ATLANTA -- While the college basketball world focused on the Duke-North Carolina showdown on Wednesday night, a North Carolina native who beat Duke in the NCAA tournament last year played the role of the hero again for Virginia Commonwealth.
Remember Eric Maynor? You may not recognize the name, but if you followed last year's NCAA tournament, you remember his last-second jumper knocked out Duke in the first round. CBS's Kevin Harlon screamed"Is this the dagger?" as Maynor broke a 77-77 tie in the final seconds. A North Carolina fan growing up who was not recruited by any ACC schools, Maynor took extra pleasure in sticking a fork in the Devils.
"I watched [replays] until I got tired of watching it," Maynor said. "People talk about it all the time."
Maynor made all the key plays for VCU against Georgia State on Wednesday night, scoring the final seven points in regulation to send the game into overtime as he rescued the Rams from what would have been an ugly loss. VCU (17-5, 10-2) prevailed 65-60 in overtime against the CAA's 11th place team and maintained a slim first-place lead over William & Mary and George Mason in the conference standings.
"I was in attack mode," Maynor said after his heroics. "We needed some plays to be made."
Maynor, along with his fellow starters, was benched for a long stretch in the second half for what coach Anthony Grant said was "playing without passion." When the starters returned, VCU was down seven with seven minutes remaining. Maynor, who had just four points at the time, started carving up the Panthers' defense, forcing steals and willing VCU to an ugly win.
"He was well rested," said Georgia State coach Rod Barnes. "He's good when he's tired. He's a rested future pro player playing against a tired freshman [D.J. Jones]. That's not a good matchup for us."
Maynor tied the game on VCU's final possession, taking it to the hoop and banking a soft leaner in traffic. He scored VCU's first four points in overtime and finished with 16, giving the junior over 1,000 for his career.
"You want the ball in his hands as much as possible whether it is late game or during the game because he makes such good decisions with it," Grant said.
Maynor's shot against Duke last year was not his only memorable postseason moment. He put the Rams into the NCAA tournament with a remarkable final two minutes in the CAA final against George Mason when he outscored the Patriots 9-0. And against Pitt in the second round of the NCAA tourney, Maynor had one turnover in 42 minutes and scored 14 points as VCU lost in overtime.
Those performances earned him CAA Preseason Player of the Year honors, and some extra attention from opposing defenses this year. Maynor has risen to the challenge and is second in the CAA in scoring (17.6 ppg) and assists (5.1 apg).
"I'm not worried about the defenses they throw at me," Maynor said. "Coach puts me in position to make plays."
Maynor improved his three-point shooting this season, giving his game another weapon. He is hitting 43 percent from beyond the arc and has made 34 threes after making just 23 all last season.
"He's still getting better and learning," Grant said. "He's done a great job. He's handled the expectations from last year and kept things in perspective as to what he needs to do and who he is."
BracketBusters matchups were announced on Monday, and as expected the headliner will be Butler hosting Drake at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Both teams have an excellent shot at receiving at-large bids even if they do not win their conference tournaments, so the game will serve more as an NCAA primer than anything else. Both Butler (20-2) and Drake (21-1) pulled out dramatic victories on Tuesday night and the pair have earned the extra exposure as BracketBusters' No. 1 game.
Another game of note: Kent State at St. Mary's. This offers the Flashes an excellent shot at a needed high-RPI win. St. Mary's was No. 17 following its overtime win Monday over Gonzaga, while Kent State is sitting at No. 45 with three games against teams No. 260 or worse still on the schedule. The Gaels shouldn't be worried about their NCAA fate but Kent State definitely needs the quality win.
Another MAC team that could benefit from the Backbiters weekend is Ohio, which will host George Mason. The Patriots have won six of seven and are putting together a nice run in the CAA, climbing to No. 52 in the RPI. Ohio is No. 50 and battling Akron and Kent State at the top of the MAC East.
The Davidson-Winthrop game will be another game to keep an eye on. Neither team has a shot at an at-large bid, but they are solid mid-major programs that both made the NCAA tournament the last two years. The schools are just 45 miles apart and have not met in 16 years. As with all BracketBusters matchups, the two teams will meet next year as well.
Davidson won its 12th straight game on Wednesday night, beating Elon 74-64. Stephen Curry was the star, going 12-for-18 from the floor, 9-for-9 from the line for 36 points, to go along with eight rebounds and four steals. ... After losing its first 11 games, Grambling has won four of five, including three straight after Monday's 83-79 win at Mississippi Valley State. ... Morgan State is in first place in the MEAC at 8-1 (13-8 overall) just two years after going 4-26. Todd Bozeman, the former Cal coach who was banned by the NCAA after paying a recruit, has quickly turned the program around in his two years on the job. ... From the was-the-shot-clock-turned-on? Dept. Northeastern led Drexel 16-15 at halftime on Saturday. Northeastern won 63-40. ... Appalachian State has won nine of 10 and passed Chattanooga for first place in the Southern Conference North Division. The Mocs started 7-0 but have dropped four of six. ... First-year coach Kevin Willard has started to put the pieces back together at Iona, which finished 2-28 last year and then fired Jeff Ruland. Iona is 9-15 and 5-7 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference after road wins at St. Peter's and Manhattan.