RALEIGH — It is a testament to the basketball program at Duke that a 26-win season feels like a major disappointment. Give the Charlotte 49ers 26 wins and Alan Major would get another contract extension.
But the fact remains that Duke really didn’t have a good year by Duke standards. There was most obviously the round-of-64 loss Friday, in which No. 14 seed Mercer outscored Duke 20-8 in the final 4 minutes, 52 seconds.
But Duke also couldn’t win the ACC regular-season or tournament titles. The Blue Devils have now made the Final Four only once in the past decade, and in that same time span have failed to get out of the first NCAA tournament weekend four times.
• Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski noted in his news conference that Mercer’s team was full of “men,” and nowhere was that more apparent than when Jabari Parker went against Mercer forward Jakob Gollon (who had a game-high 20 points). Parker just turned 19 years old. Gollon, a sixth-year senior who already has a master’s degree, will turn 25 in November.
• Undoubtedly the coolest play Mercer made in its upset was the full-court, home run chest pass thrown by the Bears’ Bud Thomas to teammate Anthony White to beat Duke’s full-court press for a layup. The score was 69-66, Mercer, with 46 seconds left and the game very much in doubt. That’s the sort of play a senior-oriented, very smart team can make.
• Mercer played and beat Tennessee by eight points in the 2013 NIT, so the Bears certainly won’t be intimidated by the Volunteers on Sunday in the teams’ NCAA round-of-32 game. This one will have more fans, however. That NIT game drew only 4,468 fans to 21,678-seat Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.
• If Mercer is going to beat Tennessee, it will need an answer for Jarnell Stokes. The 6-foot-8, 260-pound forward went for 26 points and 14 rebounds against UMass on Friday.
Fowler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @scott_fowler