MIDWEST REGIONAL: Mercer 78, Duke 71
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 in Raleigh, N.C.
“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 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 consecutive 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.”
Duke went up 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 jumper 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 at 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-pointer in traffic before Hood was called for walking, leading White to give a fist-pump to those noisy Mercer fans who stood all day.
The Bears hit 12-of-14 free throws in the final 2 minutes to seal it.
After the buzzer sounded, the Bears 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 on the roster.
“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.”
White finished with 13 points, and Hall and Ike Nwamu added 11 apiece for Mercer.
Watching Florida Gulf Coast upset Georgetown and San Diego State last year gave the Bears an offseason’s worth of fuel. Hoffman said his players “worked harder than any team in the country individually to get a chance to get back to the same moment.”
Mercer has 1,176 wins as a program — only 191 more than Krzyzewski has all by himself.
Parker, one of a long list of high school All-Americans on Coach K’s roster, finished what might have been his final college game with 14 points. Hood — a redshirt sophomore who also could be headed to the pros — had just six points.
Tennessee 86, Massachusetts 67
Jarnell Stokes scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to help Tennessee beat Massachusetts in Raleigh, N.C.
Jordan McRae added 21 points for the Volunteers (23-12), the No. 11 seed. Tennessee had little trouble with the sixth-seeded Minutemen (24-9), shooting 54 percent from the field and handling UMass’ fullcourt pressure in a surprisingly one-sided performance that included another solid defensive showing.
The Vols are in the NCAAs for the first time in three seasons, starting with a First Four overtime win against Iowa. Now they are headed to Sunday’s third round to face 14th-seeded Mercer.
Chaz Williams and Maxie Esho scored 12 points each for UMass in its first NCAA appearance since 1998.
Wichita State 64, Cal Poly 37
Cleananthony Early had 23 points and unbeaten Wichita State faced no resistance from Cal Poly, going to 35-0 for the best start in NCAA history with a rout of Cal Poly in St. Louis.
The Shockers (35-0) dominated from the tip-off against the only team with a sub-.500 record in the tournament. With the exception of Early, most of the glaring numbers were on defense. The losers managed 13 points in the first half and shot 21 percent.
Malik Love had nine points for Cal Poly (14-20), which won the Big West Tournament as the No. 7 seed and beat Texas Southern in a First Four game before being held to a season low for points.
EAST REGIONAL: Memphis 71, George Washington 66
Michael Dixon Jr. scored 19 points and hit four free throws in the final 10 seconds to help Memphis hold off George Washington in Raleigh, N.C.
Joe Jackson added 15 points for the eighth-seeded Tigers (24-9). They entered the tournament having lost three of five and shot 49 percent in this one but struggled to put the ninth-seeded Colonials away until the final seconds.
Isaiah Armwood scored a season-high 21 points after playing the final 12 minutes with four fouls for ninth-seeded GW (24-9), which was just 2-of-12 from 3-point range yet never fell behind by more than 10 points.
North Carolina 79, Providence 77
James Michael McAdoo sank two free throws in the final 3.5 seconds, and No. 6-seed North Carolina rallied to beat 11th-seeded Providence in San Antonio.
Providence’s Bryce Cotton scored a career-high 36 points and made one dazzling shot after another down the stretch. But he also fumbled a long rebound in the final moments, robbing the Friars of a chance for a last-second miracle.
Marcus Paige led North Carolina (24-9) with 19 points.
SOUTH REGIONAL: Kansas 80, Eastern Kentucky 69
Andrew Wiggins scored 19 points, Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis had double-doubles and second-seeded Kansas pulled away down the stretch to beat pesky Eastern Kentucky in St. Louis.
Traylor finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds, and Ellis had 14 points and 13 boards for the Jayhawks (25-9), who trailed 56-53 with 9 minutes to go.
Glenn Cosey hit five 3-pointers and had 17 points for the 15th-seeded Colonels (24-10).
Stanford 58, New Mexico 53
Chasson Randle scored 23 points and No. 10 seed Stanford made an impression in its first NCAA appearance since 2008, leading almost start to finish in a win over seventh-seeded New Mexico in St. Louis.
The Cardinal (22-12) built an early 16-point lead then held on after New Mexico rallied to tie it midway through the second half. They got four crucial free throws from reserve Robbie Lemons and Randle in the final half-minute after New Mexico had cut the deficit to two points.
Cameron Bairstow had 24 points and eight rebounds but the Lobos (27-7) got off-days from their other top threats.
Stephen F. Austin 77, VCU 75
Desmond Haymon hit a game-changing 3-pointer with 2:02 to play in overtime to rally 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin over fifth-seeded VCU in San Diego.
Treveon Graham made a 3-pointer with 2:40 to play put VCU (26-9) up 73-71.
Haymon’s 3 put Stephen F. Austin (32-2) ahead 74-73 and Jacob Parker added a jumper with 1:10 left to up the margin to three points.
WEST REGIONAL: Creighton 76, Louisiana-Lafayette 66
Doug McDermott scored 30 points and third-seeded Creighton got three huge 3-pointers in the second half from Ethan Wragge to beat No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette in San Antonio.
McDermott had a double-double by halftime but went scoreless for nearly 14 minutes of the second half, leaving it to Wragge’s long shots to bail out the Bluejays from a potential upset by the Ragin’ Cajuns, who attacked Creighton (27-7) with fearless defense and rebounding.
Sun Belt Tournament champion Louisiana-Lafayette (23-12) led 50-48 before Wragge struck from long range to turn momentum.
Baylor 74, Nebraska 60
Cory Jefferson scored 16 points and No. 6-seed Baylor kept 11th-seeded Nebraska winless in its NCAA Tournament history with a win in San Antonio.
The Bears (25-11) kept up a two-month tear and have won 11 of 13 after a dismal start.
Terran Petteway scored 18 points for Nebraska (19-13).
Arizona 68, Weber State 59
Nick Johnson scored 18 points, Aaron Gordon added 16 and top-seeded Arizona overcame a shaky start and a late run by Weber State to beat the Wildcats in San Diego.
Arizona (31-4) fell into an eight-point hole in the opening minutes to give the 16th-seeded Wildcats hope of a monumental upset.
The desert Wildcats tried to squash the dream quickly with two big second-half runs, but Weber State fought its way back from a 21-point deficit to make it close in the second half.
Arizona blocked 12 shots, held Weber State to 30 percent shooting and made 55 percent of its shots.
Davion Berry had 24 points to lead Weber State (19-12.
Gonzaga 85, Oklahoma State 77
Kevin Pangos scored 26 points and Gary Bell Jr. added 17 for eighth-seeded Gonzaga, which beat Marcus Smart and the ninth-seeded Oklahoma State Cowboys in San Diego.
The refs called 61 fouls and five players fouled out. Pangos made 12-of-14 free throws, including 10-of-10 in the last 1:31 to lift Gonzaga (29-6). The final 3½ minutes took 24 minutes to play. It was seven off the record for fouls in a tournament game set by Iowa and Morehead State in a regional semifinal game in 1956.
Smart had 23 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and six steals for Oklahoma State (21-13).