Virginia was as tight as a drum tonight and was beaten as such. De Paul gave Coach Joey Meyer his first NCAA tournament victory, 72-68, as the Blue Demons sent the Cavaliers packing from the East regional with a first-round victory in front of 7,640 in the Greensboro Coliseum.
"It was pressure from within ourselves," said Andrew Kennedy, who led Virginia with 18 points. "We were so anxious to play well that we strayed from the point, which was to play well."
Virginia shot 39 percent from the floor as De Paul built an eight-point lead at intermission. And though the Cavaliers improved in the second half (58 percent), it wasn't enough to overcome poor free throw shooting (52 percent for the game) and the size of De Paul's frontline.
De Paul (17-12), seeded 12th, will play fourth-seeded Oklahoma Saturday. The other half of the doubleheader will have top-seeded Duke taking on eighth-seeded Old Dominion. Duke defeated Mississippi Valley State, 85-78; the Sooners beat Northeastern, 80-74, and ODU beat West Virginia, 72-64.
Virginia trailed, 34-26, at the half, but managed to tie at 49 with 8:32 to go. But De Paul's Marty Embry scored his only two baskets of the night and Kevin Holmes scored to stem the Virginia tide. The last Cavaliers thrust cut the lead to 57-55 with 4:54 to go, but Virginia would get no closer.
"I'm not very experienced, nor is anyone at De Paul, in talking about NCAA tournament victories, so bear with me," joked Meyer, whose team has a history of tripping early in the tournament. Last year, it lost to Syracuse in the first round.
"I thought our team was on an upsurge at the end of the year and it showed tonight," Meyer said. "We made the big shots and made the free throws when we needed to. I'm proud that when it got tight, our guys hung together and played well. This is certainly my sweetest victory at De Paul."
The Blue Demons used a 2-3 zone, packed tight around Virginia center Olden Polynice, and dared the Cavaliers to beat them from the outside. Lemone Lampley (6 feet 11), Dallas Comegys (6-9), Holmes (6-8) and Embry (6-9, 250 pounds), in various combinations, frustrated Polynice enough that he scored just 13 points, making four of nine shots from the floor and five of 11 from the line.
"It was so frustrating," Polynice said. "The way they had it packed in there, it was hard to even see inside. They knew what we wanted to do and we didn't hit the outside shots. We wanted to win so badly, we were rushing everything."
While De Paul beating Virginia is a slight upset, Mississippi Valley State almost pulled off the upset of the season.
Coach Lafayette Stribling sauntered into Greensboro Coliseum in a smart-looking, cream-colored three-piece suit with sky-blue shoes and tie and hankerchief to match. It was the Cab Calloway get-up and he looked marvelous. So did his team, which threw a Devilish scare at Duke.
"Coach dresses real clean," said Mack Ferguson, who had 18 points, 14 in the second half.
"Oh, you should see me when I really get it together," said Stribling, who left with a proud smile. Stribling's Delta Devils (20-11) nearly got themselves into the next round by making things tough for the Blue Devils (33-2), rattling an experienced team with a sticky full-court press that helped them to a 40-37 halftime lead and a seven-point margin with 46 seconds gone in the second half.
But as the MVSU foul situation worsened (four starters fouled out), Duke settled down and seniors Johnny Dawkins and Mark Alarie led the comeback.
With MVSU up by 56-53 with 12:54 to go, Alarie (19 points) scored six in a row in 59 seconds to give Duke the lead. The Blue Devils kept it the rest of the way, but not easily. Dawkins scored 16 of his game-high 27 points in about 5 1/2 minutes to give Duke its biggest lead, 77-67, with 5:12 to go. George Ivory made two free throws to cut Duke's lead to five with 1:49 left.
"I told everybody that we respect eveyone but fear none," Stribling said. "We went in, not afraid, but trying to win, and it was evident out on the floor . . .
"I knew we would present Duke a problem, a defense that they hadn't seen before and one that's hard to cope with. We played a pressure defense, and utilized our quickness. We aren't big, we play with a 6-3 center [Mark Coleman, team-high 24 points], but we try to use our quickness to get position."
Stribling was standing tall against those he saw as underestimating his team. "We may have been the underdog, but some people were putting us under the underdog," he said.
Duke, which usually plays a fairly tight man-to-man defense itself, committed 23 turnovers to 10 for MVSU, which also led in steals, 12 to three.
"We've seen a 2-2-1 press before, but they just played it well," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewsk said. "Their execution was excellent. They forced a lot of turnovers. . . . The very simple story of this game is that we're better in critical points in the game. We knew how to win. It's the story of our team. Clap for them, pat them on the back and give them credit. And we'll take responsibility for not playing that well."