RALEIGH, N.C. — Just before the opening tip, the large, rowdy crowd of Mercer fans shot off orange and white streamers, chanting “I believe that we will win.” The chant was repeated with three minutes left in the game and Duke clinging to a three-point lead.
And the Mercer fans were right. The No. 14 seed Bears, with their five starting seniors, did beat the No. 3 Blue Devils, ending a season that began with so much promise. The final act for Duke: a 78-71 loss in the round of 64. The Blue Devils became the 18th No. 3 seed to drop their opening-round game to a No. 14. This is also the second time in three years that Duke lost its first game of the NCAA tournament to a double-digit seed.
“We just didn’t finish down the stretch,” Rasheed Sulaimon said, as he sat on the floor, elbow propped up on a chair, staring straight ahead. “And that’s the story of our season.”
It was. The Blue Devils (26-9) led 63-58 with 4:52 to go, after Tyler Thornton hit three free throws. That was Duke’s largest lead of the half. And then Mercer (27-8) went on an 11-0 run.
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“It’s definitely a surreal feeling, man,” senior Mercer guard Langston Hall said. “This is what March Madness is about, really.”
Mercer shot 55.6 percent and it made 62.5 percent of its attempts from two-point range.
“We’re a very unconventional team this year in that the only time we had an inside presence is if Jabari (Parker) was really strong inside, and he did that a lot,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “But that’s not really what he does. That’s not his strength. And so we’re always not real strong inside.”
The Bears (27-8) will play 11th-seeded Tennessee on Sunday.
“We’re a very veteran team,” said Jakob Gollon, who scored 20 points for Mercer “We’ve been saying it all week, every time everybody’s asking us about that kind of stuff. We’ve got a lot of seniors and a lot of high-character seniors.”
Tennessee 86, Massachusetts 67
RALEIGH, N.C. — Massachusetts never found its rhythm in its first NCAA tournament game since 1998, from the Minutemen’s stymied offense to their inability to harass Tennessee into mistakes with their pressure.
The sixth-seeded Minutemen (24-9) fell behind by double figures early, trailed by 20 points before halftime and never got closer than 10.
“Probably like a lot of people had jitters,” said sophomore Derrick Gordon, the only UMass player with NCAA experience from his previous stop at Western Kentucky. “I had a little jitters myself.”
Jarnell Stokes scored a career-high 26 points for Tennessee (23-12).
Wichita State 64, Cal Poly SLO 37
ST. LOUIS — Cleananthony Early had 23 points and the unbeaten Shockers faced no resistance from Cal Poly, going to 35-0 for the best start in NCAA history with a rout of the Mustangs (14-20).
Kentucky 56, Kansas State 49
ST. LOUIS — Julius Randle had 19 points and 15 rebounds, Aaron Harrison finished with 18 points, and No. 8 seed Kentucky (25-10) beat No. 9 seed Kansas State (20-13) to earn a date with top-seeded Wichita State.