You didn't expect Villanova to get stomped at home the other night by Michigan? That was a mere prelude to the real stunner, when Furman showed up at the Pavilion on Saturday night and pulled off a national shocker, knocking out the defending NCAA champions in overtime.
Jay Wright stuck with his veterans in the second half, but they couldn't prevent the 76-68 upset, or find any consistent offensive rhythm, or stop Furman from getting into the lane and often to the rim.
"We're just tiny, old Furman,'' Paladins coach Bob Richey said. "Most people ask us what city we're in, and what state we're in."
While Villanova guards Phil Booth and Collin Gillespie, who combined for 39 points, might or might not know that Furman is in Greenville, S.C., all five Furman starters scored in double figures on a night when the Wildcats tried twice as many three-pointers as the team that beat them.
Furman (5-0) already beat a 2018 Final Four team this season, winning at Loyola. Still, Villanova was more than a 16-point favorite at the Pavilion. Now, put Furman down for 2-0 against the Final Four squads; Villanova, 0-2.
"What a day,'' Richey said. "It almost could bring me to tears to think of how proud I am of the resolve, the resiliency, and the fight that this group has."
This kind of upset deserved a deeper look, which Richey provided: "They play together, they play connected — it's the definition of team. In today's society, we've lost what team is. We think team is an opportunity for individuals to get glory. The team is about coming together and doing something that is bigger than yourself. That's what our group did tonight."
It was a great game to be a part of, Wright said.
"Obviously, losing isn't any fun, but a great college basketball game,'' Wright said, noting that Furman was so balanced and good at finding the right matchups. "Down the stretch, they really exploited mismatches."
The coach added, "We have to learn when our shots aren't going, they can't affect what we're doing at the defensive end. I thought we got a lot of really good shots. We just missed them. You have to be able to do other things, like get some offensive rebounds … get to the foul line. I didn't think we did a good job of that. We're just not THERE yet. We've got to get there."
"This was a mental fight for 45 minutes,'' Richey said. "Fortunately, we have a group that's able to endure it."
It's not a great sign for Villanova that Furman's coach felt as though his team struggled guarding the dribble Tuesday night against Gardner-Webb, a game the Paladins also won in overtime. "To our team's credit, they showed growth there."
In regulation, with the score tied at 60, Furman missed a shot with 5 seconds left, but Villanova's Joe Cremo was called for a foul going for the rebound with 2.6 seconds left. It was Villanova's seventh team foul. Furman's Matt Rafferty went to the line, and the front end of his one-and-one fell off the rim. Villanova couldn't get off a shot at the other end, putting the game into overtime.
So, the visitors would go away quietly in OT? Nope. The Paladins scored first. A Phil Booth three-pointer gave Villanova the lead with 3 1/2 minutes left, before Clay Mounce hit a three and Jordan Lyons drove, and Furman was back up, 67-63, with 2 1/2 minutes to go.
When Wright said he would shorten his rotation and did it in the first half, it meant freshmen Saddiq Bey and Cole Swider and grad transfer Joe Cremo would come off the bench, and no minutes for freshmen Jahvon Quinerly and Brandon Slater, who had gotten some bench minutes in both halves of Villanova's first three games. By the second half, Bey and Swider also sat and watched.
"It wasn't until we got down in the second half, tied in the second half — pretty early in the second half, I said we've got to try to go with guys who have been in some close games at the college level,'' Wright said, praising how smartly Furman was playing offense. "Even our experienced guys, we didn't handle it well. I think it would have been really tough on the freshmen."
Even his vets, of course, have new roles. Wright noted that only Booth and Eric Paschall had been on the floor at the very end of close games.
"That's something you have to go through,'' Wright said. "We can turn it around."
"I think we, on the defensive end, is where we have to improve the most, getting stops down the stretch,'' Gillespie said. "I definitely have to be better guarding on the ball. I'm gambling a little too much."