Mercer seniors leave a legacy

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The win over Duke still stands. And that, for Mercer's 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, will be what everyone remembers when the stories are retold. Not the Bears’ 83-63 loss to Tennessee, which advanced to the Sweet 16 to face Michigan.

Mercer’s disbelief had less to do with losing than the realization that the careers of seven seniors who played together the better part of four years were over.

"We had an amazing four years, those kinds of things stay in your mind forever," senior guard Langston Hall said. “You tell your kids, 'Back when I was playing in the NCAA, we beat Duke.’”

The Bears matched up favorably with No. 3 seed Duke and were able to lean on their experience to pull off the upset. From the outset on Sunday, the game took on a very different tone than the Bears’ win over the Vols last season in the NIT. Tennessee never trailed and Mercer found it difficult to keep its deficit around 10 points.

Mercer had no one who could match up with Tennessee’s pair of 6-foot-8, 260-pound forwards, Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon.

Stokes had outrebounded Mercer’s entire squad for most of the game. Stokes finished with 18 rebounds and 17 points. The Bears managed just 19 rebounds.

“Stokes was a man on the boards,” Hall said. “We tried to help with the bigs, he was throwing us all out of the way. He’s a load to handle.”

Maymon helped keep Mercer senior center Daniel Coursey from having much of a presence inside. Early in the game, the Bears resorted to launching 3-pointers before they ever got settled into a half-court flow.

“Their two bigs are absolutely enormous,” Coursey said. “They played a lot harder than last year [in the NIT]. I hope they win it all.”

Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said his seniors helping to win the Atlantic Sun title and beating Duke for the program’s first tournament victory left a legacy that has planted a seed for future teams.

“It’ll be hard to match what these guys accomplished,” Hoffman said. “There’s no doubt what these guys are going to be remembered for. They’re champions and they will always be champions.”

Coursey believed the words, but found them hard to accept in the wake of their loss to Tennessee. But he hopes he’ll come to appreciate the impact of the winningest class in school history.

“It’s kind of hard to realize,” Coursey said. “Hopefully when we go home and sit down a while and talk about it we realize what we’ve done has been pretty unbelievable.”