By Joedy McCreary AP Sports Writer
March 22, 2014
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — There once again wasn’t much “D” in Duke — and now there aren’t any Blue Devils in the NCAA tournament.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team was sent to its second one-and-done in three years Friday, losing 78-71 to Mercer in the second round of the Midwest Regional.
“I never thought this was going to happen,” said Duke star freshman Jabari Parker. “They didn’t look at it on paper. … From now on, that can’t happen anymore.”
It won’t. Duke’s season is over.
Maybe Parker’s college career, too.
He said he hasn’t decided anything, though it had long been assumed by outsiders that Duke was a one-year pit stop on his way to the NBA. Rodney Hood, a Mississippi State transfer, also could be headed to the pros after only one season playing for the Blue Devils.
“I thought I’d be playing after today,” Hood said.
So did most everyone else who filled out a bracket.
But some serious holes on defense allowed the Atlantic Sun champion Bears — who start five seniors and come from the same conference that produced 2013 tournament darling Florida Gulf Coast — to have their way with Duke.
Mercer shot 56 percent — 58 percent in the second half — and scored 11 consecutive points during the decisive 20-5 run.
“They’re a team that’s been together a long time,” Hood said. “They sliced us up. There’s no other way to put it.”
Quinn Cook scored 23 points and Rasheed Sulaimon added 20 for Duke, which made a season-high 15 3-pointers and 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.
Big man Daniel 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 Anthony White Jr.’s open 3 that tied it at 63 with 2½ minutes left.
Hood picked up his fourth foul on the Bears’ next possession and Jakob Gollon hit two free throws to put Mercer ahead for good.
By that point, Duke — in the midst of an untimely run of empty possessions — 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 and finished 23 of 28 from the line. Gollon was 6 for 6 during that late span, and his two with 5 seconds left put the Bears up 78-68 before Cook hit a meaningless 3 with 0.2 seconds remaining.
After the buzzer sounded, the Bears players formed a circle on the sideline closest to the Mercer fans 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. But it is a little bit surreal.”
Gollon scored 20 points and Coursey added 17 for Mercer. White finished with 13 points, and A-Sun player of the year Langston Hall and Ike Nwamu added 11 apiece for Mercer — which watched the last year’s Sweet 16 run by “Dunk City” with a mixture of pride and envy.
“This,” Hall said, “is what March Madness is all about.”
The 14th-seeded Bears — with a starting lineup of five seniors and from the same league that produced last year’s tournament darlings “Dunk City” of Florida Gulf Coast — came back from five points down in the last 4:52 as Duke’s offense collapsed.
Mercer qualified for its first NCAA tournament since 1985 by winning the Atlantic Sun conference championship over Florida Gulf Coast. 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,’” White said.
Now it is.