Commentary

How Mercer pulled off the upset

Bears came to play, while Duke's reliance on outside shooting backfired.

Updated: March 21, 2014, 4:33 PM ET
By Dick Vitale | ESPN.com

There are a number of factors that lead to upset city in the Big Dance. Duke found that out on Friday in Raleigh.

The 14th-seeded Mercer Bears stunned the Blue Devils 78-71. Give Bob Hoffman's team a lot of credit for rallying from a 63-58 deficit with under five minutes left to pull off the upset.

There is so much parity in college basketball today. The lower-seeded teams are very competitive. Look at Harvard and North Dakota State on Thursday, and now Mercer. They have quality players and often have balance. They don't lose the one-and-done players, and that continuity is a factor.

[+] EnlargeJabari Parker
Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY SportsJabari Parker was 4-of-14 from the field, including 0-for-3 from 3-point range.

Free throw shooting is often vital in an upset. Mercer made 11 more free throws in a seven-point victory. The Bears were more aggressive inside, and Duke was so perimeter-oriented.

The 3-point shot has revolutionized the sport, but when you live by the 3, you can also die by the 3. The Blue Devils shot 15-of-37 from beyond the arc, and just 7-for-25 on 2-point attempts. You need greater balance to have success. Forward Amile Jefferson is a factor when Duke is most effective on offense; he made one field goal Friday.

When a three-star player performs like a five-star athlete, and the five-star player slips a few notches, you have the ingredients for a shock city upset. Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood combined to shoot 25 percent from the field. Mercer's Jakob Gollon, who averages just under eight points per game during the regular-season, was more like the five-star athlete with 20 points.

Then there is balance. The Bears had five players in double figures. Langston Hall, the leading scorer during the regular season, was held to 11 points. He found other ways to contribute, dishing out five assists, including a big one late that led to a three-point play by Daniel Coursey.

I have a simple question. How many players on Mercer's roster were recruited by Duke? Coursey, for example, was recruited by the likes of Jacksonville, Murray State, Colgate and Harvard, as well as all of the U.S. service academies. He had 17 points against Duke on Friday.

This win says something about the Atlantic Sun Conference. Mercer beat Florida Gulf Coast in the conference final to advance to the Big Dance. You may remember FGCU, aka Dunk City, for its upsets of Georgetown and San Diego State as a No. 15 seed last year.

Duke suffered a bitter ending to a solid season. It is reminiscent of a few years back, when the Blue Devils were stunned by 15th-seeded Lehigh.

I know the fans in Macon, Ga., have to be jumping for joy. The Bears' first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1985 is already a successful one.

Dick Vitale

College Basketball analyst
Dick Vitale, college basketball's top analyst and ambassador, joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season. His thorough knowledge of the game is brought forth in an enthusiastic, passionate style. Vitale also contributes columns to ESPN.com.

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