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.
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.
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.
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.