BUFFALO, N.Y. - Despite career highs and a combined 47 points from Greg Paulus and Josh McRoberts, the Duke men's basketball team ended its season with a heartbreaking 79-77 loss to VCU in the first round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament here at the HBSC Arena. Paulus finished with 25 points and McRoberts recorded a double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds.
McRoberts added five blocks and four assists while Paulus tied his career high with five rebounds and added four assists and three steals in a gutsy performance. McRoberts played 40 minutes Paulus, under full-court pressure the entire game, played 38 minutes. No other Blue Devil reached double figures in points.
McRoberts and Paulus become the first pair of teammates to both score 20 points this season, the last time it was done ironically was the first round of last year's tournament when J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams both had 28 points in a first round win over Southern.
"Josh and Greg really carried us," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Part of it was because of (VCU's) pressure, those two had the ball in their hands more than anybody else and they handled it well. It was a very hard fought and physical game. Our kids always want to get better and when you lose in the last few seconds after playing so hard all game, it's not an easy thing to forget and you should use it as motivation to get better."
The two teams played the first couple minutes even and with the scored tied at five all two minutes in, Duke surged on a 17-4 run to holds its big lead at 22-9 mid way through the first half. VCU then clawed its way back into the game and broght the lead down to three after a 14-6 run and the Blue Devils held a 28-25 advantage 15 minutes in. The two teams combined for 25 points in the last five minutes and after VCU used a 6-0 run to tie the game at 38 all, Paulus hit two free throws with :03 left to give the Blue Devils a 40-38 halftime edge.
VCU quickly tied the game at 40 all before a Paulus triple put Duke back up by three. VCU went on a quick 4-0 run to lead 44-43 before Duke rattled off seven straight to open up a six point lead less than four minutes into the second stanza. VCU pulled back to with a basket twice at 50-48 and 52-50 before Duke used a 9-0 run to push the lead back to double digits at 61-50, hoding VCU scoreless for five and a half minutes. VCU then went on a 18-6 run to take a one point lead at 68-67 with five minutes left. The last few minutes saw the game tied at 70, 72, 74 and 77. VCU was up two points with 16 seconds left when DeMarcus Nelson took a missed free throw the length of the court to tie the game at 77 apiece with just 12 seconds left.
VCU's Eric Maynor hit the game-winning jumper with 1.8 seconds left and a Paulus desperation shot fell just left of the basket at the buzzer for the 79-77 final. Maynor finished with 22 points and eight assists to lead VCU.
"I want to congratulate VCU," Krzyzewski said. "They're a championship team in both the regular season and their conference tournament, and it's obvious why. They play 40 minutes, they play hard, they are deep and well coached."
The game was a hard-fought, physical contest that saw three players leave the game because of blood. Duke's Gerald Henderson cut his hand while Jon Scheyer was cut near his left eye after Maynor's elbow came down on him after he hit a 6-foot jumper late in the game. VCU's Wil Fameni also sat out several minutes of the second half after colliding with a teammate and getting a bloody nose.
"It was a physical game throughout," Paulus said, who was entangled a couple of times with Maynor throughout the game. "They're a physical team and we're not going to back down to anybody. There was a little pushing and shoving but that's going to happen in a game between two physical teams."
For the Blue Devils, it marks the program's first NCAA Tournament first round loss since 1996 and breaks a streak of nine consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, which was the longest streak in the NCAA by seven years and the second-longest in NCAA history.
"The real story is that we've been in the tournament every year since 1996, not that we lost in the first round," Krzyzewski said. "The fact that these kids played well enough to put us in a position to lose a first round game is the story. They played their hearts out and they just need to learn from this experience. Playing in the NCAA Tournament is not a birth right."
Duke finishes its season at 22-11 while VCU improves to 28-4.