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No. 14 Mercer shocks No. 3 Duke in Round of 64

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source: AP
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Down goes Duke.

Jakob Gollob led five players in double figures with 18 points and No. 14 Mercer held Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker to a combined 6-for-24 shooting from the floor as the Bears handed the Blue Devils their second shocking Round of 64 upset in three years, 76-68. Duke lost to No. 15 Lehigh in the opening round as a No. 2 seed in 2012.

And with that, the celebration was on.

“You’re never too old to celebrate,” a fired up Bob Hoffman, Mercer’s head coach, told Rachel Nichols on CBS after the game. “Unbelievable what theses dudes believe about each other and they can accomplish. That’s the kind of heart it takes, and it’s amazing what they’ve done the last three years, believing at the highest level that they can accomplish what they did today.”

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The Bears shot 55.6% from the floor, taking full advantage of the issues that Duke has had defensively all season long. They attacked Hood and Parker in pick-and-roll actions, conceding offensive rebounds in exchange for taking away Duke’s transition game.

More important, however, was the job that the Bears did defensively. Hoffman did his homework. The way to beat Duke is to play a zone, force them to become a jump-shooting team and dare them to try and cram the ball into the paint. The Blue Devils hit 15 threes and they grabbed 16 offensive rebound, but as a team they shot just 35.5% from the field and got nothing out of their two stars. Parker didn’t touches in the post and Duke didn’t get the ball into the high post nearly enough. It was a constant theme this season — the same thing happened against Clemson, Notre Dame, Wake Forest and North Carolina — and it came back to bite the Blue Devils at the wrong time.

That said, this is a very good, and very motivated, Mercer team. They beat both Seton Hall and Ole Miss this season, losing by three at Texas and hanging with Oklahoma in Norman. They have seven seniors that had to sit home and watch the team that they beat out for last season’s Atlantic Sun regular season title, Florida-Gulf Coast, make a run to the Sweet 16.

You don’t think that that had been stewing inside them all offseason?

You don’t think that Hoffman reminded them of that fact in every single practice?

It’s not fun watching a team you believe you’re better than become a global phenomenon. Mercer wanted their moment in the sun, and they got it.

They’re advance to fact the winner of this afternoon’s game between No. 6 UMass and No. 11 Tennessee, two teams that the Bears are well-equipped to beat.

Just how far can Mercer go?

“With these guys?” Hoffman said. “I don’t know who’s beating us.”

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.