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March 15, 2007For the first time in a decade, Duke will not be playing beyond the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Despite 47 combined points from Greg Paulus and Josh McRoberts, the Blue Devils fell 79-77 to 11th seed Virginia Commonwealth when Rams point guard Eric Maynor buried a 16-foot jumper with less than two seconds remaining.
Duke held a 12 point first half lead and 11 point second half lead, but the cumulative 40 minute effect of VCU's extended full court pressure wore down the Blue Devils offensively and made them vulnerable defensively.
By the end of the game, Maynor and fellow quick guards Jesse Pellot Rosa and B.A. Walker were having their way against Duke's half court defense.
Maynor scored on consecutive trips in the final two minutes on floating jumpers in the lane that came off of his own dribble penetration.
Then, after DeMarcus Nelson tied the score on a coast to coast layup with 10 seconds to go, Maynor calmly brought the ball into the frontcourt, separated himself from Jon Scheyer and made the game winning basket at Buffalo's HSBC Arena.
Duke hurt itself by turning the ball over 17 times against the VCU press, which helped the Rams notch a 22-14 edge in the critical points off turnovers category.
Despite outrebounding VCU 42-31, Duke's poor 20-32 free throw shooting performance also helped spell defeat.
Paulus continued his hot perimeter shooting and was a major factor in Duke's ability to extend double digit leads in each half, but in a very physical game he appeared to fatigue and ultimately finished with six turnovers to dampen his game high 25 point scoring output.
"I want to congratulate VCU...They played 40 minutes and they played hard, their deep, well coached, and they put pressure on you the whole time," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the season ending defeat. "You never get an exchange that's off, and if you're going to build a winning program that's what you have to have."
"I think our foul trouble in the first half hurt us...that was a factor and they took advantage of that. I thought our kids played really hard, but we missed a lot of free throws."
In the first half, Paulus and Nelson each picked up two fouls while Lance Thomas was whistled for three.
McRoberts, playing what might have been his final game at Duke, had a 22 point, 12 rebound double-double and was the only player on either team to play all 40 minutes.
The free throw plague struck him late in the game though, as he made just 2-4 from the line in the last 1:42.
Duke's largest second half lead was 61-50 at the 10:44 mark, but VCU outscored the Blue Devils 18-6 over the next nearly five minute span, and took its first lead since holding a slim one point margin early in the second half.
During that run, the Rams got two 3-pointers from Jamal Shuler, one from Walker, and one from Pellot-Rosa.
Each of those three players reached double figures for the game, in addition to Maynor's team high 22 points and Michael Anderson's 10 point effort that also included seven rebounds and four steals.
Shuler and Walker also teamed to make a trio of 3-pointers in the closing minutes of the first half to whittle 36-29 Duke lead to a mere 40-38 entering the locker room.
While it seems unusual for the Blue Devils to bow out in the first round, Coach K reiterated after the game that he never has held past program standards over this year's team, and instead focused on the good things the 2006-07 team accomplished.
"Being in [the NCAA Tournament] 12 straight years is a story in itself, so if you're in this tournament long enough, you're going to go down-first, second, third, fourth or whatever [round]. The fact is that these kids played well enough to put us in a position to go down. They earned a spot in this tournament, They played their hearts out tonight, and they shouldn't be thinking about 1996. They were in grade school in 1996, and they just need to learn from this experience and we're proud of them."
No other Blue Devils besides Paulus and McRoberts reached double figures in scoring.
Duke ends its season with a 22-11 record, while VCU will advance to play in the second round Saturday at HSBC Arena.