Assistant Sports Editor
Commonwealth Times’ Sports Twitter
SAN ANTONIO — Just less than eight seconds remained on the clock in overtime.
For the first time in four games over the span of the NCAA tournament, the VCU men’s basketball team was taken out of its comfort zone and thrust into a score or go home situation down by one.
On the previous four possessions, the Rams offense had looked fatigued and out of sync, settling for two ill-advised shots, a pair of missed free throws and a desperation drive to the basket.
The Rams had just faced the most adversity it had all postseason, committing 17 turnovers – their most since Dec. 21 against UAB in which they gave up 22 in an ill-fated blunder.
But on this last final possession, VCU would prove once again why it belongs in the NCAA tournament.
Junior guard Bradford Burgess blew past Florida State senior guard Derwin Kitchen – who said he had turned his head for just a second – and streaked to the basket for a game-winning layup that gave VCU a 72-71 victory and a berth in the NCAA’s Elite 8.
“I especially wanted to have the ball in the overtime, especially during the end of the second half I was going to the hole and I wasn’t going strong enough and it was getting sent the other way,” Burgess said. “I definitely told the coaches if I had the opportunity to score in the overtime.”
Burgess – known by his teammates as “Big Shot Brad or most recently “Baby Bron” – has been a constant source of energy for the Rams in the NCAA tournament averaging 17.5 points per game and seven rebound over the course of four games.
Head coach Shaka Smart expressed his need and regard for Burgess in the post-game press conference.
“Coaches aren’t supposed to play favorites but I love him,” Smart said assessing Burgess. “I wouldn’t trade him for anyone in the country. The scary thing is I think the best is yet to come for Brad, I think he can be increasingly better and better.”
The final play spelt a fitting end to what had been a mind-stressing game for Smart and his team.
Smart had diagramed his team’s favorite inbounds play to try and throw the opposition off with multiple scoring options, which caught the Seminoles off guard and forced a timeout.
Following the whistle, Smart used his awareness to his advantage, noticing a Florida State assistant coach telling the team the precise play the Rams were going to run.
Out of the timeout senior point guard Joey Rodriguez made possibly the most important bounce pass of his career in the lane that set up Burgess for the game-winner.
“I told Joey ‘you’re really going to have to pass fake because you’re going to have a bigger guy’ and Florida State put a big guy on the ball and Joey did a great job pass faking and finding Brad,” Smart said regarding the final play.
Burgess’ heroics propel VCU into the Elite 8 for the first time in program history, as it will take on the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks for a chance to earn a spot in the prestigious Final Four.
If the Rams have any magic left in the chamber and are able to pull out an upset of the Jayhawks, it would be just the third Final Four in NCAA history to not showcase a No. 1 seed (1980 and 2006 being the others).
“The bottom line is we’re going to have to play much better than we did tonight to have a chance to win the game on Sunday,” Smart said. “Our guys know that and I think we have it in us.”