Well, shit. We tried, I guess.
It’s hard to put the Duke season into proper perspective right now, because today’s 78-71 upset defeat at the hands of 14-seeded Mercer is still pretty fresh. My first reaction was more of a playground anger, like, that wasn’t supposed to happen. Mercer was not supposed to do that.
But as the game kept going, and with Duke void of one of their patented 10-0 spurts, or whatever, it became progressively clearer that not only was Mercer not going anywhere, but that Duke was in big trouble.
Leading 60-58 with about 5 minutes (give or take) left, senior Blue Devil guard Tyler Thornton was fouled shooting a three, and he subsequently made every free throw to give Duke a five point advantage. At that point, I felt pretty secure.
But then Mercer kept making shots. Everything they did in that last 5 minutes… or, hell, really the entire second half… everything was working. The ball movement was efficient, the cuts were clean, and it just so turned out that the shots were falling, too. Duke, for their sake, didn’t actually play a bad game. They out-rebounded Mercer 35-27, shot 15-37 (40.1%) from 3-point range, but the achilles heel as it’s been all season long was a lack of defensive continuity. And in this game, the team they faced exploited them in the more crucial moments in the game. And for that, all a Duke fan can do is tip their hat to the better team.
For this Duke fan, an early loss in the NCAA tournament always stings a little. But after recent early exits against (11) VCU and (15) Lehigh, today’s departure didn’t exactly shock me, because there are certain points during these one-and-done matchups where you just check out 10 minutes of the game and say we just don’t have it today. The 50-50 balls are bouncing in the other team’s favor, they can’t seem to miss, and your guys just can’t get on a run. It, as they say, happens.
What really sucks, is that this was probably the last game of Jabari Parker, who is a surefire top-3 NBA draft pick. I enjoyed him while he was here, but bigger and better things lie ahead for him in the future, so these are the years you get to appreciate that that guy got to play on my team.