Lehigh stuns second-seeded Duke 75-70 to advance

Associated Press

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Superstitious?

The Duke Blue Devils might be after Friday night.

Duke had never lost an NCAA tournament game at the Greensboro Coliseum, winning all 12 previous contests — the best record of any team at a site in tournament history.

Who would have thought their 13th appearance would be so unlucky?

The 15th-seeded Lehigh Mountain Hawks pulled off a monumental upset by stunning the second-seeded Blue Devils 75-70 behind a 30-point effort by Patriot League player of the year C.J. McCollum.

It was the only the second time Duke has lost in the opening-round game in the last 16 years, the other defeat coming in 2007 when they lost to VCU as the sixth seed.

Lehigh (27-7) will face 10th-seeded Xavier (22-12), which erased a double-digit halftime lead to knock off seventh-seeded Notre Dame 67-63 in a game that included a bizarre finish when an official flagged an Irish player for a violation on a free throw with 2.8 seconds left.

The other game Sunday in Greensboro pits top-seeded North Carolina (30-5) and eighth-seeded Creighton (29-5) in the Midwest Regional. The Tar Heels improved to 30-1 overall in tournament games in their home state, cruising past Vermont 77-58 despite playing without junior John Henson. The dramatic wins by Lehigh and Xavier overshadowed Creighton's first NCAA tournament win in 10 years as the Bluejays held on to beat Alabama 58-57 in a nail-biter.

But Lehigh was the story of the day.

It was the school's first ever NCAA tournament win and only the third ever for the Patriot League. Bucknell previously won opening-round games in 2005 and 2006.

"It means a lot as a team, a family and as the Patriot League in general," said McCollum, who came into the game as the nation's fifth-leading scorer at 21.9 points per game. "We wanted to come out here and protect this team and this family, get the win and we did that tonight."

Lehigh forward John Adams said it was a matter of believing in each other.

"We saw on the selection show we had Duke and we thought we could match up very well against them," Adams said. "We all believed it and we showed it on the floor. Everybody bought into that idea that we could beat them. The rest is history."

History indeed.

The Mountain Hawks are the sixth 15 seed overall to pull off the trick, but the second on a crazy Friday. Norfolk State edged Missouri 86-84 in the West Regional earlier in the day.

"They had the best player on the court tonight in McCollum," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He's been their player of the year, and he's really one of the outstanding players in the country. You could see why tonight."

Duke didn't do much to help itself, hitting just 6 of 26 shots from 3-point range.

Lehigh (27-7) led most of the game, drawing support from North Carolina fans who borrowed brown signs from Mountain Hawks supporters that read "Go Lehigh" to root against their rivals. Many Tar Heels fans came back after the team's afternoon win just to cheer against Duke.

"I've never seen anything like it," Lehigh forward Justin Maneri said with a deep laugh. "We came to the practice the other day and as soon as you walked in they were going crazy for us and we're like, 'What's going on?' They were like, 'Go Lehigh, beat Duke!' They were screaming. It was nice to have fans here that weren't Duke. I've never seen two schools that hate each other so much."

Lehigh coach Brett Reed said before the game his team came to Greensboro to do more than just compete — and that's exactly what it did.

He kept a small version of the NCAA tournament bracket on the team's white board before the game.

"The message and the reason that a bracket was up on the white board was I think this is a very special team," Reed said. "And I think this team has an opportunity especially now launching off of this win, to do something that's really special. And that is, win a small bracket to give us the opportunity to compete in the Sweet 16."

Interestingly, Lehigh didn't break into a mad celebration after their monumental win. There was no jumping on the press table and waving their jerseys.

They celebrated briefly with their fans before heading into the locker room.

"Duke is a tremendous team, and we didn't want to rub anything into their faces or anything like that," McCollum said. "We got a lot of respect for them. And at the end of the day, it's just another game for us. But we want to continue to be humble and win like we have been here before."

Duke ended the season at 27-7.

"I've been in it for 37 years and it takes you to incredible highs," Krzyzewski said. "And it also takes you to incredible lows. And tonight's one of those lows. But it wasn't just our doing, they played that well. They played that well. And again my hat's off to them."

Notre Dame seemed to be in cruise control in its game before Xavier's Tu Holloway got hot in the second half and scored 17 of his 25 points.

The biggest shot came when he rounded a screen from Kenny Frease and sent a high-arcing shot over Jack Cooley's outstretched arm for the 64-63 lead with 21.3 seconds left.

The game ended in bizarre fashion.

After a free throw from Dezmine Wells pushed the lead to two, Notre Dame's Eric Atkins drew a blocking foul to get to the line with 2.8 seconds left. He swished the first free throw, but an official ruled that Jerian Grant left his position behind the 3-point arc too early as he ran in for a rebound, giving the ball back to Xavier.

The same unusual call was made at a critical moment of top-seeded Syracuse's 72-65 victory over UNC Asheville during the second round of the East Regional on Thursday.

On the ensuing inbounds pass, Pat Connaughton was whistled for an intentional foul when he grabbed Wells' jersey trying to deny him the ball. Wells knocked down both free throws to push the lead to four with 2.8 seconds still on the clock to ensure the victory.

"The basketball gods really wanted us to win this game," Wells said of the referee's call.

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