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Mercer creates home court advantage in Duke's backyard

By Chip Patterson | College Football/Basketball Writer

From the moment that Mercer took the court for shoot-around before their NCAA Tournament game against Duke on Friday, there was a sense of familiarity in the arena despite the site's close proximity to Duke University.

Mercer University didn't want the Bears to feel homesick in the program's first NCAA appearance in nearly three decades, so they brought the Mercer mania to Raleigh. As the team warmed up, the students repeated a now-familiar crowd favorite -- originating from Navy and recently spotted at Utah State: "I believe that we will win, I believe that we will win."

Confidence and familiarity were advantages that Mercer had over the talented Blue Devils in the second half. While the Bears, a group that starts five seniors and ran line changes to keep fresh bodies in the game, were attacking the rim on well executed offensive sets down the stretch, Duke settled for too many jump shots and committed too many head-scratching turnovers.

While the game did feel like Lehigh's upset of Duke in Greensboro two years ago, there was no C.J. McCollum in this game. Mercer's scoring was balanced -- five players finished in double figures, led by forward Jakob Gollon -- and each possession seemed to matter more to the Blue Devils. As a team, Duke connected on 35.5 percent of 62 field goals. Mercer, on the other hand, was 55.6 percent from the field on 25-of-45 shooting.

Much of the credit for Mercer's rowdy fan turnout goes to the administration. Students could purchase a ticket package for just $25 that included a game ticket, bus ride and hotel stay for the night. While many schools offer similar packages for their students, few allow those six (yes, six) bus loads of fans to have the best seats available next to the court.

When the door was shut on Mercer's season, the team ran to go celebrate with their fans. After all these years, the program had a victory in the NCAA Tournament. It was time to dance.

Kevin Canevari said he didn't dance much in high school, but "it just kinda caught on and it's something that really gets us going." Canevari's version of the "Nae Nae" will be one of the lasting images of this year's NCAA Tournament for the Cinderella memories the clip evokes.

"It's a huge win for us. It's a huge step for Mercer," said Canevari, a Charlotte native with family in town for the big game. "We haven't been here in 30 years as a school. Our goal was to get here and now that we're here we're not just satisfied with being here. We want to make a statement."

Hope to dance again, Kevin?

"Exactly, hope to dance again."

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