Duke upset by Mercer, 78-71

Mar. 22, 2014 @ 02:07 AM

For the second time in three seasons, Duke made an early, short trip home from the NCAA Tournament.

The third-seeded Blue Devils (26-9) were upset 78-71 Friday in the second round by No. 14 Mercer, the Atlantic Sun Conference champion.

Two seasons ago, Duke fell victim to C.J. McCollum and 15th-seeded Lehigh in Greensboro.

On Friday at PNC Arena, there was no 30-point outburst like McCollum's. Senior-laden Mercer of Macon, Ga. had five players score in double figures and held Duke stars Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood to a combined 6-of-24 shooting effort.

"I've said all year we could be beaten by anybody. Mercer's not anybody," said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewksi. "Mercer is a championship team. Mercer's a team that probably should have been in the tournament last year. They returned everybody. Those kids — they're not kids — those men are determined to do something."

Mercer (27-8), starting five seniors, ended the game on an 18-8 run after trailing by five points with 4:52 to play.

When the final buzzer sounded, Mercer players danced and celebrated in front of a raucous, orange-clad contingent of Bears fans that helped provide an electric atmosphere throughout the afternoon.

"It was definitely a surreal feeling," said senior guard Langston Hall, the Atlantic Sun player of the year. "This is what March Madness is all about."

Hall finished with 11 points and his Bears shot 55.6 percent, keeping Duke to 35.5 percent.

Senior Jakob Gollon led Mercer with 20 points, shooting 9-of-9 at the foul line.

Duke entered the contest one victory shy of 100 NCAA tourney wins and had lost consecutive games only once since the 2009-2010 season.

But Mercer, a school with an enrollment of about 8,000, was unfazed by the moment of meeting one of college basketball's giants.

The Bears watched Florida Gulf Coast win the Atlantic Sun title on their home floor last season before the Eagles became the darlings of March Madness, reaching the Sweet 16.

Now it's Mercer's turn after capturing its first NCAA Tournament win in school history. The battle-tested Bears claimed the CollegeInsider.com Tournament title in 2012 before winning at Tennessee last season in the first round of the NIT. On Sunday, they'll get the Vols again with a berth in the final 16 at stake.

"I think it was a huge element in us getting a victory against a talented team," Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said of his team's experience. "Our guys believe that we can we win."

"We've played in every arena against pretty much every team you can imagine," said Bears senior forward Bud Thomas. "We're a very confident team and we're always looking forward to the next play and optimistic about the rest of the game."

Duke knocked down 15 3-pointers, but couldn't find consistency inside.

Daniel Coursey did. The 6-foot-10 Mercer senior tallied 17 points and converted a 3-point play with 1:07 left to give the Bears a 68-63 advantage. Coursey corralled a pass from Hall on the sequence and finished at the rim, dunking the ball through with one hand while drawing contact.
"They were big and physical and mature," Krzyzewksi said of Mercer inside. "And they're strong too."

Duke didn't have a strong inside presence all season, often relying on Parker to play in the post. The freshman finished with 14 points, Hood had six and junior guard Quinn Cook led the Blue Devils with 23 on 7-of-10 shooting from outside the arc. Sophomore guard Rasheed Sulaimon tallied 20 with five made 3s.

"They stayed together all 40 minutes," Cook said of Mercer. "They're a veteran team and they played together."

It's uncertain who will be playing for Duke next season. Parker has NBA scouts drooling and didn't say whether he would be back. Hood, a redshirt sophomore, is also undecided on returning to Durham or entering the NBA Draft.

Parker scored in double figures in 33 of Duke's 35 games this season and owns Blue Devils freshman records in nine categories.

"Jabari's had a great, great year," said Krzyzewksi. "It's a frustrating way for it to end."

Contact the writer at kholtzman@hendersondispatch.com.