As Daniel Fowler glided down the court with the clock ticking under 10 seconds, he lifted from just outside the key and silenced Hawkins Arena as the ball swished through the net and slashed Mercer’s hopes.
The Bears (11-13, 5-6) dropped another close loss Thursday to Furman (15-8, 8-2) 70-68 after Fowler lifted the Paladins to their fifth-straight win.
Led by Ria’n Holland’s 14 points, the Bears took a 38-35 lead into the half; Mercer opened the game 4-of-17 from the field but went on to make nine of its next 13 shots to hold the three-point lead.
Mercer led 52-43 with more than 12 minutes remaining after holding Furman scoreless for five minutes, but the Paladins caught fire and shot 4-of-8 from the 3-point line the remainder of the game.
The Bears held a small lead until Furman took its first lead with more than two minutes remaining at 66-63; it was the first time Furman led since late in the first half.
After the Paladins missed two one-and-one opportunities leading 68-67 with less than a minute remaining, Jordan Strawberry went to the free-throw line with 11 seconds remaining.
Strawberry missed the first but made the second to tie the outing before Fowler’s jumper with 2.3 seconds remaining granted Furman a two-point lead. Holland received a look at a 3-pointer at the buzzer but couldn’t make it fall as the Bears went the final six minutes without a field goal.
STARS OF THE GAME:
Ria’n Holland: The Bears’ leading scorer continued his strong play Thursday, leading Mercer with 18 points and 2-of-5 shooting from the 3-point line.
Fowler: On top of nailing the game-winning shot, Fowler led the Paladins with 18 points on 3-of-4 shooting from the 3-point line and a team-high five rebounds.
Jordan Strawberry: The guard helped lead the Bears early in the second half and finished with 11 points. He was the only other Mercer player with double-digit points.
STATS THAT POP:
Lack of efficient shooting: Because of their struggles down the stretch, the Bears shot only 37.7 percent from the field. Furman dominated from the field in the second half (60 percent to Mercer’s 30.4 percent) as it finished 53.3 percent.
Controlling the key stats… but not the win column: The Bears controlled the rebounding (32 to 24), turnover (13 to 16) and free-throw battle (19-of-22 to 10-16) but could not grab the victory.
Thursday night on the (down)town: Both teams shot over 40 percent from the 3-point line. The teams traded 3-point shots midway through the second half as Furman finished 12-of-26 (46.2 percent) and Mercer finished 9-of-22 (40.9 percent).
Streak halted for Bears: Mercer was riding a three-game win streak before the loss; with the win, Furman increases its winning streak to five games as it sits atop the SoCon.
(1) Oh, so close. Again
Mercer is 3-7 in one-possession games. The loss to Furman marks the seventh loss this season by two points or less. At some point, the trend has to change, right?
(2) Holland and Strawberry creating
The dynamic frontcourt of Holland and Strawberry proved to be effective Thursday, especially late in the first half and early in the second half. The guards made something out of nothing on several offensive possessions, such as when Holland drained two 3-point shots in the face of a defender. Strong guards who can create bodes well for the Bears come postseason play.
(3) The momentum can still continue
Even though this is a devastating loss for the Bears at home, it doesn’t completely demolish their momentum. After winning three straight and playing SoCon-leading Furman to the wire, Mercer can still bounce back with a win Saturday against Wofford and keep itself in good position entering the conference tournament.
Holland on the end of the game: “[Furman] hit big shots. We had some breakdowns defensively down the stretch. They executed well and hit big shots.”
Holland on moving on to next game (Wofford): “We have a quick turnaround. We’ll be back at practice [Friday], then we’ll see what Wofford has and try to execute against them.”
Holland on another close loss: We’ve been close all year long. About three times, down the stretch, we’ve closed some games by pushing ourselves ahead. We just have to keep seeing what we need to do down the stretch to close these games.
Hoffman on struggling over last six minutes: “We just didn’t make a shot. We were trying to run a bunch of different things. It was a really physical game. We finally got to the free-throw line at the end, but there was a lot of bumping and grinding going on. It became more and more physical as the second half went on.”
Hoffman on team: “I know how hard they’re playing. [There are] lots of people doubting these guys, and that’s the wrong thing to do because they’re amazing young men that are trying really hard to do the right thing together and get over the hump, and we just haven’t been able to do it yet.”
Furman connects on game-winning shot with 2.3 seconds left to down Mercer