SAN ANTONIO – The shot that sprung 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth to yet another unimaginable height was not meant to come off Bradford Burgess’s hands, but he was open — wide open — and so the Rams collected perhaps their easiest basket of the night in the heart of the territory Florida State’s imposing front court had protected so well.
Burgess’s lay-in with 7.1 seconds remaining in overtime provided the final margin in VCU’s 72-71 victory over the 10th-seeded Seminoles. on Friday night at the Alamodome. The Rams, who seemed destined to languish in the National Invitation Tournament after going 3-5 in February, will face top-seeded Kansas on Sunday with a spot in the Final Four on the line.
VCU (27-11) played tight Friday night for the first time during its endearing NCAA tournament run, which made the team operate at times faster than even it would prefer. But when time finally expired, it was the punchy mid-major from Richmond that stormed across the court and leaped into each other’s arms.
“Tonight was the first game in the NCAA tournament out of four for us where we faced a significant amount of adversity,” VCU Coach Shaka Smart said. “Those first three games were good teams, but it was pretty much smooth sailing for us. And tonight it wasn’t. So I was really proud of the way our guys battled and hung in there and executed down the stretch and finished the game.”
But with 29.2 seconds remaining in overtime, Florida State forward Chris Singleton pump-faked a shot from the corner and drove baseline for an uncontested bucket to put the Seminoles (23-11) up by one.
It had been Singleton – the player who missed the six games leading up to the NCAA tournament with a broken foot – who sank a three-pointer to tie the score with 45 seconds left in regulation. He finished with 16 points and nine rebounds in 32 minutes.
Burgess’s shot attempt in the closing seconds of the second half was swatted away by Florida State forward Bernard James, who tallied five blocks on the night – all after halftime. VCU scored three points in the final seven minutes of the second half and made 3 of 8 free throws after halftime.
“We knew we had to rely on our defense to get stops to try to execute on the offense,” Singleton said.
After Singleton’s go-ahead shot late in the overtime period, VCU called a timeout with 7.9 seconds left on the clock. Smart said he called the Rams’ favorite inbounds play, one with multiple options. But Florida State called a timeout after seeing VCU’s players get set and as the players walked off the court, Smart heard a Seminoles assistant warn Florida State of the exact play Smart had called.
So Smart changed plans. This time, the Rams would look for Rozzell, who at one point in the second half made three-pointers on three straight possessions after not attempting a shot before the intermission.
Led by Rozzell and Burgess, VCU had made 12 of 26 three-point attempts (46.2 percent) on the night. The Rams knew the Seminoles would try to blanket Rozzell, but the play diagram called for a series of screens meant to get Rozzell open.
The Rams also knew they likely would get only one shot out of the possession. All night, Florida State had dominated the boards. The Seminoles attempted 18 more field goals than VCU because they owned a 21-7 edge in offensive rebounds.
VCU guard Joey Rodriguez, who was inbounding the ball, faked a pass out wide to Rozzell, who had run into Rams forward Jamie Skeen and was stumbling to his spot. Florida State guard Deividas Dulkys, who was defending the pass, bit on the fake.
At that point, Burgess, who had set the final screen for Rozzell and then seen Rozzell and Skeen collide, slipped into the lane. He caught the ball and laid it in the basket. Florida State defenders rushed toward him, but they were too late.
“I especially wanted to have the ball in overtime,” said Burgess, who finished with a game-high 26 points. “I wasn’t going strong enough [to the basket] in the second half, and it was getting sent the other way. I definitely told the coaches if I got an opportunity I wanted to score in overtime. So just having that intent to make plays for the team, I think that helps me out a lot.”
VCU led by one with 7.1 seconds left, and Florida State rushed down the floor. Seminoles guard Derwin Kitchen – who finished with a team-high 23 points – split two defenders and then fumbled the ball. It fell into Singleton’s hands, but his shot was blocked by Rams guard Rob Brandenburg before the buzzer sounded.
After going 3-5 in February, VCU is 6-1 in March.
“They’re a scrappy team,” Florida State Coach Leonard Hamilton said of the Rams. “They kept us at bay despite the whole game. We closed the gap toward the end and came up one play short. On the out-of-bounds play we thought we had every possibility covered as the clock was running down, and one of their players broke free and obviously finished the basket.
“And there lies a one-point loss.”
Or a one-point victory, depending on one’s perspective.