Mercer’s men’s basketball team fell in the Southern Conference Championship Game on Sunday, losing to the University of North Carolina Greensboro by a score of 69-61.
Mercer was able to keep pace with the top-seeded UNCG Spartans for the majority of the game, but fell behind in the final minutes and could not recover. Mercer Head Coach Greg Gary said that missing crucial late shots led to the Bears’ demise.
“I know we had good looks,” Gary said. “We gotta knock them down, and unfortunately we didn't knock them down today. But we're going to be here again, and guys got to learn from it.”
With the game tied at 58-58 with just four minutes remaining, Mercer allowed eight unanswered UNCG points, making the score 66-58 at the 1:15 mark. The Spartans missed several late free throws to keep the Bears in the game, but Mercer failed to hit a single shot from the field for the remainder of the game and ended the evening with a close loss.
The Bears were tasked with keeping up with a quick UNCG offense that was captained by Southern Conference Player of the Year Isaiah Miller. Miller scored 25 points on 10-20 shooting from the field, capitalizing on Mercer’s mistakes throughout the game.
“We just made some silly mistakes at the end and (you can’t do that) against good teams,” Gary said. “And you got Isaiah Miller out there that makes plays, winning plays, and we just needed to get more of them.”
On the offensive side, James Glisson and Leon Ayers III both scored 16 points, followed by Felipe Haase’s 13 points and 10 rebounds. Despite the well-distributed scoring, the Bears could not control the basketball, surrendering 18 turnovers throughout the game.
Ross Cummings, who has been a leading scorer for the Bears all season, struggled during the game. He finished with just 5 points in the final game of his career for Mercer.
The championship loss comes after a Mercer streak during the tournament consisting of three consecutive wins, including an upset over the No. 2 Wofford Terriers in the quarterfinal round. This was the Bears’ first ever appearance in the Southern Conference championship game since joining the conference in 2015.
The Bears will say farewell to departing senior Cummings and hope to retool for the 2021-22 season following the tournament exit.
Micah Johnston ‘22 is a journalism and media studies double major who has written for The Cluster since his freshman year at Mercer. He has written on and reported for Georgia Public Broadcasting, The Macon Telegraph and The Macon Newsroom on a variety of topics. He received the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Junior Honors Award for the 2020-2021 academic year. Micah’s other interests include obsessively following Braves and Mariners baseball, constantly listening to all kinds of music and probably eating junk food.