Bears defeat Samford on the road, heating up at right time

Christian Hartley, Staff Writer

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The Bears are heating up, and it could not be happening at a better time.

We’ve come a long way over the past week or so,” Head Coach Bob Hoffman said after the game. “We just need to keep doing the little things that can help us maintain this momentum that we’ve created.”

The Bears led nearly the entire first half against a gritty Samford team. After taking an early lead in the first half, Mercer looked in control up until about the seven minute mark, when Samford went on a 7-0 run to even the score at 22 a piece.

In his second game back from injury, junior forward Ryan Johnson made a layup with four seconds left to send the Bears into halftime up six points at a score of 34-28.

It was the Bulldogs who came out firing in the second half, making a 8-0 run over the first two and a half minutes to take their first lead of the game, 36-34. This time, it was the Bears who battled back, reeling off nine straight points to take their largest lead of the game, 43-36.

As the second half went on, it was a battle of the guards. Samford guards Triston Chambers and Josh Sharkey combined for 20 points in the second half, including 14-of-14 from the charity stripe. Mercer’s guards one-upped them, combining for 24 points while each played all but one minute of the game’s final 20 minutes.

However, according to his coach, Jordan Strawberry was the true standout of the night.

“Jordan [Strawberry] was just amazing,” Coach Hoffman said. “He is playing with such intensity, and that off balance shot he hit at the end was something else. Their guards are extremely quick and we did all we could to keep them off balance. We needed Jordan for the entire game tonight.”

After dishing out seven more assists on Monday night, Strawberry passed James Florence to move into the No. 3 spot on the school’s all-time assists list with 443.

Strawberry was huge down the stretch as he has been each game, and his team was as clutch as they have been this season. The Bears hit 15-of-17 free throws in the second half, seemingly icing the game down the stretch.

After a defensive showdown that saw both teams struggling to make shots, Mercer was able to edge the game out. The final score in the end was 74-69 as the Bears found a way to take the win.

It was a great defensive showing for Mercer, giving up just 69 points to a Samford team that exploded for 116 points just two days prior in a victory versus The Citadel. Coach Hoffman credited his team for their defensive intensity after the game.

“They [Samford] scored 116 points the other night and to hold them to 69 points is a real credit to our assistant coaches and players. We hit some big free throws down the stretch. We made the plays we needed to in order to win a big game on the road.”

The Bears were led in scoring by Ross Cummings with 21 points, who also grabbed four rebounds in 34 minutes of action. Jordan Strawberry stuffed the stat sheet, putting up 18 points, dishing out seven assists and pulling down six rebounds.

After dropping four consecutive SoCon games over a two-week stretch, the Bears have recovered off three victories in a row. The streak has gotten the Bears back into the hunt for a top SoCon tournament seed, and brought their overall season record to 13-13 and SoCon record to 6-7. The loss drops the Bulldogs to 9-19 on the season, and 5-10 in the SoCon respectively.

After a short stunt on the road, the Bears will open up a three-game SoCon home stand on Thursday night against the Keydets of Virginia Military Institute. The Bears fought until the very end to knock off the Keydets in their house, winning 62-56 in the Bears lowest scoring victory to date.

The game is set for tip-off at 7 p.m. (ET).

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