Two seniors from the Mercer men’s basketball team participated in a national three-on-three basketball tournament the weekend of March 30. Stephon Jelks and Ria’n Holland traveled to San Antonio to compete in the Dos Equis 3x3U National Championship. The tournament was open to college seniors who have exhausted their eligibility to continue playing basketball. The teams consisted of four players from nearly every Division One conference in the NCAA. Teams could earn $1,000 per win in pool play and bracket play. The team to win the tournament won an additional $50,000 to split evenly between the teammates. “It was cool. Just seeing them give us $100 when we first got there I was like, ‘It’s already a win,’” said Stephon Jelks. “Each game if you won, they gave you a bag with 1,000 ones in it and teams would just throw it up in the air and things like that.” Jelks’ and Holland’s team consisted of themselves, Alex Thompson of Samford University and Marvin Smith of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. They battled teams from the Big 10, Big South and Conference USA. Each game was really tight, but the Southern Conference lost each of their three games by a combined six points. Jelks hurt his hand in the first game versus the Big Ten so the Southern Conference Squad played without a sub for all three games. “It’s just a different type of game. It’s not like five on five. It’s really fast paced. A lot of consistent movement, a lot of running,” said Jelks. Teams from other smaller conferences performed extremely well, upsetting bigger, more well-known conferences. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, comprised of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, beat the ACC with a buzzer beater on day one and followed it up with a win over the Western Athletic Conference. The Southwestern Athletic Conference, another HBCU centric conference, handled the Big 12 easily and then beat the Colonial Athletic Conference. “Almost every game I saw was competitive. No matter what conference you were in, you were able to compete and get stuff done,” Holland said. “It was intense.” Even though the games were only three-on-three, the energy and fervor of college basketball fans was not any less exciting. “It was really electrifying actually,” Jelks said. “Close games, people were getting intense out there. Military personnel were out there. It was just a crazy atmosphere.” Festivities outside of the actual tournament included slam dunk and three-point competitions. Back at the hotel, a player’s only lounge comprised Playstation 4’s where players competed in the online game Fortnite. Most of all, Jelks and Holland appreciated the chance to represent Mercer and the Southern Conference one last time. “It was an honor to be selected to represent our conference and our school, so it felt very special to be a part of it,” Holland said. “It felt good to get the SoCon out there. Even though we didn’t win, I mean people could see that we could compete on different levels,” Jelks said. “It was three different conferences with three different types of players—high major, mid-major, stuff like that—so it was good to represent the SoCon in a good way.” Ohio State won the Dos Equis 3x3U National Tournament. Each player walked away with $13,250 in their pocket.
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Mercer Men’s Lacrosse is built 41 members strong. Only 40 of those men show up on the roster though. And while one member does not score goals or win faceoffs, his impact can still be felt on and off the field. John Michael Night signed to be a Mercer Lacrosse player nearly three years ago, during his junior year of high school, but he has never suited up for the Black and Orange. The star from Trinity Preparatory School in Florida suffered a brain stem stroke just two weeks after signing his letter of intent. He was 17 years old. “At first, you feel for JM (sic). You feel for the family, but I’ll tell you I learned very quickly through the process that this young man is extremely strong. His will was never denied,” said Head Coach Kyle Hannan. The stroke left Night paralyzed. The only movement left to him was in his eyes, a condition called locked-in syndrome. He still had full cognitive function, but essentially became trapped in his own body. Something, that while devastating, has not affected him as a person Vickie Night, his mother, said. “He is very much still the same as he has always been. That is such a blessing!” Vickie Night said. “Even in his condition today, he still thinks of others first. He was always determined and fearless.” Night has since gained feeling in different parts of his body and can even stand for short periods of time with help. His determination and positive attitude went a long way with Coach Hannan and the team. They recognized that they still had a teammate and decided to treat him as such. “We decided to honor his number with a player each week, and JM is the one who selects the player,” Hannan said. “He watches all of our games. We send the video to him. He watches the games, and then he chooses a player to wear his number, 24, the following game.” That idea came from leadership within the roster. Originally, the team would have one person carry Night’s number 24 jersey onto the field and then later lay it across the bench. Redshirt junior Jake Sadd decided that just was not good enough. “I thought how could we take this further. How can we make this a little bit better? How can we make it feel like he’s on the field with us?” Sadd said. After suggesting that a different player wear the jersey each week, Sadd said he noticed a change. A sense of urgency became apparent in the team’s energy. “It brings that extra kick, that extra motivation we need, and it definitely helps team morale as well,” Sadd said. “It’s an unbelievable honor. The fact that the guy who’s one of the best fighters I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, getting to talk to, being a teammate with - for him to pick you out specifically for a game to represent him and represent what he stands for is a huge honor.” Hannan said he is proud of the way his group has handled the situation. It would have been easy to retract themselves, but instead they have thrown themselves into a deep relationship with the Night family. Besides wearing his number each week, they also have “JMN 24” stickers on the back of their helmets and have held games with benefits going towards Night’s recovery. The team communicates with Night on a weekly basis and try to meet in person with him at least five times a year, either traveling to Florida themselves or having the Night family in Macon. It is a feeling Vickie Night said is very touching. “Just when they come by and they cheer for him and they give him a high five and say ‘Hey JM, 24’ it just means so much to us. It really helps keep him going and working hard every day,” she said. On the field, Night’s presence can be felt in each and every teammate, especially whomever is wearing number 24 that week. “You’re always thinking about it. You’re assessing the situation and thinking about it in different ways. It weighs heavy on you. It gives you something a little bit bigger to play for in a way,” said Senior Scott Baird. “Every time I was out there I was thinking you can’t quit now,” Sadd said. “You have to give that extra effort cause I know he’s fighting the ultimate fight everyday, and I know I have to give 110.” Hannan said that “JM” will always be a part of the Mercer program and that his impact goes far beyond just lacrosse. “I think our guys understand his love for Mercer lacrosse and how much he’s into the program and what he does everyday to be apart of the program. I think it goes a long way with our players to realize that, ‘Hey, we’ve got a brother here that is going through a pretty tough time, but he just keeps fighting.’ I think it’s a life lesson from the coaches all the way down to the players, the alumni, the future players. Everybody understands the situation, and he’s just an unbelievable role model with tremendous character,” Hannan said. Everyone in Mercer Lacrosse is trying to be just as #JMStrong.
Sounds like payback may be in order. No. 25 Mercer Women’s Basketball will take on in-state opponent No. 18 Georgia in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. This will be the second time that the Bears play the Bulldogs this year. The NCAA handed Mercer the No. 13 seed of the Albany region in this year’s tournament. Georgia is a No. 4 seed and will play the Bears at home in Athens on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Georgia handed Mercer one of its only two losses of the year. The two teams played in Hawkins Arena where the Bears fell, 72-54. The game was much closer than the final score would make it appear. Mercer actually led after the end of the first quarter, and Georgia was only leading by eight points at the end of the third quarter. SoCon Player of the Year, Kahlia Lawrence, ended the game with 19 points on a rough 6-of-19 shooting night, and SoCon All-Second Team guard Sydni Means had seven points and seven assists. Head Coach Susie Gardner, a UGA alum, said she was delighted to play Georgia again, though not for the reason one might expect. “I was really, really shocked and thrilled,” Gardner said. “I wanted our fans to be able to travel with our team because we travel so well, and they’re such amazing Mercer fans.” Gardner played for the Bulldogs under Head Coach Andy Landers in the 1980’s, reaching the Final Four twice and title game once before falling to Old Dominion in 1985. The Dawgs also reached the NCAA tournament in 1986 and 1987 when Gardner was a graduate assistant. She said playing Georgia is not quite the same since Lander’s retirement in 2015. “When you coach against the guy that you played for, it’s a little bit different. (UGA Head Coach) Joni (Taylor) and I are friends, and I respect what she’s doing at my alma mater, but it’s not the same as coaching against Coach Landers,” Gardner said. Gardner and company have had a magical run to the NCAA tournament. The Bears set program records with 27 consecutive and 30 overall wins. The last time the Bears lost was Nov. 24 to Western Kentucky, the game after their loss to Georgia. They won their first outright Southern Conference regular season championship and first SoCon tournament title. Gardner was named Coach of the Year for the second time and Lawrence the Player of the Year for the third time in a row. Lawrence, Means and junior KeKe Calloway were all tabbed as SoCon All-First Team selections. Lawrence was also named SoCon Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and All-Tournament first team with Calloway, while Means and junior Amanda Thompson were named All Tournament Second-Team. Mercer’s matchup with Georgia can be seen on Saturday, March 17 at 1:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
“It’s indescribable. I promise, I don’t have words for you right now.” That’s how Kahlia Lawrence explained her feelings after No. 25 Mercer Women’s Basketball pulled out a victory in the championship game of the Southern Conference tournament, their first tournament title after two agonizing defeats in the last two years. These championship rings will feel that much sweeter on the team’s fingers as this was the year the Bears (30-2) redeemed themselves after falling short two years straight, even with regular season titles. “As everyone knows, we blew it last year,” said SoCon Coach of the Year Susie Gardner during postgame. “And it’s been a year’s worth of trying to get these guys back and giving them a chance to feel what they’re feeling right now.” The Bears handled the tournament in its entirety relatively easily, at least from an outside perspective. No.1 seeded Mercer smacked No. 8 seed Western Carolina, 75-44, on the tournament’s opening day and proceeded to hand No. 5 seed Samford a 37-point loss of its own, 81-44, on day number two. It would come down to the championship game, something that has haunted the Bears for two years. This time it was ETSU who stood in the Bears way instead of Chattanooga, but the redemptive atmosphere was the same. “I remember all the awful emotions (from last year) and I was like ‘We got to get through this’. I’m not certain if we would’ve won last year, we would have had the type of season we did this year,” Gardner said. The game was nip-tuck the for much of the first half with neither team able to pull away. Mercer’s lead grew as large as seven in the first quarter before ETSU battled back to even the quarter at 14 a piece. The second quarter was back and forth until senior Sydni Means ignited an 11-3 run capped off by an And-One by Kahlia Lawrence to end the half with the Bears up 10. ETSU was able to close the margin to six points with 5:32 to play in the third quarter, but Mercer’s 10-2 run pushed the lead back to double digits, and it would never see under 10 again. The team’s traded blows in the fourth, but a 14-12 quarter saw the Bears victorious with a 15-point, 68-53 win. Ultimately, the win came down to the play of Southern Conference Player of the Year and the Southern Conference Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Kahlia Lawrence. Lawrence dropped 29 points, one shy of a SoCon championship game record, to go along with four rebounds and three steals. “I put it all out there on the floor for my teammates. We’ve been here three times, and this was the time, this time was ours. We came out here, and we wanted to win this game. We knew we were going to win this game. I put everything that I had, my heart and my soul, and I knew my teammates would do the same thing,” Lawrence said, postgame. Alex Williams played a pivotal role as well with 14 points and six rebounds. KeKe Calloway ended with 11 points, and Amanda Thompson put up nine points and 11 rebounds, just one point shy of a double-double. The win was Mercer’s 27th in a row, now tied with Chattanooga (2003-2004) for the most consecutive wins ever by a SoCon team. 30 total wins is a program record. More importantly, it garnered Mercer a trip to the 2018 NCAA Tournament. “It’s been an amazing, magical year,” Gardner said. “It’s just one of those years as a coach, you just never have. We did a lot of special things this year, over and above my wildest dreams.” No. 25 Mercer finds out who their next opponent will be next week during the NCAA selection show on March 12th at 7 a.m. Notables And the Award Goes To… Several Bears collected tournament hardware. Sydni Means and Amanda Thompson were selected to the SoCon Tournament All-Second Team, while KeKe Calloway and Kahlia Lawrence were tabbed as All-First Team participants. Thompson won the SoCon Tournament Pinnacle Award, given to the player with the highest GPA on the championship team. She has a 4.0 GPA as an engineering major. Lawrence was awarded the Most Outstanding Player Award. She ended the tournament with 75 points in three games while shooting a scorching 60 percent from the field. Sweep, Sweep, Sweep Mercer not only swept the regular season with a 14-0 record, but continued that streak into the tournament with three more victories. They beat everyone in the league twice and three teams three times.
In a year stockpiled filled with accolades, Women’s Basketball senior Kahlia Lawrence was named the 2018 Southern Conference Player of the Year, highlighting a bevy of season awards for the Bears. This is Lawrence’s third consecutive year receiving the award, a SoCon first, and it comes on the heels of No. 25 Mercer completing a perfect 14-0 sweep of the SoCon regular season. “That’s really all that matters, the team’s success. The fact that I’m able to be successful along with that is really great, but it wouldn’t mean anything if my team wasn’t playing as well as they are right now,” Lawrence said. Lawrence’s distinguished career in the SoCon is well documented. She was named the 2014-2015 SoCon Freshman of the Year as well and has a career scoring average of 16.9 points per game. She has totaled 2177 career points, 682 rebounds, and 249 assists as a Bear while leading Mercer to three straight SoCon regular season championships. She is just the fourth Mercer player to score 2,000 career points and is 3rd all-time on Mercer’s scoring list and field goals made list. This season, Lawrence has been instrumental in Mercer rattling off 24 straight victories, a program record and the third longest active streak in Division I women’s basketball. She leads the SoCon at 18.6 ppg and is top-15 in 9 other statistical categories. Lawrence also garnered Player of the Week honors twice and Player of the Month honors this season as well. She was the 2017 Georgia Women’s College Player of the Year and this year collects her third All-Conference First Team selection. “Honestly, (I’m) just grateful,” Lawrence said. “To do something that no one else that has played in the SoCon has ever done is incredible. To be apart of history once more, like I said, is just humbling. It’s surreal. You’d never think that something like this would ever happen to you.” This marks the fourth season in a row that a Mercer player was named SoCon Player of Year and, rightfully, Coach of the Year honors go to Head Coach Susie Gardner for the second time in three years. Gardner has led the program to three straight SoCon regular season titles, and two conference tournament runner-up appearances. Under her tenure, Mercer has won 20-plus games in 5 of the last 6 seasons. This season’s 27 wins and counting is the most under Gardner’s tenure and a program record as well. Mercer earned a spot in USA Today’s Top-25 for the first time ever and the AP Top-25 for the first time since 1980. “We come in and attack each and every day as the most important day of our season and have reaped the benefits beyond my wildest imagination this year, so far. This is an incredible group of players that have amazing staff behind the scenes that help us have success,” Gardner said in a Mercer Athletics press release. “I am very humbled because our conference has a great core group of coaches who are good X's and O's coaches and great people." Not to be forgotten are senior Sydni Means and junior KeKe Calloway who join Lawrence on the SoCon All-Conference First Team. This is Means’ second selection to the conference’s first team and Calloway’s first. Means is second all-time on Mercer’s assist list with 684. That’s also third-all time in SoCon history. She’s dished a SoCon leading 236 assists at 8.1 assists per game this season. Her 4.72 assist-to-turnover ratio leads the NCAA while her assists per game and total assists are third and fourth, respectively. Calloway has made a name for herself right behind Means and Lawrence. The junior is best known for her 3-point shooting where she is first in the SoCon and 16th in the NCAA with 89 made three-pointers this season. Calloway is also SoCon tops in 3-point attempts (230), 3-points per game (3.07) and 3-point field-goal percentage (38.7). She is third in the SoCon in total scoring at 17.8 points per game. If Lawrence happens to not be scoring, you can bet Calloway will be. "Obviously all three of the players have had not only amazing seasons, but amazing careers,” Gardner told Mercer Athletics. “When you have a point guard in Sydni Means, it gives me a calming effect to have someone I can trust on the court and hand the team over to her. KeKe has really grown as both a player and a person. … Everyone thinks of KeKe as a three point shooter, but she is a gym rat and is always in the gym working on her midrange, getting to the rim and becoming better as a player. Lastly, to have a player like Kahlia to get Freshman of the Year and then three-time Player of the Year, that doesn't happen very often. Kahlia is a great player and a great teammate. None of these players would be able to do what they do without the team around them.” The season is not over yet, No. 25 Mercer has the number one seed in this year’s SoCon tournament and will face eight seed Western Carolina on Thursday evening in the quest for their first ever SoCon Tournament Championship.
No. 25 Mercer Women’s Basketball completed its sweep of the Southern Conference regular season last week with wins over rivals, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and East Tennessee State University. The Bears (27-2,14-0) finished conference play undefeated, pushed their win streak to 24 games and earned the top spot in next week’s Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville, North Carolina. [video credit="Avery Braxton" align="left"][/video] Chattanooga and ETSU were the last two teams to try their luck against the Bears and they had to do so in Hawkins Arena, where the Bears were 11-1 prior to last week. The matchup with Chattanooga was a back and forth contest with neither team able to build a lead greater than six points until the very end. Chattanooga led the entire first quarter, but Mercer was able to stay within striking range, cutting the lead to 1 with 20 seconds to play. Chattanooga freshman Brooke Burns hit a jumper at the buzzer to give the Mocs a 15-12, advantage. Mercer took its first lead of the game in the second quarter. The Bears would end the quarter on runs of 5-0 and, after trading a few more buckets with the Mocs, 6-0 to end the first half with a 34-29 advantage at halftime. The third quarter was a low scoring affair with the Mocs outscoring Mercer 13-11. The Mocs claimed a 46-45 lead in the fourth, but Mercer took it back and not relinquish it. The lead grew as large as five points, but Chattanooga cut their deficit to 1 with a 3-pointer with just 1:23 remaining. Mercer sprinted to the finish line with a 7-0 explosion to put the game away. Kahlia Lawrence hit a jump shot, then a steal and layup by Alex Williams put the Bears up by six. KeKe Calloway put the final nail in the coffin with a 3-point dagger to claim the nine point win, 65-56. [pullquote speaker="Sydni Means" photo="" align="left" background="off" border="none" shadow="off"]To be able to play with emotion, with heart, with people that you love and enjoy being around is incredible.[/pullquote] Lawrence ended the game with 25 points, 6 rebounds, a steal and a block. Calloway had 20 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals. Sydni Means finished with 12 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and only 1 turnover. Alex Williams ended with 6 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals off the bench. The win over Chattanooga officially gave Mercer its first outright Southern Conference Championship, officially putting second place ETSU out of contention for a share of the title. "The senior class helped start this for us by coming to Mercer when we weren't winning championships and believing in the dream and the vision,” said Head Coach Susie Gardner. “The juniors helped continue this vision. We have won three regular season conference titles in a row and it is very difficult to win a regular season conference championship.” The ETSU contest became mostly fanfare after the Bears eventually built a 19 point lead in the fourth quarter before ending with a 15 point, 63-48 win. Afterwards, the Bears celebrated Senior Day where the five seniors - Alex Williams, Kahlia Lawrence, Sydni Means, Shon Kitchens and Kayla Potts received standing ovations for their contributions to the program. The senior class is responsible for 96 of Coach Gardner’s record 141 wins as Mercer’s head coach, three regular season SoCon titles, and Women’s Basketball Invitational and Women’s National Invitation Tournament births. Seniors Means and Lawrence own three All-SoCon first team selections, one second team selection, a Georgia Women’s College Player of the Year, two SoCon Player of the Years, a Freshman of the Year selection, 3,103 points, 1,027 rebounds, and 917 assists. Means is also the nation’s leader in assist/turnover ratio at 4.72. "This group decided to come here when we weren't cutting down nets and thanks to them, the junior class came and bought into our vision,” Coach Gardner said. “I think what makes this class special is the success of the team over the last four seasons." Means and Lawrence commented on the day and their four years at Mercer. [video credit="Avery Braxton" align="right"][/video] “It was something that you don’t really want to swallow, because you’ve spent four years of your life here playing on that court,” Lawrence said. “To say that that was the last time I’m able to put on this uniform here in Hawkins Arena and play in front of all those fans and people who have come to love us is crazy. It’s surreal.” Means said her head was focused only on the game until the final seconds of the shot clock ran down. “To be able to play with emotion, with heart, with people that you love and enjoy being around is incredible,” Means said. “It hit me right at the (final) buzzer. When I saw my family that’s when it hit me.” The Bears held their Southern Conference Championship trophy high in front of the crowd at Hawkins Arena and cut down the nets for the third consecutive year in a row. There were plenty of happy tears and hugs between coaches, teammates and family members. The Bears can now look forward to March 1, where they will face eighth seeded Western Carolina in the conference tournament. For Coach Gardner, there is no rest for the weary. "I will watch film tonight and the players can enjoy the moment and then we will be back to practice tomorrow, preparing for Western Carolina. We will keep this business as normal and this team is mature in preparing for the next game," Gardner said. The Bears still have plenty of basketball left to play. [related title="Related Stories" stories="23545,23310,23231" align="center" background="off" border="none" shadow="off"]
Mercer Women’s Basketball (25-2, 12-0) has done it again, using their last three victories to secure their third consecutive Southern Conference regular season title. In the last week, they have defeated Samford University, Western Carolina University and University of North Carolina-Greensboro to extend their consecutive win streak to 22 games. At the very least the Bears will have a share of the title like they did last year. The only team that can catch them is East Tennessee State University and Mercer will wrap up their regular season against the Buccaneers Feb. 24. As long as Head Coach Susie Gardner and company win at least one of their next two ball games, a regular season championship comes to Mercer. Gardner said her squad hadn’t even realized they were in that position. “I told the team in the locker room that they had just shared the SoCon regular season title, and they weren't even aware of it,” Gardner said. “That shows you how focused this team is on the present game and the next opponent. It is really difficult to win a regular season championship. I am proud of this group from being picked preseason number five as freshmen, to now having three SoCon Regular Season titles.” It would be remiss if I didn’t mention that according to the Athletics department, Mercer’s win streak is the longest in the program’s history since joining the Division I era. The last time the Bears lost was Nov. 24 versus Western Kentucky, and while one consecutive win streak has extended, another one ended. The Bears’ games have become a lot more competitive in recent weeks, and the streak of consecutive wins by double-digits ended at 17 games after beating Samford 48-45 Feb.10. The Bears beat Samford, WCU and UNCG by a combined 13 points. To put that into perspective, the last time they won by less than 12 points was Dec. 28 against North Carolina. Still, two of the last three games have been won by three points. "It's been awhile since we have been in a close game like this, and perhaps it was time we were put in the pressure situation to see how we respond,” Gardner said after the Samford win. The Bears are now one win from the most wins in a single season under Gardner and will likely nab another one as they end the regular season against University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and ETSU on Feb. 22 and 24. The SoCon tournament begins March 1 in Asheville, North Carolina. Notables Personal Best Sydni Means now has 220 total assists this season, besting last year’s personal record of 216. She is now seven assists from passing Whitney Bunn of Furman for third all-time in Southern Conference history. Big Shots Mercer Women’s Basketball was voted into the USA Today Top-25 for the first time in the program’s history since joining the Division I era. The Bears debuted at number 25 on Tuesday after collecting votes for the past several weeks. This is the first SoCon team to join the Top-25 since Chattanooga did it in 2015.
Another one. Actually another two. Mercer Women’s Basketball (22-2, 9-0) added two more to their win streak of now 19 games and remained unbeaten in Southern Conference competition. The Bears defeated both Furman University (13-11, 3-6) and Wofford College (10-14, 3-6) last week extending their already tight hold on the conference lead. The Bears had the benefit of a home stand and needed all the help of a home crowd against Furman. Mercer put their then win streak of 16 games, comprised of double-digit wins on the line, but edged out a 65-53 win on Feb. 1. Mercer did control the game from the tip off, outscoring the Paladins 18-8 in the first quarter. [related title="Related Stories" stories="23231,23142,23053,23049" align="right" background="off" border="none" shadow="off"] A pleasant surprise was 8 of the first 12 points were scored by Rachel Selph and Amanda Thompson, who are becoming more and more comfortable shooting the ball as the season continues. Furman was able to cut the lead down to five points in the second quarter before the Bears shut them down in the last 5:00+ minutes with an 11-0 run. Mercer forced 12 total turnovers at half’s end. The Paladins would make the game more interesting by outscoring Mercer 16-9 in the third quarter, but ultimately the Bears never let the lead get below seven points and were led by Kahlia Lawrence’s 21 points on 6-of-17 shooting. Keke Calloway added 12 points and Thompson and Selph chipped in six a piece. Thompson finished with an impressive 6 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals. Sydni Means did her usual flirtatious dance with a triple-double ending with 8 points, 7 assists, and 7 steals. (We’re going to see a triple-double from her before it’s over). “Furman is a good team and we knew that it was going to be a battle. Furman's post play was great and they hurt us inside, getting Rachel (Selph) into foul trouble,” said Head Coach Susie Gardner. “However, I thought that Amanda (Thompson) did a great job playing in the post. It was a total team effort on defense and we were able to hit our free throws down the stretch." Thompson ended the game with four steals, but played well on the 6’3” Celena Taborn despite the freshman’s 16 points. She did her best to alter shots and tipped away several passes leading to steals by other players. “Last time we played them, (Taborn) scored on me pretty easily so I watched film with coach a couple days ago and we talked about taking away, I had to play her topside more alot and let them lob in … Obviously, Alex helping made a huge difference,” Thompson said. The Wofford contest proved to be a lot less dramatic. The Bears #TrouncedtheTerriers by 41 points in a 80-39 victory. Nearly every Bear that saw playing time scored and were led by 18, 15, 14 from Calloway, Lawrence and Thompson respectively. Curiously, the Bears only shot 33 percent from the floor in the first quarter, but took a 21-point explosion in the second quarter and ran with it. They picked play up defensively too, holding Wofford scoreless for over 8:00 minutes in the second quarter and ending the half up 40-19. Coach Gardner at halftime: “You have to understand that Wofford’s good. We’re not going to always dominate from the get-go. You’ve got to get into the flow of the game. You’ve got to figure out what they’re doing, what we can do, and then they’re a good basketball team.” The Bears were able to coast in the second half after a combined 14 points from Thompson and Calloway in the third quarter allowed the bench control the rest of the game. Calloway also collected the 200th three-pointer of her career. [video credit="At this point, this is what everyone in the conference looks like waiting for Mercer to lose." align="left"]via GIPHY[/video] Kahlia Lawrence’s 15 points were enough to put her over 2100 career points, and she did it in front of impressive company. Mercer women’s basketball alumni were present on Saturday including the second all-time leading scorer in Mercer women’s history, Vivian Humphrey-Terry. Humphrey-Terry had plenty of praise for the player right behind her in the record books. “Records are made to be broken,” Humphrey-Terry said. “Her intensity, she plays hard every night and I think that’s what makes her a great player.” Humphrey-Terry’s #14 jersey is retired at Mercer and she hinted that she could see a number of players from this squad join her in the rafters. “I think so, I don’t want to call it, but I think so,” she said grinning.
Do you all remember my last article where I stated that it appeared as if Mercer still had some chinks in the armor and that their next two opponents would prove if they had a handle on the Southern Conference? Yeah? Well, I was wrong. I was very wrong. Mercer (20-2, 7-0) demolished the number two and number three teams in conference to garner sole possession of first place in the SoCon. Mercer increased their program record win streak to 17 games with wins over East Tennessee State University and The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. While the scores may not indicate it, both ETSU and Chattanooga provided the Bears with a challenge, but the veteran group never lost control of either game. The ETSU Buccaneers held serve at home and were tied with Mercer at the end of the first quarter and took a one-point lead early in the second before runs of 9-0 and 7-0 gave Mercer a 45-34 lead at halftime. Kahlia Lawrence was the high woman at half with 15 points. From there, the Mercer lead never shrunk below seven points. All five of Mercer’s starters ended the game with double figures, headlined by 21 a piece from KeKe Calloway and Lawrence. While Lawrence was the dagger in the first half, Calloway was the closer in the second. She had 15 points in the fourth quarter including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc. Sydni Means helped round out the game with eight points and four assists in the last 10 minutes of the game. She finished with 16 points and seven assists. Coach Gardner gave the Buccaneers their due credit postgame. "The final score does not indicate how tough the game was. This game was a battle all night long and ETSU has a really good basketball team,” Gardner said. “I am really proud of how our players handled their pressure tonight." Mercer fans might have been worried about the mental block that comes when women’s basketball plays Chattanooga. The Bears were 2-16 in the series prior to the contest and have lost the past two SoCon tournament titles to the Mocs. The block was nonexistent on Jan. 27 as Gardner and company snapped Chattanooga’s 53 consecutive home winning streak against SoCon opponents. The Bears came out firing on all cylinders, outscoring the Mocs 23-5 in the first quarter. Chattanooga battled back and cut the lead to five before halftime. Lawrence, Calloway and Rachel Selph all had eight points at the break. The second half was not close as Mercer outscored the Mocs 38-26 to hold a 21 point victory. Lawrence and Calloway each finished with 17 points while Selph added 12. Means flirted with a double-double with 11 points and 9 rebounds. In a year already filled with milestones, win number 17 was also the 134th win for Coach Gardner at Mercer. She is now the all-time winningest women’s basketball coach in the program’s history. Postgame she had nothing but praise for both her current and former coaching staffs and players. “I want to thank Tiffany Swoffard and Rhet Wierzba for coming here when I first got the job. I also want to thank Angie Nelp for joining us in year three and for laying the foundation for the program when we weren't winning and for believing in what we were trying to build. I also want to thank Joanna Reitz for joining us in our fourth season and helping bring a strong group of recruits to this program. Of course I want to thank Tiffany [Morton], Tre [Powell] and Ben [Wierzba] for continuing our success. Obviously every coach has been a part of each win and every player who believed in what we were trying to build has played a big role,” Gardner said. Calloway only had one three pointer, but it was all she needed to set the program record for three-pointers in a season. She now has 78 on the season, passing Mercer great Andrea Congreaves (whose name is up in the Hawkins Arena rafters) The Bears will start over and face every conference opponent for the second time this season, starting with Furman on Feb. 1. Students can begin purchasing bus tickets to the SoCon tournament for $40. The money covers potentially three nights in Asheville, NC, at least one meal, and a ride up and back to Macon. Notables Frontcourt Friendly It is no secret that the three-headed monster of Calloway, Lawrence and Means provides the bulk of Mercer’s scoring, but the Bears have had a nice lift from the frontcourt in recent games. Both Selph and Amanda Thompson scored 10 points against ETSU and Selph also finished with 12 points against Chattanooga. Both forwards are extremely confident in catch and shoot situations from the top of the key or short corners and often find themselves at the end of a Means assist. Selph only averages 6.7 points this season, but put up double-digits in each of the last four contests including 15 against Western Carolina. Keep Up, Kids! Mercer has outscored its conference opponents by an average of 21 points, which leads the SoCon. They’ve won the last 15 games by at least 10 points and nine of their 17 games in the win streak have been true road games.
It looks like students and faculty are not the only ones with New Year resolutions. Jack Tarver Library will be undergoing changes of its own this semester. The library, named after the Mercer alumnus and esteemed journalist, will be renovated over the coming months. Students can expect all kinds of changes that will benefit both their work and comfort for years to come. The renovation project is called “Spiff Up the T” and is taking place solely on the second floor. Made possible by an anonymous $400,000 donation, the library will be getting all new furniture, increased wifi and power sources throughout the second floor. Jack Tarver Library was dedicated to Jackson Williams Tarver in 2000 and still has much of the same furniture from when it originally opened according to Research Services Librarian Stephanie Miranda. [related title="Related Stories" stories="22597,22535,19763" align="left" background="off" border="none" shadow="off"] “It’s pretty dated in here,” Miranda said. “The building was technically opened in 1989, and these are the only tables that have been in here.” New couches and lounge chairs will be moved in and spread throughout the library’s second floor. The furniture will have powered outlets so that library goers can charge devices while they study and work. Also included in the furniture purchases are tabled high back and low back booths similar to what are seen in restaurants. They will be placed directly by the windows. A group study area will be implemented towards the back of the library. Both high top and low top tables are being brought in with power boxes that will double as charging stations. A serpentine style lounge couch will be placed right behind the “Ask Jack” reception desk and diagonal seating with banquette style couches will follow. The library will be getting a boost in wifi capabilities as well. Connectivity and speed will noticeably increase and should be completed around Jan. 26. “I mean you need that, you know? It’s necessary in order to do your work now,” Miranda said. Tarver Library will also install new power cores in seven spaces on the floor throughout the library to complement the new wifi capabilities. Desktop computers are currently spaced out throughout the second floor but are expected to move to a central location near the stairs. Students will have new rolling chairs with mesh backing at those stations. The IT department will also have a new home. They’ll be placed towards the back of the library where the research materials are currently located. [related title="Related Stories" stories="20947" align="right" background="off" border="none" shadow="off"] While this is certainly the first major furniture renovation since Tarver opened, the library has made several improvements over a number of years. New carpet was brought in and the library walls received new coats of paint in 2009 and 2010, and Einstein Bros. Bagels shop was installed on the bottom level in 2015. This will be the last major change under the current Dean of University Libraries, Elizabeth Hammond. Hammond has been in charge of the library for 40 years and announced her impending retirement at the conclusion of the year. “We are always looking for how to make the library a better space for students, and the Spiff Up the T project is a very exciting project,” Hammond said. “We anticipate the new furniture will be installed in early March, hopefully over spring break.”
Christmas came just a tad bit early for the Bears as they participated in the first ever December early signing period for NCAA football. Mercer Football signed 12 high school seniors to national letters of intent between Dec. 20-22. The early signing period was the first of its kind and is likely to shift the paradigm of college football recruiting in the coming years. Players now have the option to sign in the three day window between Dec. 20-22 or can wait until the traditional signing period in February. “It really puts the pressure back on the kids,” said Head Football Coach Bobby Lamb, “because now if he’s got a firm offer and a firm, legitimate chance to sign a scholarship with a FCS program, ‘do I do that or do I wait for a FBS program.’” [related title="Related Stories" stories="22778,22514,22260" align="right" background="off" border="none" shadow="off"] Lamb said the new signing period has been welcomed by football coaches around the country. It works to the advantage of coaches, because they can likely sign the bulk of their recruiting class early and still work on bringing in a number of recruits from the end of that period into February until April 1. The early period also saves coaching staffs recruiting money as well, because if players sign in December then coaches no longer have to spend money constantly visiting them in January. “It makes the three weeks in December that you’re on the road a little bit more hectic, but at the end of the day you’re able to sign a class on December 20 and put that class to bed, so to say,” Lamb said. “I really believe that in five to eight years this will become THE signing day.” Lamb and his staff brought in 12 players as part of the #MUvment18 recruiting class. Ten of those come from the state of Georgia, while one hails from North Carolina and another from South Carolina. The Bears especially got a boost up front as this class boasts four offensive lineman and three defensive lineman. That will be a big help in the coming years as Mercer loses Caleb Yates, Jalen Penn, Austin Barrett and Mr. Big Man Touchdown Thomas Marchman to graduation. The seven new lineman will have the benefit of learning from two lines that have experienced though relatively young talent on both sides of the ball. Coach Lamb was especially excited about collecting Eagles Landing Christian Academy’s Gavan George from McDonough. The 6’5” 270-pound offensive lineman is mobile and very physical at the tackle position. He’s also a proven winner, winning back-to-back state titles at ELCA. “I think the young man lost maybe six games in his entire high school career,” Lamb said. “We feel good about everything from his high school coach to his guidance counselors.” As far as the pretty skill positions that everyone pays attention to, Lamb and company signed one quarterback, running back, and wide receiver as well as two defensive backs. Highlighting that group is Bryce Lawrence out of Ola High School in McDonough. Lawrence is 6’3” and 200 pounds and on tape looks like Kaelan Riley lite. Quick-decision making and a dual-threat make him ideal for quarterbacks that Mercer has had in the past. He fell in love with Mercer early on and verbally committed over the 2017 summer. Coach Lamb thinks he might have a bit of a jump on everybody. “He’s been to a lot of our practices and a lot of our games so he might know the offense better than anybody,” Lamb said. The Mercer staff is still looking to fill some holes in the next signing period. Lamb expects to sign four to five more recruits to plug holes at inside linebacker, tight end, cornerback and wide receiver. The final 2018 class signing period begins Feb. 7 and will end April 1. Recruits will report to campus on June 24 for the second-session of summer school. Check out all the new recruits in the table below. Mercer 2018 December Recruiting Class Name Position Height Weight (Lbs) Hometown Tyrese Cohen OL 6’4” 310 Aiken, SC DeMond Ellison WR 6’3” 212 Canton, GA Collin Foster OL 6’3” 258 Buford, GA Gavan George OL 6’5” 270 McDonough, GA Coby Germany DL 6’2” 253 Grovetown, GA Isaiah Goolsby OL 6’4” 330 Macon, GA Bryce Lawrence QB 6’3” 200 McDonough, GA DJ McDaniel DL 6’1” 262 Indian Trail, NC Xavier Perkins DL 6’2” 240 Atlanta, GA Kareem Rogers RB 5’11” 182 Stockbridge, GA Kermit Solomon DB 6’2” 176 Albany, GA DQ Wilkerson DB 6’0” 185 LaGrange, GA
Put three more in the W column for the women’s basketball team after it collected impressive wins over SoCon opponents in the last week. The winning streak extended to 15 games, but the last two are proof that there is still work to be done for the Bears. “We got off to a great start in the first quarter 21-6, but after that it just didn’t seem like [we played] our best game,” said head coach Susie Gardner after Saturday’s win over Western Carolina. [related title="Related Stories" stories="23053,23049,22985" align="left" background="off" border="none" shadow="on"] The Bears (18-2, 5-0) tallied wins over Samford University, University of North Carolina Greensboro, and Western Carolina University over the last week, but each game proved that winning in the SoCon is no easy task. Samford led after the first quarter in its own house; that’s the first time the Bears have lost the opening quarter since the Charlotte game. Both Samford and UNCG were tied with the Bears at halftime, and despite the sizeable win over the Catamounts, the game had a feeling of sloppiness on the Bears part. Here is an interesting question - can too much success be a distraction? Media members posed the question to Gardner and junior guard KeKe Calloway Saturday night. “I couldn’t tell you what the win streak was. We don’t talk about it, we don’t mention it, we don’t think about it,” said Gardner adamantly. “We’re just trying to play our best basketball.” Calloway, in her usual cool manner, also said, “We don’t talk about it.” The Bears set a program record for consecutive wins in a season with 14 after beating UNCG. Gardner claims that the streak is non-existent in the locker room or in practice and that the team is mature enough to understand that it is the winning and not the win streak that matters. The only people supposedly talking about it is people in the media and the sports information department with Mercer’s cool, fancy graphics. Calloway scored her 1,000th point with her first bucket against Western Carolina; she mentioned that she knew exactly how close she was to the milestone. Kahlia Lawrence scored her 2,000th point against UNCG and was presented a game ball prior to the Western Carolina game. The distractions are there and still both continually stuff the stat sheet. Despite claims that the team is not distracted, the first halves of all the past three games seem a bit ...distracted. Some uncharacteristic turnovers, loss of possessions after two players collide on easy rebounds and some easy baskets allowed here and there all point to a team that still has a few chinks in the armor. The Bears’ saving grace has been their defense. They play well enough throughout the game that when the offense seems to find its rhythm in the second half, the Bears are in business. Mercer still owns the top assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference at 1.9 and the top turnover margin at +9.6. The Bears have forced 20 or more turnovers in 10 of their 20 games this season. Using their defense to create easy transition offense and the intense energy they get off the bench from Alex Williams and Kayla Potts have righted the Mercer ship the last several games. The Bears take on ETSU and Chattanooga to finish out the first round of SoCon play before teams face each other again in their second matchup. ETSU is currently tied with Mercer for first place in the league and Chattanooga always provides Mercer with a bit of a mental matchup as much as a physical one. Despite the great start to league play and the extended streak, these are the two teams Gardner and company know they have to beat if they want a firm hold on the Southern Conference. Coach Gardner on being the best team in the conference: “At tip-off (Saturday), we’re tied with ETSU. I don’t know what happened in their game today, but I also know we have ETSU next. You know until we play everyone in the conference, you know, I’m not going to comment on how good we are or where we stand because you need to play all seven teams that we’re going to play against and then you have to go round robin. We have our goals, we don’t talk about our goals, but we just try to be business as usual every day. Notables Bench Play The Bears had the benefit of a lifted bench against UNCG on Thursday. Mercer had 33 bench points to make up for the lack of scoring after Lawrence, Amanda Thompson, and Rachel Selph got into early foul trouble. Linnea Rosendal showed glimpses of her freshman year with 13 points and 3 three-pointers. Potts showed her usual energy on both ends with 6 points, 6 steals and 3 assists. Williams put up 8 points and 7 rebounds as well. Floor General Sydni Means continues to be the coach on the floor that Coach Gardner needs. Means now has the highest assist-to-turnover ratio in the NCAA at 4.97. She is also third in assists per game (8.7) and is tied for second in total assists (174). She’s also putting in 8.7 points which is third on the team. Next Up The Bears hit the road for the next two games at ETSU on Thursday, Jan. 25 and Chattanooga on Saturday, Jan. 27.
#KeKe4Three is a hashtag that the Mercer Women’s Basketball Twitter page (@MercerWBB) and Bears fans have gotten used to using. It is Keke’s world and we are all just living in it. Mercer Women’s Basketball is rolling. The Bears (15-2, 2-0) extended their win streak to 12 games after wins over Wofford (7-9, 1-1) and Furman (10-6, 1-1) last week. The 12 game win streak is tied for the program’s longest since joining the NCAA Division I level. The X-factor in each of those wins, and especially the last two games, was Keke Calloway. “Keke Calloway was working,” said Head Coach Susie Gardner when asked what the key was in the two wins. “Keke has been on fire for the last 5 or 6 six games actually.” Calloway had career high nights on both occasions, notching 34 points (13-20 fg, 7-10 3-pt fg) in the 71-46 drubbing of Wofford and 40 points (14-23 fg, 12-18 3-pt fg) in the 86-64 beatdown of Furman. The 12 three-pointers in the Furman win tied a NCAA record for most three-pointers in a game set in 1995 by Cornelia Gayden of LSU and again in 2012 by Brittany Rayburn of Purdue. It also broke the previous Mercer record of seven, and the SoCon record of nine. When asked about the record Calloway said it was still about winning. “My first thought was ‘hey, it was cool, but I’m just glad we got the win because if we didn’t get the win, none of that would have mattered,’” Calloway said. Calloway’s 40 points are the most scored by a SoCon player this season. She topped Kahlia Lawrence’s previous 39-point performance against North Carolina. In the last seven games, Calloway has averaged 27.7 points per game and made a total of 40 three-pointers. Her scoring in the last two contests earned her the title of SoCon Player of the Week. Calloway said she is just working within the offense and fulfilling her role to the team. “It helps that my teammates and my coach as well [are] very confident in me and they’re always encouraging me to shoot the ball and, you know, score,” Calloway said. “In order for us to get wins, that’s what I have to do, and so I’ve been really fulfilling my role and doing it to the best of my ability.” While Calloway has certainly been stellar, the Bears are playing exceptionally as a team. Coach Gardner emphasized the backcourt in particular. The Mercer Three-Headed Monster of Sydni Means, Calloway and Lawrence has been giving defenses headaches all season. They just might be one of the best backcourts in the NCAA. As of Jan. 8, Means is second in turnover ratio and total assists, Calloway is second in three-point field goals made, and Lawrence is 10th in field goals made. “I think we actually have a pretty exceptional backcourt in general with Sydni at the point, and then Kahlia is a very unique and potent scorer and Keke has proven to be so as well much more consistently this year,” Gardner said. “I would say that those two guys on the wings (Calloway and Lawrence) really make it trickier for opponents to defend.” Notables The Christmas break was chalk full of superlatives for the Bears. Here’s a list of milestones you might have missed: Coach Gardner collected her 300th career win as a coach against South Carolina State on Dec. 19. The win was also her 124th at Mercer. The win over Furman was her 129th and puts her within five wins of becoming the all-time winningest women’s coach at Mercer University. Senior guard Sydni Means tallied her 500th career assist as a Bear, one of only four Mercer players to do so. She currently has 566 total assists and is third on Mercer Women’s all-time assist list. Senior guard Kahlia Lawrence is now the fourth all-time leading scorer in Mercer Women’s Basketball history. She surpassed the 4th and 5th spots belonging to Precious Bridges and Sybil Blalock over the holiday break. Lawrence has 1,966 career points and is 132 points away from third place on the all-time women’s list. Keke Calloway is now second on the Mercer Women’s all-time three-point field goals made list. Calloway has made 187 field goals from beyond the arc and is now 30 three-pointers away from the number one spot. The Bears tallied a program record 31 assists in the win over Winthrop on Dec. 17.
Santa Claus must have put hot shooting under the Bears Christmas tree this year, because they put up two of the three highest scoring games of the year in the Tar Heel State. Speaking of Tar Heels, Mercer (13-2, 0-0) put up 97 points in Chapel Hill to stun North Carolina, 97-86, en route to their biggest win of the season on Dec. 28. They then beat Charlotte, 90-74, on Dec. 30 to complete the road trip and push their win streak to 10 games. “They average 81 points and ironically I told our players before the game I said ‘there’s no way we’re going to score 81 points and we scoring 95 or 97,’” said Head Coach Susie Gardner. Leading the way was senior Kahlia Lawrence. Over the weekend, Lawrence poured in career-highs of 39 points and 13 rebounds, including another career best 6-9 shooting beyond the arc. The Bears’ victory over North Carolina is their first ever, and was won more so on the offensive end despite Coach Gardner’s emphasis on defensive play before the game. Even though they played from behind most of the game, the Bears did a great job finishing quarters. They put up scoring runs of 8-0 to end the first, 6-0 to end the second, tying the game at 47 and 13-2 to finish the fourth quarter. The only true lapse was the third quarter where UNC outscored Mercer 35-21 to go into the fourth up 14. They then pushed the lead to 16 with the first bucket of the fourth. Coach Gardner said her team never looked down even with the big deficit. “We got down to start the fourth quarter and what’s been neat about this team is that even in games that we’ve gotten down, they never have that look of ‘we can’t win,’’ Gardner said. Mercer outscored North Carolina 33-8 in the fourth quarter to close the game. Lawrence tied the game at 84 with a three at the 3:31 mark and KeKe Calloway hit a three on the next possession to give Mercer its first lead of the game. Calloway ended the game with 22 points of her own, her fourth consecutive 20-point game. Senior Sydni Means also played outstanding with 16 assists. That total is one shy of the most ever allowed by a single player in North Carolina history. The fourth quarter defense was the fourth time that the Bears have held an opponent to single-digit scoring in the fourth quarter. Gardner said the win was a full team effort and that the upperclassmen leadership of her team contributed to the win. “I think this whole year has been a credit to our experience,” said Gardner. “We are a mature team, we have great leadership and we have players that when plays need to be made, whether it’s an offensive play, defensive play or a big rebound it’s not just the players that we always talk about either making plays.” The Charlotte game was closer than the final score might make it seem. Mercer only led by three points going into the fourth quarter. After a Calloway three-pointer the Bears never led by less than six points and didn’t take their first double-digit lead until 4:49 left in the game. Scoring was very balanced with four bears in double figures including Amanda Thompson with 14 points and Rachel Selph with 13 points, two shy of her career high. Lawrence and Calloway led the way with 27 and 18 respectively and, of course, all dished out by Sydni Means with 14 assists. Means has 30 assists and only three turnovers in her last two outings. Garder appreciated having a floor general like Means on the floor. “It’s exactly where you want a coach and a point guard to be in terms of her knowing what we should run and us having a conversation about it,” said Gardner. “When the games start I don’t have as much control so then I put the keys in Sydni’s hands and I feel at peace because she really, really is a calming force for her teammates.” The Bears finished their non-conference schedule in the Tar Heel State and can now look ahead to conference play. Despite being back-to-back regular season champions, Coach Gardner warned that SoCon play will not be easy. “I get more nervous and anxious for Southern Conference games than I do for non-conference games because one, we have really good coaches in our league and two, there’s no secrets about Mercer,” said Gardner. “Coaches and players in this league know what everybody on our team can and can’t do so the preparation for conference games is a whole lot more intense than the non-conference games. Takeaways Kahlia or Kobe? Kahlia Lawrence is really good at basketball; that cannot be overstated. In the last two weeks she’s averaged 22.8 points and 9.0 rebounds on the way to the SoCon Player of the Week title for games between Dec. 19 and Jan. 1. She finished non-conference play with 39 points and 13 boards against North Carolina and 27 points and 7 rebounds against Charlotte. Perhaps most important, Lawrence is excelling in all phases of the game. She is not necessarily known as a passer, but has four games with at least four assists. She is averaging 5.5 rebounds and is an underrated defender. She often rotates guarding the opponent’s best player with Calloway and senior Kayla Potts. Coupled with leading the SoCon in scoring at 19.9 points per game, she also is top-10 in six other statistical categories. Mercer plays well all-around, but ultimately will go as far as Lawrence takes them this season. Talk About Thompson I would be remiss in not talking about everything Amanda Thompson does for the Bears that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. Even in this article, I have not given her the true credit she deserves. She is fifth (really tied for third) in the SoCon’s rebounding at 6.7 rebounds per game and is only 5’9”. To put that into context, Keke Calloway is 5’9” and Lawrence is 5’8”. Thompson plays power forward. She is called to guard and rebound against players much larger than her and she does so well. Against North Carolina, Thompson played much of the game matched up with 6’4” Janelle Bailey. It is not just Thompson. Alex Williams and Kayla Potts also rebound well despite being undersized, but Thompson is the gold standard when it comes to working on either end as the underdog. The Ball is Mine A big key to Mercer’s success is their assist-to-turnover ratio. As of Jan. 1, they lead the SoCon with a 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio and are paced by Sydni Means whose 4.0 personal assist-to-turnover ratio is fifth in the NCAA. Couple that with the junkyard dog defense that forces 19.5 turnovers per game and scores 22.5 points off turnovers per game then you have a lot of wins - just look at the 10 game win streak. To put it simply, the Bears win because they do not turn the ball over often and they score when the other team does. Next Week The Bears enter conference play on the road at Wofford on Jan.4 and then take on Furman in Greenville on Jan. 6. Wofford is 1-4 in their last five games and Furman is 2-3 in their last five. Furman lost to North Carolina on Jan. 10, 84-56.
The Bears have proven that the tough non-conference schedule is not slowing them down. Out of the gate, the ladies are 7-2 and riding a four-game win streak highlighted by a fourth quarter comeback victory against Campbell and a 61-44 beatdown of A-10 opponent George Washington. Normally a prolific offensive team, it has been the Bears’ clamp-down, smack-floor, stifling defense that has defined this win streak. Mercer held their last four opponents to less than 40 percent shooting from the floor and forced 72 turnovers. Coach Susie Gardner has placed the emphasis on being more aggressive defensively. The eighth year head coach even brought in Mercer Football Defensive Coordinator Mike Kolakowski to preach effort on the defensive end. Evidently the team has taken the philosophy to heart. “It’s interesting because we’re such an offensive-minded team so I’ve tried to take players that like to score and shoot and try to incorporate the defense,” Coach Gardner said. “I think because we’ve had success with it, anytime you have success you buy into it a little bit more.” Mercer holds their opponents to 56.9 points per game, good for 39th in the NCAA. Their +7.89 turnover margin is 10th in the NCAA. As of now, those stats are second and first in the SoCon respectively. Even when Mercer’s offense isn’t scoring well, evident in the game against Campbell (38% FG), the defensive intensity is enough to make up the difference. Mercer’s victory against Campbell came in dramatic fashion as the Bears battled back from nine down in the fourth quarter to take the lead with just 8 seconds left to play. They held Campbell to only nine points and ONE FIELD GOAL in the fourth quarter. Lawrence finished with 28 points, but the late game heroics would belong to Sydni Means. Means scored six of her seven points in the fourth quarter, including the game winner with seven seconds remaining. A putback by Alex Williams cut the deficit to one with 14 seconds left. Full court pressure by the Bears led to Keke Calloway flying in to steal the inbounds pass like a football safety. Calloway kicked it to Lawrence on the left wing, she swung it to Means on the opposite side for the catch and shoot, nothing-but-net jumper game winner! She called game! The Bears coasted against their next opponent, Davidson, on Dec. 3. The Bears shot 41% from the floor and forced 20 turnovers on the defensive end en route to a 15 point win. Kahlia Lawrence and Keke Calloway combined for 37 points and Amanda Thompson tallied her second double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Thompson was rewarded for her recent efforts with the General Shale Southern Conference Student Athlete of the Week. In the two wins against Campbell and Davidson she averaged 8.0 points and 9.5 rebounds for game. Thompson, a junior engineering major, performed in the classroom as well. Athletes must have at least a 3.3 GPA to be eligible. Thompson, ever the humble one, played off the award recognition after a 14 point, 7 rebound performance against George Washington. “Yeah, I mean it’s good. I found out this morning. It’s fun, but it’s just one of those things that Sydni (Means) talked about. When they guard Kahlia tight, I have to step and score more and I think that draws a little more attention,” Thompson said. Mercer might have played their most dominating game of the season against George Washington. They won 61-44 and held the Colonials to two five-point quarters and began the game with a 16-0 run in the first 7:20. Thompson’s 14 points was second on the team behind Calloway’s 15 on 5-10 shooting. Means flirted with a triple-double much of the fourth quarter, ending the contest with 7 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. She said she would love to see one before she rounds her career at Mercer. “The goal is to see a triple-double, so stay tuned because it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t get one,” Means said. Means was more pleased with the fourth consecutive win for the Bears, citing excellent team chemistry in the first nine games. “I love the chemistry on this team. A lot of different people are scoring now,” Means said. “It’s great to have other people scoring the ball when Kahlia’s not, so she doesn’t have a big load.” Takeaways 1) Share the Sugar Mercer picked up where it left off last season when it comes to sharing the rock. Their 15.4 assists per game is second in the Southern Conference and they lead the league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.2. The sharing is led by Means whose 63 total assists through nine games ranks ninth in the NCAA and whose seven assists per game ranks 10th. She attributes the early production to her teammates. “When I have teammates who run the floor, it’s really easy to get those assists,” Means said. The Bears have had solid point production from those outside the Chimera of Means, Calloway and Lawrence in the last few games. Thompson only averages 6.3 points per game, but had 10 against Campbell and 14 against George Washington. Rachel Selph (6.4 ppg) had 14 points against VCU and 10 against Campbell and Kayla Potts (3.3 ppg) scored seven against both Davidson and George Washington. If the Bears can continue to have point production outside of the Chimera, they’ll be tough to beat moving forward, especially in SoCon play. 2) Kayla Potts: Weapon X Potts has played very impressively in the last several games, most notably on the defensive end. Potts comes off the bench and provides an instant spark plug for the Bears. After the Bears were initially down against Davidson, Potts came into the game and gave the Bears some much needed energy that was evident as she forced four steals. Potts is versatile and is called to guard positions 1-4 on the defensive end. She rebounds well and when she is being aggressive, she can be very dangerous against slower post players. Coach Gardner is not afraid to move Potts around. “She battles, she’s not afraid to mix it up and you’ve got to have a little grit about you, a little guts and she’s got that,” Gardner said. “She can guard a post player the same way she guards guards … when you have one player that gets after defensively, it puts peer pressure on the other four. Potts epitomizes a player that does a little bit of everything. “I would say that, you know, being a role player and pretty much whatever my coach asks me to do, I’m willing to do.” Potts said. “Whether that’s guarding their best player, I’m willing to deny, pressure the ball, all that good stuff. Next Week Mercer will travel to North Carolina to face UNC-Asheville on Sunday and will have a much needed, week-long break before hosting Winthrop on Dec. 17.
The Bears (3-2) can be thankful for at least one win on Georgia State’s campus after dropping one contest against Western Kentucky and then battering the Rams of VCU in the Georgia State University Thanksgiving Classic. Friday’s contest saw the Bears possibly affected by that notorious post-Thanksgiving itis, as Western Kentucky shot out to a 13-0 lead before Mercer even netted their first bucket with less than two minutes remaining in the quarter. The Bears did not see their first lead of the game until just 3:29 left in the fourth quarter, when a Sydni Means floater put Mercer up 58-57. Western Kentucky would outscore Mercer 10-2 in the final three minutes to claim a 67-62 victory in Atlanta. Foul trouble was Mercer’s Achilles Heel, as the Hilltoppers shot a whopping 29-35 from the free throw line, including their last 10 points of the game. Both Kahlia Lawrence and Alex Williams fouled out and three other Bears ended the game with three fouls a piece. On the flip side, Mercer shot just four free throws all game. Coach Susie Gardner on the loss: “I was proud of the way we fought back from a poor start to the game in the first quarter. We kept our heads up, kept fighting and we continued to play hard and that showed when we took the lead late in the game. Western Kentucky is one of the top programs in the country. Bottom line is you are not going to beat anyone that shoots 29-of-35 in free throws and you are just 4-of-4." Keke Calloway was her usual self from beyond the arc, shooting 7-15 from three-point line for a total 23 points. Means finished with 11 points, 7 assists and 5 steals. Amanda Thompson did not score but did finish with a season-high 11 rebounds and 2 steals. Mercer bounced back on Sunday with a 70-54 win over the Virginia Commonwealth Rams. The Bears played lockdown defense holding VCU to just 32 percent from the floor and outrebounded their opponent for the first time this season, 36-34. We saw life from Rachel Selph after a very tough Friday game. Selph put up a season-high 14 points and was efficient shooting 5-7. She also racked up her 68th block to put her 6th all-time on Mercer’s list. Keke Calloway’s 10-point performance netted her a spot on the GSU Thanksgiving Classic All-Tournament Team. Takeaways 1: It’s all part of the plan Bears fans need not be dismayed at the Western Kentucky loss. WKU went on to win the tournament and is definitely one of the better teams Mercer will play all season. The now 3-3 Hilltoppers had losses to Power-5 teams Iowa (at Iowa), Notre Dame, and Indiana (at Indiana) prior to their contest with the Bears. The Hilltoppers nabbed a spot in the NCAA tournament last season and are a good taste of what the Bears could face should they survive the Southern Conference themselves. It’s all part of Coach Gardner’s plan for a tougher nonconference schedule in preparation for conference play. That being said, it’s hard to win when you allow 35 free throws and two opposing players to score 20+ points. The Bears face another round of tough opponents in the next couple weeks. They take on Campbell this Thursday, who beat SoCon opponent UNCG and played in the WBI last season. Next Wednesday, they will host a George Washington team that was in the WNIT followed by a trip to UNC-Asheville to face a Bulldog team that, while struggling so far, snuck into the NCAA tournament last season. [related title="Related Stories" stories="22893" align="left" background="off" border="none" shadow="off"] 2: Consistency is key We’ve seen the Bears play well through five games, but we have not seen them play a complete game quite yet. The Bears have a tendency to go on long scoring droughts which is bound to happen with a jump shot shooting team. The first game of the season saw a Mercer defense not allow more than 15 points in a quarter to a 27 point explosion in the fourth by UCF. The Bears were able to outlast the Knights and win by nine. The Florida Atlantic game had the Bears overcoming a slower first half with a strong second though they controlled the whole game; Georgia Southern handed Mercer a five-point second quarter, but the Bears exploded in the first and third quarters to cruise to a victory; Western Kentucky held Mercer to just four points in the first quarter, yet kept pace with the Hilltoppers the rest of the game. When the Bears get to a point where they are putting together complete games, they will be very hard to stop.
Mercer Women’s Basketball (3-1) wrapped up its second week of action and the Bears found out a few things about themselves on their chase for a third conference championship. After toughing out two wins on the road to begin the season at UCF and Florida Atlantic, the Bears came back to Macon looking to defend Hawkins Arena against fellow Peach State opponents Georgia Southern and the University of Georgia. [video credit="Avery Braxton" align="left"][/video] Georgia Southern posed little problems for the Bears. Two 27-point quarters to start either half proved that the Bears can score and score in a hurry. This core group of juniors and seniors are entering their third year playing together and can run Head Coach Susie Gardner’s offense to a T. When they are playing cohesively and in rhythm, the Bears’ offense is a machine that can produce from both inside and outside and be deadly from mid-range. The problems occur when Mercer gets out of sync. The second quarter of the Georgia Southern game only saw Mercer put up five points and get outscored by the Eagles 11-5 going to halftime. Coach Gardner turned to a “good defense makes good offense” approach and ratcheted up the pressure to start the third quarter, switching to a halfcourt 1-3-1. The Bears forced 11 turnovers and scored 18 points off turnovers in the quarter and were able to cruise to victory in the fourth. The Georgia game was a different story. It appeared Mercer had their SEC foe shook in the first period, winning the quarter 12-7. After that Georgia outscored Mercer 25-12 in the second to take a 32-24 lead heading into the quarter and were able to keep the Bears at bay for most of the game before running away at the end. Although the box score will make the 72-54 game look like a blowout, the Bears were in striking distance most of the game. However, Georgia’s swarming defense obviously gave Mercer fits, preventing the Bears from getting into any kind of definitive rhythm and eventually it looked the Bulldogs just won the marathon as Mercer seemed to run out of gas. Had Mercer not turned up the pressure themselves towards the end to create turnovers, the game likely would have ended with an 8-12 point deficit as was the norm much of the second half. Coach Gardner didn’t want to concede the easy W. “We could have lost by 10 and just sat back and been ‘Ok, this is a good score to go on…,’” said Gardner postgame. “Or we could say ‘we’re going to get up. We’re going to pressure and see if we can make something happen’ and we chose the latter.” Kahlia Lawrence especially seemed to struggle. She had 19 points against Georgia, but it was a quiet and ugly 19. Lawrence shot just 6-20 from the field, and six of her points came from the stripe in the first half. This isn’t an indictment on Lawrence at all. Georgia’s length and speed are some of the toughest the Bears will see all year and Georgia was hounding Lawrence all game, denying her the ball and hedging her and Sydni Means hard off of ball screens. Georgia is one of two Power 5 conference opponents the Bears will face. They’ll face North Carolina in December. They will face five teams that were in a postseason tournament last year. Western Kentucky and UNC-Asheville were both in the NCAA tournament; George Washington and Central Florida played in the WNIT and Campbell played in the WBI. The tough early season matchups will give Mercer every possible look prior to conference play. “My philosophy this year - and I told my scheduling coach - I said ‘I want the best schedule we can get’ and we’ve got a really, really difficult schedule,” Gardner said. “I said ‘we may not win as many non-conference games, but we’re going to be shown every situation that we may see in the conference, because we have a good conference’.” Before Mercer gets to all of those games minus UCF, here’s what we know through four games: The three-headed monster has to perform The three-headed monster known as the Chimera was a beast that terrorized lands in Greek mythology. The Bears have their own in Sydni Means, Kahlia Lawrence, and Keke Calloway. The combination of Means, Lawrence, and Keke Calloway are going to be a deadly trio this season. Through four games they have scored 176 of Mercer’s 265 points this season. That’s more than half for those of you who might not be as math savvy . When these three are all scoring, as was the case for every game minus Georgia, the Bears will be hard to stop this season. Not to mention, Means is averaging nearly eight assists a game to tag along to that 176 number. The Mercer bench must become a factor quickly When the Chimera (yes, I’m really going to call them that) is struggling, others are really going to have to step up off the bench. Mercer fans saw some good things out of Alex Williams who had nine points and six boards in the Georgia game. A quick first step makes Williams’ penetration to the basket hard to guard, and a decent jumper from mid-range makes taller defenders have to guard her tighter than others. Guard Linnea Rosendal did not put up much in the Georgia game either. She only played 2 minutes and went 0-2 from the floor, but in the Southern game we saw her shine with 15 points, and she was an assassin from downtown going 3-5. Rosendal had a really solid freshman campaign, averaging nine points in a starting role en route to a SoCon Freshman of the Year title and a spot on the SoCon All-Freshman team, but struggled as a sophomore. If Gardner can coax consistency out of her and trust her in more physical contests like the Georgia and UCF games, then the Sweden native can really be problem off the bench. The freshmen will have to grow up quickly as well, and Coach Gardner has already said that as the year progresses she will depend on them. Shannon Titus played solid defense at the top of Gardner’s 1-3-1 zone in place of Lawrence during the Southern game, and center LaKaitlin Wright showed some aggression and a nice touch pass assist as well. Coach Gardner on trusting her bench: “I’ve got to get to a point where I trust my bench a little bit more. I told my players who didn’t play (in the Georgia game) that this was not the game for them to audition in. … At some point I have to start playing these other players and I will, but you’re not going to throw Shannon Titus out there as a freshman versus Georgia and say ‘hey, good luck baby. Go get em.’ I think our depth is going to help us towards the end, but we’ve got to get some games that aren’t so intense.” Length could be a problem The Bears are not a very tall team. On paper, it may appear so as the Bears boast three players who are 6’2” or taller, but 6’2” Germani Abrams is injured and 6’3” LaKaitlin Wright is still looking to find her footing as a freshman. Amanda Thompson is listed at 5’10”, but is often outsized by bigger opponents. That rarely stops her though as she averaged 6.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore and 6.0 this season. Kayla Potts is 5’10” and a very capable defender as is 5’9” Alex Williams, but Mercer may find trouble against teams that can dominate them physically on the boards. NEXT WEEK The Bears can be thankful for a very short road trip as they travel to Atlanta for the GSU Thanksgiving Classic. They will play Western Kentucky on Friday, Nov. 24 and Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday, Nov. 26.
Mercer Football turns its sights to the number one team in the nation this week after closing conference play in victory last Saturday at FCS No. 22/25 Western Carolina, 35-33. The team will travel to Tuscaloosa this week to battle the FBS No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide in the finale of the 2017 regular season. The Bears improved to 5-5 on the season and 4-4 in conference play, equaling their Southern Conference record from a year ago. Unable to find a spot in the FCS playoffs, the squad embraced the role of spoiler and effectively ruined Western Carolina’s chances at a postseason berth with a 5-3 conference record. [related title="Related Stories" stories="22514,21106,20163" align="left" background="on" border="none" shadow="off"] “[Western Carolina] had a lot to play for. We were stumbling along there and didn’t do a very good job the week before,” said Head Coach Bobby Lamb. “To win that game on the road at Western Carolina – they had a big crowd there and were ready for the playoffs – is good to see.” Now the Bears turn their attention to Alabama, Head Coach Nick Saban and the undefeated Crimson Tide. Alabama is sitting atop the FBS rankings after defeating Mississippi State. Fans can be sure that Saban won’t allow his squad to look past Mercer before its big SEC West matchup against Auburn next week. Lamb said his team recognizes the tough task at hand. “I told the team yesterday that we’re playing the number one team in the nation. I’ve coached 31 years in a lot of FBS stadiums and this is the first time I’ll have ever coached against the number one team in the nation,” Lamb said. “It will be a great experience for our kids to go [to Bryant-Denny Stadium] and see what it is about.” The Bears already have experience with the SEC this season, facing then FBS No.15 Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium. A 24-10 loss still had a lot of positives to take away, including a five forced turnover performance by the defense. Mercer will need a similar effort by its defense and stay within the chains on offense this week. If there was any fear in Mercer, players at Monday’s press conference did not show it. “I’m a competitor. At any stage,” said runningback Tee Mitchell. “You get excited to play those games. Guys who love to compete and want to see themselves against the best in the game get excited for this game.” “There’s no secret. They are bigger, stronger and faster. But like against Auburn, we’re just going to go out and give it our all,” said linebacker Lee Bennett. “We’re just going to go have fun. That’s the name of the game.” Mercer also has the unique opportunity to be in the national spotlight for the second time against a SEC foe as an FCS school. This time it will be on a bigger stage as Alabama is the top team in the nation. Lamb appreciates what the extra attention does for his program. A few years ago Mercer Football was only just returning as a Pioneer Football League, no scholarship team. Asked what he would have done five years ago if he was told he’d be facing Alabama in the future… “I would have probably laughed at you. Five years ago … we really weren’t looking past year one,” Lamb said. “At the time I took this job, I had no idea we would be in the Southern Conference and that we would be playing the number one team in the nation. It’s been a quick ride, but a fun ride as well.” Mercer continues to build its brand as a football school where mid-major recruits can potentially show their stuff on the highest stage. Last season was its first experiment facing a Power-5 school in Georgia Tech. This season has two SEC schools on the calendar and Mercer has matchups scheduled with Memphis, North Carolina, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Yale and Alabama through 2023. Mercer has collected pretty pennies so far from their FBS matchups. The Bears collected $300,000 from Georgia Tech in 2016. They’ll make over $1 million collectively from their SEC West foes in 2017. Still the exposure for the program is just as important. “It puts your name out there. Everyone knows that we started football five years ago and they now know we’re in Macon, Georgia,” Lamb said. “It gets our name on a national stage and as we continue to build our brand here at Mercer, that’s what it is all about. This is a huge step for us.” Kick-off in Bryant-Denny Stadium is set for 12 p.m. EST.
After a week of rest Mercer Football will be back on the field in a crucial battle against #8/9 Samford this Saturday. The Bears had the benefit of a bye week to address nicks and bruises and eye the ball game with new life after Samford fell to 3-2 in conference play after a loss to Chattanooga at home. The Bears are currently tied for fifth in conference play at 3-3. A win this week and next week, along with some help with losses by conference teams, could place Mercer in the top four of conference play and in a position to make the playoffs. In 2016, four teams from the SoCon advanced to the playoffs. “It’s definitely something we talk about because at this point, it is still one of the goals ahead of us. One of the goals we made was to make playoffs, and if we win out, we’re confident we’ll be in there,” said offensive lineman Thomas Marchman. “Samford got beat last week by a team we beat. Everyone is beating each other and that’s the nature of the SoCon.” Looming in the background is Homecoming and Senior Day, the last home game of the season. Marchman, a senior himself, enjoys the extra energy on campus. “There’s just a lot of energy around campus this week. It’s really fun. For us it is another football game, but it is fun when everyone is so excited,” Marchman said. Fellow senior, defensive lineman Isaiah Buehler downplayed the Homecoming festivities, but acknowledged that senior day could be emotional. “Homecoming is great; you get to see everyone you used to play with, but other than that I haven’t really experienced Homecoming other than Saturday. Senior Day is going to be tough. I came in with this class, but I have another year of eligibility and will be back next year. I won’t be going out with my boys,” Buehler said. Buehler is a redshirt junior and will play next year for Mercer, but has hard emotional ties with this class of seniors. “You have that one back there [Thomas Marchman in the back of the room]…I told him we’re not going to talk about Senior Day until the season is over,” Buehler said. “It’s going to be tough because you’ve developed a relationship with everyone here. It’s like trying to rip off a really sticky Band-Aid [it hurts].” The team sports 10 seniors this year and all of them will graduate with the exception of Alex Lakes who graduated last year, but had another year of eligibility. Head Coach Bobby Lamb spoke on the seniors’ final home game. “It’s always kind of sad seeing those guys go out there [at Five Star Stadium] one last time. They’ve put in a lot of mileage for the last four or five years and have been parts of this start-up program. We’ll remember them for many years to come.” In light of the festivities, Mercer faces a tough task. The Samford offense averages 28 points per game and 334 passing yards a game while touting the SoCon Preseason Offensive Player of the Year in junior quarterback Devlin Hodges. Head Coach Bobby Lamb highlighted Hodges as a focus this week in practice. [video credit="Avery Braxton" align="left"][/video] “It all starts with him. He does a great job reading the field…they give a lot of different looks, but I think the thing that is most impressive is he can extend the play with his feet. He does a great job in the scramble drill and hits guys on the move,” Lamb said. Hodges’ leads the league in passing yards (2654) and touchdowns (22); his favorite target this year has been junior receiver Kelvin McKnight who averages over 100 yards a game. In comparison, quarterback Kaelan Riley has progressed nicely. The redshirt freshman is third in the league in passing yards per game and fourth in QB efficiency. He has undoubtedly become the leader of Mercer’s redzone leading offense. The Bears score 93 percent of the time inside the 20 yard line. Riley has the confidence of the offense according to Marchman. “He’s vocal…something that wasn’t really there during his true freshman year or even the summer,” Marchman said. “But he’s really grown into that role and he’s doing a great job of it. We all look up to him a lot.” Defensively, the Bears will have to readjust to an air raid style offense. Wofford, Furman, and the The Citadel all play run a form of the option while ETSU and VMI run more traditional styles of offense. Samford will definitely look to throw the football and throw it often. Defensive lineman like Buehler will have a less physical game than in past weeks, but will have to keep pace with Samford’s fast style of play. “You’re mindset has to be more of making sure you’re focused on the mental block of running to the ball. If not every four yards, you just have to run a couple to get to the ball,” Buehler said. “The quarterback is scrambling all the time, so you have to have that mindset and just work throughout the week. You have to eat better and drink a bunch of water because our legs are going to get tired after a while.” Kickoff for Saturday’s game is 3 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN3 or heard on the Mercer Sports Network.
It was another tough week for Mercer after a 28-21 loss to Furman on Saturday that came down to the last possession of the game. The Paladins snapped the Bears three-game win streak and extended their own win streak to five games. Mercer falls to 4-4 and 3-3 in conference play. The game was back and forth and seemed like it might come down to whoever had the ball last. Furman’s 14 unanswered points in the third and fourth quarter would ultimately be insurmountable as Mercer’s final 10-play two-minute drill in the four quarter ended in a Furman interception on the goal line and dashed hopes of a Mercer comeback. Head Coach Bobby Lamb said the ball game came down to just a few areas. “Number one would be penalties; we had 10 penalties, some untimely ones at that. [Number two was] third and fourth down conversions. … [Number three] was we didn’t kick and punt the ball very well,” Lamb said in Monday’s press conference. Mercer’s defense struggled to get Furman’s offense off the field on a number of drives. The Paladins had 3 touchdown drives of six minutes or longer and were a perfect 4-4 on fourth-down conversions including a crucial 4-and-1 on Mercer’s five-yard line that led to the go-ahead touchdown with under five minutes to play. “Furman converted every one of its fourth down attempts; when we're in those situations, we have to figure out a way to get off the field,” Lamb said after Saturday’s game. “We didn't do that. We have to play better and coach better. That all falls on me." Mercer’s offense was able to move the ball well against Furman’s defense totaling 435 yards in offense. Kaelan Riley found a favorite target in Chandler Curtis who ended the game with 11 catches and 202 all-purpose yards on the day. Despite Furman’s long drives, Mercer only trailed in time of possession by 1:34. After the loss Mercer heads into a much needed bye week. The Bears have played 8 weeks straight that included games against Socon-leading Wofford College and the SEC’s Auburn University. Lamb will give his team some much needed rest this week before another SoCon battle against Samford. “Your mentality is [that] you want to get out there in practice and do what you can to be on the field. However, our bye week comes so late in the year; it’s been a long seven or eight weeks and everybody’s tired, so we’re going to give some time off,” Lamb said. “We gave [the players] Sunday off, we gave them Monday off, and we’ll give them [Tuesday] off as well. We’ll then be back on the field preparing for Samford on Thursday and Friday.” A positive is that the Bears enter the bye week healthy. Players in Monday’s press conference gave the impression that despite a much needed break they might still want to be on the field. Lee Bennett, coming off a career-high 17 tackles against Furman, recognized that his teammates needed the rest. “Guys are getting their minds ready to go back, because we’re definitely ready to go back to work after taking a tough loss,” Bennett said. “We’re definitely excited about [the bye week], so we’re going to use it to our advantage.” Mercer will play FCS-ranked #8/9 Samford on Nov. 4 for homecoming. It will be the first of three games against ranked opponents to finish the season including their regular season conclusion against FBS #1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa.