Devastation for Duke

Published 3:06 pm Friday, March 16, 2007

By By JOHN WAWROW, AP Sports Writer
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Duke’s done.
Eric Maynor hit a 15-foot jumper with 1.8 seconds left to give Virginia Commonwealth a 79-77 upset victory over the Blue Devils in the first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday night. Maynor finished with 22 points, six in the final 1:24.
Duke lost a first-round game for the first time since 1996. The loss in the West Regional ended the sixth-seeded Blue Devils’ string of Sweet 16 appearances at nine. It was the longest active streak and second-longest behind North Carolina’s 13-year run.
Fittingly, it was VCU (28-6) that knocked off George Mason — the tournament’s surprise team last year — in the Colonial Athletic Association championship game. Maynor sealed that 65-59 win by scoring nine of his 20 points in the final 2 minutes.
VCU, making its eighth tournament appearance, won its first NCAA tournament game since beating Marshall 81-65 in 1985. The Rams will face either No. 3 Pittsburgh or Wright State on Saturday.
The 11th-seeded Rams, in their first season under former Florida assistant Anthony Grant, never led by more than two points. They overcame a 13-point first-half deficit and also trailed by as many as 11 in the second.
Pellot-Rosa’s 16-foot jumper gave VCU a 72-71 lead with 2:03 remaining. The Blue Devils (22-11) tied it three times, the last time at 77 when DeMarcus Nelson went coast-to-coast to hit a layup with 10.3 seconds left.
Maynor took the ensuing inbound pass and carried the ball across center. Driving to the paint, he pulled up and hit a perfect jumper from just above the foul line and over Duke’s Jon Scheyer.
The Blue Devils’ chance to pull off a last-second victory — and with Christian Laettner watching from the stands — failed when Greg Paulus’ wild attempt from midcourt hit wide of the basket and off the backboard.
Laettner, a Buffalo-area native, was responsible for one of the most exciting moments in NCAA tournament history in 1992. That’s when he hit a last-second turnaround jumper sealing a 104-103 win over Kentucky that helped send the Blue Devils to their second straight national championship.
Paulus scored a career-high 25 points, and Josh McRoberts added a career-high 22 points and had 12 rebounds.
Featuring only two upperclassman, this Duke team was the most inexperienced club Krzyzewski has coached in his 27 years at Duke.
It was a rough game that featured Paulus and Maynor exchanging shoves. VCU’s Wil Fameni missed 6 minutes with a bloody nose after he collided with a teammate.
Scheyer missed a couple of minutes after he was cut across the left eye when Maynor came down on him after making a 6-foot jumper. And Duke’s Gerald Henderson also was limited after being cut on his shooting hand in the second half.
Thursday’s game featured seven lead changes, remarkable considering how much in control Duke seemed in opening a 22-9 lead midway through the first half, thanks in part to VCU’s terrible shooting effort. The Rams opened the game 4-of-17, while the Blue Devils went 6-of-9, including back-to-back dunks by Henderson and McRoberts.
Then, as quickly as Duke went up, the Blue Devils unraveled, allowing Virginia Commonwealth back in. The Rams tied it at 38 in the final minute of the half on B.A. Walker’s 3-point basket.