RALEIGH, N.C. — Mercer wanted this.
The game, of course — the Bears certainly believed all along they could pull it off — but also the matchup. They wanted their shot at Duke.
Mercer coach Bob Hoffman predicted ahead of time, based on seeding and a gut instinct, that his team would get paired up with one of the most storied programs in all of the sport.
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Hoffman said Duke wasn't a typical power-conference team, that the Blue Devils didn't have the size inside that high-major programs usually have — and he's right. Better yet, he exploited it. His big men did whatever they wanted inside as part of a brilliant game plan, paving the way for a 78-71 win against No. 3 seed Duke.
BOX SCORE: Mercer 78, Duke 71
MARCH MADNESS: NCAA tournament bracket
On the other end, Bears defense forced the Blue Devils to fire off shots from the perimeter all game. Combine some misses (Duke shot 35.5% from the field), an uncharacteristically poor performance from star freshman Jabari Parker and defensive lapses, and you end up with an opening for a potential upset.
Upset bids build and build, winning over the crowd section by section as the clock ticks down and the underdog is still standing. The Bears brought quite a few fans with them from Macon, Ga., to what appeared to be essentially a home game for Duke.
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They believed, from the moment they stepped on the court, that they could pull off the upset. Each time Duke hit a big three — most of the time, courtesy of Rasheed Sulaimon or Quinn Cook — Mercer answered.
With fewer than three minutes remaining, Anthony White Jr. drained a three to tie the game at 63-63. Parker missed a three from the top of the key, and Mercer took the lead for good with 1:54 to play on a pair of Jakob Gollon free throws. On a beautifully drawn-up play, Daniel Coursey scored a layup and-one. Coursey's subsequent free throw put Mercer up five and essentially sealed the game.
All season long, Duke has been one of the best offensive teams in the country — and fairly dismal defensively. The Blue Devils' defense ranks 98th in the country in efficiency, per KenPom.com, and it looked every bit its part Friday afternoon.
Mercer shot 55.6% from the field in the game, and five different Bears scored in double figures.
"This," Atlantic Sun player of the year Langston Hall said, "is what March Madness is all about."
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