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

It’s one of the best days in sports – the opener of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament – and I’ll be there to watch every game.

Here is a brief overview of what we have in store for you today.

As you go, be sure to check a few key things:

– NCAA tournament support

– NCAA Tournament Schedule

— 50 reasons to be excited about March Madness

— Best First Round Games

Here we are!

Two thrillers to set the tone!

8. Maryland 67, 9. West Virginia 65

13. Furman 68. No. 4 Virginia 67

Madness. Fur madness… Absolute madness in all its glory.

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

Barely two games into the afternoon, we have already seen the unexpected happen.

In Orlando, Virginia held on to a 67-63 lead despite SoCon champion Furman’s furious attempts to pull off the upset. Just when it looked like the Cavaliers were going to hang in there to keep the popular upset pick from entering the fray…the Paladins struck for a WILD closing streak to earn their first NCAA Tournament win since 1974!

After a pair of free throws from Garrett Hien with 12 seconds left, the lead was cut to two, the Cavaliers had trouble on the inbounds pass, with Kihei Clark tossing the ball in the air. Hien caught the pass in half court. He found second JP Pegues, who was 2 for 8 from the floor that day and 0 for 3 from downtown.

Peques wasn’t wasting that moment, drilling a cold-blooded triple that proved to be the match winner as a Reece Beekman heave at the buzzer sailed long.

It was utter nonsense in the final seconds, but consider this: Virginia was leading by 12 with less than 12 minutes left in Orlando. Against Tony Bennett’s style, that would look like more than a dozen for most opponents. But not for Furman.

Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson, a pair of seniors who were heartbroken in the SoCon Championship game a year ago by Chattanooga, decided to return for one last ride to Greenville, SC

They kicked down the door with a vengeance on the Mocs, and getting their big dance opportunity, they’re part of history and a moment for Furman University that shines a light on what makes the big dance so great.

Beyond the players, 39-year-old head coach Bob Richey is considered a rising star in the industry. He’s just caught the nation’s attention, and we can expect him to get calls in the not-too-distant future.

The big picture: Furman can make the Sweet 16. Knocking down a 4-seeded Virginia, the Paladins get the winner from San Diego State and College of Charleston. While both teams are fully capable on their own, 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 could be the best player on the floor. The 6-foot-7 senior is a game nightmare and a sneaky prospect who could get caught by flyers on this run. Beyond that, Furman knocked down 10 three-pointers. The Paladins have a formula to do on the second weekend.

On the other side of that result, it’s the latest heartbreak for a Virginia team that has struggled over the past month and the change of season. For Clark, it’s the starkest contrast to what he did in 2019 against Purdue en route to a national title. The Hoos have seen every form of this tournament over 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. Northwest 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 the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as the main 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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