The Atlantic Coast Conference was doubly embarrased before its own fans today.
In the two biggest upsets of the first two rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament, third-ranked North Carolina, ACC tournament champion and top seed in the East Regional, lost to ninth-seeded Pennsylvania, 72-71. James Salters' free throw with two seconds left was decisive.
In the second game of the doubleheader, Duke, cochampion during the regular ACC season, a finalist in last year's NCAA tournament and second seeded in the East this year, was eliminated by unheralded St. John's, 80-78, 10th-seeded in the East.
Riggie Carter's nine-foot baseline jumper with four seconds remaining gave St. John's its winning margin. Duke's Mike Gminski barely missed sending the game into overtime, just missing a half-court heave at the buzzer.
Both games were played in Reynolds Coliseum before a sellout crowd leaning heavily toward both North Carolina universities.
Penn, the Ivy League champion, advanced to an East Regional semifinal game Friday against Syracuse. St. John's will play Rutgers the same night at the same site, Greensboro, N.C.
Sixth-ranked Duke had some excuses, playing without starters Bob Bender (appendectomy) and Kenny Dennard (ankle). Gminski had the flu and guard John Harrell played part of the game with impaired vision after being poked in the eye in the second half.
But for North Carolina, there could be no alibis.
With two seconds remaining, guard Salters hit one of two free throws to give the Quakers a 72-69 lead.
Carolina, a team favored to win the NCAA championship, called a timeout with one second remaining and discussed a desperate measure to pull out the game. It never happened.
Penn's Ivy League scholars knew better than to foul, so Carolina's Pete Budko scored an unmolested layup at the buzzer for the final margin.
This pulsating game took its last significant turn on Salters' three-point play, giving the Quakers a 69-65 lead with 33 seconds, remaining.
Penn's Tony Price rebounded Dave Colescott's off-target 18-footer and drew a long pass to Salters, who laid the ball up. Al Wood undercut him after the shot.
Salters was awarded two shots, and he hit one.
Colescott then hit a 25-foot shot for the Tar Heels, but Ken Hall's two free throws with 17 seconds left made the 71-67 lead insurmountable.
Mike O'Koren's driving layup brought the Tar Heels within 71-69 with three seconds left, but Salter iced it with a free throw one second later as Carolina quickly fouled him.
When it was over, Penn's players insisted they knew all along they had a decent shot at beating Carolina.
"We started the game with a litt secret," Hall said. "The secret was, we knew we could beat Carolina. Now the secret's public.
"The ACC games are on television all the time and the ACC players are built up like supermen. But we believe in our little secret, that we can be giant killers."
Penn (26-3) got 25 points from Price.Coach Bob Weinhauer calls the forward the most complete player in the East.
Salters and back-court partner Bobby Willis were quick and able to penetreate Carolina's changing defenses or shoot from outside.
But the key to the game was Penn's execution of a 2-3 zone defense and 1-1-3 half-court trap.
"Our defense is the result of the thoughts and ideas of a million different people," said Weinhauer, who spent three days learning the game from North Carolina Coach Dean Smith last October.
"But don't mistake the zone as the key. The key is the five people in it. You can draw Xs and Ox all day and it doesn't mean anything.
"We absolutely fear no one. We have a great deal of respect for our players and our program and I hope others will look at us that way too."
"This is one of the greatest feelings I've ever experienced," Price said. "There were a lot of people on the floor I've been reading about and watching on TV and I just wanted to prove I could play with them. I hope the Ivy League gets a lot more respect now. Everyone in our program believed we could beat Carolina and that's what made this happen."
"We know," said Hall, "that on any given night, they could kick our butts. But this night, we whipped theirs."
There was gloom in the Carolina locker room, where the season ended at 23-6.
"I tried," Colescott said. "We all tried. What can you do? This game will probably stay with us for a long time."
"I'm still happy about the ACC tournament," said Bradley, that tourney's MVP. "I feel something was taken out of me when I heard we might have to play Duke again in this regional."
Duke, meanwhile, got a tremendous 10-of-18 effort from Gene Banks in a game ultimately decided by Carter's nine-foot baseline jumper with four seconds remaining.
Duke called time with three seconds left and ran a final play, inbounding to Gminski, whose 45-footer near midcourt bounced twice off the rm before falling on the floor.
Gminski, who vomited before the game, became ill after the game and was unable to answer questions. Both he and St. John's center Wayne McKoy played well in their personal battle.Gminski scoring 16 points and getting eight rebounds and McKoy scoring 18 with seven rebounds.
Duke had led by as many as eight points in the first half, when St. John's lost McKoy for 15 minutes with foul trouble.
The Redmen (20-10) pecked away patiently and led for the first time in the second half after six minutes, their biggest lead being 68-92 with 5:37 left. Duke tied at 70 and again at 78 but never led after 9:43 mark.
Carter's winning shot was something of a freelance play. The play the Redmen wanted to run transpired too fast, leaving Carter in position for a shot in the lane with seven seconds left, four seconds too soon. So he darted over to the baseline and sank the nine-footer over Harrell with four seconds left.
"That's the biggest one for me," said Carter.
"I'm happy and Bill (Foster, Duke coach) is sad because we got that last shot and they missed theirs," said St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca. "That's what it all boiled down to.
"We were able to maintain our poise when everything went wrong in the first half. We really didn't play a very good first half and we weren't blown out (trailing 38-33), so I told the guys, 'Hey, we can win this thing.'
"I'm so excited I can't talk. This is different for me."
Duke, which made it to the NCAA final last year and was a preseason No. 1 pick, winds up its season at 22-8.
"I want to congratulate St. John's. I think the two teams played as well as they could," Foster said. "We had plenty of problems. At the end, it came down to that jumper. Give them all the credit.
"We went to our man defense with 20 seconds left because we just wanted to have a hand up on any shot they took. And he just shot right over us."