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March 23, 2014

Stunning Duke a reason to party for Mercer fans

MACON, Ga. — When you look back years from now to the second day of spring 2014 and recall how Mercer University’s basketball team toppled the storied Blue Devils of Duke, 78-71, forever remember this:

There were hundreds, perhaps a thousand, maybe more, jammed into the middle of a blocked-off main thoroughfare at the edge of Mercer’s campus.

For the better part of three early-afternoon hours — on a workday Friday, mind you ‚ they rooted, groaned and screamed, and in the end they danced.

There, 200 or so paces from Interstate 75, they ebbed and flowed, at full throat one minute, worried the next. They were a swelling sea of Mercer pride, edge-of-their-seats inhabitants of an open-air Bear cave.

And they were watching the game on a 9-by-12-foot television screen perched on a forklift.

What better scene for a workmanlike win?

A signature win, the sports talkers will deem it — Mercer’s March Madness moment in a big, fat orange sun.

In the aftermath, CBS broadcaster Ernie Johnson Jr., a Georgia man himself, a former Macon TV-news anchorman no less, could be heard saying, “They are honking their horns down there on the Gray Highway.”

In the middle of Montpelier Avenue, a two-lane artery in the shadows of north-campus spires, they were doing far more.

Most of it legal.

One student, though, spoke of making good on a promise to the team. He said he’d informed the boys in orange and black, some of them classmates of his, that if they beat Duke in the NCAA tourney, college basketball’s circus big top, he would streak through Mercer Village — sans clothes.

And why not?

Fourteen-seed Mercer had just knocked off three-seed Duke, and it was almost too much to fathom.

People kept saying, “We beat Duke,” as if to remind themselves that it had happened, that they’d seen it.

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