SALT LAKE CITY -- The Mid-American Conference has been a giant killer in the NCAA tournament for several years, and Central Michigan didn't disappoint last night in the opening round of the West Regional at the Huntsman Center.
While the 11th-seeded Chippewas didn't knock off one of college basketball's big-name teams, they did provide the first big upset in this year's tournament with a wild 79-73 victory over sixth-seeded Creighton.
Led by senior forward Mike Manciel, who scored 15 of his career-high 29 points in the first half, Central Michigan (25-6) built a 16-point halftime lead and led by as many as 26 early in the second half.
But the Chippewas saw that seemingly insurmountable lead cut all the way to 72-70 with 1:38 to go. Manciel, who made big plays all game, saved them one last time, hitting a short jumper to push the lead back to four with 1:10 remaining.
Creighton's last-ditch chance slipped away when a pass inside to backup center Joe Dabbert slipped through his fingers and went out of bounds with 1:01 left. The Bluejays (29-5) never threatened again.
It was the first opening-round victory in the NCAA tournament for the Chippewas, who, in 1975, beat Georgetown in a play-in game and then won a consolation game over Oregon State after losing to Kentucky in the opening round.
"I told the guys a long time ago we're in it to the finish," said Manciel, who was 9-for-14 from the field and 11-for-16 from the free-throw line. "I just wanted to come out and play hard. I had a lot of open looks, and I wanted to knock them down."
Though Creighton does not have the name recognition as some of the MAC's previous conquests, the Bluejays had built their reputation in a similar manner, by knocking out Florida last season.
"They're ranked 19th in the country," said Central Michigan coach Jay Smith. "Ask anybody -- the Syracuses and teams like that -- if they want to play Creighton. They're a sixth seed for a good reason."
But the team that amassed a school-best record this season by beating the likes of Notre Dame and Brigham Young while also losing a close game at Xavier earlier this season was not the team that showed up in the first half last night.
"We just weren't ready to play," Creighton coach Dana Altman said. "That's my job."
Senior Kyle Korver led Creighton with 21 points.
Duke 67, Colorado State 57: Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski watched tapes of Colorado State heading into his team's opening-round game in the NCAA West Regional. The Rams were even better in person than they were on tape, and nearly too good for foul-marred Duke.
Krzyzewski watched as the third-seeded Blue Devils nearly blew a 12-point lead in the last 13 minutes but held on to avert Duke's first opening-round defeat in the tournament since losing to Eastern Michigan in 1996.
Senior Dahntay Jones led Duke (25-6) with 23 points, but he fouled out with 5:51 to play.
"It's a terrible thing, but you've got to trust your teammates," said Jones. "When I saw the young guys step up and make plays, I knew it wasn't going to be my last game."
Sophomore guard Daniel Ewing, who was coming off his 62-point, three-game performance in the ACC tournament in which he was named Most Outstanding Player, scored all seven of his points in the last nine minutes. Freshman center Shelden Williams also made some big plays down the stretch after Casey Sanders fouled out.
After Sheldon Johnson of the Rams (19-14) missed two free throws that would have tied the game at 59, Williams scored on a follow of a missed drive by guard Chris Duhon. After a turnover by the Rams, Williams hit two free throws. Fellow freshman J.J. Redick, who finished with 16 points, then sealed the win with two more free throws.
"For them to step up showed a lot of maturity and toughness," Krzyzewski said of Ewing and Williams.
Krzyzewski was even more complimentary of Colorado State than he was of his own team.
Asked about the way the crowd at the Huntsman Center adopted a Mountain West rival of the hometown Utah Utes as their own, Krzyzewski said of a team making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1990: "They deserved to be cheered for. They played their hearts out. I can't believe that's a 14th seed."
Trailing 48-36 in the second half, the Rams went on a 15-6 run that culminated with a three-point play by Matt Williams with 5:51 left. Two five-second violations by Ewing trying to inbound the ball allowed the Rams to further close the deficit.
A dunk by Matt Nelson, who finished with a team-high 21 points, cut the deficit to six, and two free throws by Brian Greene trimmed it to four. Greene then hit a baseline jumper to cut the Duke lead to 59-57. Greene had a chance to tie the game, but he missed an 18-footer.
"Nobody expected us to be here, nobody gave us a chance," said Greene.