SAN ANTONIO -- Throughout its surprising run in the NCAA tournament, Virginia Commonwealth kept winning by wide margins, never having to worry about staring down the big boys in pressure situations.
Well, it turns out VCU can do that, too.
Bradford Burgess made a layup off an inbounds pass with 7.1 seconds left in overtime, and Rob Brandenberg blocked a shot at the buzzer, giving VCU a 72-71 victory over Florida State in a Southwest Region semifinal Friday night.
"Guts -- just guts and want-to," second-year coach Shaka Smart said.
After winning only three of their last eight games, the Rams got into the 68-team field over the loud objections of many critics and had to win in the First Four just to secure an 11th seed. They proved they belonged by beating Southern California by 13, then continued their rise by knocking out Georgetown and Purdue by 18 points each. They seemed headed to another runaway victory, up by nine points with 7:37 left, then nearly blew it.
As the only team that has already won three games, fatigue might have been a factor as VCU made just one of seven shots and went 0-for-4 from the foul line. VCU's final attempt of the second half was blocked by Bernard James, giving the Seminoles one last shot, a long jumper that didn't get over the front rim.
Florida State was up by one in the final seconds of the extra period when VCU guard Joey Rodriguez stood underneath the basket, ready to throw in the ball. The Rams were going to run their favorite inbounds play, but the Seminoles recognized the setup and called a timeout to switch their defense. Smart realized it, too, so he switched to another play.
Burgess weaved through several screens, and Rodriguez made a ball fake. The eventual pass skipped between two defenders and went right to Burgess. He bobbled the pass a bit, then banked it in before the defense could recover.
"I had been messing up -- my layups were getting blocked," said Burgess, who scored 26 points, making six of seven 3-pointers. "I wasn't going to the hole strong enough, and I said if I got the chance I wanted to win the game for the team."
On Florida State's final possession, Derwin Kitchen drove the baseline and passed it outside. The shot might have been too late, but Brandenberg avoided any controversy by swatting it, sending the Rams (27-11) into the final eight for the first time. Their final hurdle on the way to the Final Four is their toughest challenge yet -- top-seeded Kansas, which ousted VCU's neighbor Richmond 77-57 earlier Friday.
"We're going to have to play much better than we did tonight," Smart said. "Our guys know that, and I think we have it in us."
They're certainly from the right conference -- the Colonial Athletic Association, the league that sent another No. 11 seed, George Mason, to the Final Four in 2006.
Florida State (23-11) hadn't been this far since 1993 and thought it had the team to keep going. The Seminoles certainly had the defense (allowing the lowest field goal percentage in the country) and had star Chris Singleton back in as close to full gear as he's been since breaking his right foot in mid-February.
It still wasn't enough. Kitchen scored 23 points and Singleton was clutch as could be, making a tying 3-pointer with 45 seconds left in regulation and a go-ahead layup across the baseline with 29.2 seconds left in overtime. He finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.
"It didn't just come down to one play," Florida State's Bernard James said. "The game was decided in the first 30 minutes when we didn't play defense."
The first NCAA tournament matchup between teams seeded 10 and 11 was tight throughout. VCU's biggest lead was nine; FSU's biggest was four.
The Seminoles outrebounded the Rams 47-32. Florida State had 21 on the offensive end, leading to 18 more shots than VCU. Yet it wasn't enough.
Even with their late woes, the Rams made 45 percent of their shots. They were 12-of-26 from behind the arc, realizing they were better off trying long-range shots than going against Florida State's size inside.
"They hit some really tough shots, shots that were heavily contested," Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said. "Almost from the parking lot, way beyond NBA range, at least three or four of them. ... Sometimes you have to give the other team credit. Even when we contested the shots, they made those 3s."