Furman men’s basketball head coach Bob Richey told his players to expect some early adversity. He knew there was no way they could properly prepare for Virginia’s defense ahead of Thursday’s first-round NCAA Tournament matchup. All they could do was absorb and adapt.
Sure enough, the No. 13-seeded Paladins fell behind 17-7. They cut the No. 4-seeded Cavaliers’ lead to five by halftime but trailed by 12 with 11:54 left.
A 19-4 run followed. Virginia then scored 13 of the game’s next 19 points. A pair of free throws by Garrett Hien with 12 seconds remaining left Furman down two.
What happened next will be part of March Madness lore for years to come. Virginia’s always-reliable Kihei Clark chucked the ball to mid-court, seemingly trying to run out the clock. Hien grabbed it and found JP Pegues, who immediately launched a 3-pointer that hit nothing but net.
ARE YOU SERIOUS?! 😨
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 16, 2023
The stunning 68-67 victory was the program’s first in the NCAA Tournament since 1974.
— CBS Sports College Basketball 🏀 (@CBSSportsCBB) March 16, 2023
In his opening statement during the postgame press conference, Richey — who grew up in a Christian home and developed a personal relationship with God in high school — gave thanks to the Lord and credit to his players.
“There’s a lot going on in my mind right now,” the sixth-year head coach said. “I mean, it’s an unbelievable moment. Give all the glory to God for allowing me to lead it, but this is a day these players just found a way.”
Furman entered Thursday’s game with a program-record 27 wins, claiming a share of the Southern Conference regular-season title and winning the conference tournament to earn a spot in the Big Dance for the first time in 43 years.
The SoCon Tournament title game was a rematch of last season’s, which the Paladins lost to Chattanooga on a buzzer-beater. Richey told the media Thursday that the trials his team has gone through has made his players “calloused.”
“We said it all year: ‘Count it all joy,'” he said, referencing James 1. “You just don’t know timing of things. You don’t know timing of life. It doesn’t always go how you want, but this team has persevered.”
Richey came to Furman as an assistant coach in 2011 and was named interim head coach when Jeff Jackson resigned two years later. He didn’t get the job on a permanent basis, and his mentors in the coaching profession advised him to accept one of the offers he had from other schools.
Through prayer and reflection, Richey decided God had something else in mind for him.
“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 Sports Spectrum Podcast in 2021. “It was so clear to me. I couldn’t explain it.”
He finally got the head job before the 2017-18 season and has never posted a winning percentage lower than .640. Furman even had a brief stint the Associated Press top-25 poll during his second season.
Looking back on his journey, Richey can only offer one explanation for the way his career has played out.
“I had two winning seasons,” Richey said on the podcast about his time as an assistant coach. “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.”
Furman faces No. 5-seed San Diego State at 12:10 p.m. ET Saturday with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
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