Just when you thought there couldn’t be anymore huge upsets in the NCAA tournament, Mercer and Stephen F. Austin came around. The upsets continued on a big day two as the original field of 68 pared its way down to 32 as teams now move into the third round to see who will make it to the Sweet Sixteen.
Mercer, the champions of the Atlantic Sun regular season and conference tournament played brilliantly, shooting 56 percent from the floor as they pulled quite possibly the biggest upset of the postseason – a 78-71 win over third-seeded Duke.
The Bears are the only team in the tournament that started five seniors the entire season and the experience showed. Jakob Gollon led Mercer with 20 points and five rebounds, but it was over when 6-10 center Daniel Coursey took a feed from leading scorer Langston Hall scored on a dunk and was fouled with just 1:07 to play. Coursey hit the free throw to give Mercer a 68-63 lead.
Duke’s inexperience showed and the Blue Devils didn’t shoot all that well either (22-of-62, 35.5 percent). Quinn Cook came off the bench to hit 7-of-10 from behind the arc and lead Duke with 23 points. Fabulous freshman Jabari Parker managed 14 points and seven rebounds.
It’s the second year in a row that an Atlantic Sun team won a first-round game. Last year, it was Florida Gulf Coast which, a No. 15 seed, beat Georgetown in the opener and then San Diego State to reach the Sweet Sixteen. Mercer faces No. 11 seed Tennessee, which upset No. 6 UMass, 86-67.
The second day of the tourney finished with another beauty. Twelfth-seeded Stephen F. Austin pulled one of the most improbable upsets in tournament history with a 77-75 win over Virginia Commonwealth in overtime Friday.
VCU, which understands upsets having gone to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed in 2011, was in control of the game late until a SFA run got them back in it. Leading by three, VCU’s Jordan Burgess missed a pair of free throws with ten seconds left in the game. The Lumberjacks of SFA worked the ball to Desmond Haymon who launched an off-balance three-pointer. It went in…and he was fouled.
After Haymon calmly made the free throw, SFA took over in overtime to advance to play fourth-seed UCLA for a shot at the Sweet Sixteen. Jacob Parker scored 22 points to lead SFA, which now has the nation’s second-longest winning streak at 29 games.
Tournament play continues Saturday and Sunday as teams battle to reach the Sweet Sixteen.