WASHINGTON -- Belmont came within 11.9 seconds of not only joining the fraternity of NCAA tournament history-makers, but of surpassing them all.
Duke, seeded second in the West Regional and ranked ninth in the nation, was saved from one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament last night by a steal by Gerald Henderson, who used a coast-to-coast drive for the go-ahead points, then by DeMarcus Nelson's interception of an errant inbounds pass.
Those were all that prevented Belmont, the Nashville school with fewer than 5,000 students, from becoming the fourth No. 15 seed to win a tournament game; instead, the Bruins, champions of the Atlantic Sun Conference, fell, 71-70, before an increasingly partisan crowd at Verizon Center.
Belmont led Duke (29-5) only one time, but it was with 2:02 to go, when Justin Hare's two free throws put it up 70-69. The Bruins withstood two Duke possessions, misses by Greg Paulus and Henderson, and had the ball with 47.9 seconds left. They milked the clock, and Alex Renfroe drove the right side of the lane, but Henderson dislodged and stole the ball before he could get up a shot. Henderson then bolted the other way, through the slow-reacting Belmont defense, and laid it in to put Duke back ahead 71-70.
"Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] said, 'If you get the ball, just push the ball and get them off balance,' " Henderson recalled being told in the timeout before his steal and mad dash. "At the three-point line, I saw them in the lane, and I just took it strong."
Belmont (25-9) missed on three tries at taking the lead after that, the crusher coming with four seconds left, when Renfroe tried to inbound from under his basket, threw the pass too far inside Henry Harris, and saw it picked off by Nelson. One final 30-foot heave at the buzzer by Hare fell short.
"As far as game-pressure games, it has to rank in the top two or three for us," said a hoarse Krzyzewski, still suffering from a weeklong bout with laryngitis. "And I hope Belmont takes that as a compliment."
The packed house -- which had started chanting "Let's Go, Belmont!" during a timeout with 1:40 to go -- gave Belmont a standing ovation as the players and coach Rick Byrd walked dejectedly to the locker room.
"This is certainly a disappointing moment for our program and for our young men," said Byrd of his team, in its third straight NCAA tournament. "To be this close, oh so close, to get a huge win for our school -- you need to go in and talk to those kids who are crying. We lost by one point, but it's unfair, because it doesn't measure the effort those kids put into the game."
Henderson led all scorers with 21 points; Renfroe led Belmont with 15.