Big victories, big injuries for men’s basketball

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(Alex Lockwood / Cluster Staff) Brian Mills aims to score against Campbell, a game in which his 20 points helped the Bears score a big win.

 

Don’t look now, but the Mercer men’s basketball team is slowly moving up the conference standings. Earlier in January, they were in danger of dropping out of the top eight in the conference standings and thus missing the postseason General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Basketball Championship hosted here in Macon. But with a string of current wins, Mercer continues to move forward in their quest for a conference championship.

Setbacks, though—specifically injuries—have plagued the Bears in recent days as senior guard Jeff Smith was lost for the season after a win against Jacksonville and senior power forward Brandon Moore went down to a season-ending injury in a loss to ETSU. The coming weeks will be telling of the Bears’ resiliency this spring as they enter the final month of regular season play.

Mercer 78, Kennesaw State 70

The Bears simply caught fire in the second half in order to run away from the Owls in a boisterous game in KSU’s Convocation Center. Brandon Moore’s career-high 22 points joined with Brian Mills’ 21 points were indicative of Mercer’s strong post game for the night as they also out-rebounded the Owls 36-29. Justin Cecil would do some damage from beyond the perimeter as well, netting 13 points off of a 3-for-5 shooting performance from the three-point line.

“At the end, we were the only ones left in the gym,” said head coach Bob Hoffman as a sizable crowd of Mercer supporters, cheerleaders and pep band traveled 100 miles north to the rivalry game. “Our guys fed off of that. Thanks to the cheerleaders and the pep band for taking their Tuesday night off to make the trip up here and help us get a victory,” he added.

Mercer 65, USC-Upstate 53

Heard of Bud Thomas? The freshman with the curly locks led Mercer’s second-half charge against a pesky Spartans team to the win in the Hodge Center as the Bears would win their second contest in a row. Thomas would score 11 points in the second half to help Mercer make up a 13-point difference from the first half en route to another important victory.

In a game in which they were sorely outrebounded, Mercer made up the difference by shooting close to 40 percent from the field for the game. Brandon Moore would collect another double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds while Brian Mills would net 15 on the night. Bud Thomas would finish with 13 points and guard Langston Hall would finish with 10 points.

ETSU 82, Mercer 75

Misfortune would again rear its ugly head on the Bears as leading rebounder and second leading scorer Brandon Moore would exit the game three minutes into the game with a knee injury. Despite a Bears’ rally coming from Justin Cecil (23 points, 5-8 3pt FG), Mercer would fall just short of the second place Bucs.

Foul trouble late in the game would prohibit the Bears from making a last minute run, but a valiant effort from Mercer kept ETSU in check until the final buzzer. ETSU’s Mike Smith, a key player in last year’s championship run, led all scorers with 28 points.

Mercer 63, Campbell 45

A large crowd of 2,671 in the University Center saw Mercer dominate the Camels in a must-win game for the Bears.  With the 18 point victory, Mercer moves up to 6th in the A-Sun standings and improved their overall record to 9-15 (6-7 ASun).  Bud Thomas continued to impress the crowd as a guard in the starting lineup, registering his first double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.  Brian Mills would lead all scorers with 20 points along with a 10 point effort from Mark Hall.

This was a huge game for this team for this season,” said Hoffman afterwards.  “There’s a lot more to happen, but we played like this was our conference championship and we had to have it,” he added.

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