Perhaps Coach Krzyzewski should have been more worried about the Atlantic Sun than the Atlantic 10. Perhaps he should have known that he was going up against a team that knows how to play because they have been doing it for so long.
At halftime, the Duke coach said, "They played like men. They are men." Twenty minutes later, those men had defeated his highly ranked Blue Devils, 78-71.
Coack K couldn't have been more right about the Mercer Bears. This was one of the most experienced teams in the country, used to playing together. This was a team that started five seniors all season long, and that looked very early this season like they should be beating the world in the NCAA Tournament.
They were the first pick to be in our Cinderella Watch, with no thought given to anyone else. This was a team that we thought could beat anyone in the NCAA Tournament with their experience and ability to shoot the ball.
They aren't small. They aren't young. They aren't scared to be out there.
They aren't flashy either, not like conference rival Florida Gulf Coast was in their romp to the Sweet 16. They just execute, and execute well.
Whether it was Langston Hall threading the needle to Daniel Coursey, or Darious Moten standing up on defense, or everyone standing in the way of Jabari Parker and Rasheed Sulaimon as they drove to the hoop, this was a team that just put it all together for one amazing afternoon.
Here is your proof:
The Bears shot 55.6 percent from the floor. The Bears assisted on 16 of their 25 baskets, or 64 percent. The Bears shot 38.5 percent from 3-point range, only taking the shots when they were open.
About the only thing that Mercer couldn't do was rebound on offense, but they didn't have to against Duke, because the Bears defense was that good, holding Duke to just 35.5 percent shooting and forcing the Blue Devils to play like the undersized team, the team with the double-digit seed next to their name.
Duke took 37 3-point shots, and needed every one of the 15 they made to make this look like a game. They were beaten every step of the way.
In that same halftime speech, Coach K said his team played young, and that they did, with the Blue Devils best player, Jabari Parker, getting into foul trouble early in the second half. The Blue Devils struggled to help on defense while at the same time, the Bears had no trouble closing the gap and stopping the blue and white charge.
America stopped and paid attention because the name on the losing side was Duke. They were treated to and fell in love with the Mercer Bears, the team that few people saw coming. Not even the coach on the other side of the court.
But at least he knew what to do when he was beaten. The coach took his solemn face into the Bears locker room and spoke frankly with the victors.
"If we got beat," he reportedly said. "At least we got beaten by a hell of a basketball team."
Yeah, this team is that good, to draw that praise someone who knows what good basketball teams look like. He has had a few over the years.
And Mercer looks good enough to continue this past just Friday afternoon.