By JOHN WAWROW
The Associated Press
Friday, March 16, 2007; 4:04 PM
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Seinfeld was the reigning sitcom king, Bill Clinton was still in his first term as President and Duke sophomore center Josh McRoberts was barely 9 years old.
The year was 1996, the last time the Duke Blue Devils failed to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
It's a dominating 11-year run that ended Thursday, the result of Eric Maynor's 15-foot jumper from just above the foul line that swished through the mesh with 1.8 seconds left to propel Virginia Commonwealth to a 79-77 victory.
As the Rams celebrated their first tournament win in 22 years, some 50 paces down the hall of the HSBC Arena, the mood was dejected in a Blue Devils locker room coming to grips with a rare early trip home.
Leave the perspective to Mike Krzyzewski, the coach who has enjoyed the highest of highs _ three national championships and 10 Final Four appearances _ and more than a few stumbles along the way.
"If you're in this tournament long enough, you're going to go down," Krzyzewski said. "There's 260 or 270 teams that don't get into this thing. It's not our birthright each year."
It just seemed that way.
The loss ended Duke's string of round of 16 appearances at nine, the longest active streak and second-longest overall behind North Carolina's 13-year run. And it prevented Krzyzewski from building on his tournament-record number of wins: He's stuck at 68, with only 20 losses.
It's somehow fitting that the loss came against VCU (28-6), considering the Rams won the Colonial Athletic Association championship by knocking off George Mason, the mid major that made last year's surprising run to the Final Four.
Maynor sparked that win over the Patriots, too, scoring nine of his 20 points in the final 2 minutes.
This one felt better, Maynor scoring six of his 22 points in the final 1:24.
"It felt like it was good," said Maynor, describing his decisive shot. "And for it to go in, I said to myself, 'Man, I just hit the game-winner on Duke University.'"
After Duke guard DeMarcus Nelson went the length of the court to hit a layup with 10.3 seconds left, Maynor took the ensuing inbounds pass and moved across center midcourt. He pulled up and hit a perfect jumper from just above the foul line over Duke's Jon Scheyer.
"It's the biggest win in school history and great for our program," Maynor said. "I feel like we're not done, that we've got a lot to prove."
The Rams will face No. 3 seed Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Duke (22-11), meanwhile, is headed home, capping an inconsistent season with a flawed but gutty effort.
The Blue Devils entered the tournament having lost three straight, including an uncharacteristic first-round exit in the ACC tournament.
This was a team that featured only two upperclassmen, Duke's most inexperienced roster since 1945-46. The Blue Devils' point guard Greg Paulus ran hot and cold, as evidenced against VCU. Despite scoring a career-high 25 points, he still committed six turnovers and missed a critical free throw down the stretch.
And the Blue Devils' No. 6 seeding in the West region was their lowest since being a No. 8 in 1996.
Yet that didn't prevent the players only a day earlier from discussing how eager they were to continue the Blue Devils' proud tradition.
Their dejection in the wake of the loss was no less surprising.
"I'm never happy with my performance when we lose," said McRoberts, who scored 22 points and added 12 rebounds, the only player on the court for all 40 minutes. "Obviously, I didn't do enough for us to get the win."
Duke squandered a 13-point first-half lead and couldn't hold on after going up 67-60 with 8 minutes left.
"They played their hearts out tonight," Krzyzewski said. "They just need to learn from this experience. We're proud of them."