SAN ANTONIO — Some 11 minutes remained in regulation Friday night when the unlikeliest scout — a member of Florida State’s dance team — finally put voice to the Seminoles’ fatal flaw.
“Watch him!” the Golden Girl screamed. “He’s open in the corner!”
He could have referred to pretty much any Virginia Commonwealth shooter, but on this occasion, it was Bradford Burgess, who proceeded to bang home one of the upstart Rams’ 12 three-pointers.
And so, as the epilogue is written on FSU’s surprising, but ultimately unfulfilled season, which abruptly ended with a 72-71 overtime loss Friday, the Noles’ usually swarming defense will share as much of the blame as its dependably ragged offense.
VCU (27-11), which blew a nine-point second-half lead, won on a late layup from Bradford Burgess, earning the program’s first-ever Elite Eight berth and giving the NCAA Tournament yet another Cinderella story. But the game was really decided at three-point line, especially after Burgess buried another triple from the wing with less than three minutes remaining in OT.
Now all that’s standing in the way of the Rams and the Final Four: top-seeded Kansas, which throttled Richmond 77-57 in the early game Friday.
The Jayhawks (35-2), the Southwest Regional’s top seed, have won their three NCAA Tournament games by a combined 53 points, playing only teams seeded ninth or lower.
But high-flying Kansas is a worry for another night.
This evening belonged to VCU’s Burgess and fellow guard Brandon Rozzell. They combined to score 42 points on 9-of-14 shooting from three-point range.
Meanwhile, an unforgettable night from Derwin Kitchen went for naught. Kitchen, who scored 23 points, could not get a shot off at the end of regulation with the score tied, setting up overtime. The Noles also had a chance to win it as time expired, but Chris Singleton’s last-second shot was blocked, ending the Noles’ season.
VCU’s goal on defense is to wreak havoc, and it did — on the eyes. Tough man defense by both sides led to a disjointed start to the game, with each side racing to see who could get down the court — and miss a shot — first.
The Noles (23-11) misfired on 11 of their first 17 attempts, including a stretch of four in a row that barely grazed the rim. But they led by a point midway through the first half, thanks to production from a familiar – — yet surprising — source.
Singleton, who played a total of 26 minutes since breaking his right foot in February, checked in at before the Under-16 timeout, and scored six quick points.
That’s about all that came easy for the Noles, who shot a paltry 30 percent from the field and 33 percent from the stripe in the first half. They managed just one made basket over a 5-minute, 30-second stretch that caused a one-point VCU lead to swell to eight.
But FSU has struggled offensively before, and likely will so again. Far more troublesome for the Noles: The Rams made half of their shots before the break.
Usually, that combination is a recipe for a blowout. But thanks to a 24-19 rebounding advantage in the first half, a margin that bolstered by 14 offensive boards for FSU, the Noles trailed by just five at the half.
“We have nine point-blank layups that we’ve missed,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton told TBS at halftime. “The effort was decent. I think defense, we lost the shooters on ball-screens. I think we’ll fix that in second half.”
Early on, seemingly everything was fixed. The Noles opened the second half on a 7-0 run, capped by a corner three-pointer by Deividas Dulkys that put FSU ahead 38-36, its first lead since the 10:15 mark of the first half.
But the Noles’ unwillingness to close out on open shooters reared its ugly head again, as Rozzell buried a trio of three-pointers before driving layup — with a foul — put stretched VCU’s lead to six.
The Rams led by just three when Singleton buried a 26-foot three-pointer to tie it up, and set up a wild finish.
(c) 2011, The Miami Herald.
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