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."
Duke 67, Colorado State 57: In the second game at the Huntsman Center, the third-seeded Blue Devils (25-6) nearly blew a 12-point lead in the last 13 minutes before escaping with a win over the Rams (19-14).
With leading scorer Dahntay Jones and Casey Sanders both having fouled out, Duke needed freshman center Shelden Williams to make key plays.
After Colorado State missed two free throws that would have tied the game at 59, Williams scored on a rebound follow of a missed drive by Chris Duhon.
After a Colorado State turnover, Williams hit two free throws. Fellow freshman J.J. Reddick then sealed the win with two more free throws.
Duke led at halftime 36-30, then scored the first six points of the second half. Still ahead 48-36, the Blue Devils watched the Rams go on a 15-6 run that culminated with a three-point play by Matt Williams with 5:51 left. But Jones, who had a game-high 23 points, fouled out on the play.
Duke sophomore guard Daniel Ewing, who was named the ACC tournament's Most Outstanding Player after scoring 62 points in his team's three victories, was quiet for most of the night. After scoring his first basket of the game with a little over eight minutes left, Ewing hit a three-pointer to put the Blue Devils ahead 57-51 and then made a drive for a 59-51 lead.
But two five-second violations by Ewing trying to inbound the ball allowed the Rams to 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 lead to 59-57.
After Duhon missed a drive and Williams a short follow, the freshman center was tied up and the ball went to Colorado State. Greene stepped inside the three-point line, but his shot rimmed out.