Mercer leaves its mark on the 'Madness'

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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.

The 8,300-student school from Macon, Ga., delivered the biggest shocker in an already topsy-turvy NCAA tournament Friday, going into Duke's backyard and knocking off the No. 3 seed Blue Devils, 78-71.

"This is what March Madness is all about," Atlantic Sun player of the year Langston Hall said.

The 14th-seeded Bears -- with a starting lineup of five seniors -- came back from five points down in the final 4:52 as Duke's offense collapsed.

They sent home one of the true blue-blood programs, coached by Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski with star freshman Jabari Parker, sure to be one of the top NBA draft picks. Mercer is coached by former Oklahoma Baptist player Bob Hoffman, who has jumped 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 Sunday in the third round: 11th-seeded Tennessee, which upset sixth-seeded Massachusetts, 86-67, later Friday.

Jakob Gollon scored 20 points and Daniel Coursey added 17, helping Mercer overcome a season-high 15 3-pointers by Duke.

Mercer qualified for its first NCAA tournament since 1985 by winning the Atlantic Sun conference championship against Florida Gulf Coast, nicknamed "Dunk City" for the its 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,' " said guard Anthony White Jr.

Now it is.

Mercer scored 11 consecutive points in a 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.

Quinn Cook scored 23 points and Rasheed Sulaimon added 20 for the Blue Devils.

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 ahead, 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 jump shot 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, 63-63.

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 in traffic before Hood was called for a travel, leading White to give a fist-pump to those noisy Mercer fans who stood all game. The Bears hit 12 of 14 free throws in the final two minutes to seal it.

After the buzzer sounded, the 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.

"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."

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