It’s not often that a team wins a game in which it gets out-rebounded by nine, and in which it doesn't score its first second-chance points until late in the second half, but it does happen. Mercer coach Bob Hoffman had a plan: Make Duke beat his team with long jump shots and take away everything else. It worked. The 14th-seeded Bears stunned the No. 3 Blue Devils 78-71 on Friday in the Midwest region.
Mercer -- which beat Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun championship on March 9 to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1985 -- starts five seniors, and the Bears' experience showed against the callow Blue Devils. Duke, which opted to shoot over the top of the Mercer zone, made 14-of-37 three-pointers, but the Blue Devils' perimeter scoring couldn't overcome their poor interior play. Down low, things were easy for the Bears, who shot 56 percent. Duke, on the other hand, made just 28 percent of its two-point field goal attempts, and didn't get much from stars Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker.
Parker picked up his third foul early in the second half, which added to his struggles. The talented freshman couldn’t get going offensively, and Mercer sealed off his opportunities to drive to the basket by playing zone. Parker finally got an and-one off his own miss late in the second half, looking almost relieved to see the shot go down. Hood fouled out with 1:08 left in the game having scored just six points.
The two players combined to average 35 points per game during the season, but they scored just 20 on 6-of-24 shooting against the Bears.
With just under 15 minutes to play and with Parker on the bench, the Blue Devils turned up their defensive intensity. Trailing by five, they went on an 8-0 run, capped by a Quinn Cook three-pointer that gave them a 48-45 lead. But Mercer didn't panic and kept hitting timely shots to stay within striking distance.
With 4:53 left, Duke led 63-58, and it looked like the Blue Devils might finally take control. Instead, the Bears battled back, tying the score at 63 on a three-pointer by Anthony White Jr with 2:41 to go. Mercer went ahead on a pair of free throws by Jakob Gollon, who scored 20 points, and stretched the lead to five with just over a minute remaining on a three-point play by Daniel Coursey. Duke never got within one possession the rest of the way as the Bears closed the game on a 20-8 run.
This is the second time in the past three years that the Blue Devils have bowed out in the round of 64. They were a No. 2 seed when they lost 75-70 to Lehigh in the 2012 NCAA tournament.
Mercer celebrated in epic fashion:
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