Tough loss against Belmont, thriller versus Lipscomb

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(Alex Lockwood / Cluster Staff) Mercer's Langston Hall drives toward the basket in recent hoop action in the University Center.

Battling the two of the top teams in the conference, Mercer’s men’s basketball team held their own against a pair of tough conference opponents from Nashville, Belmont and Lipscomb, to close out the 2010-11 regular season. Going 1-1 in their final two games at home, the Bears solidified their 5th seed in the Atlantic Sun postseason tournament in Macon.

Belmont 75, Mercer 64
The hottest team in all of mid-major college basketball stunned a large crowd in the University Center, handling the Bears in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Mercer led early, with a seven point halftime lead, but a surging Bruins’ offense opened leads as large as 24 points in the second half, dooming Mercer’s upset bid for the night.

Brian Mills (15 points, eight rebounds) would lead the scoring for Mercer on a night where they sank 42.6% of their shots from the field. Teammate Justin Cecil chipped in 11 points while role player Jake Gollon would add nine points in limited action. Belmont’s team-centered approach would see 11 different players score during the course of the game, led by Kerron Johnson’s 12 points.

“(Belmont) Coach Byrd did a good job tonight,” said Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman following the game on MercerBears.com. “We took away a few things, but we didn’t take away enough. We also didn’t get to the free throw line as much in the second half and that was a big issue for us,” he added.

“I thought we kind of lost our energy for a spell and they just kept coming at us,” said Hoffman.

Mercer 68, Lipscomb 67
The Bears won a last-second thriller in a game that ultimately didn’t matter in terms of seeding, knocking off the visiting Bison when point guard Josh Slater’s shot didn’t fall through the hoop. With Mercer’s seniors being honored at halftime, the Bears came out to a vocal crowd with a full student section and nearly full arena.

As expected, both teams made runs throughout the game with six ties and ten lead changes throughout the course of the contest. Neither team was able to mount much of a lead during the contest, but it was a key three-pointer by Jake Gollon that gave the Bears a four point cushion with only 22 seconds remaining. A Lipscomb bucket from Josh Slater cut the lead to one point and then a pair of missed free-throws from Mark Hall gave LU a chance to win the game at the final buzzer.

Driving the length of the court, Slater’s last chance shot bounced twice around the rim before falling short to bring the crowd to their feet in the final regular season game of the season.

Brian Mills would lead Mercer’s offensive charge with 20 points while freshman Bud Thomas would add 10 points. The Bison’s Josh Slater (23 points) and Adnan Hodzic (17 points) were a dangerous pair on the night, but fell just short in their late rally.

Mercer and Lipscomb will take on each other in the first round of the Atlantic Sun tournament on Thursday night at 9pm.

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