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Maynor sends Duke packing

March 16, 2007|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The day before the game, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski called Eric Maynor "sensational."

Perhaps he should make that unstoppable.

The ultra-quick sophomore point guard from North Carolina, who grew up wanting to play for Duke's main rival, ended up at Virginia Commonwealth instead, and on Thursday night he decked Duke with a driving 16-foot jumper with 1.8 seconds left.

The Blue Devils called a timeout, but there was to be no Christian Laettner moment. Greg Paulus rushed the ball across halfcourt and missed a heave at the buzzer, and the 11th-seeded Rams started celebrating a 79-77 victory in a first-round West Regional game at HSBC Arena.

It was the first significant upset of this NCAA tournament -- and Duke's only first-round exit since 1996.

Maynor had 22 points and eight assists against fourth-seeded Duke, and scored six points in the final 1:25 -- two baskets on darting drives to the rim and the winner on a pull-up jumper.

"The kid made a great play," Krzyzewski said.

It wasn't the first time.

He made a bunch of them in the Colonial Athletic Assn. title game March 5 to reach the NCAA tournament by defeating George Mason, last year's surprise Final Four team.

In the final two minutes of that game, Maynor scored nine consecutive points and made two steals that led to baskets to bring Virginia Commonwealth from five points behind to win.

Maynor said Coach Anthony Grant, an assistant at Florida on last season's NCAA championship team, gives him the green light.

"He always says just be a player," Maynor said. "That's the main thing. Just be a player at the end of the game."

It's not the end for the Rams.

At 28-6, they advance to a second-round game Saturday against Pittsburgh.

Some people wonder if it could be just the beginning, after the example George Mason set last year.

"What Mason did last year was great, was special. It's something you may never see again, I don't know," Grant said.

"But these guys don't want this to end. They want to be special. They want to create memories for a lifetime. Any references to being George Mason or Cinderella -- we've very happy being VCU."

Duke -- three times a national champion and 10 times a No. 1-seeded team -- was a few notches below this season, finishing 22-11.

Duke led by as many as 13 but neither Paulus nor Jon Scheyer could stay in front of the driving Maynor.

Virginia Commonwealth made nine three-pointers -- four by Jamal Shuler -- and Duke struggled at the line, making only 20 of 32 free throws.

Paulus scored 25 points but was a woeful six for 11 from the line. Josh McRoberts had 22 points, 12 rebounds and four assists for Duke.

Krzyzewski dismissed any idea his team was overconfident or didn't play hard. "I don't think our team is spoiled. I think our team is young," he said. "I think our team has a rich tradition to live up to."

Pittsburgh 79, Wright State 58 -- The Panthers took the first step toward what could be an emotionally awkward meeting in the Sweet 16 for UCLA Coach Ben Howland and the school where he used to coach, now guided by his close friend Jamie Dixon.

Pitt, seeded third in the West Regional, led by as many as 15 points in the first half and the game became a runaway in the second, sending home the 14th-seeded Raiders, winners of the Horizon League tournament.

Ronald Ramon led Pitt (28-7) with 14 points and Sam Young had 13.

DaShaun Wood, the Horizon League player of the year, led Wright State (23-10) with 13 points -- about seven below his average -- six assists and four steals.

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