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March 15, 2007
BUFFALO, N.Y. - First George Mason, now Duke. Virginia Commonwealth sophomore guard Eric Maynor sure has a flair for dramatics in big games.
Maynor hit a 15-foot jumper with 1.8 seconds left in the Rams' 79-77 upset victory over the Blue Devils on Thursday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"It felt like it was good," said Maynor, who scored six of his 22 points in the final 1:24. "And for it to go in, I said to myself, `Man, I just hit the game-winner on Duke University."'
The basket gave VCU, seeded 11th in the West Regional, its first tournament victory since the Rams beat Marshall in 1985.
It's significance is even larger considering the Rams (28-6) handed the Mike Krzyzewski-coached Blue Devils (22-11) their first first-round loss since 1996. The loss also 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.
"The fact that we've gone every year since 1996 is a story in itself," Krzyzewski said. "If you're in this tournament long enough, you're going to go down."
Maynor's performance was reminiscent of his previous game when he helped the Rams win the Colonial Athletic Association championship.
That's when he scored nine of his 20 points in the final 2 minutes in a 65-59 win over George Mason, the NCAA tournament's surprise team last year.
"I love him," teammate Jesse Pellot-Rosa said. "Just because he's a sophomore doesn't make him inexperienced. When crunch time comes, it just so happens he gets the ball first and makes great decisions."
VCU will face third-seeded Pittsburgh, a 79-58 winner over Wright State, on Saturday.
The Rams, who never led by more than two points, overcame a 13-point first-half deficit and also trailed by seven with 8 minutes left in the game.
Pellot-Rosa's 16-foot jumper gave VCU a 72-71 lead with 2:03 remaining. The Blue Devils 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.
"I think I gave him a little too much space on that last one," Scheyer said. "I can't really pinpoint exactly what happened. It just got away from us."
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.
Duke was hurt by poor free-throw shooting.
Nelson missed two of four attempts in the final 3 minutes, while Paulus and Nelson were 1-of-2 down the stretch.
"They played their hearts out tonight," Krzyzewski said, crediting his players. "They just need to learn from this experience. We're proud of them."
The Blue Devils season ended with a four-game losing streak. Their 11 losses are the most since they finished 18-13 in 1995-96.
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.
Rams' first-year coach Anthony Grant played down comparisons between his team and George Mason's run last year, when the Patriots reached the Final Four.
"We're trying to be VCU," said Grant, an assistant on Florida's national championship team last season. "What Mason did last year was great and special. But right now, we're very happy being VCU."
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