RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Mercer’s seniors carved up all those high-school All-Americans from Duke. Another double-digit seed – Tennessee – pounced on bewildered Massachusetts right from the tip and never let up.
Flukes? No way.
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”Everybody was calling us underdogs,” Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said. ”I told them before we ran out, `Let’s be super dogs.”’
In the game of the tournament so far, 14th-seeded Mercer knocked off third-seeded Duke 78-71 on Friday before the 11th-seeded Volunteers – perhaps with a jolt of momentum from their First Four victory – rolled past UMass 86-67.
Some semblance of order was restored in the evening session, though Coastal Carolina threw quite a scare into top-seeded Virginia, going up by 10 points in its attempt to become the first No. 16 seed to take down a No. 1.
The Cavaliers regrouped and beat the Chanticleers 70-59.
The Duke team that the Cavs beat in the ACC title game a few days earlier? Nowhere near as fortunate.
Mercer – which comes from the Atlantic Sun Conference, the league that produced 2013 tournament darling Florida Gulf Coast – reeled off 11 straight points during the late 20-5 run that gave the Bears a double-figure lead on a Duke team that entered with legitimate Final Four hopes.
And they did it with precision and poise, not with any fluky shots or cheap tricks.
Forget simply making the extra pass. These Bears routinely made one more than that, and it often led to a basket – such as the quick, around-the-horn ball rotation that set up the 3-pointer from Anthony White Jr. that made it 63-all with just under 3 minutes left.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called that ”the biggest shot of the game” because ”we played really good defense on that, and they showed the maturity that they have where they, all of a sudden, they can look at all their options, and he was it.”
That might have been it for Duke stars Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, both of whom project as lottery picks in the NBA draft. They were a combined 6 of 24 for 20 points – 14 fewer than they average together – and neither was ready to declare his future intentions.
What Mercer had in shock value, Tennessee matched in sheer one-sidedness.
The Volunteers claimed their most lopsided NCAA tournament win in seven years with their 19-point thumping of UMass. That earned them a third-round rematch with Mercer, which beat Tennessee in last year’s NIT.
”They beat Duke,” the Vols’ Jeronne Maymon said. ”They can beat anybody.”
Jarnell Stokes scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for Tennessee, which shot 54 percent and led by 20 before halftime.
The Volunteers have won seven of eight with the only loss in that span coming to No. 1 overall seed Florida in the Southeastern Conference tournament. They beat Iowa in a First Four matchup two nights earlier.
”They understand and I guess they realize when you defend at the level we’re capable of defending at, these are the results behind it,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said.
Memphis became the day’s first favorite to win in Raleigh when the eighth-seeded Tigers held on to beat No. 9 seed George Washington 71-66 in an East Regional game.
Coach Josh Pastner’s team never trailed, but couldn’t push its lead past 10 despite holding GW to 2-of-12 shooting from 3-point range and getting 19 points from Michael Dixon Jr., the American Athletic Conference’s sixth-man of the year.
The Tigers are halfway toward reaching the goal set by guard Geron Johnson. After Memphis was knocked out of the AAC tournament last week – and before he knew who the opponents might be – Johnson guaranteed his team would win two games in the NCAAs.
To make that happen, they’ll have to go through the Cavaliers.
Virginia trailed 35-30 at halftime before displaying the form that had carried them to the program’s first No. 1 NCAA tournament seed since the days of Ralph Sampson. The Cavaliers shot 65 percent (13 for 20) in the second half while locking down on the Chanticleers, holding them to 32 percent (8 for 25).
The game was tied with about 9 minutes left before the Cavaliers took control with a 23-7 run.
”Everybody was pointing fingers at halftime,” said reserve Anthony Gill, who scored 17 points. ”But in the second half, we really just decided to play for each other like we’ve been doing all year. If we do that, it’ll pay off.”
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