RALEIGH, N.C. —Mercer’s big moment will last a little longer in this NCAA Tournament.
In the first game of tournament play Friday, the Atlantic Sun rose again, with conference champion Mercer shocking third-seeded Duke 78-71 in a Midwest Regional second-round game.
“Our guys continue to believe at such a high level,” coach Bob Hoffman said. “When you work as hard as they have for 365 days, it was just a blessing to see this happen.”
Mercer follows Florida Gulf Coast — the darling of the 2013 NCAA Tournament from the Atlantic Sun that beat Mercer in the conference tournament last season — in advancing to a third-round game Sunday in the school’s first appearance in the event in 29 years. The Bears will face the winner of Tennessee-Massachusetts.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Mercer guard Ike Nwamu said. “It probably will hit me in the next couple of hours or so.”
Forward Jakob Gollon scored 20 points, including 15 in the second half, and forward Daniel Coursey poured in 17 points for the 14th-seeded Bears (27-8), who received 13 points from guard Anthony White Jr.
Duke exited the tournament with an 0-1 mark for the second time in three seasons. The Blue Devils were coming off a loss to Virginia in Sunday’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final.
“Our guys tried,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I have no fault with my team. Sometimes the other team just plays better. I applaud it and I applaud Mercer.”
Krzyzewski stopped by the Mercer locker room after his news conference to congratulate the Bears.
“We’re a very veteran team, we’ve been saying it all week,” Gollon said. “When it gets tough out there, when it gets loud, we have a lot of guys who stay focused.”
Guard Quinn Cook, a junior with a career-high seven 3-pointers, scored 23 points and guard Rasheed Sulaimon, who knocked down a season-high five 3-point baskets, finished with 20 points for third-seeded Duke (26-9). Freshman forward Jabari Parker had 14 points.
“Hopefully we have some more juice in us,” Mercer guard Kevin Canevari said. “It’s a huge win for us, for Mercer. We hope to dance again.”
Mercer shot 55.6 percent (25 for 45) from the field.
“We didn’t make the stops when we needed to,” Sulaimon said. “That’s what it came down to. That’s the story of our season. We were getting leads and we couldn’t knock teams out.”
White’s 3-point basket tied the game at 63-63 with 2:41 left.
Parker misfired on a 3-pointer for Duke, then Gollon made both ends of a 1-and-1 with 1:54 to play. Duke forward Rodney Hood was called for a traveling violation with 1:33 left.
Coursey’s three-point play built Mercer’s edge to 68-63 with 1:07 on the clock.
Parker and Hood combined to shoot six for 24 from the field.
“We didn’t get that (usual bump) from our two best guys,” Krzyzewski said. “I feel bad for them. … It’s a frustrating way for it to end.”
The second half was filled with potentially key sequences.
Mercer’s 45-40 lead began to fade with guard Tyler Thornton’s 3-pointer. The Blue Devils were ahead again at 48-45 on Cook’s 3. Another Cook 3-pointer with 9:05 to go allowed the Blue Devils to grab a 54-51 lead. Mercer pulled even on Gollon’s three-point play at the 7:21 mark.
Cook countered with a 3-pointer as the teams traded taking the lead.
Parker’s three-point play gave the Blue Devils a 60-58 lead. Parker blocked Gollon’s attempt in the lane on the next possession. Thornton converted three free throws for Duke after he was fouled on a 3-point attempt.
It turned out reminiscent to Duke’s last in-state NCAA Tournament game when the Blue Devils fell to Lehigh in 2012 in Greensboro in the same round.
Duke held a 35-34 halftime lead after building as much as a seven-point gap.
Duke connected on eight first-half 3-pointers, but Gollon’s 3 in the final minute gave the Bears seven consecutive points and a brief one-point edge.
Sulaimon hit two early 3-point baskets, and a third one for a 20-17 lead with 9:32 left in the half. His next 3 came a minute later.
Nwamu countered with 11 first-half points off the bench for Mercer.
The Blue Devils launched 21 of their 34 first-half shots from 3-point range. The first 10 offensive rebounds were also collected by Duke.
Parker was visibly shaken, tearful and trying to look ahead to what his future might be without Duke basketball Friday in the locker room 20 minutes after the loss.
He said, in a word, his freshman season was an “incompletion.”
Parker said the loss would impact his decision to either remain in school for his sophomore season or enter the 2014 NBA Draft. Parker is widely considered a top three pick in the June draft.
Krzyzewski said Thursday that Parker was still developing but was soon to be a star in the NBA.
“Jabari’s going to be an outstanding pro,” Krzyzewski said Thursday, comparing Parker to Carmelo Anthony.
NOTES: Mercer reserve C Monty Brown missed the second half with a concussion. He was seated on the bench with ear plugs for noise sensitivity. … Mercer is in the NCAA Tournament for the third time, but its first appearance since 1985. … Duke entered the game seeking its 100th all-time NCAA Tournament victory. … Duke assistant coaches Steve Wojciechowski and Nate James were players for the Blue Devils the last time they faced Mercer on Dec. 21, 1997.