Hometown kid overlooked by ACC KOs Duke

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It is the perfect March Madness script.

A little-known player who wasn't even recruited by the big-boy schools in his hometown area comes back to exact revenge in an NCAA Tournament game, hitting the game-winning shot to stun the tradition-rich powerhouse and add another Cinderella story to the mayhem.

This year, the role of upset specialist belonged to sophomore guard Eric Maynor, who starred as the game-saving hero for 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth.

Maynor, a Fayetteville, N.C., native, ended Duke's season with a 17-foot jumper with 1.8 seconds left, giving the Rams a 79-77 victory at HSBC Arena and the national spotlight as the only team with a major upset on the first day of the NCAA Tournament.

"It's very sweet being that we just beat Duke in the NCAA Tournament, and being that I just hit the game-winning shot to beat Duke," Maynor said. "It's a dream come true. I'm in the backyard playing basketball, dreaming about it."

Maynor -- who was born two years after VCU's last NCAA Tournament win -- scored eight of the team's last 11 points as the Rams survived the frenetic seesaw battle in the final minute to win. Perhaps it was fitting that a player that Duke -- and every other Atlantic Coast Conference team -- didn't see fit to recruit out of high school would give the Blue Devils fits with his creativity and quickness with the ball.

Duke tried to stop the 6-foot-1 guard by rotating DeMarcus Nelson, Greg Paulus and Jon Scheyer on him, but Maynor seemed to get into the lane at will.

With less than 90 seconds remaining, he twice drove into the lane on Scheyer and hit floaters over the outstretched arms of Duke big man Josh McRoberts as he closed in from the weakside.

Nelson seemed to give Duke new life when he went coast-to-coast and scored the game-tying layup with 10 seconds to go.

But as he'd done all night, with the game on the line, Maynor took the ball and the game in his hands.

He waved off coach Anthony Grant on the sideline, begging him not to call a timeout. He waved off his teammates, sending them to the baseline and out of his way. He stared down Scheyer again.

"Eric is just a guy that's got a tremendous will to win," Grant said. "He's a guy as a coach that gives you confidence if you put the ball in his hands, he's going to make a play."

And when everyone expected Maynor to penetrate into the lane once again, he pulled up and shot over the retreating Scheyer. It was his only jumper of the game.

"That's not his strength," Nelson said. "We played him to his weakness and he made it. We played solid defense on the last play, made him take a shot he didn't take all day, and he made it."

That final jump shot, which gave Maynor a team-high 22 points, hit nothing but net with 1.8 seconds remaining. After a Duke timeout and a harmless half-court heave ended the game, the VCU celebration began.

Players sprinted over to the Rams' cheering section and celebrated the victory. They tugged at their jerseys, showing off the "VCU" on their chests. Grant and Maynor embraced at midcourt. Players shouted that they'd "shocked the world" with the win.

Duke sophomore Paulus spent that time with his face buried in his chest as he kneeled on the court and tried to absorb the sudden end to a rocky season.

"We felt like this was our opportunity, and we didn't take advantage of it," said Paulus, who finished with a game-high 25 points. "It's always disappointing to end the season, and we thought we had a run in us. They played well. It wasn't the way we planned it."

This was a game that never should have been close. Twice Duke worked its way to double-figure leads. The Blue Devils had a 13-point lead in the first half and an 11-point lead with 11 minutes remaining. But they could never put away the Colonial Athletic Association champs. And the longer VCU stayed close, the more the favored Blue Devils tightened up.

McRoberts, who finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds, missed two free throws in the final two minutes. Paulus missed three of his last four free throws. Duke committed four late turnovers as the Rams increased their defensive pressure.

VCU hit three 3-pointers, all on assists from Maynor, in the final nine minutes. The Rams also were 7-of-8 at the foul line in the last 10 minutes, during which they committed just one turnover.

It was Virginia Commonwealth that played with the confidence of an experienced team that expected to win.

"Underdog or any of that stuff, we've won 28 games on the year," Grant said. "These guys have proven they're a good team. I think they're looking forward to staying alive and playing Saturday and continue to try to win games."

Kim Baxter is a staff writer for the Syracuse Post-Standard.