With the help of a game-tying four-point play in the closing seconds of regulation, the No. 12 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks won a dramatic 77-75 overtime upset of the No. 5 Virginia Commonwealth Rams on Friday night.
STEPHEN F. AUSTIN! What an insane game. Lumberjacks pull off the win in overtime after a wild finish, win their 29th straight game.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 22, 2014
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Lumberjacks guard Desmond Haymon provided what will likely be one of the most improbable finishes to regulation you'll see in the Big Dance this year, burying a corner three while drawing the foul with only 3.6 ticks left of the clock.
CBSSports.com's Will Brinson summed it up well:
Hahahahavoc— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) March 22, 2014
Rams guard JeQuan Lewis committed the foul, leading many to wonder why he would've decided to try and defend the shot anyway. The worst-case scenario if Haymon hit an uncontested three was that VCU would be up one point with virtually no way of losing.
Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis hated to see that happen:
My heart breaks for VCU G JeQuan Lewis. Fouled the 3 pt shooter and missed the 3 at the buzzer. Glad he has a man like Shaka to be there.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 22, 2014
The foul call itself was pretty questionable by itself, with Mark Titus coming to Lewis' defense:
All jokes aside, count me as one who thought VCU got jobbed on the 4-point play. Such a bad call at obviously a brutal time.— Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) March 22, 2014
After the game, SFA guard Thomas Walkup said, per Southland Conference Commissioner Tom Burnett, "I was going after a quick 2 (pointer) and then trying to get a quick turnover. Obviously, Dez called for it, and when Dez calls for it, he doesn't miss."
Of course, the job wasn't over for SFA there, as it needed to regain its focus for overtime.
After playing it close with VCU through three minutes of OT, Haymon nailed another critical three-pointer to put the Lumberjacks ahead. Lewis had an open three-pointer at the end that would've won it for the Rams, but it didn't fall.
Stephen F. Austin provided a look into the locker room after the win.
The Lumberjacks are the third No. 12 seed to pull off an upset this year. Forward Jacob Parker led the team with 22 points, while Haymon finished with 17 points and seven boards.
Coach Brad Underwood knew the gargantuan task that lay ahead for his team, per KLTV 7 in Texas: "They call it havoc for a reason," Underwood said. "Their style of defense helps them lead the country in turnovers and steals. We cant simulate that in practice."
Early in the game, it appeared as though Underwood may have figured out the Rams' "havoc" defense, as his players were getting up the court quickly and keeping the ball moving on offense.
In the first half, Stephen F. Austin shot 60 percent from the field and turned the ball over only five times. Coming into the game, VCU was forcing an average of 18.3 TOs per game, via ESPN.com's Brett Edgerton:
Stephen F. Austin with just 5 turnovers in the first half. VCU entered the game forcing 18.3 TO per game, most in the nation.— Brett Edgerton (@EditorEdge) March 22, 2014
That strategy proved to be unsustainable, as Underwood's players looked increasingly labored as the first half went on. They expended so much energy in the first period that they had very little left to try and extend, or at least hold on to, what was a 36-30 halftime lead.
After Stephen F. Austin's lead grew to 10 points two-and-a-half minutes into the second half, VCU slowly turned the tide. Guard Treveon Graham's layup sparked what turned into a 24-3 VCU run over the next nine minutes to go ahead 54-43. In a less-than-one-minute span during this run, the Rams forced three turnovers and scored nine points.
ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf was mesmerized by what he saw from the Rams:
I've watched a lot of defenses shift to Level 5, but nothing like this VCU attack.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) March 22, 2014
VCU led by 10 with 3:38 to go, but Stephen F. Austin systematically chipped away at the defecit, eventually cutting the Rams' lead to three points, 60-57, with a little over two minutes to go. After a Graham layup put VCU back up five points, Haymon hit two free throws to again make it a three-point game, 62-59, with 1:24 left.
Jordan Burgess hit a three-pointer with 56 seconds to give VCU a six-point lead, 65-59, which looked to be the dagger for Stephen F. Austin. At that point, the Lumberjacks were forced to send VCU to the line and hope it missed its free throws.
The Rams were 260th in free-throw percentage coming into Friday, and they showed you exactly why down the stretch. They went 2-of-6 from the line, opening the door for Haymon to bring the house down.
The Lumberjacks move on to the third round, where they will meet either UCLA or Tulsa.
No matter who they end up facing, though, there's little doubt that SFA will be riding a wave of momentum into their second-round matchup.