Mercer men’s basketball entered Thursday’s matchup with the Keydets of Virginia MIlitary Institute (9-20, 3-14 SoCon) riding a two game winning streak. All signs pointed to the Bears having finally found their rhythm and identity.
Well, the Bears (11-18, 6-11 SoCon) didn’t look like the same team on Thursday night. The energized and physical Mercer team that defeated Samford and Chattanooga in back-to-back games was nowhere to be found.
The Bears and Keydets both struggled to defend in the first half, and the result was the team’s combining to shoot 54 percent from the floor and making 14 total 3-pointers. It was an offensive explosion.
However, the second half was a completely different story. Mercer came out flat and never could seem to shake it off.
By the time the Bears started to find their energy again, it was far too late. The Keydets pulled away, and the Bears fell 84-71 on the road.
(1) Just when the Bears had momentum...
The Bears came out strong, but fell flat shortly after. If it wasn’t for eight first half 3-pointers, this game could have gotten ugly early. For a team that had won two straight games, they didn’t seem to have the same sense of urgency that they had in the previous games. Did they get complacent? I’m not sure. But they don’t have time to think about it, as they host one of the SoCon’s toughest teams, UNC-Greensboro, at Hawkins Arena in Saturday’s season finale.
(2) Not a good loss
Virginia Military Institute had not beaten Mercer since Feb. of 2016 when the Keydets beat the Bears 91-82. The Keydets entered Thursday’s game with a 2-14 conference record and a firm hold on last place in the SoCon. This was not a game that I, nor anybody, should have expected Mercer to lose. They needed this win, and they didn't get it. The loss makes Saturday’s matchup with UNC-Greensboro a near-must win.
(3) Where do we go from here?
This Mercer team just can’t seem to find itself, and they have just about run out of time. Are they slow, methodical defensive-minded team? Maybe. Are they a three-point shooting team that likes to run the floor? Who knows. The team’s lack of a true identity could prove to be deadly come the conference tournament. We can only hope that the team figures it all out in the next 10 days.
Player of the Game: Ethan Stair (No. 22)
- The junior guard scored a career-high 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting
- Stair knocked down a season-high five 3-pointers
- He also contributed three rebounds, one assist and a steal
(-) Head Coach Bob Hoffman on the team’s tough loss:
"They just played a lot harder than we did. Early on we had some opportunities to get some layups and some "and ones" but our big guys didn't finish the plays when we needed to. They had more energy for 40 minutes than we did and we weren't able to get it done.”
(-) Hoffman talks about the physical nature of the game:
It was a physical game; they were all over Ross (Cummings) the entire game and it's hard to get shots when people are on you like they were. The mindset and toughness in this kind of environment means that you have to be mentally tough and we weren't.
(-) Hoffman on what went wrong in the loss:
“They came at us and they had a better game plan than we did. We had some busts on offense late in the game when it was just a one possession game. We have a big game Saturday (against UNCG) and we need to be ready to play."