Down goes Duke! Mercer moves on! Long live March Madness!
In another stunning March upset, the No. 3 Blue Devils (26-9) were stunned by the No. 14 Bears (27-8), 78-71, in their opening game of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. The senior-laden Bears reeled off 11 straight points during a 20-8 closing run in the final minutes to send Jabari Parker and the rest of coach Mike Krzyzewski's talented team home after just one game. This defeat marks the second time in three years that Duke made an unexpectedly early exit from the Big Dance. In 2012, No. 15 Lehigh toppled No. 2 Duke. Before that loss to Lehigh, Duke had not suffered a loss in its opening game in the NCAA Tournament since falling to VCU in 2007 on a buzzer beater.
"This is why you play the ballgame," announcer Reggie Miller said in the final minutes of Mercer's bracket-busting win.
Mercer, the champions of the Atlantic Sun Conference, withstood a barrage of three-point shots by Duke (15-37) and never let their favored foes pull away. Duke held a slim 35-34 lead at the half and even led 63-60 as the clock ticked under three minutes remaining. Mercer guard Anthony White Jr., one of five seniors in the starting line-up, then drained a three-point shot to even the score 63-63. From that point on, Mercer made 11 of 13 free throw attempts to close out the first NCAA Tournament win in school history.
"If we got beaten, at least we got beaten by a hell of a basketball team, " Coach K said during a postgame visit to the victorious Bears' locker room, via USA TODAY Sports.
White finished with 13 points and was one of five Mercer players to score in double figures. Forward Jakob Gollon, another senior, led the Bears with 20 points while Duke's Quinn Cook scored a game-high 23 points. In what is likely to be the final game of a one-and-done collegiate career, Parker finished with 14 points on 4-14 shooting and seven rebounds. An emotional Parker, the 19-year-old freshman tipped to be a top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, used the word "incompletion" to describe his feelings after the loss, reported Teddy Greenstein of The Chicago Tribune.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Parker also said. “Don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Making Duke's early exit even more surprising, the second round game was played in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Blue Devils arrived in Raleigh with a 32-5 record in NCAA Tournament games played in their home state.
After the final buzzer sounded at PNC Arena, Mercer reserve guard Kevin Canevari celebrated with dance moves nearly as impressive as his team's overall effort.
(GIF via @WorldOfIsaac)
Mercer advances to face the winner of the game between No. 6 Massachusetts and No. 11 Tennessee in the third round of the Midwest Region. Whether or not Mercer picks up another win, they have earned an irrevocable membership into one of the most exclusive clubs in all of sports.