Mercer (26-8) vs. Duke (26-8)
03/21/2014 7:44 AM
03/21/2014 7:52 AM
GAME NOTES: Second-round NCAA Tournament action begins on Friday with a matchup featuring the 14th-seeded Mercer Bears taking on the third-seeded Duke Blue Devils at PNC Arena in Raleigh.
The winner of this clash will move on to the third round of the tournament, and will take on either Massachusetts or Tennessee.
Mercer won the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament by defeating last year's Cinderella story and rapidly growing national favorite Florida Gulf Coast, 68-60. The Bears got a scare in the second round of the conference tourney with a narrow 78-75 double-overtime victory over USC Upstate.
Duke started the year as one of the preseason favorites to take the national crown. Some hiccups along the way set the Blue Devils back, but they were still able to make it to ACC championship game where they were dropped by Virginia, 72-63. Still, they finished the season ranked eighth in the final poll.
This will be the fifth-ever meeting between Mercer and Duke, with the Blue Devils holding a 3-1 all-time series lead over the Bears.
Mercer took an enormous lead over Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun championship game back on March 9, as the Bears went into the locker room with a 16-point advantage. But at home, FGCU came roaring back, and "Dunk City" started showing signs of life. The Eagles cut the lead down to one point on several occasions, but in the stretch run Mercer was able to hold onto the lead. Langston Hall and Anthony White Jr. each scored 15 points in the contest to pace the Bears, with Hall adding seven rebounds and three assists to his stat line. Daniel Coursey chipped in with 13 points and seven boards, and Jakob Gollon added 12 points and six rebounds.
Hall was a dominant player for the Bears this season, especially in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Hall led the team with a 14.7 ppg scoring average, and dished out a team-best 5.6 apg mark. His 1.5 spg was another team high, and he connected on 85.7 percent of his free-throw attempts this year. Coursey was the next closest scorer to Hall's total, netting 9.9 ppg with a team-best 6.6 rpg average and another team-high 2.1 bpg margin. As a unit, Mercer scored 79.3 ppg through 34 contests played, and gave up just 66.4 ppg to opponents.
Duke had the misfortune of meeting up with Virginia's top-notch scoring defense in the ACC championship game on Sunday. It was the second time the two teams played this season, with Duke winning in the first matchup. This time around, Virginia held the Blue Devils to just 38.1 percent shooting from the floor and 63 total points. Jabari Parker netted 23 points for Duke, adding eight rebounds and two steals. Rodney Hood contributed 13 points and Amile Jefferson added 11. All five Blue Devils starters had at least four fouls in the contest, while Rasheed Sulaimon was driven from the game with five personal fouls.
Parker spent this season making his case as to why he should be the top overall selection in the upcoming NBA Draft. His numbers support that notion, as Parker topped the Blue Devils with 19.3 ppg, hitting 47.8 percent of his shot attempts from the floor. The freshman sensation also added a team-best 8.8 rpg average, 43 blocked shots and 36 steals. Hood came on strong as a second option, posting 16.4 ppg. Quinn Cook is a solid facilitator, at 11.3 ppg with a team-leading 149 assists. Duke is scoring 78.6 ppg as a team, and giving up just 67.1 ppg to opponents.
Mercer is a very good team coming from a small conference, which was put on the map by Florida Gulf Coast a year ago. However, to think the Bears will duplicate FGCU's success is a bit much, especially against an impressive Duke team looking to make a serious dent in the Midwest Region of the bracket. The Blue Devils have a legitimate chance to make it to the Final Four, and even beyond.
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