Sweet 16 Recap Southwest Regional - (11) Virginia Commonwealth 72, (10) Florida State 71 (OT)

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Why is the NCAA Tournament referred to as March Madness? Just check out the way a thrilling and well-played Sweet 16 showdown was decided. A high-level basketball game between two inspired squads careened toward a clamorous conclusion, and when all was said and done, an elite defensive team fell asleep at the worst possible moment, paving the way for a potential George Mason sequel in the biggest Dance of them all.

Bradford Burgess hit a game-winning layup with 7.1 seconds left to play in overtime, leading the 11th-seed Virginia Commonwealth University Rams to a dramatic win over the 10th-seeded Florida State Seminoles at Alamodome in San Antonio Friday night.  Burgess scored off a perfectly-executed inbounds play, slipping to the basket unguarded, collecting the pass from senior point guard Joey Rodriguez, and sinking the layup to give VCU the lead. The Seminoles, who had locked down the Rams for an extended period of time before that final play, watched as guard Derwin Kitchen simply lost track of Burgess, allowing a trip to the Elite Eight to slip away. FSU then misfired on its final possession, and the celebration was on for a Rams team that almost no one predicted would advance this far in the Big Dance.

The Rams needed Burgess’s end-of-the-game heroics because they went cold at exactly the wrong time.  VCU seemed to be on the verge of closing the game out in style when freshman Rob Brandenberg made a free throw with 7:37 remaining to stake the Rams to a 62-53 lead.  Instead of closing the game out, the Rams made just one basket and one free throw (in five attempts, including front ends of one-and-ones, making the effective shooting percentage even worse), allowing the Seminoles to methodically cut into the deficit.  Junior forward Chris Singleton, who had played sparingly in Florida State’s early-round tournament wins over Texas A&M and Notre Dame due to injury, drilled a 23-foot three-point shot to tie the game at 65.  Both VCU and Florida State had chances to win in regulation, but Burgess missed a contested jump shot for the Rams and the Seminoles failed to get off a shot before time ran out.

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The overtime period was incredibly taut with neither team able to pull away from the other.  Burgess hit a three-pointer and Brandon Rozzell hit two free throws to stake VCU to a 70-67 lead.  Florida State responded, taking a 71-70 lead on a dunk by Singleton with 28 seconds remaining to play.  Rodriguez missed a potential game-winning layup, but the Rams maintained possession, setting the stage for Burgess’s game-winning shot, which will no doubt become part of permanent NCAA tournament lore.  

While the overtime layup is what Burgess will be remembered for, he scored a game-high 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field, hitting several key buckets to either keep VCU in the game or short-circuit Florida State spurts.  Rozzell added 16 points off the bench, and Jamie Skeen chipped in 11 points for the Rams.

The Seminoles were led by Derwin Kitchen, who scored 23 points.  However, it bears repeating that he suffered crucial lapses in judgment. In addition to his defensive gaffe on Burgess at the end of overtime, he also failed to get shots off at the end of the first half and in regulation despite having the rock in his hands. Florida State finished the season 23-11.

VCU, meanwhile, improved to an astounding 27-11 with the win. It is abundantly clear that coach Shaka Smart’s squad proved that it belonged in the field of 68, but the Rams have also played their way into a more exclusive club: double-digit seeds that advanced to the Elite Eight.  VCU will face top-seeded Kansas on Sunday at the Alamodome with a spot in the Final Four on the line.  The Jayhawks will be heavy favorites, but that seems to be just the way the Rams like it. It’s worth remembering that the last time a No. 11 seed from the Colonial Athletic Association played a heavily-favored top seed from a power conference, the 11th seed won. George Mason defeated Connecticut in 2006.

Get ready, VCU, and rest up from this late-night overtime fight. Your appointment with history beckons. 

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer




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