SAN ANTONIO, Texas – There are moments throughout our lives that leave us speechless.
For the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball team and its rabid fans, one of those moments came on Friday night when junior Bradford Burgess connected on a lay-up with less than 10 seconds remaining to give the Rams a 72-71 overtime victory over Florida State. The win sends the Black & Gold to its first-ever Elite 8.
"It's amazing what a team can accomplish when nobody cares who gets the credit," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "Our guys have played with that in mind over these last couple of weeks. Every night it's a different guy stepping up."
Burgess led the way in the thrilling victory with a season-high 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including a career-high six three-pointers. Senior Brandon Rozzell finished with 16 points, all of which came after halftime, while classmate Jamie Skeen was the third Ram in double-figures with 11 points and eight rebounds.
Entering the game, Florida State led the country in field-goal percentage defense, holding its opponents to just 32% from the field. The Black & Gold made the extra pass all night long to shoot 45% from the field on 18 assists. VCU now has 69 assists in its four NCAA Tournament victories.
"These are my brothers and playing with these guys is something that I don't want to end," Rozzell said. "We don't care who the star player is on a given night, we just want to win."
The Rams have now won games over opponents from the PAC-10 (USC), the Big EAST (Georgetown), the Big Ten (Purdue) and the ACC (Florida State). Up next is the only number one seed left in the NCAA Tournament in Kansas out of the Big 12.
"We're coming through an unbelievable stretch of playing some of the country's best, but that's what it's all about," Smart said. "Kansas is probably the most dominant team left in the tournament, so I can't wait to see what we can do against such a tremendous program."
Burgess' heroics came when came off setting a screen and cut to the basket, where he took an inbounds pass from senior Joey Rodriguez and laid in an easy basket with 0:07.2 remaining. On the other end, freshman Rob Brandenberg held strong and didn't allow the Seminoles to get off a shot, which brought the Rams within one win of the Final Four.
"I especially wanted to have the ball in the overtime. I wasn't going strong enough in the second half and it was getting sent the other way," Burgess said. "I definitely told the coaches if I got an opportunity I wanted to score in overtime."
The contest started out as a back-and-forth battle before a three-pointer from Burgess capped off a 9-2 VCU run which ultimately sent the Black & Gold into the locker room with a 36-31 advantage.
Florida State would come out of the locker rooms on fire and eventually took a 49-48 lead on a Bernard James tip-in with 11:41 to play in regulation.
Rozzell connected on an old-fashioned three-point play to ignite a 9-0 run which gave the Rams a 57-49 cushion with 10:17 showing on the clock.
The Seminoles would lock down defensively and a late three-pointer by All-ACC selection Chris Singleton sent the game into overtime at 65-65. All of that set up Burgess' overtime heroics.
"We knew that we had to really work on the offensive end heading into overtime because they were playing so well defensively," Rodriguez said. "As we have throughout the tournament, we stuck together and got the baskets when we needed to."
VCU finished with 12 three-pointers on the night, which was the most the Seminoles gave up all year.
The Rams now move onto face top-seeded Kansas at 1:20 CST/2:20 EST at the Alamodome. On the line? A date in the Final Four.