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Amazing play forces overtime as Stephen F. Austin stuns VCU

SAN DIEGO — Stephen F. Austin put a little madness in March with its 77-75 overtime upset of Virginia Commonwealth in Friday night’s NCAA South Regional second-round game in San Diego.

“Miracles really do happen,” Stephen F. Austin coach Brad Underwood said. “What a game.”

Forward Jacob Parker hit a jumper with a minute let in overtime to put the Lumberjacks ahead 76-73 and forward Thomas Walkup added a free throw.

VCU guard JeQuan Lewis had a good look at a tying 3-point in the closing seconds, but it failed to drop.

“We just didn’t finish the game,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “We gave them a glimmer of hope by missing a couple of free throws and fouled them on the shot, which allowed them to tie the score.”

The No. 5-seeded Rams (26-9) led 65-59 with 56 seconds remaining in regulation after a 3-pointer by guard Jordan Burgess. But the No. 12-seeded Lumberjacks (32-2) failed to wilt in winning their 29th consecutive game.

Stephen F. Austin guard Desmond Haymon converted a four-point play with 3.6 seconds left to send the game into overtime. Haymon sank a long 3-pointer and was fouled by Lewis on the shot.

“He’s a freshman and it’s a lesson for him and our team to learn,” Smart said. “It’s a very, very painful lesson.”

It was just the opposite for Haymon.

“By the grace of God, I went up and shot it with confidence,” Haymon said. “He closed on me hard and I stayed there and he knocked me down the ground.”

The Lumberjacks were paced by 22 points from Parker, who also never lost faith.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “When he made that shot, I just knew he was going to make the free throw. There was no doubt about it.

“Our coach always told us to dream big and that has been on motto.”

Guard Treveon Graham scored a team-high 19 points for VCU.

Stephen F. Austin made a late push after falling behind 60-50 with under four minutes to play.

“It didn’t look good for a long time in the second half,” Underwood said.

When guard Deshaunt Walker sank a 3-pointer, the Lumberjacks trailed by three with two minutes to play. But Burgess drained a key 3-pointer with under a minute left to push VCU ahead by six.

“When I made that, I thought we had them,” Burgess said.

The game had turned quickly, just as it appeared Stephen F. Austin would run away it.

Instead, it almost got run over.

A four-point halftime lead became a 10-point cushion when forward Nikola Gajic sank two free throws and guard Trey Pinkney added a layup to start the second half.

But a 40-30 edge was lost when VCU blitzed the Lumberjacks with a 20-3 run that featured a seven-minute stretch in which Stephen F. Austin scored only one field goal.

The score was tied at 8 five minutes in and the first half a pretty much a give-and-take affair for the remaining 15 minutes.

Stephen F. Austin led 18-13 midway through the half on three inside baskets by Walkup, Gajic and Parker. But VCU tied it on a 3-pointer by guard Doug Brooks and a putback by forward Juvonte Reddic.

Burgess’ 3-pointer gave VCU a 28-26 edge, but Stephen F. Austin closed the first half with a 10-2 run highlighted by Parker’s 3-pointer just before the buzzer.

Parker led all scorers with 11 first-half points. Graham and Burgess each had six for the Rams.

But no one left with a better memory than Haymon, who struggled with his stroke earlier in the game.

“To be part of this team is a blessing,” Haymon said. “I just knew I couldn’t let me team down. I guess I found my groove with that last shot.”

NOTES: Stephen F. Austin was undefeated in the Southland Conference, going 18-0 before winning its two games in the conference tournament. … The Lumberbacks made their second NCAA Tournament appearance. … By ending the season with a 33-game home winning run, Stephen F. Austin tied Duke for the longest active streak in the nation. … Stephen F. Austin had never played VCU before Friday’s matchup. … For the first time in school history, VCU made its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. … The Rams have played only one other Southland Conference member, Oral Roberts. That came in 1976-77, before VCA coach Shaka Smart was born. … VCU entered the tournament leading the nation with 380 steals.