Apparently, Cinderella does not want to leave the Big Dance this weekend.
In just their second ever tournament appearance, the No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks left their mark on a wild opening NCAA tournament week, topping the No. 5 seed VCU Rams in overtime, 77-75. The victory extended their winning streak to 29 games, second in the country to Wichita State (35).
The Lumberjacks entered the NCAA tournament as probably the most mysterious and intriguing team in the field of 68. Led by colorful first-year head coach Brad Underwood, a collegiate assistant for 27 years, the Lumberjacks captured both the Southland regular season and conference titles, landing them them in the field. After watching the final seconds of regulation and the ensuing overtime period, you would think the Lumberjacks (32-2) had been in this position before.
Desmond Haymon, who struggled offensively for most of the game, woke up with miracle three-pointer with 3.6 seconds remaining and converted a free throw to complete a four-point play and send the game into overtime. He followed that with another clutch three-pointer in the extra session, pushing SFA to the lead for good. He finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, but the Lumberjacks were led by Jacob Parker, who scored a game-high 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting.
It’s hard to believe Shaka Smart and the VCU Rams were on the other side of the fence just three seasons ago. The Rams entered the 2011 NCAA tournament as a huge underdog, but became instant media darlings with their improbable Final Four run, eventually falling to Butler, 70-62, in the National Semifinals.
The Rams led 28-26 with 2:53 remaining in the first half, but the Lumberjacks closed them on a 10-2 run, entering halftime with a 36-30 lead. The lead was pushed to 10 to begin the second half, as VCU appeared to be crumbling, with two missed layups, a turnover and a foul less than two minutes in the second half. However, the “Thievery Corporation” of Briante Weber and Juvonte Reddic forced several steals with timely defense, finishing with eight combined steals on the game, leading to a 22-3 run and putting the Rams in the lead, 54-43.
After making their only five free throw attempts, VCU missed four of their final six in the final minute of the second half, allowing SFA’s unlikely comeback. Parker and Thomas Walkup controlled most of the scoring in overtime for the Lumberjacks, and they held on for the win.
As a result, another No. 5 seed is left in the dust, with the No. 12 seed capturing three of a possible four opening round games this year. The Lumberjacks will face the UCLA vs. Tulsa winner on Sunday.