March 16, 2007

This year's George Mason? VCU ousts Duke

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."

Pellot-Rosa and Jamal Shuler scored 14 each for the Rams, while Michael Anderson had 10 points and seven rebounds.

VCU will face either third-seeded Pittsburgh or 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."

(3) Pittsburgh 79, (14) Wright St. 58

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- No first-round exit this time for Pittsburgh.

The Panthers, ousted in the first round seven times in 18 previous appearances in the NCAA tournament, used their long-range marksmanship instead of their considerable brawn, hitting 10 of 21 3-pointers, and beat Wright State 79-58 on Thursday night.

Ronald Ramon hit four 3s and finished with 14 points, and Sam Young had 13 to lead the Panthers, who never trailed. Pittsburgh (28-7), the third seed in the West Regional, will meet 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth (28-6) in the second round on Saturday. VCU upset Duke 79-77 just moments before the Panthers and Raiders took the floor at HSBC Arena.

Pittsburgh built 13-point leads three times in the first half against Wright State (23-10), hitting seven of 12 3-pointers and forging a 43-30 at the break. And when the Panthers began the second half with an 11-3 spurt, the Raiders couldn't recover.

Seven-foot center Aaron Gray, coming off a 1-of-13 performance for three points against Georgetown in the Big East title game, had 11 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Levon Kendall had 10 points, and Antonio Graves eight for Pitt.

Wright State's DaShaun Wood, the Horizon League player of the year who entered the game averaging just under 20 points per game, finished with 13 points, six assists and four steals. Freshman Vaughn Duggins had 12 points and Scottie Wilson added 11.

Pittsburgh beat both Marquette and Louisville in last week's Big East tournament before suffering a humbling 65-42 loss to Georgetown in the title game. It was Pitt's lowest point total of the season and its most lopsided loss in seven years.

The Panthers recovered nicely against 14th-seeded Wright State, which was fresh from a 60-55 victory over Butler in the Horizon League championship game. The Raiders had won 11 of their previous 12 games, including two over Butler, the fifth seed in the Midwest.

The Raiders' only previous trip to the NCAA tournament in their 20 years in Division I came in 1993, when they were pounded 97-54 by Indiana in the first round after capturing the Mid-Continent Conference tournament title. And they started tentatively against Pitt, seemingly overwhelmed by the moment, missed their first four shots, committed a turnover and fell way behind.

The Panthers stormed to a 13-0 lead as Kendall, Mike Cook and Graves each hit wide-open 3-pointers in the first 94 seconds.

But with their band playing loudly and more than 400 fans cheering them on, the Raiders finally got untracked, and it was a freshman who provided the spark. After missing two straight shots, Todd Brown hit a reverse layup off a missed 3 by Wood, then hit two mid-range jumpers.

And after Keith Benjamin followed his own miss to give Pitt a 21-10 lead at 12:03, Wright State reeled off a 12-1 run to tie it. Wilson started the spurt with a long 3 from left wing, William Graham hit a curling hook off the glass, and Wood finished it with a 3 from right wing to make it 22-all at 8:32.

Pitt finally stopped the slide after Graham stole the ball and set up Duggins for a wide-open layup.

That tied the game again, 25-all, and the Panthers again began striking consistently from long range to take control.

Young, who led Pitt with 12 points in the half, swished a 3 from right wing, Ramon followed with another 3 from left wing, and Graves rattled in a 3 from the right corner to put Pitt ahead 35-27.

Young's fast-break layup with 1:51 remaining in the period completed a 15-2 spurt and Ramon followed with a 3 from the top of the key to give Pitt its 13-point halftime edge.

Gray's three-point play gave Pitt its biggest lead, 68-45, with 8 minutes left.

(1) West Virginia 90, (4) Massachusetts 77

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Frank Young showed why he has West Virginia's 3-point shooting record.

Young hit six 3s and scored a career-high 31 points in the Mountaineers' 90-77 win over Massachusetts in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament on Thursday night.

"He just needs one," West Virginia coach John Beilein said. "One gets him going. He is a home-run hitter for us."

Three of Young's 3s came in a 6-minute span at the end of the first half as West Virginia built a 37-23 edge by the break. His sixth 3-pointer, which tied Chris Leonards 1992 record of 101 in a season, sealed the victory at 85-73 with 2 minutes left after UMass rallied from a 19-point deficit to pull within 74-70.

"I had a good feeling as soon as I hit my first shot," said Young, who also set a school record for points in the NIT. "I was focused and I kept coming off screens and looked for my shot. During the rally, I told my teammates to calm down. They did and I popped open for a late 3."

That ended a late charge by UMass, which was down by 19 at 46-27 with 17 minutes left. The Minutemen pulled to 56-52 before West Virginia hit six consecutive free throws to rebuild its lead.

UMass closed to 74-70 before Young scored six of WVU's next nine points to push the lead back to double digits.

West Virginia (24-9), the top seed in the East Region, will face the winner of the N.C. State-Marist game in the quarterfinals. The Mountaineers are 15-1 at home this season.

Darris Nichols added 14 points, Da'Sean Butler had 10 and Alex Ruoff had eight points and seven assists for the Mountaineers.

James Life led fourth-seeded UMass (24-9) with 20 points. Gary Forbes added 15 points and Stephane Lasme scored 14. Lasme, the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, also had 14 rebounds for his 14th double-double this season and 22nd of his career.

"They just stayed calm and collected," Life said. "They hit a lot of big shots when they needed them. They have very big 3-point shooters, and they used them."

The Mountaineers, who advanced to the NCAA regional semifinals each of the past two seasons, have won 24 games for just the third time in the last 18 years.

"Were not looking for or making any excuses," UMass coach Travis Ford said. "We got beat by a really good team. When they made 3s, there are not too many teams that can beat them. They have the right players for this system."

The Minutemen, who led the Atlantic 10 in rebounding, managed just a 35-29 edge on the boards against the Big East's second-worst rebounding team. It was the first meeting between the former A-10 rivals since 1995, when then-No. 1 UMass beat West Virginia in overtime, before the Mountaineers joined the Big East.

The fast-paced game slowed considerably in the second half. The teams were whistled for a combined 35 fouls. The Mountaineers, who made their first 12 free throws, were in the double-bonus with almost 10 minutes left. They finished 16-for-21 on free throws.

UMass, the worst free-throw shooting team in the Atlantic 10, was 10-for-17.

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