Mercer reveled in the essence of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on March 21, 2014. The Bears upset No. 3-seeded Duke 78-71, the sports moment judged the greatest in school history. It was the Atlantic Sun’s second consecutive first-round stunner.
Florida Gulf Coast University’s “Dunk City” slammed No. 2 Georgetown, 78-68, in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. A year later, Mercer bounced FGCU in the A-Sun Tournament championship to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1985. The result was another bracket buster.
“This,” said Mercer’s Langston Hall, the conference player of the year, “is what March Madness is all about.” Mercer’s website tells the story:
RALEIGH, N.C. — In what may be described as one of the biggest upsets in recent NCAA Tournament history, the No. 14 seeded Mercer men’s basketball team made all the plays down the stretch to capture a 78-71 win over No. 3 seeded Duke in the second round of the Midwest Regional on Friday afternoon at PNC Arena.
Mercer (27-8) ended the game on an 18-8 run to capture its first NCAA Tournament win in the 108-year history of the men’s basketball program.
The Bears became just the 18th No. 14 seed to ever knock off a No. 3 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament and now advance to face 11th-seeded Tennessee Volunteers. Mercer’s last meeting with Tennessee came in the 2013 NIT, when the Bears knocked off the Vols 75-67 in Knoxville.
Senior Jakob Gollon paced five Bears in double figures with 20 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and a perfect 9-for-9 showing from the free throw line. Joining him were senior Daniel Coursey (17), senior Anthony White Jr. (13) and senior Langston Hall (11).
Mercer shot 56 percent (25-of-45) from the field in the contest and handed out 16 assists in comparison to just eight turnovers. The Bears also dominated in the paint, outscoring the Blue Devils 26-10 on the inside.
The Bears’ 27 wins equals the program record win total set by the 2011-12 edition of the team. Duke entered the game ranked No. 6 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, thus establishing Mercer’s first win against a ranked opponent since topping No. 23 USC on Nov. 10, 2007.
Mercer trailed by six with 3:21 to play in the first half before a pair of Ike Nwamufree throws sparked a 10-3 surge that put the Bears ahead with 51 seconds to go in the half. The final bucket in the stretch was delivered by Gollon, who squared up for a 3-pointer and a 34-33 Mercer edge.
Duke freshman phenom Jabari Parker closed the half’s scoring with a jumper, but by then the packed-out section of Mercer supporters had been stoked into hysteria.
Out of the half, Mercer’s collection put together an 11-5 run that continued to fuel the orange-clad group of supporters. Duke returned fire with five unanswered points to knot the game once again at 45-45.
With less than five minutes to go, Duke had gone up by five once again before Coursey got his patented hook shot to fall and White Jr. drilled a 3-pointer from the wing to knot the game at 63 apiece.
The momentum continued to swing towards Mercer as the Bears reeled off six more unanswered points to go ahead by six with less than a minute to play. Mercer’s defense held the Blue Devils scoreless for over four minutes during the surge.
With the game still very much in doubt down the stretch, Mercer combined for 12-of-14 free throw shooting in the final two minutes to seal the victory.
Mercer lost to Tennessee, 83-63, in the round of 32 to finish 27-9 overall record. The Bears set the school single-season record with a .750 winning percentage in their final season in the A-Sun. The Bears have been a member of the Southern Conference since the 2014-15 season.
On the cover and middle: Mercer’s Langston Hall and Ike Nwamu (10) celebrate with teammates after the Bears upset Duke 78-71 in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on March 21, 2014, at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Maine and Marshall
• Tuesday: Massachusetts (UMass) and Massachusetts Lowell (UMass Lowell)
• Wednesday: McNeese and Memphis
• Thursday: Mercer and Merrimack
• Friday: Miami (Ohio) and Michigan Tech