SAN ANTONIO – Virginia Commonwealth is aiming to make it from the First Four to the Final Four.
Along the way, they keep demonstrating just how much they do belong in the NCAA tournament.
Bradford Burgess made a layup off an inbounds pass with 7.1 seconds left and Rob Brandenburg blocked a shot at the buzzer, giving VCU a 72-71 victory over Florida State in overtime in a Southwest Regional semifinal Friday night.
In the first NCAA tournament game between teams seeded 10 and 11, the lower-seeded Rams blew a nine-point lead by scoring only three points in the final 7:37 of regulation. They never trailed by more than four, but found themselves down 71-70 when Burgess scored the kind of basket that will live in NCAA tournament lore.
On an inbounds play with 7.9 seconds left, Joey Rodriguez threw a nifty bounce pass between two Florida State defenders. Burgess caught it in the lane and went up before the defenders could recover. He banked it in, just to be safe.
“I had been messing up – my layups were getting blocked,” Burgess said. “I wasn’t going to the hole strong enough, and I said if I got the chance I wanted to win the game for the team.”
On Florida State’s final possession, Derwin Kitchen drove the baseline and passed it outside. The shot may have been too late, but Brandenburg avoided any controversy by swatting it, sending the Rams (27-11) into the final eight for the first time.
Since being told they lucked their way into a play-in game for the 11th seed, all VCU has done is knock out high-profile programs from the Pac-10 (Southern California), Big East (Georgetown), Big Ten (Purdue) and now the ACC. Those were all blowouts – this one was as tight as they come.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas was among several commentators who declared the Rams unfit for the tournament, and second-year coach Shaka Smart keeps stoking his team by reminding them of everyone else who said they didn’t belong, too.
It shouldn’t be a problem finding folks writing them off for their next game. The Rams face top-seeded Kansas on Sunday with a spot in the Final Four on the line.
Kitchen scored 23 points to lead Florida State (23-11), which hadn’t been this far since 1993.
Chris Singleton – FSU’s regular-season leader in scoring, rebounds and steals, and the ACC defensive player of the year – almost saved it. He made a tying 3-pointer with 45 seconds left in regulation and a go-ahead layup across the baseline with 29.2 seconds left in overtime. He finished with 16 points and nine rebounds,
Burgess led VCU as he’s done all tournament, scoring 26 points. He was 6 of 7 on 3-pointers. His only miss was a blocked shot in overtime.
Brandon Rozzell scored 16 points, including a series of 3-pointers during the second-half surge that put the Rams back in front – seemingly for good, until their collapse.
FSU allowed the lowest field-goal shooting percentage in the country this year, but VCU shredded that. Even with their late woes, the Rams shot 45 percent and were 12 of 26 from behind the arc.
“They hit some really tough shots, shots that were heavily contested,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “Almost from the parking lot, way beyond NBA range, at least three or four of them. Sometimes you have to give the other team credit. Even when we contested the shots they made those 3s.”