One and stunned
VCU's Maynor sends Duke packing
By Rodney McKissic
This will be tucked safely away into the NCAA Tournament archives, another moment to commit to memory when the discussion turns to upsets, great games and mid-major programs. Virginia Commonwealth's mind-blowing, 79-77 victory Thursday will be recalled as the night when almighty Duke came tumbling down on the first day of the NCAA Tournament.
VCU sophomore guard Eric Maynor sent Duke back to Durham, N.C., by drilling a 17-foot jumper with 1.8 seconds remaining, in front of 18,844 witnesses in HSBC Arena.
"These guys believed all year long that if we came out and played the way we are capable of playing, we could win," said VCU coach Anthony Grant, the former Florida assistant who won a national title with the Gators a year ago. "We could win the conference championship, we could win the tournament, and we could go deep into the NCAA Tournament."
Maynor -- fearless, confident and reluctant to play a secondary role to his opponent's supposed magnitude -- sent shock waves throughout the West region and the tournament's first round, which lacked drama and upsets until Maynor buried the game-winner and Duke.
It was the Rams' first NCAA win in 22 years and placed them one step away from the Sweet 16.
"Duke's one of the better teams in America with their tradition and everything," said VCU's Jesse Pellot-Rosa. "So it feels good not just to beat Duke but to win a game in the NCAA Tournament."
So much for heritage. So much for seedings. So much for Duke (22-11). On this night, none of that mattered to VCU, which will play Pittsburgh in HSBC Arena in the second round Saturday. Nothing bothered the Rams (28-6).
Not the Duke brand name, nor its talent, nor its Hall of Fame coach.
Nothing rattled Maynor, who brought the Blue Devils to their knees with 22 points. He took the game over in the final 3:56, scoring eight of the Rams' last 10 points, including the winner with Duke's Jon Scheyer waving a hand in his face.
VCU gave the Blue Devils a sliver of hope when Pellot-Rosa missed a free throw with 16 seconds left and the Rams leading, 77-75.
Duke's DeMarcus Nelson took the ball the length of the court, twisting and turning to get into the lane before scoring on a layup with 10.3 seconds left.
That tied the game for the sixth and final time before Maynor, a lifelong North Carolina Tar Heels fan, put the outcome in his hands.
"When I saw it go through the net, I looked over at coach Grant and I was trying to signal for him not to call a timeout," Maynor said. "I knew that when it got in my hands, I was going to try to break my man down and make him play, and it just happened the way it happened, but I'm excited about it."
Nelson figured Maynor wasn't going to go away.
"We forced him to take some tough shots," he said, "and he made some tough shots."
Duke had 1.8 seconds left, enough time in the NCAAs to pull off another miracle, but Greg Paulus' desperation three-pointer hit the backboard hard and fell harmlessly to the floor.
Paulus had tried gallantly to keep the Blue Devils in the tournament with 25 points and four assists.
So did Josh McRoberts, with 22 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, but this was the earliest Duke was sent packing since 1996, when it lost to Earl Boykins and Eastern Michigan.
"If you play in the tournament long enough," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, "you're going to go down."
Especially when your defense doesn't rotate quickly enough to find VCU's jump shooters, who popped in 9 of 16 from beyond the three-point arc. Especially when you shoot 20 of 32 from the free-throw line.
In the last 8:07 as the Rams chipped away at Duke's 67-60 lead, the Blue Devils made just 5 of 12 free throws.