Rivers’ career-high leads Bears to best start as a Division-1 program

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Image: Mercer Basketball

Players prepare for the new season.

Hayes Rule, Staff Writer


After Wednesday’s 82-47 win against Hiwassee, senior guard Jestin Lewis said the talk around the locker room has been to “make history” this year. Mission accomplished.

Only nine games into the year, the Bears have indeed made history, recording the best start (8-1) in the program’s Division-I history after a 68-43 win at Hawkins Arena Saturday against winless Alcorn State.
Demetre Rivers led the cause with a career-high 15 points, nine of which came in a first half where every player donning orange and black earned playing time. The Southwestern Athletic Conference’s Alcorn State hung with the Bears early, as Mercer led only 12-10 nine minutes into the game.

But Jestin Lewis and Stephon Jelks provided the cushion the Bears needed — quickly. The combination scored 15 straight points, eight straight from Lewis, in a matter of five minutes to fuel a 19-3 run which gave Mercer a 31-13 lead.

The Bears controlled the double-digit lead until the half, as they led 36-17 after out-rebounding the Braves 20-9. Alcorn State opened the second half much like it did the first, as it outscored Mercer 11-10 over the first eight minutes.

But the Braves would never legitimately threaten, as the Bears gradually pulled away on a 22-15 run in the final 12 minutes of the game. Two other players outside of Rivers finished with double-digit points, as Jelks and Lewis contributed 10 each.

What mattered:
– Sixth-year senior Jibri Bryan returned after a seven-game absence to score seven points on flawless shooting — 3-3 from the field. He checked in at the 12:55 mark in the first half and sunk a 3-pointer before the shot clock expired less than a minute into his outing.

– Nine of Rivers’ 15 points came from the free throw line, where he attempted a game-high 11 shots. In the last two games, Rivers has shot 19-of-22 from the charity stripe. He broke his career-high 10 points, which he has registered on four different occasions, on the first offensive possession of the second half. He also chipped in a career-high six rebounds.

– The outing was the third time on the early season that the Bears’ defense held a team to under 50 points. The other two occasions were Nov. 19 against Alabama State and Wednesday against Hiwassee.

– The Bears were hot behind the arc early; in the opening 14 minutes, Mercer shot 5-of-8 from the 3-point line. Lewis increased his streak of at least two 3-pointers in a game to three straight and five of the last six. The Bears finished 6-of-13, registering a season-high 46.2 percent from downtown.

– Mercer shot 48.9 percent from the field but tied a season-low with 68 points.

– Alcorn State made only 13 shots in the outing, shooting 28.3 percent from the field; it’s the lowest an opponent has shot against the Bears this year.

What’s the scoop:
Bryan on his return: “It felt great, man. (I) feel like I’ve been out for a year, but it felt good to get out there with my buddies… (The knee) felt pretty good. I worked hard to get back, so I was confident in it.”

Bryan on breaking the record: “That was very big, man. That’s something special that we can always remember. When we’re 50 years old, we can come back and talk about that.”

Rivers on career-high points: “I wasn’t really paying too much attention about the points; I was just trying to get the (win). But my teammates were setting me up well.”

Rivers on recent free-throw shooting: “It’s been something I’ve been trying to focus on more lately, because I shoot a lot of outside shots, and it attracts a lot of defenders out for me to drive by and get to the lane.”

Head coach Bob Hoffman on Bryan’s return: “He’s been working really hard… Jibri plays unbelievable defense, and when you can have his defensive presence, and then even throw in a few shots, and then his experience with these young guys… I think it really helps our team.”

Hoffman on focus in next few games: “We know we’re going to get pressed once we walk in the building at Auburn and Arkansas. Hopefully we can get some transition baskets and get to the free throw line a little bit. That will help us against those really good teams and great coaches.”

Hoffman on atmosphere at Power 5 schools: “I don’t know about (the players), but I love it, myself. We’ve been blessed to win a lot of those and be in a lot of those games, and I think our guys will relish the opportunity… I believe our guys are good enough to win anywhere, any time, any place, but we’ll have to play a high level to beat some really good teams.”

Next up:
The Bears have 10 days off before traveling to Auburn Dec. 15, the start of a four-game road trip that begins with three straight Power Five opponents — the Tigers, Arkansas, and Ohio State. Mercer doesn’t return to Hawkins Arena for nearly a month.