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Guided by faith, Bob Richey leads Furman to 1st NCAA Tournament berth in 43 years

Bob Richey tried his best to downplay it when speaking with his players, but the Furman Paladins men’s basketball coach knew the team standing in the way of his program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1980 was not just any opponent.

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Nobody had forgotten about David Jean-Baptiste’s shot at the buzzer to lift Chattanooga over Furman in last season’s Southern Conference title game. The Paladins got their revenge Monday night, beating that same Chattanooga team, 88-79, to win the SoCon Tournament. First-team all-conference selections Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson combined for 36 points in the victory.

“They thought last year was gonna push us back,” Richey said Monday night. “But instead all it did was motivate us to come together.”

After beating Samford on the road in its final game of the regular season to earn a share of the regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, Furman (Greenville, South Carolina) knocked off Mercer, Western Carolina and Chattanooga on consecutive days to secure an invite to the Big Dance.

The Paladins enter the NCAA Tournament 27-7, marking the fifth time in Richey’s six seasons they have won at least 22 games and the third time they have posted a winning percentage above .750. It’s the journey that leads to the success that Richey finds most rewarding though.

“We want to win, we want to be all-conference, we want to do this, we want to cut a net down,” he said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in 2021. “Those are moments, you know, and we get tricked up in thinking that the moment is going to be a destination that’s going to bring ultimate satisfaction. For us, we look at it the other way. We feel like the journey and the progress through the journey and just trying to put days together, that that’s really where you get that fulfillment from.”

The 39-year-old’s coaching career began as an assistant at Charleston Southern in 2006. He arrived at Furman in 2011 to work on Jeff Jackson’s staff. Jackson resigned two years later, and Richey was named interim head coach.

When Niko Medved was hired to replace Jackson, Richey’s coaching mentors told him to take one of the offers he had from other schools. He chose to stay at Furman anyway.

“I just felt very convicted that God was telling me, ‘Stay put and finish. Keep running the race where you’re at. Nobody’s going to tell you to do this. It’s going to sound really idiotic to a lot of people,'” Richey said on the podcast. “It was so clear to me. I couldn’t explain it.”

Richey succeeded Medved as head coach ahead of the 2017-18 season, leading the team to a 23-10 record. Furman spent three weeks in the Associated Press top-25 poll the following season after starting 12-0 with wins over Loyola (Chicago) and Villanova.

As he’s climbed the coaching ranks, he’s relied on his faith in God. Richey grew up in a Christian home and believes his faith really started to take shape when he moved back to South Carolina for his final two years of high school after living in Louisiana. He chose to go to a Christian school rather than a public school even though he was told it would hurt his basketball career.

His school, Florence Christian, went on to win a state championship.

Now, as he prepares to make his NCAA Tournament debut, Richey has not forgotten Who’s been directing his steps the entire time.

“I had two winning seasons,” Richey said on the podcast. “I was at two tough jobs. I got fired, and I was never at a high-major. I was a D-II player. And the only way you can explain that is what God did and the faith along the journey to just keep running and to stay put and to bloom where you’re planted.”

The NCAA Tournament bracket will be revealed Sunday starting at 6 p.m. ET on CBS.

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