- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 26, 2011

SAN ANTONIO — Joey Rodriguez counted off the seconds in his head.

One. He stood on the baseline at the Alamodome Friday night, clutching the basketball and Virginia Commonwealth University’s improbable NCAA Tournament run in his hands.

Two. The game with Florida State University in the Sweet 16 should never have gone to overtime. Rodriguez couldn’t understand how he missed two free throws minutes earlier.

Three. The senior reminded himself not to pull a Chris Webber and call a timeout he didn’t have.

Four. This pass would be on faith, Rodriguez thought. He had to throw it. Now.

Everything came down to one play that saved VCU’s season and thrust Rodriguez and company into March lore with a 71-70 victory over FSU. Now the eleventh-seeded team derided by ESPN analysts for being included in the tournament faces Kansas in the Elite Eight on Sunday.

“The way we’ve been playing anything’s possible,” said senior Bradford Burgess, who took the pass from Rodriguez to score the winning basket. “Everything’s happening so fast. It’s crazy.”

Seven point one seconds remained in the game. Beset by poor free throw shooting — missing six of its last 10 attempts — VCU trailed by one. Shaka Smart, the second-year head coach, called a timeout. In a calm voice, Smart told the team huddled around him they were going to win. No player admitted to doubting him.

Then Smart called for “12,” his favorite inbounds play with multiple scoring options. After an FSU timeout, Smart noticed their assistants knew what was coming. So, he switched the call to “11.” It’s nothing special, an alternate play VCU (27-11) ran several times Friday.

Smart told Rodriguez to fake a pass deep to Brandon Rozzell, who sank three 3-pointers in a two-minutes outburst earlier in the game.

This felt like high school in Merritt Island, Fla., to Rodriguez. Every time he peeked in the stands, his father, Joe, had switched seats because of nerves. After Rodriguez missed a pair of free throws with 1:57 remaining in overtime, the relocations increased.

Nerves, more from excitement, gnaw at Rodriguez, too. He’s barely slept during the tournament, relying on Skype and video games to pass time at night.

On the baseline, Rodriguez was surprised there wasn’t a defender in his face. He faked a pass to Rozzell. FSU (23-11) thought the ball was going deep and backed up. .

Fearing he was about to get a five-second call, Rodriguez bounced a pass between two defenders to Burgess who came free in the key.

“I turned my head the wrong way and he slipped,” FSU’s Derwin Kitchen said. “I thought we had somebody under (the basket).”

The basket was unguarded. Burgress, who wanted the ball in overtime, collected an easy layup.

As soon as the ball fell through and the Alamodome erupted, Rodriguez knew he had to scramble back on defense. FSU’s Chris Singleton already sank two critical shots to send the game to overtime and give the Seminoles a one-point lead in the extra period. Rodriguez didn’t want a third batch of heroics.

One last time Singleton got the ball. But freshman Rob Brandenberg swatted it away — though he was never credited with a block — as time expired.

The ball flew up in the air. VCU players ran a half-dozen different directions. Rodriguez stood in front of the press table and screamed. Dome security and police officers clogged the stands to keep VCU supporters from rushing the court.

“We’re not supposed to be here,” Rodriguez said. “But we’re having a good time and celebrating. We’re not used to being around all this.”

The seven seconds that seemed an eternity was over.

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