The most impressive part about Stephen F. Austin’s resumé entering the NCAA tournament was its 28-game winning streak. The Lumberjacks may not have faced the toughest competition in the Southland conference, but they proved at least one thing: they know how to win. It showed Friday night at Viejas Arena in San Diego, as Stephen F. Austin, the No. 12 seed in the South region, rallied for an improbable 77-75 overtime victory against No. 5 VCU.
As late as the final minute in regulation, the Rams appeared in control. VCU had used its stifling HAVOC press to turn a 10-point second-half deficit into a 10-point lead with under four minutes to go. The Rams still held a four-point lead after guard Briante Weber made a free throw with 21 seconds left. At that point, there seemingly was only one play SFA could make to extend the game: The Lumberjacks needed a four-point play. They got one.
As Desmond Haymon raised up to shoot a three from the right wing, he was fouled by VCU guard JeQuan Lewis. Haymon’s shot fell through the net, SFA’s bench erupted in jubilant disbelief and Haymon made the free throw to send the game into overtime.
Seemingly re-energized, the Lumberjacks rode a crest of momentum into the extra session. VCU, meanwhile, looked like it was still trying to collect itself after disastrous late-game management prolonged a game it should have won in regulation. Haymon, who finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, drilled another big three, the Lumberjacks made five three throws and they got enough stops to hang on for their 29th straight win. In a cruel twist, Lewis missed a three from the right corner with less than five seconds remaining that likely would have given VCU a one-point win.
Those who watched Thursday’s tourney action shouldn’t have been shocked to see Stephen F. Austin notch its first ever NCAA Tournament win. Along with Harvard, which beat Cincinnati, and North Dakota State, which beat Oklahoma, the Lumberjacks are the third No. 12 seed in this year’s field to advance to the round of 32.
As VCU fans can no doubt attest, the Lumberjacks’ victory was the most dramatic of the three. Midway through the second half, Stephen F. Austin appeared to have lost all the momentum it generated in the first half. The Lumberjacks looked exasperated, their body language indicative of a team that had put up a good fight and accepted defeat. Thanks to a wild play in the waning seconds, however, Stephen F. Austin managed to prevail in what will surely be remembered as one of the wildest first-round upsets in recent tourney history.
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