Saturday, December 16, 2017
Sports

Duke, tourney get Mercer's message

RALEIGH, N.C. — Thirty minutes had passed since the unthinkable had happened, barely enough time to process that Duke coach Mike Krzyzew­ski had just popped his head into the winning locker room to offer his admiration.

So Mercer forward Bud Thomas stood in a cramped hallway in PNC Arena, shaking his head in disbelief as he thumbed through his cellphone. It had never frozen like this before. "It just keeps saying 20-plus messages," he said. "I only got to read one of them."

An upset-filled NCAA Tournament received its biggest jolt yet Friday when No. 14 seed Mercer authored a stunning 78-71 victory over third-seeded Duke in a second-round matchup, wreaking havoc on brackets nationwide and giving March Madness its newest Cinderella story.

It was the second time in three years Duke (26-9) had lost to a double-digit seed in its opening game of the tournament.

"I love (basketball), and when the game's played really well, I hope it's us that's playing it," Krzyzewski said. "But when it's the other team, you applaud it. I applaud Mercer, and they were absolutely terrific (Friday).

"And they'll be tough to beat going forward."

Mercer (27-8), making its first tournament appearance since 1985, faces 11th-seeded Tennessee on Sunday after the Vols bested Massachusetts 86-67.

Mercer had Duke, playing just a short drive from the Blue Devils' campus, on the ropes all afternoon. The Atlantic Sun champion opened the contest by attempting an alley-oop, limited Duke stars Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood to 6 of 24 shooting and pulled away down the stretch with an 11-0 run.

This triumph was a year in the making for the only team in the country to start five seniors in every game this season. Mercer, in Macon, Ga., won the Atlantic Sun regular-season title in 2013 but was relegated to the NIT when Florida Gulf Coast, last year's NCAA Cinderella, won the conference tournament. "We were thinking that could be us," said point guard Anthony White, who hit a 3 that tied the score at 63 with 2:41 left after Duke had taken a five-point lead.

The Blue Devils went more than five minutes without a field goal as Mercer surged down the stretch. Parker (14 points) and Hood (six) didn't find a groove in what could have been their last college game, and though guard Quinn Cook finished with a game-high 23 points and guard Rasheed Sulaimon had 18 — the duo hit 12 of Duke's 15 three-pointers — the Bears had an answer every time.

Forward Jakob Gollon led a balanced Mercer attack with 20 points, including four free throws in the final 11 seconds to ice the game.

"It was a special day," coach Bob Hoffman.

Tennessee 86, UMass 67: Jarnell Stokes scored a career-high 26 and grabbed 14 rebounds as the Vols (23-12) got their most lopsided win in the tourney in seven years at Raleigh, N.C. No. 11 seed UT shot 54 percent from the field, led by 20 before halftime and used another strong defensive effort to shut down No. 6 UMass (24-9).

Wichita St. 64, Cal Poly 37: Cleananthony Early had 23 points and the Shockers faced no resistance in St. Louis, going to 35-0 for the best start in NCAA history. The region's No. 1 seed dominated against the only team with a sub-.500 record in the tournament. No. 16 Cal Poly (14-20), which won the Big West tournament, had 13 points in the first half, shot 21 percent and was held to a season low in points. Wichita State plays Kentucky on Sunday.

Kentucky 56, Kansas St. 49: In St. Louis, Julius Randle had 19 points and 15 rebounds, and Aaron Harrison scored 18 as eighth-seeded Kentucky (25-10) improved to 14-2 in the tournament under coach John Calipari. Marcus Foster had 15 points for ninth-seeded Kansas State (20-13).

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