After the unexpected firing of former men’s basketball head coach Bob Hoffman, the Mercer Athletics department commenced their search for a new head coach to lead the program. Just 16 days later, the search is over. In a press release on Mar. 26, Mercer Athletics announced the hiring of current Purdue Boilermakers assistant coach, Greg Gary, as the new men’s basketball head coach. Gary has coached basketball at the college level for over 25 years, including the last eight at Purdue. He currently runs the offensive sets for the Boilermakers, and is known for his work with wing and post players. "When we set out to look for a new head coach, we recognized Greg early in the process as someone we were confident in leading our men's basketball program," Mercer Director of Athletics, Jim Cole, said. Although Gary’s hiring has been officially confirmed, he will not join the program quite yet. His Purdue team is still playing in the NCAA Tournament as one of the team’s in the Sweet 16 field. However, that did not stop Mercer’s newest coach from sharing his excitement to join the Mercer basketball program. "This is such an incredible opportunity and I am both grateful and honored to have been selected as the head men's basketball coach at Mercer University," Gary said. "My family and I could not be more thrilled to have joined the Mercer basketball family and we look forward to joining the Macon community.” Gary takes over a Mercer squad that posted an 11-20 record in the 2018-2019 campaign. The team lost two seniors to graduation, but returns most of their scoring production for the upcoming season.
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The Mercer Bears women’s basketball entered the 2019 NCAA Tournament as one of the four No. 15 seeds, squaring off with the No. 2 seed Iowa Hawkeyes in the Greensboro region. Iowa, led by NCAAw Player of the Year Megan Gustagson, was dominant early on, taking an early 14-2 lead over the Bears. However, Mercer senior Amanda Thompson was not going to let her team go down without a fight, leading the Bears to a 10-2 run to finish the quarter down just 16-12. The second quarter was back-and-forth, but the Hawkeyes hit a 3-pointer as time expired to take a 35-27 lead into the halftime locker room. While the first two quarters belonged to the Hawkeyes, it was the Bears who took the third. After trailing by eight at halftime, Mercer outscored Iowa 24-15 in the third quarter to enter the final 10 minutes ahead by one. In NCAA women’s basketball tournament history, a No. 15 seed has never upset a No. 2 seed. If Mercer was able to hold on, not only would they live to play another game -- they would make their mark in basketball history. The fourth quarter started off with both teams trading baskets. However, it was Iowa’s Gustafson who just couldn’t miss down the stretch. The Bears had their chances in the end, but Gustafson proved to just be too much. When the final buzzer rang, it was the Hawkeyes in control of a 66-61 victory. The Bears finish the 2018-2019 season with a 25-8 overall record, a SoCon regular season crown, as well as a SoCon Tournament championship. Next year’s Mercer squad is bound to look quite different. They lose five seniors to graduation this year, including starters KeKe Calloway, Amanda Thompson, Rachel Selph and Linnea Rosendall, as well as key reserve Ally Welch. These past four seasons have been quite successful for Mercer. After losing so much talent to graduation, the question shifts to sustainability. If there’s one thing I know for sure after covering this team -- don’t doubt Mercer Head Coach Susie Gardner. She’s one heck of a coach, and I’m sure she will have the Bears competing year-in and year-out for many seasons to come.
The wait is over. After a little over a week of anticipation, the Mercer women’s basketball team found out who their first round matchup will be in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The Bears were given a No. 15 seed in the Greensboro region, earning them a matchup against the No. 2 seed Iowa Hawkeyes. Like the Bears, the Hawkeyes earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament this season after winning the Big 10 conference tournament title. Iowa is the nation’s No. 9 overall ranked team, finishing the season with a 26-6 record. The Hawkeyes are led by 6’3 junior forward Megan Gustafson, this year’s espnW Player of the Year, which is awarded to the nation’s top women’s basketball player. This is Mercer’s second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament after falling to No. 4 seeded Georgia in the first round last season. The Bears will hope for a different result given a similar opportunity to pull off the upset this season. The game is set for tip-off at 2 p.m. (ET) on Friday March 22 in Iowa City, IA. The game will be nationally broadcasted live on ESPN2.
The Mercer Bears women’s basketball team has completed an incredible feat, repeating as Southern Conference champions, after coming back to defeat Furman 66-63 on Sunday. Furman got out to the quick start in the first quarter, but the Bears responded in the second quarter to take a 35-31 lead into halftime. It was the second half where Furman started to catch fire. The Bears were outscored by the Paladins 16-9 in the third quarter, and entered the final 10 minutes trailing 47-44. The fourth quarter saw the Paladins extend their lead out to six points, and hold onto it until about the five minute mark. This is when everything changed. After scoring zero points in the first three quarters, Mercer guard Shannon Titus erupted for 12 points in the fourth quarter, sparking her team’s comeback down the stretch. The Paladins fought hard, and had two chances to tie the game in the final seconds. But when it was all said and done, it was the Bears dancing in the streamers, celebrating a second consecutive SoCon tournament title. Quick Takes (1) Titus has ice in her veins After scoring 27 in the Bears semi-finals game against Wofford, the sophomore guard struggled for most of the championship game. However, when it mattered most, Titus came through for Mercer. Her 12 fourth quarter points not only helped her team on the scoreboard, but in their confidence, as well. The Bears looked lost, dazed and confused before Titus took the game over. It was an incredible performance by the sophomore guard. (2) The Keke Calloway we all know Calloway has had a rollercoaster like year for the Mercer Bears. She has had really high highs and some pretty low lows. However, she finished strong, winning the SoCon Player of the Year award and dropping 30 points in the championship game. The Bears will need the best version of Keke Calloway they can get in the NCAA Tournament, no matter who they draw in the opening round. (3) Bears are dancing again Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, Mercer is once again heading back to the big dance. According to Charlie Creme’s edition of “Bracketology” on ESPN, the Bears are currently projected as a No. 16 seed against either No. 1 seed Notre Dame or No. 1 seed Baylor. This would have the Bears playing in either South Bend, ID or Waco, TX for their first round matchup. Mercer would almost certainly be massive underdogs in either game, but I would expect the Bears to give either a good fight. Player of the Game: KeKe Calloway (No. 0) Calloway was unstoppable all night long, scoring a game-high 30 points The senior guard played 39 total minutes in the game, resting for just one minute in the game She also contributed four rebounds, two assists and five 3-pointers Notable Quotables (-) Head Coach Susie Gardner on repeating as champions: “Just think about what these seniors have done in these last two years. Go undefeated in the regular season and win two championships. That’s a lot of winning. And I’m not saying we are the best team to come through the SoCon by any stretch, but these guys, these seniors know how to win. And we got it done tonight somehow.” (-) Calloway talks about her big time performance: “First, it’s only credit to my teammates for finding me and getting me the ball to get open shots. Also to my coaches for believing in me enough to take those long crazy deep shots and they went in today. I just tried to come in and focus to just lead my team and just be the best I can be because if I’m at my best, then everyone else is at their best and we’ll have the best chance to win.” (-) Gardner on how she helped the Bears mount a comeback: “I try to be Ms. Positive in the huddle. Between the third and the fourth quarter I had to get out of my normal character. But I just looked at them and said, “Y’all, we’re seniors. We’ve been here. We got this.” I wasn’t sure that we had it, but I had to convince myself and convince them that we had it.”
The defending-champion Mercer Bears will have yet another opportunity to cut down the nets in this year’s SoCon Championship game after defeating the No. 5 seed Wofford Terriers, 69-51, in the tournament semi-finals. Friday’s morning matchup saw the Bears get off to yet another slow start on offense. However, their impressive team defense shined through once again. The Terriers came in as the SoCon’s top scoring team, but the Bears held the Terriers to just 11 first quarter points and 10 in the second. All in all, Wofford shot just 30 percent in the first half due to the stifling Mercer defense. Mercer ran away with the game in the second half, outscoring the Terriers by 11 points over the final 20 minutes. The Bears offense started clicking, thanks to 19 second-half points from Shannon Titus, all the while their defense continued to lock Wofford down. When the final buzzer rang, the celebration commenced for the defending champion Bears, who are now heading to the second consecutive Southern Conference Championship. Quick Takes (1) Another slow start on offense In each of their first two games of the SoCon tournament, the Bears have struggled mightily on offense. The Bears shot just 35 percent from the floor in the first half, but thankfully the Terriers, the top-scoring team in the conference, had an even tougher time scoring, shooting at a lowly 30 percent. Mercer averages higher scoring numbers than either of the team’s they could face in the SoCon title, but that doesn’t mean the slow starts on offense aren’t reason to be concerned. (2) Taking care of the basketball In their opening round game against Western Carolina, the Bears committed an atrocious 18 turnovers. Despite the blowout victory, it was an area that the Bears needed to address before Friday’s game versus Wofford. And they did, cutting down their turnover number in half, down to just 9. It was a huge improvement and likely made the difference in a much closer, hard-fought game. (3) SoCon Championship preview One more win stands in the way of Mercer repeating as SoCon Tournament champions. Who the Bears will face in the title game is still to be determined, but we do know that it will be either No. 2 seed Furman or No. 3 seed Chattanooga. The Bears fared well against both squads this season, defeating Furman twice by a combined 19 points and Chattanooga by 13 in two contests, as well. The Bears will be the favorite, but must be prepared for each team’s best shot at an upset. The title game is set for Mar. 10 with a 12 p.m. tip-off. Player of the Game: Shannon Titus (No. 21) Titus was a force on defense all game, swatting away a game-high five blocks The sophomore slasher scored 29 points, the most points by any player on either team and a new-career high for her She also contributed six rebounds, two assists and a steal in 35 minutes of action Notable Quotables (-) Head Coach Susie Gardner on the play of Shannon Titus: Shannon’s got a lot of gifts in terms of being an athlete. She’s long, she’s got intelligence -- you’ve got to be smart to be a good defender. So that was an amazing job on defense. We were having a little bit of trouble finding the basket in terms of scoring, and the shot clock would go down and Shannon was just hitting key shots at important times. And then again, we would focused on rebounds and she has 6 rebounds. Just an all around stat game for Shannon.” (-) Amanda Thompson talks about playing in another title game: It’s super exciting. It’s always fun after this game just knowing that you made it to the championship again. You’ve got the afternoon to kinda, for the players at least, to rest and then practice tomorrow. It’s just an exciting couple of days in preparing for the championship. What more could you want? This is the best time of the year. It’s just so much fun.” (-) Thompson on how her team will prepare for their title defense: "We’ve just got to do what we’ve always done. We’ll focus and see who wins this next game. And then the coaches will start preparing a scout, and we’ll rest. Then just be ready to take in what they tell us tomorrow at practice. Just prepare like we have for any other game this year, and just really focus on what the coaches want us to do. And then we’ll execute come Sunday.”
As the No. 1 overall seed in a tournament, you play each game with a target on your back, taking the best shot from each team you face. When Mercer took the court against No. 8 seed Western Carolina, most expected a Bears victory. But I’m not sure many expected a dominating victory like this one. The opening quarter saw Mercer get off to a slow start, but a couple of 3-pointers from KeKe Calloway propelled them to a strong finish. However, the second quarter is where the Mercer defense cracked down, holding the Catamounts to just three points to enter halftime up 27-10. Mercer stayed consistent in the third quarter, outscoring Western Carolina 17-10 to head into the final quarter ahead 44-20. This allowed Head Coach Susie Gardner to get some rest for her starters and get her bench some valuable minutes. The fourth quarter saw the Mercer bench battle with the Catamounts starters to a near draw, but in the end, it was all Mercer from the opening tip until the final buzzer. Behind some stifling defense, the Bears got the 55-32 victory to advance to the second round of the 2019 SoCon Tournament. Quick Takes (1) Bears defense came to play A rather cold shooting performance from Mercer didn’t seem to faze their defense, who likely played their best defensive game of the 2018-2019 season. They held the Catamounts to just 32 points, the lowest output allowed by the Bears all season, on just 22 percent shooting from the floor. Even moreso, the Bears held the Catamounts to just 2-of-20 from beyond the arc, which likely kept the opposition from getting back into the game. (2) Turnovers are a problem that must be solved When you win a game in as dominant a fashion as Mercer did, it’s often hard to find areas to improve upon. However, Mercer committed 18 turnovers, a problem that is likely going to keep Coach Gardner up late trying to solve. This is a Mercer team that has taken care of the ball for most of the season, but came out sloppy against the Catamounts. It’s an issue, and one that must be fixed. (3) What’s next? Mercer won’t have much time to rest and make any adjustments as they play against Friday morning. The Bears will have another morning tip-off against the winner of Thursday’s afternoon matchup between No. 4 seed ETSU and No. 5 seed Wofford. Mercer had good luck against both the Bucs and Terriers this season, but if the bears don’t fix their issues with turnovers, they could be in trouble. Player of the Game: KeKe Calloway (No. 0) Calloway finished the game with 18 points, a game-high for the senior guard She went 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, knocking down two in the first quarter to get her team going The senior guard also contributed three rebounds, three assists and three steals in just 24 minutes of action Notable Quotables (-) Head Coach Susie Gardner gives her thoughts on the game: "When you play a team three times it gets a little trickier for us to score as well. We knew that we can always bring the intangibles of playing hard defense. One of our goals was to be better on the glass. We out rebounded them 49-33 with Amanda getting 17. Our offense was a little off. We had 18 turnovers which is atypical of us but overall I am very pleased to get that game under our belts.” (-) Calloway talks about her performances in the SoCon Tournament during her career: “I wouldn’t say it is so much the building. It is just knowing what’s at stake. It is tournament time so you really want to be playing your best basketball. So I just try to focus and lock in and know what’s at stake and we just have to win and do whatever it takes to win." (-) Amanda Thompson on her team's improved rebounding: “You know I had 14 defensive rebounds, but those are really team rebounds that comes from everybody on the floor boxing out, the ball dropping in the middle. I am just the one who gets to grab it. So I think that is just a testament to the team and how much of a better job we did boxing out in general which is really good. It was nice to see.”
The 2018-2019 regular season was a rollercoaster ride for the Mercer men's basketball team. A few near-upset wins at the beginning of the season, a handful of close losses to the Southern Conference’s top squads, a winning streak, and now, a rough loss at home in the regular season finale. The Bears hung around early in the game, trailing just 19-16 through the game’s first 10 minutes. However, the Spartans got hot over the half’s final minutes, outscoring the Bears 19-2 to take a 38-18 lead into halftime. The second half saw the Bears fall behind by 26, fight back and cut the deficit down to 17, only to end up losing the game in the end by 27 points. All in all, Saturday afternoon just wasn’t the Mercer Bears day. Quick Takes (1) The good, the bad, the ugly The good is that this team never quits. Despite losing by nearly 30 points at home, the team never slowed down or showed signs of giving up. The bad is that may not be enough, or at least it hasn’t been this season. The ugly is that the team lost their second consecutive game by double-digits to end the season. How will this young, up-and-down team respond as they enter the tournament? (2) Being a sleeper team could be a good thing Mercer enters the SoCon tournament as the No. 6 seed, meaning they bypass the tournament’s play-in round. They will face the No. 3 seed Furman Paladins in the second round, whom the Bears have lost to twice this year. Combine that with the fact that the Bears lost their last two games, and what you get is no one expecting the Bears to win. That could be a good thing, as the expectations and pressures are on the Paladins. Mercer played Furman well in both games this season. Could they pull of the upset? (3) What they need to do in the tournament If Mercer is going to pull of an upset of the Furman Paladins, their a few things that they must do. Number one, be consistent. On too many occasions this year, Mercer has fallen into scoring droughts and either a) let the other team either get back into games or b) fall into insurmountable deficits. Consistency is key. Number two, Ross Cummings must come to play. If Mercer is going to pull off the upset, the junior sharpshooter needs to score in bunches. Number three, run the floor. With players like Marcus Cohen and Daniel Love at the point, this team needs to run, run and run some more. Playing with a faster tempo can lead to open 3-pointers for Ross, dunks for Jaylen Stowe and layups for Cohen. Easy transition points are huge in close games. Player of the Game: Victor Bafutto (No. 55) His seven points are the most he’s scored since Feb. 14 against Western Carolina Baffuto swatted away a career-high four blocks in the game The 6’10 center also pulled down three rebounds Notable Quotables (1) Head Coach Bob Hoffman on what went wrong in the loss: "They out battled us and we didn't execute very well. We got beat every which way but loose tonight against a very good team. (UNGC) is long, athletic, strong and physical. When you got the separation that they did early on it’s hard to get back in the game.” (2) Hoffman on what’s next for the his team: “I told our team afterwards that the regular season is over, and it's up to us if we want to try to accomplish something special at the tournament.”
For the second consecutive season, the Mercer women’s basketball team has finished the season with an undefeated Southern Conference record. To do so once is an extremely impressive accomplishment, but to do so twice can only be classified as one thing -- special. Their final win wasn’t handed to do them, though. Wofford (15-14, 7-7 SoCon) came to Hawkins Arena and took the Bears (22-7, 14-0 SoCon) to the very last minute, at times looking like they might be the time that finally takes the Bears down. The Bears trailed Wofford for most of the first half, and ended up entering the halftime locker room behind 26-22. However, it was Mercer’s seniors who, on Senior Day, refused to lose their final game at Hawkins Arena. After a back-and-forth start to the third quarter, senior KeKe Calloway knocked down a huge 3-pointer to tie the game. Moments later, fellow senior Linnea Rosendal connected on a 3-pointer herself to give the Bears a 36-33 lead. Once the Bears got the lead, they never looked back. While the Terriers never went away, it always felt like the Bears were in control of their 65-59 victory. Quick Takes (1) Mercer’s five woman senior class Four SoCon regular season crowns, a SoCon tournament championship, two straight undefeated SoCon seasons, 34 straight SoCon wins, and 101 total wins -- and counting. That’s what this year’s Mercer senior class, the winningest four-year class in program history, will leave with their legacy. Calloway, Rosendal, Rachel Selph, Amanda Thompson and Ally Welch have left their mark on Mercer basketball, and will always be remembered for the special things they have accomplished. However, the best parts might still be ahead. (2) Looking ahead to the SoCon tournament The Bears have long been a lock for the top seed in the SoCon tournament, but it became official on Saturday. Mercer (22-7, 14-0 SoCon) will open the tournament this Thursday against No. 8 seed Western Carolina (4-25, 0-14 SoCon). The Bears defeated the Catamounts twice this season. If they defeat the Catamounts, Mercer will face the winner of No. 4 seed ETSU versus No. 5 seed Wofford. The tournament will conclude on Sunday Mar. 10 with the tournament championship. (3) If they win the tournament, what’s next? This might be getting a little ahead of ourselves, but for a team that has gone two consecutive seasons without a single loss to a SoCon team -- it’s at least worth thinking about. After winning the tournament last season, the Bears earned their first ever Division 1 NCAA Tournament berth. The Bears drew the Georgia Bulldogs for their first round matchup, and lost a close one. This year’s team is currently projected to face one of the country’s No. 2 seeds, which would result in a much tougher matchup. The Bears need to win the SoCon tournament, and win it convincingly if they wish to draw an easier matchup. Player of the Game: KeKe Calloway (No. 0) Calloway scored 20 points, the most of any player on either team in the game The senior guard also grabbed five rebounds, dished out seven assists, and got a block and a steal to top it off Calloway’s performance, along with her performance on Thursday, earned her the SoCon Player of the Week honor Notable Quotables (-) Head Coach Susie Gardner on another regular season crown: "It's something you don't take for granted. It's very difficult to win a regular season championship … everything has to go the right way all year long. For our fans to see us raise a trophy, that was special." (-) Gardner on pulling out the close win over Wofford "As expected, it was another very close contest that went to the end. We've had those all year, so I guess you wouldn't expect anything different. Wofford has a really good team and they kept coming at us, but I'm proud of our team and thankful for our crowd – they were so loud throughout."
Mercer men’s basketball entered Thursday’s matchup with the Keydets of Virginia MIlitary Institute (9-20, 3-14 SoCon) riding a two game winning streak. All signs pointed to the Bears having finally found their rhythm and identity. Well, the Bears (11-18, 6-11 SoCon) didn’t look like the same team on Thursday night. The energized and physical Mercer team that defeated Samford and Chattanooga in back-to-back games was nowhere to be found. The Bears and Keydets both struggled to defend in the first half, and the result was the team’s combining to shoot 54 percent from the floor and making 14 total 3-pointers. It was an offensive explosion. However, the second half was a completely different story. Mercer came out flat and never could seem to shake it off. By the time the Bears started to find their energy again, it was far too late. The Keydets pulled away, and the Bears fell 84-71 on the road. Quick Takes (1) Just when the Bears had momentum... The Bears came out strong, but fell flat shortly after. If it wasn’t for eight first half 3-pointers, this game could have gotten ugly early. For a team that had won two straight games, they didn’t seem to have the same sense of urgency that they had in the previous games. Did they get complacent? I’m not sure. But they don’t have time to think about it, as they host one of the SoCon’s toughest teams, UNC-Greensboro, at Hawkins Arena in Saturday’s season finale. (2) Not a good loss Virginia Military Institute had not beaten Mercer since Feb. of 2016 when the Keydets beat the Bears 91-82. The Keydets entered Thursday’s game with a 2-14 conference record and a firm hold on last place in the SoCon. This was not a game that I, nor anybody, should have expected Mercer to lose. They needed this win, and they didn't get it. The loss makes Saturday’s matchup with UNC-Greensboro a near-must win. (3) Where do we go from here? This Mercer team just can’t seem to find itself, and they have just about run out of time. Are they slow, methodical defensive-minded team? Maybe. Are they a three-point shooting team that likes to run the floor? Who knows. The team’s lack of a true identity could prove to be deadly come the conference tournament. We can only hope that the team figures it all out in the next 10 days. Player of the Game: Ethan Stair (No. 22) The junior guard scored a career-high 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting Stair knocked down a season-high five 3-pointers He also contributed three rebounds, one assist and a steal Notable Quotables (-) Head Coach Bob Hoffman on the team’s tough loss: "They just played a lot harder than we did. Early on we had some opportunities to get some layups and some "and ones" but our big guys didn't finish the plays when we needed to. They had more energy for 40 minutes than we did and we weren't able to get it done.” (-) Hoffman talks about the physical nature of the game: It was a physical game; they were all over Ross (Cummings) the entire game and it's hard to get shots when people are on you like they were. The mindset and toughness in this kind of environment means that you have to be mentally tough and we weren't. (-) Hoffman on what went wrong in the loss: “They came at us and they had a better game plan than we did. We had some busts on offense late in the game when it was just a one possession game. We have a big game Saturday (against UNCG) and we need to be ready to play."
Mercer women’s basketball vs Furman -- a matchup of the top two teams in the Southern Conference. Also, a potential preview of the 2019 SoCon Championship that will take place in just over a week. The Bears got out to a hot start by playing stifling defense and getting out in transition. They led 20-5 after the first quarter of play. The second quarter was a bit more even, but the Bears were able to maintain a double-digit lead, 32-20. However, Furman rolled out a full-court press defense in the third quarter -- and it gave Mercer fits. The Paladins outscored the Bears by six to cut their lead down to just 43-37 heading into the final quarter. The fourth quarter saw the Paladins continue to eat into the Mercer lead, eventually tying the game up with four minutes to play. After a few traded baskets, the Bears capitalized on a few Furman turnovers with a 6-0 run to go up 57-51 with under two minutes to go. The Paladins didn’t go away easy, but a dagger from beyond the arc by Linnea Rosendall put the Bears up 60-53 with just 45 seconds to go. When the clock showed all zeroes, the Bears had held on for a 66-62 victory. Quick Takes (1) Bears need to keep their foot on the gas pedal Too often when Mercer gets a comfortable lead, they take a step back, relax and allow teams to get back into games. With the SoCon Tournament just over a week away, the competition is only going to get tougher. If Mercer wants to repeat as SoCon Tournament champions for a second consecutive season, the Bears will need to start fast, stay fast and ultimately, finish fast. (2) Vision of the Mercer bigs In the game of basketball, having post players that can find open players and make plays passing the ball is rare. Luckily for Mercer women’s basketball, they’ve got two of them. Amanda Thompson and Rachel Selph combined for nine assists in the game. For a team that lacks a true point guard in the starting lineup, having bigs with vision like Selph and Thompson is invaluable. (3) A preview of what’s to come What Thursday’s game against Furman provided the Bears is a preview of what to expect come SoCon tournament time. Mercer is going to get every team’s best shot, no matter their record in the regular season. This team is battle-tested, and have proven they can win close games on many occasions this season. I expect more close games in their future come tournament time and beyond. Player of the Game: Amanda Thompson (No. 2) The senior dished out a career-high seven assists Thompson posted a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds She sunk two huge free-throws down the stretch to put her team firmly in the driver’s seat Notable Quotables (-) Head Coach Susie Gardner on the team’s rough second half: "Well, thank goodness we had a good first quarter. Because we just about let them comeback. It was one of the .. best quarters we’ve had. But I told them that Furman is not gonna go away. We did some illavised things that we should not be doing this late in the season, but thankfully Amanda (Thompson) and Rachel (Selph) came to play today.” (-) Thompson on the passing ability of her team’s post players: “We work a lot on post sets, and being able to especially feed each other. And then sometimes kick it out to the corners. So, I think it’s huge for us to be able to work with each other, and just score in that way.” (-) Gardner on the play of Thompson: “Amanda’s (Thompson) the glue of our team. She’s the heart and soul. We ask her to do everything that’s needed of her, and she never questions, she never complains. She just says ‘whatever you need from me coach, I’ll do.’ The success that we’re having is based on those seniors, and it starts with Amanda.”
It wasn’t pretty, and it definitely wasn’t easy, but Mercer women’s basketball found a way to keep their winning streak alive. Conference road games are always tough to win, but when you shoot just 39-percent from the floor, get out-rebounded and you only make one 3-pointer -- on paper, it can look almost impossible. However, Mercer overcame those struggles due to stifling defense and ball security. The Bears held the Mocs to just 35-percent shooting and turned the ball over just six times in the game. The game was close the entire way, as the stat sheet would indicate. But it was Mercer who found their spark at the right time, outsourcing the Mocs in both the third and fourth quarters. The result was a gritty, ugly 62-56 road win for Mercer. All in all, it’s a win and I think they’ll take it. Quick Takes (1) Gritty, road wins can do wonders Wins like this aren’t pretty. Fans don’t go crazy over them. The highlights don’t end up going viral on social media. Blah, blah, blah. What matters is that one team won the game and one team lost. Luckily, that team was Mercer on Saturday. The Bears have won games in every type of way this season. Blowouts, comebacks, shootouts, buzzer-beats and now they’ve notched a win where they relied almost solely on their defense. Come tournament time and beyond, being able to find ways to win matters. And sometimes, it’s all that matters in the end. (2) Bigs are playing bigger (and better) After last game, I highlighted the play of Rachel Selph, who has been tearing it up on the court the last few games. However, tonight she was joined by fellow big and freshman LaKaitlin Wright. The 6’3 center didn’t do much on the offensive side, but she pulled down 10 rebounds, swatted away three blocks and got a steal in 18 minutes of action. Every single one of those stats are career-highs for Wright. Her ability to spell Selph when she gets tired is critical for a Mercer time who is generally undersized when Selph isn’t on the floor. If the Bears can win the SoCon, Wright’s size will be crucial if the Bears draw a bigger team in the NCAA Tournament. (3) Future is bright Mercer loses four starters to graduation this year, including team leaders Amanda Thompson and KeKe Calloway. After losing Kahlia Lawrence and Sydni Means last season, most teams would fall off significantly in the years after. However, Mercer’s future appears pretty bright. Shannon Titus will step into a lead scoring role, with Tia Benvenuti running the floor and LaKaitlin Wright manning the middle. The team won’t look the same, but the talent will still be there. Add in Arizona transfer forward Kiana Barkhoff, and the Bears will be set moving forward. Player of the Game: LaKaitlin Wright (No. 22) Wright came in a dominated the paint, pulling down a career-high 10 rebounds, including two on the offensive glass Her three blocks were also a career-high and set the tone for the defense all night long Wright played a career-high 18 minutes and made the most, notching a four different statistical categories Notable Quotables (1) Coach Susie Gardner on finding different ways to win games: “The ways we've won are a credit to being a true team; we don't rely on one single player every night and it's great to see different players step up when needed.” (2) Gardner on winning another close game: "We're battle tested. We always have someone new stepping up to make plays down the stretch. It's taxing on our coaching staff, but we all have the confidence in our players to make the plays needed to win the game." (3) Gardner talks about SoCon winning streak: “To have won 32 straight SoCon games is great, but we're very proud of winning these past two titles outright."
That’s what Mercer secured in Saturday’s game against Chattanooga, giving the Bears two straight wins as the season began to wind down. It didn’t look promising early for the Bears, as it was Chattanooga (12-17, 7-9 SoCon) who led for most of the first half and entered halftime up 42-34. The first 10 minutes of the second half were pretty stagnant. Mercer hung around, but wasn’t able to cut into the Mocs lead. However, at around the nine-minute mark, the Bears (10-17, 6-10) caught fire and went on a 19-5 run to take a 69-61 lead. Chattanooga fought back, but that’s when Ross Cummings caught fire. The junior guard scored 17 points in the game’s final seven minutes. Despite a strong effort down the stretch from the Mocs, it was the Bears who held on for the 74-69 victory. Quick Takes (1) Has the switch finally flipped? Since the beginning of conference play, I’ve been asking the same question: When is the proverbial switch going to flip for this team? Well, that might have happened in Saturday’s win. The Bears overcame not only a slow start, which has plagued them so often this season, but also a long second-half scoring drought -- the team’s Achilles heel all season. When young team’s like Mercer start finding ways to win, they can become dangerous as their confidence continues to grow. One can only hope that happens for this team, as well. (2) Ross. Cummings. That’s all. The kid is downright special. It’s that simple. I can’t think of any more ways to characterize what Cummings has meant to his team this year. We all knew after he broke out last year that he would be a good player, but I’m not sure many thought he would drop 37 points in a conference game that his team absolutely had to win. The junior guard started as a role player, became a starter, transitioned into a team leader and has now transformed into a star. His future is bright, and his team will need every bit of his magic down the stretch. (3) Can the Bears finish strong? Two more games remain on the schedule for Mercer men’s basketball before the SoCon tournament. The Bears currently sit in sixth place in the SoCon, which would grant them a bye in the tournament. If things stay the same, the Bears would have a second-round matchup with third place ETSU, who has beaten Mercer twice. If Mercer is going to stand a chance of advancing past the second round, the Bears must build up their confidence by winning these next two games. Player of the Game: Ross Cummings (No. 20) Cummings scored a career-high 37 points on 12-of-22 shooting His 37 points were two points shy of the Hawkins Arena all-time record for points scored in a game Cummings hit eight 3-pointers, also a career-high for the junior Notable Quotables (1) Head Coach Bob Hoffman on the play of Ross Cummings: “That guy right there (Ross Cummings) was amazing. Our guys did a great job screening for him and he got going and he hit some deep threes from the corner that really got us going.” (2) Hoffman talks about the team’s second-half comeback: “We weren't guarding very well in the first half. In the second half we started scrambling some on defense and I think it upset Chattanooga some.” (3) Hoffman on what the team has to do to keep winning: “Right now we just need to keep getting better and finding things that work for us. I told our guys they really persevered and there was a lot more basketball to play."
The Bears traveled to Johnson City, Tennessee for a matchup with East Tennessee State Buccaneers on Thursday, the first of two straight road games. Mercer got out ahead of the Bucs early thanks to fast starts from starters Amanda Thompson and Shannon Titus. At the end of the opening quarter, the Bears led 25-15. The second quarter was pretty back-and-forth for the most part, which resulted in the Bears entering halftime with a 40-32 lead. The second half is where things got interesting. ETSU made a few runs in the third quarter, but couldn’t eat into Mercer’s lead. It was in the fourth quarter that the Bucs outscored the Bears by eight to send the game into overtime. The overtime period, however, was all Mercer -- more accurately, all Shannon Titus. Titus took over the period, scoring all seven of Mercer’s overtime points and led her team to a hard-fought, 83-77 road victory. Quick Takes (1) Bears clinch fourth straight SoCon regular season title Winning a single conference championship is an accomplishment. But winning four in a row is something truly special. It’s a testament to the program that Head Coach Susie Gardner has built in her nine years at Mercer. The Bears are also currently on a 31-game SoCon winning streak, which is equally incredible. Add that to the fact that the SoCon Player of the Year has been a Mercer Bear for the last four seasons, each year that the Bears have been in the league. And, well, wow. Incredible. (2) Rachel Selph is peaking at the right time Selph had been having a pretty quiet year up until the last few games. The 6’3 center has really stepped up her game recently, and that continued in Thursday’s game with an 18-point, seven rebound performance, including two steals. Selph is the Bears best post player, and they’ve needed this kind of play from her down the stretch. If you take her out of the last few games, I’m not sure Mercer wins all of them. The senior has been playing big, figuratively and literally. (3) No Amanda down the stretch...no problem? The Bears lost Amanda Thompson due to her fouling out late in the game. Thompson has been the glue that holds this team together the entire year. How would this team respond to losing their leader? Pretty well, I’d say. Other players, like Selph and Titus, stepped up to the plate and pushed their team forward. The team definitely wasn’t better without her, but it was good to see them win a game without her. Teams are going to try to get her in foul trouble so that she can’t impact games like she does. Mercer needs to be prepared for that, and Thursday showed that they were. Player of the Game: Shannon Titus (No. 21) Titus scored a career-high 27 points in 42 minutes of action The sophomore guard pulled down five rebounds dished three assists and got two steals Titus scored all seven of Mercer’s overtime points Notable Quotables (1) Coach Gardner talks about getting a big road win: “I’m proud of our team for finding a way to win a really hard-fought game on the road. ETSU killed us on the glass, specifically with 22 offensive rebounds, which were two more than we had on the defensive side. We got an early lead, but they beat us inside the majority of the game.” (2) Gardner on playing without Thompson down the stretch: “We aren’t used to seeing Amanda (Thompson) foul out, so it was great to see us respond and find a way to win without one of our most important players. Amanda is our glue and a lot of our offense runs through her.” (3) Gardner on other players stepping up late in the game: “KeKe (Calloway) did a great job of hitting some big baskets and toward the end made a great decision to find Shannon (Titus) on a backdoor cut in overtime. Obviously, Shannon was impressive all game.”
Mercer needed a victory. And they needed it bad. Coming off a 19-point thrashing at the hands of East Tennessee State, the Bears were reeling and in desperate need of a win to get them back on track. They got that win. But it wasn’t easy -- at all. The Bears came out firing on all cylinders, and Samford couldn’t seem to buy a bucket if their life depended on it. Nine 3-pointers and stifling defense led the Bears to a 38-20 halftime lead, their largest of the 2019 season to date. However, the second half was a different story. The Bulldogs slowly scratched and clawed their way right back into the game, eventually cutting the Mercer lead down to 52-50 with 6:30 left in the game. A few minutes later, Mercer freshman Luke Hamilton stepped up and drilled a deep 3-pointer to put Mercer up 62-54. It was a dagger. Despite making just nine total shots in the second half, Mercer found a way to hang on in a 65-62 victory over the Samford Bulldogs. Quick Takes (1) The 3-pointers were flying all night From the opening tip until the final buzzer, Mercer was firing away from beyond the arc. The Bears hit nine 3-pointers in the first half while Samford only knocked down one. That’s a 24-point difference in scoring, and when you consider that Mercer ended the first half up 18, you can see just how important those 3-pointers were. There won’t be nights like these often, but Mercer will take this one and use it to build momentum as the season comes to a close. (2) Bears need consistency from the bench Mercer’s bench scored 17 points tonight, 11 of which came from freshman Luke Hamilton. The big man hit three big time 3-pointers including a deep one late in the game to put Mercer up eight points with under a minute to go. If Mercer can get better consistency from their other bench players, the team should have no problems keeping up with some of the higher-scoring teams in the conference. (3) Can Mercer finish the season strong? The Bears are getting ready to enter the final week of conference action, which means we are getting awfully close to the SoCon Tournament. Mercer is a team that has had its fair share of ups and downs. However, they have an opportunity to put all of that behind them and finish out the season strong. The Bears sit in seventh place right now, within striking distance of a fifth seed. If the team can finish in the top six, they earn a tournament bye. They need that bye. Can they make it happen? Player of the Game: Ross “Mamba” Cummings (No. 20) The junior guard scored a team-high 23 points Cummings also pulled down six rebounds 12 of Cummings’ 23 points came from behind the 3-point line Notable Quotables (1) Mercer Head Coach Bob Hoffman on team’s fast start: “I thought our juice was really good. That’s what we talked about -- we’ve gotta have juice … amazing intensity for this game. I thought all our guys were ready to play, and I’m happy for them that we were able to find a way to get it done tonight. We were able to find a way to win a close game, which is great for this team.” (2) Hoffman on Luke Hamilton’s big performance; “He’s not afraid of the moment. I love the fact that he’s not afraid. That’s a big deal. But as a freshman -- if you’re aggressive and you wanna be good and you play as hard as he’s playing -- good things are gonna happen.” (3) Hoffman on the team’s momentum heading into final games: “Momentum’s a big deal. For your mindset -- more often than not -- you’ve got to be on a little bit of a roll and feel really good about what you’re trying to do. And get to that tournament … get on that neutral floor and let it all out and let it go.”
It’s been a rollercoaster ride of a season for Mercer men’s basketball and it continued on Saturday afternoon. The Bears have competed start to finish with all of their SoCon competition this season, but Saturday was different. Saturday wasn’t close at all. East Tennessee State was the superior team in all phases of the game, holding the Bears to just 38.6% shooting from the floor and forcing 17 Mercer turnovers. While Mercer was able to hang around early, the Bucs used a 24-5 run to close out the first half. When the halftime buzzer rang, Mercer found themselves trailing by 19 points, 40-21. The second half wasn’t much better. The Bears matched ETSU’s second-half scoring output, but that meant nothing in the end. When it was all over, Mercer found themselves on the wrong side of an 88-69 trouncing. The 19-point loss is Mercer’s worst of the season. Quick Takes (1) Freshman are making the most of their minutes In just 13 minutes of playing time, freshman point guard Daniel Love matched his career-high with nine points. Love also pulled down four rebounds, dished two assists and blocked a shot. Fellow freshman C.J. Williamson played just nine minutes, but contributed four points and two rebounds. Contributions like these are what the Bears have needed this season in close games. However, as the season comes to a close, it might be time to up their minutes even more. (2) Ethan and Ross can’t do it all For the second consecutive game, Mercer’s top two point scorers were Ross Cummings and Ethan Stair. That’s been a consistent theme this year, but if Mercer is going to make noise in the postseason, the guys below them are going to have to step up their game. I’m not going to mention any players by name, but if the Bears can get better play from the rest of their starters combined with the improved play of their freshman, this season could start to flip in the right direction for Mercer. (3) Do you focus on this season or look ahead to next? No coach ever wants to admit that a season is ‘lost’ before it is actually over, but it’s beginning to feel that way for this team. Mercer currently sits at 9-17 on the season, including a 4-10 record in Southern Conference play, good for second to last. This team just can’t seem to find a concrete rhythm. At what point in the season do you start to prepare for next year by turning your younger role players into starters and senior starters into role players? By doing this, you give the younger guys valuable experience that could help your team next season. Player of the Game: Ross “Mamba” Cummings (No. 20) Cummings scored 17 points in 32 minutes of action for the Bears The Mamba also pulled down a team-high six rebounds Cummings also dished out three assists in his team’s loss to ETSU Notable Quotables (1) Head Coach Bob Hoffman on what went wrong in the loss “We started pretty well and had some opportunities, but then we made some turnovers and they hit some threes and we just couldn't get back into the game. Seventeen turnovers against this type of team just can't happen.” (2) Hoffman highlights the performance of a few players: “I thought Victor Bafutto had a really good game, and I thought Ethan (Stair) and Ross (Cummings) were pretty good in the second half. They are really quick and athletic.” (3) Hoffman on his approach to the rest of the season: “I didn't think that we played the kind of game that we had to play against a team like this. The season is far from over though. We need to find a way to get a win this Thursday night."
After nearly every win this season, Mercer Head Coach Susie Gardner has mentioned that her team has yet to play a complete game this year. She’s been right. On many occasions, Mercer has played a great first half only to slip up in the second half and allow teams to get back into games. Saturday's game saw Mercer (18-7, 10-0) host Western Carolina, one of those very teams that Mercer had gotten out ahead of and allowed to come back and make it close. Their matchup on Saturday was a different story. The Bears outscored the Catamounts (4-22, 0-11 SoCon) in every single quarter and led for the entire game outside of the game’s first 50 seconds when the score was tied at zero. The Catamounts made a few runs to keep the Bears honest, but when it was all said and done, Mercer had won it 71-55. Quick Takes (1) Watch out for freshman point guard Tia Benvenuti This girl can straight up ball. The stats don’t jump out at you tonight, but her ability to see the court and find open shooters is exceptional. Benvenuti is just a freshman, but she also missed the entire first half of the season. Having former Mercer standout point guard Sydni Means on the sidelines coaching her up is probably the best thing she could ask for. Her progression moving forward is going to be really, really fun to watch. (2) This team might be deeper than last season Last season’s Mercer Bears squad centered around senior wing Kahlia Lawrence, with senior point guard Sydni Means running the show. The team’s two leading scorers this year were third and fourth options on last year’s team. Many expected this year’s team to flow through KeKe Calloway, but it’s been the play of Amanda Thompson that has driven their success. Combine that with the improved play of Shannon Titus, and players like Rachel Selph, Linnea Rosendal and Benvenuti stepping up, and you might have an even deeper team than last year. The deeper the team, the better come tournament time. (3) Rachel Selph must stay consistent As a 6’3 center playing against opposing players that are almost always shorter than her, many could think Selph would dominate. However, she currently averages just 7.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Much of that is due to the fact that she plays on a team with several ball-dominant scorers. However, in the past two games, Selph is averaging 15.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and two blocks. Player of the Game: Amanda Thompson The double-double machine was at it again scoring 18 points to go along with 14 rebounds Both of those stats (points and rebounds) were game-highs for either team If that wasn’t enough, the senior forward also dished out three assists, got a steal and block in the game Notable Quotables (1) Gardner on if today was what a complete game looks like: "No, not today, it wasn't even close. We have four more games to get to that goal but today was not that. We just did not have the energy that we had last game, so it was not as good as I had hoped." (2) Gardner lays out what a complete game might look like: "I don't think we have a problem, I just don't think it was necessarily our best effort. We have five seniors who have been there and it is a long season. In basketball we play many games and it is hard to get up every single game, every single practice with high energy. I have to be a little understanding that we had a hard-fought win on Thursday, very little time to recover, and then play at 2 p.m. Saturday." (3) Amanda Thompson on another great team effort in a win: “I think it’s great just having different people stepping up and scoring. Rachel, I think, double figures the past two games -- that’s huge. Linnea obviously last game. Then even Ally (Welch) was 3 for 4 tonight, so that’s big. Just across the board having … just a whole team effort. That’s really important for us. The fact that everyone can contribute really helps our team.
The Mercer men’s basketball team was in unfamiliar territory for Valentine’s Day this year as the Bears found themselves in Cullowhee, North Carolina for a date with the Western Carolina Catamounts. After their last game, Mercer Head Coach Bob Hoffman was asked about potential changes to the Bears (8-16, 3-9) starting lineup and rotation. He said that making those changes was an option, and apparently, it was an option he took up. Well, that option worked. And it worked well. The Bears and Catamounts (6-20, 3-10) both got out to slow starts early, but a 17-0 run late in the half by Mercer propelled them to a 40-25 halftime lead. Western Carolina fought valiantly to comeback in the second half, but the Bears lead was just too much in the end. Despite a couple of late runs by the Catamounts, Mercer was able to pull out a 74-65 victory, their first win since Jan. 24 against VMI. Quick Takes (1) A big sleuth of Bears got some action The Bears made changes across the board on Thursday night, including changes to the rotation and a change in the starting lineup. The most significant adjustment by Coach Hoffman was employing a larger rotation of players in the game, and it worked to perfection. Nine different Mercer players scored in the game, including 13 points from Victor Baffuto, six a piece from freshmen C.J. Williamson and Luke Hamilton. The biggest standout was Daniel Love, who gets his own Quick Take a little later. (2) Big guys playing bigger roles Another adjustment made by Coach Hoffman was increasing the playing time of his big guy’s, including Baffuto and Hamilton. Both players had what was likely their best games of the season -- Baffuto in particular. The freshman scored a career-high 13 points and swatted two blocks in just 16 minutes of action. Hamilton also scored six points, pulled down a rebound and dished out an assist in 22 minutes. For a team that has played a small lineup all year, it was a nice change to see the big guys on the floor more. (3) “Loving” some Daniel Love This guy is making the most of every minute he’s on the floor. Love plays the point guard position, one of the most crowded position groups on the team with Marcus Cohen, Djorde Dimitrijevic and D.J. Peavy all taking up minutes. The freshman came in late in the last game for just four minutes and provided an immediate spark off the bench, and was rewarded on Thursday night with 18 minutes. Love scored six points, secured five rebounds, dished out five assists and poked away a steal. The numbers don’t blow you away, but the assists, in particular, are making a difference for a team that needs a floor leader. Player of the Game: Ross “The Mamba” Cummings (No. 20) The junior led all scorers with 18 points on 6-of-14 from the floor Despite being one of the smaller guys on the floor, Cummings secured a career-high seven rebounds After scoring just six points in their last game, his lowest in SoCon play, Ross responded tonight with a big game to lead his team to victory Notable Quotables (1) Hoffman on deeper rotation and adjustments to lineup: “We have a lot of new guys; it's late in the season and we're trying to find ways to win games. I made the decision that we were going to sub early and sub when necessary." (2) Hoffman on play of freshman Daniel Love: “I thought Daniel Love was really good; he got a big steal there late in the game. I need to get a better job of finding these guys some minutes. I thought tonight we were really gritty.” (3) Hoffman on finding a way to get a big win: "Everybody gave us some energy. We had multiple guys make some big plays tonight. They (Western Carolina) were a tough out and we knew they would be.”
Thursday night was Valentine's Day, and the Mercer Bears had a date with the Spartans of UNC-Greensboro. The long story short? It didn’t exactly work out, and the feeling was pretty mutual. The Bears (17-7, 9-0) and Spartans traded blows from the game’s opening tip, but it was UNCG who got up on Mercer early. At the end of the first quarter, the Bears found themselves trailing 28-19, their largest first-quarter deficit in SoCon play. The second quarter was more of the same, as both teams scored 18 points to enter the halftime locker room with UNC-Greensboro (9-16, 3-7) up 46-37 over the Bears. The second half couldn’t have been more different. Mercer came out firing on all cylinders, led by seniors Linnea Rosendal and Rachel Selph who combined for 45 points on 16-of-20 shooting. Mercer dominated the second and third quarters, outscoring the Spartans 48-27 over the game’s final 20 minutes. When all was said and done, Mercer had pulled away to a commanding 85-73 victory. Quick Takes (1) Have your Selph a night, Rachel The senior center had a huge game for the Bears. She scored 21 points on an incredible 8-of-10 shooting. She also pulled down six rebounds and swatted away three blocks. In a game where Amanda Thompson and KeKe Calloway struggled to score the ball, her big night was huge in a close game like this one was. (2) Rosendal can do it all Another Bears player had a huge night on Thursday, and that player was Linnea Rosendal. The senior sharpshooter scored a career-high 23 points on 5-of-5 from beyond the arc. As if that wasn’t enough, she also pulled down two boards and dished out four assists. Like Selph, her ability to score the ball was a huge part of her team’s victory. (3) This team needed a win like this In nearly every game this season, either KeKe Calloway or Amanda Thompson has led the Bears in scoring. On Thursday night, both scored under 10 points which forced other players to step up to the plate. And they did. Rosendal, Selph and Shannon Titus all scored over 20 points and Tia Benvenuti dished out a career-high nine assists. Big contributions across the board from Mercer’s traditional role players. Player of the Game: Rachel Selph (No. 34) Selph shot 8-of-10 from the floor and scored 21 points, the most she’s scored since Nov. 11, 2018 vs Bowling Green The senior center dominated the paint, pulling down six rebounds and converting at a 5-for-6 clip at the free throw line Selph also swatted away a season-high three blocks, protecting the paint all night long Notable Quotables (1) Rosendall on career-night shooting the ball: “I got a couple of open shots in the beginning, which got me going and then Tia (Benvenuti) did a great job finding me on offense. My teammates were working hard on offense to get me open and get me open shots. I was feeling good. I was in rhythm the whole night.” (2) Selph talks about her domination: “UNCG has some really good post players, so to go against them and to finish in the paint like that -- I thought it was a really good night for me because they are really good post players.” (3) Gardner on Rosendal, Selph and Benvenuti stepping up: “Teams are focusing in, as they should be, on Amanda (Thompson) and Keke (Calloway) because of what they’ve been doing all year. We’re fortunate that we have other players that have offensive skills, and we’re fortunate that tonight those guys were hitting shots.”
Mercer women’s basketball closed out a three-game road trip in Homewood, Alabama on Saturday afternoon with a matchup against the Bulldogs of Furman. The Bears defeated the Bulldogs (7-15, 2-5 SoCon) in overtime earlier this season at Hawkins Arena in a start-to-finish close game. However, the Bears were all over the Bulldogs from the start in this matchup. Mercer (16-7, 8-0) outscored the Bulldogs in the game’s first three quarters to take a commanding 19-point lead heading into the game’s final quarter. Led the entire way by KeKe Calloway, Mercer coasted in the end to a decisive 68-52 victory over the Bulldogs. Quick Takes (1) Calloway is back to her normal self Fresh off her poorest performance of the season at home against East Tennessee State, KeKe Calloway was due for a big game. She delivered that and more during the Bears most recent three-game road trip, including a big-time game against Samford. The senior guard averaged 20 points, six rebounds and 2.6 assists for the trip, capped off by a 22 point performance to go along with 8 rebounds and two steals. (2) Mercer can play any type of game If the opposing team walks in the gym and wants an offensive shootout, Mercer has the pieces to play that game. If it’s a defensive battle the other team wants, like Saturday’s game against Furman, the Bears can roll with that too. This will be extremely important come SoCon tournament time, as the Bears are likely to get each team’s best shot, along with several curveballs along the way. (3) The team dominated. From start, to finish. This is a team that has been known to build strong leads, only to blow them in the second half. The silver lining is that the team has not lost any of those games, despite the lackluster play late. However, in Saturday’s game the Bears played strong and fast from start to finish. They didn’t take their foot off the gas and finished strong. Player of the Game: KeKe Calloway The senior guard capped off an impressive road trip, scoring a game-high 22 points She also pulled down 8 rebounds and secured two steals Calloway erupted from the opening tip, scoring 13 points in the first two periods, propelling her team to a double-digit halftime margin Notable Quotables (1) Coach Susie Gardner on her team’s defensive performance: “That defensive intensity is something we continue to take pride in. It is always hard to face conference opponents a second time in the regular season, just because everyone knows each other so well. Our players are buying into being a defensive-minded team.” (2) Gardner talks about Calloway’s impressive game: "KeKe [Calloway] shot the ball exceptionally well and added eight rebounds.” (3) Gardner on her team’s strong play from start to finish: "We were fortunate to establish a strong lead in the second half and not surrender anything today. We are very aware of how we've relinquished second-half leads in games this season, so to avoid that was encouraging to see.”
From time to time in the game of basketball, there are some games that it feels like you must win. Saturday’s matchup with The Citadel (11-12, 3-9 SoCon) was one of those games for Mercer men’s basketball. They came into the game with a 3-8 conference record, on the wrong side of a three-game losing streak and heading for a tough, two-game road trip. Mercer (8-16, 3-9 SoCon) needed a spark to get their season back on track, and they were running out of opportunities to make it happen. The opening 20 minutes were a true back-and-forth affair, as each team held the lead for more than six minutes at a time. Combine that with the struggles both teams had shooting the ball and the result was a 26-26 tie at halftime. The second half started off in a similar fashion to the first, with Mercer jumping out to a quick six-point lead. However, turnovers and inconsistent play on offense saw that lead quickly dissipate. The Bulldogs later took advantage of a seven-minute Mercer scoring drought to go up seven as the game entered its final minutes. The drought ultimately cost them the game, as the Bears fell 67-61 in the end. Quick Takes (1) Missed free throws doom the Bears again When you lose a game by just six points and look back to see that your team missed 15 free throws, including 11 in the second half, you can’t help but kick yourself. The Bears shot 12-of-27 from the charity stripe in Saturday’s game, compared to The Citadel’s 15-of-23 performance. That’s just not winning basketball. It was one of the first things Coach Hoffman commented on after the game, as he knew it doomed his team in the end. (2) It’s the same old story In what seems like every single game this season, Mercer comes out strong only to fall flat in the second half during a scoring drought, plaguing them to a loss in the end. Effort is not the issue with this team, nor is heart -- they have enormous amounts of both. However, something clicks in this team each game about mid-way through the second half each game that causes them to lose focus. They must figure it out if they are going to climb the SoCon rankings before the tournament. (3) It might be time for a lineup change Mercer got particularly poor play from their starting lineup in Saturday’s game, prompting a question after the game asking Coach Hoffman if he was considering changes to the starting lineup. Several of Mercer’s younger players have been playing pretty well of late in limited minutes. A change in the starting lineup, at best, could provide the spark that the Bears need to turn their season around. At worst, it allows Mercer’s younger players to gain invaluable experience heading into next season. Player of the Game: Ethan Stair (No. 22) The senior shooting guard scored a team-high 19 points Stair also pulled down a team-high seven rebounds, dished out three assists and secured two steals Stair was the only Bear to score in double-figures in a game where the Bears struggled to shoot the ball Notable Quotables (1) Head Coach Bob Hoffman on his team’s missed free throws: “We were 12-of-27 from the free throw line, and some of those ended up almost like turnovers because you have empty trips. Then they hit those three 3’s in a row, which broke our back and got the separation when it was like a one-point game. We had a couple opportunities to keep the lead, and we didn’t get it done.” (2) Hoffman talks about the team’s second-half lulls this season: “Our guys battled, and then we had that lull that we’ve had a lot. I’ve got to figure out. I’m not doing all I can do to help the guys. I’m trying. But I’ve gotta figure out some ways to help them.” (3) Hoffman on the possibility of changes to the starting lineup: “At some point, you trust -- they trust in you and you trust in them. It’s a two-way street. I’ve been doing this college game for 28 years, and over those years usually trust wins out. It didn’t tonight. It hasn’t been good the last few weeks.”