RALEIGH, N.C. -- Mercer’s student section started the game with chants of “I believe that we will win,” and the No. 14-seeded Bears followed suit with a 78-71 victory over No. 3 seed Duke in the 2014 NCAA tournament’s biggest upset so far.
Here are five thoughts from the game:
This is why experience matters. Mercer started five seniors against Duke. They were not intimidated by the Duke name or playing on the big stage of the NCAA tournament. The trio of Jakob Gollon, Langston Hall and Daniel Coursey carried the Bears offensively. Gollon had 20 points, Coursey 17, and Hall 11 points and five assists. Mercer never strayed from its game plan even as Duke seemed to gain control late in the first half. Trailing by seven with five minutes left in the half, the Bears responded and trailed just 35-34 at halftime.
With first-time NCAA tournament participants Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker struggling -- they scored a combined 20 points -- junior Quinn Cook and sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon took control offensively for the Blue Devils. Cook hadn’t shown as much emotion and confidence since early in the season. He set a new career high with seven 3-pointers, and his 23 points were the most he’d scored since netting 24 against Michigan on Dec. 3. Sulaimon nearly matched Cook’s efficiency from behind the arc with five 3-pointers of his own and finished with 20 points.
It was strange to see both Parker and Hood struggle the way they did in the same game. The duo combined to shoot 6-of-24 from the field. Mercer’s Gollon, a 6-foot-6 senior, kept Hood from driving and scoring in the lane. Mercer coach Bob Hoffman sprinkled in the use of zone, which kept Coursey, a 6-10 senior, stalking Parker nearby and kept Parker from scoring in the post. The result coaxed Parker and Hood into taking more jumpers than usual and led to their low shooting percentage.
Ike Nwamu's lift from off the bench cannot be underestimated for Mercer. He didn’t score a single point in the second half, but his 11 points in the first kept the Bears from fading when Duke got its offense together.
Duke’s lack of an inside presence finally caught up to it. The Blue Devils had no one to protect the rim -- Mercer outscored them in points in the paint 26-10 en route to shooting 55.6 percent from the floor. Duke had no one to throw to in the post for high-percentage baskets.