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 on Friday, going into Duke’s backyard and knocking off the No. 3 seed Blue Devils 78-71.
"This," Atlantic Sun player of the year Langston Hall said, "is what March Madness is all about."
The 14th-seeded Bears — with a starting lineup of five seniors — came back from five points down in the last 4:52 as Duke’s offense collapsed.
They sent home one of the true blue-blood programs, coached by Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski and starring freshman Jabari Parker, sure to be one of the top NBA picks this year. Mercer is coached by former Oklahoma Baptist player Bob Hoffman, who has banged 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: 11th-seeded Tennessee, which upset sixth-seeded Massachusetts 86-67, on Sunday in the third round.
Jakob Gollon scored 20 points and Daniel Coursey scored 17, helping the Bears overcome a season-high 15 3-pointers from Duke.
Mercer qualified for its first NCAA Tournament since 1985 by winning the Atlantic Sun conference championship over Florida Gulf Coast, nicknamed "Dunk City" for the team’s 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,"’ Anthony White Jr. said.
Now it is.
Mercer scored 11 straight points during the 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 Duke.
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."