Mercer fans revel in victory vs. Duke

MACON -- Kelly Sullivan would have settled for a good showing.

Few people expected the Mercer Bears to pull off an upset win Friday afternoon against No. 3-seed Duke in the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament, least of all Sullivan, a Duke fan by birth.

Imagine her surprise when the Bears, making their first appearance in the tournament since 1985, downed the perennial powerhouse.

“It was insane,” said the 21-year-old Mercer senior, who watched the game at a Mexican restaurant close to her school’s main campus in Macon. “People were standing on tables. Everyone was screaming and doing the Mercer cheer. It was really exhilarating.”

Mercer’s victory was the talk not just of its two campuses, in Atlanta and in Macon, but the nation. In Macon, they were gearing up for the biggest social event of the year — the two-week-long Cherry Blossom Festival.

“I did not think what happened was going to happen,” said Nellie Daley, who graduated from the school last year.

Hundreds were on the downtown streets Friday afternoon, thanks to the festival and the Bears.

Melanie Wilder, who was eating dinner at the Rookery on Cherry Street, said she attended the University of Georgia, but as a Macon native, she often supports Mercer. She listened to the game on the radio and waited for Duke to pull ahead.

Then she realized the Bears might win. With one minute and seven seconds left in the game, she burst into her boss’ office and turned on the television. “Who would’ve thought?” she said. “Mercer came to play.”

From here on, it should be smooth sailing, said her husband, Bo Wilder. “My theory is, if they get past Duke, they should go to the Final Four.” At least, that’s how he picked it on his tournament bracket.

Dr. David Parish, chair and professor of the department of community medicine at Mercer’s medical school, said he didn’t realize the game was going on. Then he saw a dozen or so first-year medical students, usually engrossed in their studies, gathered around a TV set in a conference room. He knew then something out of the ordinary was going on.

They might not be able to watch the whole tournament, he said. But he was happy they got to see Mercer’s win.

“I don’t think anybody would’ve been disappointed if we lost but just played well,” he said.

Kim Williams and LaTanja Johnson, both Macon natives, were downtown, waiting on a Cherry Blossom concert to start. Both watched Friday’s game.

To those who ask her if the win came as a surprise, Williams gives an incredulous look. “Did you think Duke was going to beat Mercer?” she asked.

It was never going to happen, Johnson said. And “the next round, Tennessee, (Mercer is) going to beat them,” she said. “You have to root for the hometown team.”