CAA's Rams Best ACC's Devils
Friday, March 16, 2007
BUFFALO, March 15 -- Players danced, radio announcers high-fived and a rowdy contingent of fans chanted "CAA! CAA!" rekindling images of celebrations by another No. 11 seed from the Colonial Athletic Association, George Mason.
Virginia Commonwealth's last-second 79-77 victory over sixth-seeded Duke on Thursday gave the Rams their first NCAA tournament victory since 1985 and brought back some of the magic associated with a conference familiar with recent tournament upsets.
"We're not George Mason," VCU guard Eric Maynor said. "We're this year's VCU, though."
Maynor is authoring his own storybook month. The irrepressible guard took over the final minutes of Thursday's game, much as he owned the final moments of the CAA tournament final against George Mason.
Maynor said he could not have dreamed of a better scenario than making a 14-foot game-winning jumper with 1.8 seconds remaining to beat Duke, the tradition-rich school from his home state. Where does it rank?
"Number one in my life," said Maynor, who scored 22 points, including six of his team's last seven.
VCU (28-6) advanced to play third-seeded Pittsburgh (28-7) in a West Region second-round game here on Saturday. The Panthers defeated No. 14 seed Wright State, 79-58.
The Blue Devils (22-11) lost in the first round for the first time since 1996. They had won 67 NCAA tournament games since the Rams last won in the tournament.
"The fact that we've gone every year since 1996 is a story in itself," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "If you're in the tournament long enough, you're going to go down in the first round or second. It's not our birthright to get in it. You have to earn it every year."
Coach Anthony Grant lifted two fists in the air afterward as he walked toward the VCU fans. His team had rallied from a 13-point first-half deficit and an 11-point second-half hole to beat Duke in the final seconds.
Duke had one final opportunity to go the length of the court to tie or win the game. The Blue Devils needed Christian Laettner, but he was in the stands, not on the floor.
Every time VCU faced adversity in the game, players touched a chain, symbolizing commitment, in the team huddle.