12:15 PM ET, March 21, 2014
PNC Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina
No. 14 seed Mercer shocks Duke, 78-71, in NCAA tourney opener
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Dunk City is long gone. Make way for the next bunch of bracket busters from the little-known Atlantic Sun Conference: Mercer.
Daniel Coursey scored 17 points as the 8,300-student school from Macon, Ga., delivered the biggest shocker in an already topsy-turvy NCAA tournament on Friday, going into Duke's backyard and knocking off the No. 3 seed Blue Devils, 78-71.
"This," Atlantic Sun player of the year Langston Hall said, "is what March Madness is all about."
More from ESPN.com
Duke wasn't stunned by some fluke. No, the senior-laden Mercer team had talent, and now the Blue Devils really know it, writes C.L. Brown. Story
Mercer came to play and stuck with a balanced offense, while Duke's reliance on perimeter shooting backfired, write Dick Vitale. Story
What went wrong for Duke? It'd help if the Blue Devils had made a few shots inside the arc and didn't rely so much on the 3-pointer. Blog
The 14th-seeded Bears -- with a starting lineup of five seniors -- came back from five points down in the last 4:52 as Duke's offense collapsed.
They sent home one of the true blue-blood programs, coached by Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski and starring freshman Jabari Parker, who might have played his last game before heading to the NBA.
Mercer is coached by former Oklahoma Baptist player Bob Hoffman, who has banged around the coaching ranks from women's teams to the American Basketball Association to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Developmental League.
Next up: 11th-seeded Tennessee, which beat sixth-seeded Massachusetts 86-67, on Sunday in the third round.
Mercer qualified for its first NCAA tournament since 1985 by winning the Atlantic Sun conference championship over Florida Gulf Coast, nicknamed "Dunk City" for the team's above-the-rim offense. A year earlier, the Bears lost that game and watched FGCU advance to the Sweet 16.
"When they were going on their run, we were sitting at home thinking, `Man, that could have been us," Anthony White Jr. said.
Now it is.
Mercer scored 11 straight points during the late 20-5 run that clinched the biggest victory in school history and sent the Blue Devils to their second first-game exit in three years.
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports
Mercer celebrates its stunning upset of Duke in the NCAA tournament.
But their defense -- an uncharacteristic weakness all season -- did them in again while all those Mercer seniors simply got any shot they wanted. The Bears shot 56 percent -- 58 percent in the second half.
"They're a team that's been together a long time," Duke forward Rodney Hood said. "They sliced us up. There's no other way to put it."
Duke went up 63-58 with 4:52 left after Parker converted a three-point play and Tyler Thornton hit three free throws.
The Blue Devils didn't score again until the final minute.
"I don't know if we panicked," senior Andre Dawkins said, "but we didn't do the things we needed to do."
Like score. Or defend.
Coursey countered by rattling in a jumper in the lane, and after two empty possessions for Duke, some slick ball rotation by Mercer set up White's open 3 that tied it at 63.
Hood picked up his fourth foul on the Bears' next possession and Gollon hit two free throws to put Mercer ahead for good.
By that point, Duke could do nothing right.
Parker missed a 3-pointer in traffic before Hood was called for walking, leading White to give a fist-pump to those noisy Mercer fans who stood all day.
The Bears hit 12 of 14 free throws in the final 2 minutes to seal it.
After the buzzer sounded, the Bears players formed a circle on the sideline and danced. In the middle was guard Kevin Canevari, a Charlotte native who's one of the seven seniors on the roster.
"We were confident all week," Canevari said. "We don't really look at it like we're an underdog in this tournament. Obviously, everyone's a great team, there's already been so many upsets."
White finished with 13 points, and A-Sun player of the year Langston Hall and Ike Nwamu added 11 apiece for Mercer.
Watching Florida Gulf Coast upset Georgetown and San Diego State last year gave the Bears an offseason's worth of fuel. Hoffman said his players "worked harder than any team in the country individually to get a chance to get back to the same moment."
Mercer has 1,176 wins as a program -- only 191 more than Krzyzewski has all by himself.
Parker, one of a long list of high school All-Americans on Coach K's roster, finished what might have been his final college game with 14 points.
After the game, however, he told Andy Katz of ESPN.com that his career is incomplete and that could affect his decision about whether to return to Duke for another season. He then added that the emotion of this loss could sway him.
Hood -- a redshirt sophomore who also could be headed to the pros -- had just six points.
Duke has been to 11 Final Fours and has four national titles under Krzyzewski, but his Blue Devils have lost their first tournament game five times.
Just 3.3 percent out of the 11 million-plus brackets submitted to ESPN's Tournament Challenge correctly picked Mercer to upset Duke. And only 66 perfect brackets remain through 20 games of the Round of 64.
Meanwhile, 20.9 percent of brackets had Duke in the Final Four, with 5.3 percent of them winning the national title.
Two years ago, C.J. McCollum and 15th-seeded Lehigh sent the Blue Devils packing 75-70 in Greensboro.
Lehigh's athletic department took to Twitter on Friday afternoon to congratulate Mercer.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.
NCAA Mens Tournament
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 21: Head coach Bob Hoffman of the Mercer Bears calls out in the first half against the Duke...(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Around Champ Week
Deciding factor: Mercer wasn't impacted by the pro-Duke crowd in Raleigh and made plays down the stretch, while the favored Blue Devils looked frazzled.
Player of the game: Jakob Gollon. He scored a game-high 20 points for the 14th-seeded Bears.
Key stat: Mercer just didn't miss. The Bears went 25-for-45 from the field and gave the Atlantic Sun another Cinderella. Last year, it was Florida Gulf Coast. This time it's Mercer.
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||25-45 (.556)||22-62 (.355)|
|3P Made-Attempted||5-13 (.385)||15-37 (.405)|
|FT Made-Attempted||23-28 (.821)||12-13 (.923)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||15 (0/0)||22 (0/0)|
|» Mar 21, 2014||MER 78, @DUKE 71||Recap|
Duke now has four losses in the Round of 64.[+]
Duke Losses in Round of 64
Compared to many of the best-known metrics out there, BPI had given the Mercer Bears the best chance to beat Duke in this game... (12.6%). KenPom.com gave Mercer an 11% chance... Nate Silver's 538 model gave them 7% chance... Las Vegas odds gave them about a 6% chance... a nd just 3.3% of 11 million fans on ESPN.com's Bracket Challenge had picked them to advance.
Mercer's upset of Duke Friday marks the second straight year that an Atlantic Sun Conference team has won a Men's Basketball Championship game. Florida Gulf Coast advanced to the Sweet 16 as a 15 seed last year. This is the first time that the Atlantic Sun has had teams win Men's Basketball Championship games in consecutive years. Including the A-Sun's years as the Trans-America Athletic Conference, only Arkansas-Little Rock (1986), College of Charleston (1997) and Georgia State (2001) had won tourney games while representing the league prior to last year.[+]
Atlantic Sun Conference Record - In Men's Basketball Championship
Duke scored a season-low 10 points in the paint Thursday and was outscored by 16 points in the paint. The Blue Devils finished the season 4-4 in games that they were outscored by 10 or more points in the paint. Their starting frontcourt (Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Amile Jefferson) was a combined 4-of-16 shooting in the paint.[+]
In the Paint
Duke is the only team in NCAA Tournament history with 5 losses to double digit seeds as a top 3 seed.[+]
Most Losses As Top 3 Seed - To Double Digit Seeds, NCAA Tournament History
Coach K is the 4th coach to lose to both a 14 seed AND a 15 seed (lost to Lehigh in 2012). The others are John Thompson III, Eddie Folger, Lute Olson.
Mike Krzyzewski has now lost five games to double-digit seeds, tied for the most by any coach in NCAA Tournament history.[+]
Most Losses to Double-Digit Seeds - Head Coaches in NCAA Tournament History
Prior to last year, the Atlantic Sun had lost 11 straight Round of 64 games by an average of 14.8 PPG. 15-seed FGCU and 14-seed Mercer have now won in consecutive years.
The Atlantic Sun joins the Ohio Valley Conference as the only conferences to win a game in the Round of 64 as a 14 or 15 seed in consecutive seasons. In 1987 and 1988, Murray State and Austin Peay pulled Round of 64 upsets as 14 seeds over NC State and Illinois.
You have to have success to be on this list, but Coach K is now the 5th coach to be eliminated in the Round of 64 as a top-3 seed. And its happened twice in the last 3 years. Coaches to Lose Twice in Round of 64 As Top-3 Seed Years Schools Mike Krzyzewski 2012, 2014 Duke Steve Alford 2006, 2013 Iowa, New Mexico John Thompson III 2010, 2013 Georgetown Eddie Fogler 1997, 1998 South Carolina Lute Olson 1992, 1993 Arizona
*Duke averages 119.9 points per 100 possessions, second best in the nation behind Creighton (121.4).
ESPN Stats & Information