SFA headlines top game in San Diego pod
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Arizona handled its business, even if it wasn’t pretty at times. UCLA pulled away late and Gonzaga held off Oklahoma State down the stretch to advance.
Three games of relatively routine action compared to what was happening in some of the NCAA tournament’s other pods.
Then there was what Stephen F. Austin did. That was enough excitement for all four games in San Diego.
Pulling off one of the most improbable comebacks in the NCAA tournament’s long history of bracket busting, SFA tied the game on Desmond Haymon’s four-point play with 3.6 seconds left and outlasted Virginia Commonwealth in overtime for a 77-75 victory on Friday night.
“Well, miracles truly do happen,” SFA coach Brad Underwood said.
There hadn’t been in the early games at San Diego State’s Viejas Arena.
Arizona, the top seed in the West Regional, got off to a shaky start and blew most of a 21-point lead. The Wildcats still got through, holding off Weber State (19-12) for a 69-59 victory to avoid becoming the biggest upset yet in a bracket that’s been filled with them.
The Wildcats (31-4) will move on to face Gonzaga (29-6) in the third round on Sunday after Kevin Pangos scored 26 points and hit 10 of 10 free throws in the final 1:31 of the Bulldogs’ foul-filled, 85-77 win over Oklahoma State.
The Bruins pulled away from Tulsa for a 76-59 victory in the South Region, giving Steve Alford a victory in his first NCAA tournament game as their coach.
UCLA (27-8) will move on to face SFA, which had the marquee game of the day in San Diego with VCU.
In fact, it was one of the best games during the first two full days of the NCAA tournament, which is saying something after all the upsets, buzzer-beaters and millions of crumpled brackets across the country.
VCU (23-10), the South Region’s No. 5 seed, was firmly in control after its swarming defense flustered SFA during a big second-half run.
The scrappy Lumberjacks (32-2) kept hanging around and clawed their way back in the closing seconds.
Two missed free throws by VCU’s Jordan Burgess with 10 seconds left gave SFA a chance.
The Lumberjacks worked the ball around to the wing, where Haymon launched a 3-pointer and was fouled by JeQuan Lewis just before the ball fell through the basket.
“I just tried to get out and contest it,” Lewis said. ”(I) jumped to the side a little bit and kind of fell into him. The ref called a foul.”
Haymon still had some work to do, though.
The crowd still buzzing, VCU coach Shaka Smart called a timeout, trying to ice Haymon. The senior didn’t seem to mind, returning to the court to calmly knock the free throw down and send the game to overtime — the record-setting fifth in the NCAA tournament’s round of 64.
“I was struggling shooting the ball and I knew to get it going, I was going to have to continue to try to find (my touch),” Haymon said. “I guess I found that groove with the last shot.”
The tension still wasn’t over.
Following a missed desperation heave at the end of regulation, Haymon put the ’Jacks ahead in overtime on a 3-pointer with 2 minutes left.
VCU’s turn at glory came after SFA’s Thomas Walkup made 1 of 2 free throws to put the Lumberjacks up 2 with 14 seconds left. The Rams got a good look on the final possession, working the ball around to Lewis for an open 3-pointer on the wing.
His shot went long, the Lumberjacks grabbed the rebound, then stormed the floor after improbably extending the nation’s second-longest winning streak to 29 games.
Jacob Parker scored 22 points and Haymon had 17 for SFA, which moves into Sunday’s third-round game against UCLA.
Treveon Graham had 19 points, Burgess 14 and Lewis finished with 13 for the disappointed Rams, the third No. 5 seed to lose this tournament.
“Honestly, I thought we had it,” Burgess said. “We had them on the ropes, but they came back and made some tough shots and important shots to win the game.”