NCAA Tournament: Does the Cinderella Slipper Fit for Furman?


March 17

The 13th-seeded Furman Paladins were given a daunting task in their first March Madness appearance since 1980. They had to upset Virginia, who ranked fourth in the South Region and were favored by six points heading into the game. 

However, the Paladins delivered. They secured the first upset of this year’s March Madness by defeating Virginia in a last-second 68-67 victory. It will undoubtedly be one of the wildest finishes of this year’s Round of 64. Is this the start of a Cinderella finish to the Paladins’ season?

All Odds Courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook

Path To The Dance

Furman were dominant in the regular season this year, finishing first place in the Southern Conference with a 28-7 overall record. They only lost two games on their home court and finished the season with a seven-game winning streak.

The Paladins capped their season off by winning the Southern Conference Tournament. They were barely tested throughout the knockout stages and beat the Chattanooga Mocs 88-79 in the final.

Round 1 Upset

As mentioned, Furman had a huge upset win over Virginia in the first round in what came down to the last shot of the game. The Cavaliers, who came second in the ACC Tournament just days before, led by 12 at one point in the match, but saw that lead dwindle in the last few minutes. They led 68-64 with less than a minute left to play.

In the blink of an eye, Kihei Clark missed a free throw, which allowed Furman to reduce the deficit to just two thanks to free throws of their own. 

Then, with just 10 seconds left on the clock, chaos ensues off the inbound pass, with Clark at the heart of it all.

With the last-second three-pointer, the Paladins secured their first March Madness win since 1974.

Players To Know

One Furman player to keep an eye on moving forward has to be the star of their first game – Jalen Slawson. The 6-foot-7 forward led all scorers with 19 points against Virginia, filling up the stat sheet as he grabbed 10 boards to go with his six assists. He was a major reason for the comeback, shooting 60% from the field and getting more than half of his points in the second half.

Slawson averaged 15.7 points per game to go with seven boards this season. He is in his senior year and clearly has both the mental fortitude and physical attributes to make it in the NBA.

Another player to keep an eye on moving forward is 6-foot-3 guard Mike Bothwell. Bothwell led the Paladins in scoring this year, averaging nearly 18 points per game. Unfortunately, in Round 1, he fouled out after just 21 minutes of court time. He did score 11 points in his short time on the court.

How Far Can They Go?

Bob Richey is finally seeing his hard work pay off with Furman. He was named head coach in 2017 after being an assistant with the team for seven years. Richey led the Paladins to their best season in decades and was named a finalist for Coach of the Year.

The Paladins are exceptionally well coached, and have one of the best offenses in the nation, ranked 14th in points per game and 18th in field goal efficiency. But how far can this team really go in the tournament? Is the Cinderella story about to unfold in front of our very eyes? 

It seems like, at the very least, one more round may be on the cards. Furman now turns their eyes towards the Round of 32. On Saturday, they will play the 5th-seeded San Diego State Aztecs. Furman are once again six-point underdogs against the spread. 

On two opposite sides of the spectrum, San Diego is known for their defensive prowess. Furman must pick things up on the defensive end and match the Aztecs’ physicality to reach the Sweet 16.

Thumbnail photo via Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

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