Mercer men’s basketball started off the season red-hot winning their first six games. The Bears then lost four of their next five before winning another three games in a row. In their last three games, the team showed promise for the future — but also a worrying trend.
The Bears downed The Citadel by a score of 83-63 in their game Jan. 20. The Citadel never led the entire game with Mercer storming out to a 9-2 lead in the first two minutes without missing a shot. From there, Mercer kept The Citadel at a distance until the Bulldogs tied the game at 13-13 with 15 minutes to go in the first half.
Mercer’s leading scorer Ross Cummings found himself in foul trouble seven minutes into the game which led to Leon Ayers III getting more minutes. Ayers III quickly scored 10 points, including assisting on a Felipe Haase three-point shot, to put the Bears up 28-19 early. Scores from Neftali Alvarez and Ayers IIII, along with a Maciej Bender free throw, pushed the Bears further up 37-24.
The Bears’ run continued until the half where they led 52-38. Ayers III ended the half shooting 100% from the field with 23 points.
The second half was largely similar to the first, as Mercer continued to beat down The Citadel until the end of the game with a final score of 83-63.
Ayers III ended the game with a career high 23 points and four of the five Mercer starters — Felipie Haase, Maciej Bender, Neftali Alvarez and Ross Cummings — ended up scoring in double figures.
In the next game Jan. 23, the Bears took on the Virginia Military Institute Keydets. This game was a lot closer than the bout against The Citadel, despite VMI being a team being near .500 on the season.
Cummings and Haase scored 22 and 23 points respectively along with 18 points from Ayers III, leading the Bears to a victory. Both Cummings and Hasse crossed the 10 point threshold in the first half with the Bears leading 45-38 at halftime.
The Keydets stayed in the game and wouldn’t go away until the final minutes before back-to-back threes from Hasse finally put the game out of reach.
Hasses’s 23 points were a career high, and his scoring helped Mercer to their third win in a row. The final score was 83-80.
Mercer’s next game was supposed to be against Samford, but COVID-19 complications led to a cancelation. Instead, Mercer drove up to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to play the Spartans Jan. 27.
The Bears ended up driving back home with a loss. Despite the disappointing result, Hasse continued his hot streak and led the team with 17 points, including five three-point makes on six shots.
The Bears’ loss to UNC Greensboro was partially due to the Spartans’ ability to chase the Bears off the three-point line. Mercer took 14 three-point shots but only made seven. Those fourteen three-point attempts were a season low for the Bears.
On paper, 50% is good, but the lack of volume from a team like Mercer who prides themselves on the three-point shot is worrying. Additionally, the Bears were outplayed by the Spartans on the boards. UNCG had 36 rebounds to Mercer’s 24. The Bears had 17 less shots because of that gap.
Rebound problems combined with UNCG’s Isaiah Miller racking up 22 points on 11-22 shooting led to a Spartans win by a score of 81-68.
Mercer has lost every game where the opponent scores 81 points or more. Despite being a strong three-point shooting squad, the Bears have had trouble against defensively competent and offensively powerful teams.
Mercer also has four wins and four losses when shooting under 40% from three, while they have six wins and one loss when shooting over 40% from the three-point line, according to Sports-Refrence.com.
It’s entirely possible for the Bears to get an NCAA tourney bid without winning the Southern Conference, but they have the talent and tools to gain the automatic bid and the championship.
The Bears will continue SoCon play with crucial games against Samford and others to begin February.
Keith Holmes Jr. ‘22 is a journalism and creative writing double major who has worked with The Cluster as general staff since his Sophomore year. Keith has received Best in SNO awards for his sports articles along with years of work at Mercer’s ESPN3 branch. Keith spends his free time playing video games and writing fiction around campus.