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Strawberry’s game winner lifts Bears over Terriers in season finale

Desmond Ringer posts up with the ball against Wofford center Matthew Pegram.
Desmond Ringer posts up with the ball against Wofford center Matthew Pegram.

Wofford guard Trevor Stumpe pulled up for the jump shot with 15 seconds to go and drilled it, sinking the hearts of the Mercer faithful. Coach Hoffman called a timeout, attempting to draw up the perfect play to guide his team to victory.

“We actually changed the play right before we threw the ball in,” Hoffman explained after the game. “We put that play in about a week ago.”

The play was indeed perfect, as Bears guard Jordan Strawberry found himself wide open at the basket and laid in a dagger-like layup to lift the Bears to a 69-68 victory for their first win in Spartanburg, S.C. since joining the SoCon in 2014.

The senior guard finished the game with 21 points to lead all scorers, and also contributed six rebounds and six assists.

Trailing Strawberry’s 21 points was fellow senior Stephon Jelks with 12, as well as seniors Desmond Ringer and Demetre Rivers with 10 points a piece.

The game started off slow for both squads, as Mercer and Wofford were unable to find their rhythms offensively. Mercer went on an 8-0 run late in the first half to secure a 32-25 lead, but Wofford responded with a 5-0 run of their own to cut the Bears lead to 32-30 going into halftime.

The second half started off with the Terriers making a run of their own, outscoring Mercer 15-6 through the opening five minutes to take a 45-38 lead, their largest of the game. This time it was Mercer’s turn to respond, and they did just that.

Mercer stretched out a 12-2 run to take a 50-47 lead with 11 minutes to go, mostly off of nine Jordan Strawberry points early in the second half.

From then on out, the game would go back-and-forth with the two teams swapping momentum at every turn. Despite Mercer leading for nearly 65 percent of the game, the Bears were never able to put the gritty Terriers away on their home floor.

The final minute saw both teams consuming each second of their allotted shot clock. After a Desmond Ringer miss gave the Terriers the ball back with under 30 seconds to go, Wofford called a timeout to try and draw up the winning play. The rest is history.

The Bears finished the game shooting an even 50 percent from the floor, and hitting seven shots from beyond the arc. The Bears hit 14-of-15 free throw attempts compared to just 6-of-9 for the Terriers, providing Mercer with an important cushion throughout the afternoon.

Mercer finishes the season on an eight game win streak, improving their record to 18-13 and 11-7 in the SoCon.  The Bears have secured the #4 seed in the SoCon tournament next weekend, and will face a familiar opponent in the quarterfinals matchup.

Yes, that’s right; the Bears and Terriers are now locked in for a matchup in just under one week’s time in the quarterfinals of the SoCon tournament. The Bears swept the season series over the Terriers, but in the SoCon tournament, anything can happen.

“This team just believes in each other and they have consistently maintained their hope even though we might have been struggling during the early part of the conference season,” Hoffman said. “I'm just thankful that these guys are able to experience this now. Our guys are believing at a high level right now.”

The SoCon tournament kicks off on Mar. 2 at 5 p.m. (ET) from Asheville, N.C, but the Mercer Bears will not play until Saturday Mar. 3 at 2:30 p.m. (ET). The games will air live on ESPN3, and as always, you can tune into Mercer Sports Radio Network for live radio coverage.


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