2014 NCAA Tournament Recap: SFA Rally Shocks VCU

Desmond Haymon (25) and JeQuan Lewis (1) combined for the play of the NCAA Tournament so far.

Unfortunately, there is nothing the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee seems to like more than pitting mid-majors against one another in the opening rounds of the Dance wherever possible. In this case, Stephen F. Austin and Virginia Commonwealth got together and produced one of the best games this year's Tournament has seen thus far, giving us all something to be proud of.

Desmond Haymon's improbable four-point play with 3.6 seconds remaining will allow Stephen F. Austin's historic season to continue on as the 12th seed Lumberjacks rallied from 10 points down in the closing minutes to shock the fifth seed VCU Rams 77-75 in overtime at the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

With 4:27 to play VCU led 58-48. SFA scored on their next eight possessions, including seven points from Southland Conference Player of the Year Jacob Parker and four from Haymon, to trim the Rams lead to 66-63 with just 23.9 seconds remaining. VCU's Briante Weber converted just one-of-two free throws to stretch the lead to four at 67-63 with 21.4 seconds left. Haymon missed a runner and the ball went out of bounds to VCU with just 11.8 seconds to play, seemingly ending all hope for the Lumberjacks. Or so we thought.

VCU's Jordan Burgess went to the line with 10.5 seconds to play and missed two free throws. SFA's Thomas Walkup grabbed the board and raced up the court all the way to the middle of the lane. Just as it appeared he might try for a layup to extend the game, he kicked out to Haymon on the right wing who immediately went up with a three point shot. VCU's JeQuan Lewis flew out towards Haymon and made contact with him as Haymon fell backwards. The referee's whistle sounded as the ball splashed through the net, causing the Lumberjacks bench to explode. After a timeout Haymon calmly sank the free throw to tie the game at 67. VCU's desperation attempt from half-court wasn't close and the game incredibly went into overtime.

In the overtime period, Haymon delivered a second huge shot. Trailing 73-71, and late in the shot clock, the senior hit a step-back three pointer several feet behind the arc on the left wing, giving SFA a 74-73 lead with 2:02 remaining. They would never trail again.

After a Burgess missed three for VCU, SFA again ran the shot clock down. With just over a minute remaining, Trey Pinkney was in trouble on the right wing. As he was falling out of bounds he tried saving the ball off of VCU, but it deflected and rolled right to Jacob Parker, who calmly scooped it up and hit a mid-range jumper to put the Jacks ahead 76-73.

After a Lewis layup cut the SFA lead back to one, the Rams forced what looked to be a crucial turnover forcing a held ball in the backcourt. On the ensuing possession Briante Weber drove towards the goal when he was tied up and stripped by Parker resulting in a turnover. Walkup grabbed the loose ball and was fouled, but he made just 1-of-2 free throws to give SFA a two-point lead. On the final possession, VCU ran a great set and got Lewis a wide open shot at redemption, but his three pointer missed and Walkup grabbed a strong rebound in traffic as time expired.

The craziness at the end overshadowed what was a fascinating game that lived up to it's billing as one of the more interesting match-ups in the Tournament. In the first half, SFA's crisp passing and precise offensive sets and cuts led to the Lumberjacks holding a 36-30 halftime lead. VCU's defense forced only five first half turnovers, and none in the final 19 SFA possessions.

Early in the second half, though, Havoc asserted itself in a big big way. VCU unleashed a 20-3 run that included nine SFA turnovers, several in the backcourt thanks to the vaunted VCU diamond press. The Lumberjacks had a field goal drought that lasted more than six minutes before Haymon (of course it was Haymon) drained a three and set the stage for the epic final four minutes from SFA.

Parker led SFA with 22 points. Haymon scored 17. Walkup, a guard, scored 12 points with four assists and three steals. He also grabbed 10 rebounds, including a couple huge boards down the stretch. Treveon Graham led VCU with 19 points and seven rebounds. Jordan Burgess scored 14. Unfortunately the ending of the game might overshadow the fact that JeQuan Lewis scored 13 off the Rams' bench.

The win gives Stephen F. Austin 29 consecutive wins, second only to unbeaten Wichita State's 35 straight. The Lumberjacks advance to the Round of 32 on Sunday where they will face the four seed UCLA Bruins.

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