Mercer Men’s Basketball is now 5-6 in SoCon after their last four games against Wofford College, East Tennessee State University and Samford University.
Mercer came into their last four games at 3-4 in the Southern Conference with a chance to go over .500 and take a higher seed. The Bears couldn’t make good on that chance after dropping two of their last four games.
The Wofford Terriers are the leader of the SoCon at 9 wins and 3 losses, and they proved their standing is no fluke in a Jan. 30 game against Mercer.
The Bears only led the game once with a score of 2-0. From there, the Terriers stormed out to an early lead.
Down by a score of 22-6 just 10 minutes into the game, the Bears couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with their layups or jump shots. The Bears hardly narrowed the gap by the half and ended up down 39-27 at the break.
Mercer managed to get something going behind Ross Cummings’s shooting, Leon Ayers III’s rebounding and Neftali Alvarez’s passing, reaching within 2 points of the Wofford lead in the second half.
Wofford kept the Bears’ late surge at a distance, though. The Terriers closed Mercer out with 2 consecutive trips to the free throw line where guard Ryan Larson sunk all 4 of his shots from the charity stripe.
The Bears managed to find and generate both defensive stops and offensive firepower in this game, but it was too little too late.
Despite finishing with 18 points, Ross Cummings took only 5 shots in the first half, which was far too little for Mercer’s leading scorer to help narrow the gap.
The Mercer bench was also fairly unproductive besides the scoring of Leon Ayers III, who notched 9 points on 4-9 shooting.
Starting Guard Neftali Alvarez was the Bears’ second leading scorer with 16 points, but shooting 6-16 and missing all 3 of his 3-point shots — along with 4 turnovers — did more harm than good despite his final point total.
Overall, the Bears couldn’t muster their offense early enough and no hope in stopping the snowballing power of the Terriers led to their defeat.
Wofford guard Tray Hollowell dropped 22 points with four 3-pointers on the Bears to lead Wofford to a 72-69 win.
East Tennessee State Buccaneers
The Bears fell once again to the ETSU Buccaneers in their Feb. 3 game.
Mercer started the game behind the Buccaneers but kept within striking distance by never falling behind by more than 7 points in the first half. The Bears led the game 40-32 at halftime.
Mercer managed to keep their lead all the way until ETSU forward Damari Monsanto hit a 3-point jumper to take the lead with 8 minutes left in the game. From there, ETSU kept Mercer at bay all the way until the final buzzer.
Mercer couldn’t find their range for much of the game, shooting 8-22 from the 3-point line.
Ross Cummings only took 9 shots in this game and only made 3 of them for a total of 8 points in the game.
While both Leon Ayers III and Neftali Alvarez had efficient days — scoring 13 and 17 points respectively — it wasn’t enough to keep Mercer afloat.
Behind 24 points from Damari Monsanto and 14 points from David Sloan, the Buccaneers took down the bears 70-64.
Samford Bulldogs @ Home
In a thrilling double overtime contest, the Mercer Bears triumphed over the Samford Bulldogs.
The Bears started the game hot, quickly going up 7-0 on the Bulldogs until a run by Samford pushed them into the lead 11-10.
Both teams fought back and forth until a short run by Mercer allowed the Bears to retain a 28-20 lead going into halftime.
Coming out of the locker room, Mercer guard Ross Cummings hit two 3-pointers to quickly put the Bears up 34-22 in a game that looked like it was trending Mercer’s way.
The Bulldogs, however, slowly chipped away at the lead until the final moments of the regulation where Mercer led 57-59.
Samford center Jacob Tryon hit a fadeaway jump shot to push the game into its first overtime with a score of 59-59.
The first overtime was a battle of layups and free throws as Mercer managed to keep themselves alive with 3 straight free throws from Jeff Gary to tie the game at 72 all.
In the second overtime, Mercer players Leon Ayers III, Neftali Alvarez and James Glisson III hit 2 free throws each toward the end of the period to hold Samford off.
Mercer won the game 89-82 off the back of Ross Cummings’ 25 points and Neftali Alvarez’s 18 points.
Samford Bulldogs @ Samford
The Bears traveled to Birmingham to face the Bulldogs this time and managed to defeat them in another overtime battle.
The Bears once again started hot, going up 9-1 in the first three minutes of the game.
They held this lead all the way until the 8:45 minute mark of the first half where A.J. Staton-McCray made a 3-point jumper to tie the game 20-20.
Samford managed to take and hold the lead into halftime with a score of 35-29.
Samford’s lead persisted until the 11:04 minute mark of the second half where James Glisson III tied the game 50-50 on a layup after an offensive rebound.
The two teams continued to dual back and forth until A.J. Staton-McCray hit 2 free throws to tie the game 66-66 in regulation.
Mercer had a chance to win it in regulation with 20 seconds remaining, but Neftali Alveraz turned the ball over.
In overtime, both teams ran cold and neither scored until the 2:40 minute mark where Alveraz hit a layup. Samford came right back with a score of their own, but two straight Mercer layups and a missed Samford 3-pointer forced the Bulldogs to begin the foul game.
Neftali Alvarez, Leon Ayers III, and Jeff Gary hit 2 free throws each to — once again — sink the Bulldogs in overtime.
Neftali Alvarez’s efficient 23 points on 10-14 shooting helped push the Bears to a 77-70 win.
Takeaways from the season so far
While volume does not necessarily mean efficiency, Ross Cummings needs to shoot the ball more.
Since Jan. 30, Cummings has scored 18 points, 8 points, 25 points and 13 points in his last four games.
Even in a 25-point effort, Cummings only took 13 shots and he sunk 6 of his 9 3-point attempts.
If Cummings gets going, Mercer has a much higher chance of winning their games, and low volume from Mercer’s leading scorer can only hurt the team.
In that same vein, the emergence of Neftali Alvarez as a capable point guard and scorer has been nice to see but his volume can sometimes be too high.
Alvarez has taken more shots than Cummings in three of the last four games.
This is not problematic when Alverez shoots 10-14 in a win like in the Samford game Feb. 10, but it is a problem when he shoots 6-16 in a loss like the Wofford game.
In the two games Mercer lost, their opponents shot better from the field and turned the ball over less.
If Mercer can increase the output for Ross Cummings, control rebounds to the best of their ability and decrease their opponents field-goal percentage, the SoCon conference title is still very much within reach.
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.