipping away at Virginia’s double-digit lead. We’ve seen this from Tony Bennett System groups earlier than. UVA robots neglect find out how to perform after they come throughout spunky mid-majors.
The place did Virginia go mistaken?
After defending the lead over the ultimate 5 minutes, turnovers and ill-advised heat-check photographs from distance pushed Virginia out to a 63-67 lead with 19 seconds remaining. Bennett’s Wahoos function with machine-like effectivity. Nevertheless, within the final 20 seconds, Virginia’s offense resembled a damaged merchandising machine.
A missed free throw by Kihei Clark and two free throws by Furman’s Garrett Hien on the opposite finish pulled the Paladins inside two factors. On the following inbound, Reece Beekman inexplicably appeared again after assembly the lure and laced a bounce cross to Clark, who was instantly caught within the pincers of Furman’s lure deeper underneath the mistaken basket. At that second as a substitute of a) launching the ball off a defender’s leg b) whipping a skip cross to wide-open teammate Isaac McKneely, or c) calling a timeout, Clark misjudged how a lot time was left and his arm power by winding up a hook cross that was intercepted by Hien, who kicked it to Pegues for the game-winning 3-pointer.
Furman’s second-leading scorer Jalen Slawson was nonetheless in shock strolling into the locker room, bellowing, “He simply freaking threw the ball!” in response to a query.
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Who deserves the blame?
The obvious blame has been placed on point guard Kihei Clark. The fifth-year guard committed a cardinal point guard sin with fewer than seven seconds remaining, but Tony Bennett bore witness to his fifth-year starter’s sacrilege. Any head coach worth his salt would have the situational awareness to realize that a point guard who picks up his dribble while trapped in the corner of an opposing backcourt was in peril.
Instead, Bennett preserved his timeout until after JP Pegues’ redemptive triple soaked the net to award the Paladins with a one-point lead. For Virginia, the loss extends its NCAA Tournament winless streak into its fourth year.
The last time the Wahoos won an NCAA Tournament single-elimination matchup, it was their national championship win over Texas Tech. In 2022, their season ended in the NIT Quarterfinal. The 2021 Cavs limped into the first round and were chucked from the tournament by 13-seed Ohio. Virginia’s premature exit is nothing new. In 2018, they were the first 1-seed to get chopped down by a 16-seed in NCAA Tournament history. However, Virginia was just flat-out unprepared once that game tipped off.
Bennett is the most hot-and-cold coach in the country. That may have to do with how he programs his offense’s movements and leaves them devoid of self-expression when plays break down that leaves them vulnerable, but Furman’s trap can’t be anything worse than what Clark sees in practice every day. There’s rough blame to go around and Bennett will have to stew on this one for another year, but he’s becoming a perennial March Badness contender.