John Fanta’s 2023 March Madness instant reaction: Furman, Maryland win thrillers

It’s one of the best days in sports, the opening of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and I’ll be here to cover every game.

Here’s a quick overview of what we have in store for today.

As we move forward, be sure to check out some key items:

– NCAA tournament bracket

– NCAA tournament schedule

— 50 reasons to be excited for March Madness

— The best plays of the first round

Here we come!

Two thrillers to target!

8. Maryland 67, 9. West Virginia 65

13. Furman 68. No. 4 Virginia 67

madness The madness of skin… Absolute madness in all its glory.

Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament wasted no time in showing why it’s the best Thursday of the sports calendar year.

Just two games into the afternoon, we saw how the unexpected was already happening.

In Orlando, Virginia clung to a 67-63 lead despite furious attempts by SoCon champion Furman to pull off the upset. Just when it looked like the Cavaliers were going to hold on to keep the popular upset pick from getting into the ball…the Paladins hit for a WILD closing sequence to get their first NCAA Tournament win since 1974!

After a pair of free throws by Garrett Hien with 12 seconds left, the Cavaliers had trouble passing in bounds, with Kihei Clark throwing the ball into the air. Hien caught the pass at midcourt. He found sophomore JP Pegues, who was 2-for-8 from the floor on the day and 0-for-3 from downtown.

Peques wasn’t wasting that moment, drilling a cold-blooded 3-pointer that turned out to be the game-winner as a Reece Beekman going up at the buzzer sailed long.

It was total nonsense in the final seconds, but think about this: Virginia led by 12 with less than 12 minutes to play in Orlando. Against Tony Bennett’s style, he would look a dime a dozen for most opponents. But not for Furman.

Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson, a pair of seniors who had their hearts broken in the SoCon championship game by Chattanooga a year ago, decided to make one last trip to Greenville, SC.

They knocked the door down with a vengeance on the Mocs, and by getting their big chance at the dance, they are part of history and a moment for Furman University that shines a light on what makes the big dance so great.

Beyond the players, head coach Bob Richey, 39, has been regarded as a rising star in the industry. He has just caught the nation’s eye, and can be expected to receive calls in the not-too-distant future.

The big picture: Furman can make the Sweet 16. Knocking off a 4-seed in Virginia, the Paladins get the winner of San Diego State and College of Charleston. While both teams are fully capable, the Aztecs haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2015. The Cougars haven’t advanced since 1997.

Slawson (19 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists) showed against Virginia that he can be the best player on the court. The 6-foot-7 senior is a true matchup nightmare and a crafty prospect who could get some flyers on him out of this run. Beyond that, Furman knocked down 10 3-pointers. The Paladins have a formula to make the second weekend.

On the flip side of that result, it’s the latest upset for a Virginia team that had some struggles over the last month and the turn of the season. For Clark, it’s the clearest form of contrast to what he did in 2019 against Purdue en route to a national title. The Hoos have seen every form of this tournament in the past five years.


7. Missouri vs. 10. Utah State

1. Kansas vs. 16. Howard

1. Alabama vs. 1. Texas A&M-CC

5. San Diego State vs. 12. Charleston

2. Arizona vs. 15. Princeton

8. Arkansas vs. 9. Illinois

8. Iowa vs. 9. Auburn

5. Duke vs. 12. Oral Roberts

2. Texas vs. 15. Colgate

7. Northwestern vs. 10. Boise State

1. Houston vs. 16. Northern Kentucky

4. Tennessee vs. 13. Louisiana

7. Texas A&M vs. 10. Penn State

2. UCLA vs. 15. UNC Asheville

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers sports in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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