Playing in its first NCAA tournament since 1985, the senior-laden Atlantic Sun champions survived eight ties and 14 lead changes and finished the game on an 20-8 run to pull off the upset of the tournament so far – a 78-71 win.
With five players in double figures, the Bears shot 55 percent and hit 23-of-28 free throws while playing stout interior defense and forcing the Blue Devils to fire up 37 three-point attempts. The Blue Devils shot just 22.6 percent from two (7-for-31).
Atlantic Sun defensive player of the year Daniel Coursey went toe-to-toe with Duke standout freshman Jabari Parker, limiting him to just 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting while also putting up 17 points of his own for the Bears. Sixth-year senior Jakob Gollon led Mercer with 20, while fellow seniors Anthony White Jr. and Langston Hall added 13 and 11 respectively.
This Mercer team was just itching for its chance to make it to March Madness. The Bears won the Atlantic Sun regular season last year, but fell to Florida Gulf Coast in the conference tournament title game on its home floor. Florida Gulf Coast went on to make the Sweet 16 and that left Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman thinking that that could have been his team.
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Mercer, who will face off with the winner of the Tennessee-UMass game, has proven its ability to play with power-conference teams with wins over Florida State, Tennessee, Seton Hall, Alabama and Ole Miss (plus a narrow three-point loss to Texas) in the past two seasons. Could the Bears follow the footsteps of Florida Gulf Coast and put another Atlantic Sun team in the Sweet 16?
Why not? It’s March Madness, after all.
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