For the third game in a row, it was the Mercer Bears’ offense that guided them to victory, at least in the second half.
The two teams combined to shoot just 2-of-13 in the opening four minutes, with the Citadel clinging to a 4-2 lead. The next three minutes belonged to the Bears, with a 10-2 run to take a 12-6 lead with 13:40 left in the first half.
The Citadel Bulldogs continued to hang around, even taking a 19-18 lead with 9:50 to go, their first lead since the 15:50 mark.
Each time one team would gain a hint of momentum, the other would squash on the opposite end of the floor. Despite leading for 12 of the first half’s 20 minutes, when the halftime buzzer sounded, the Bears were holding on to just a one point lead.
The second half was a different story for the Mercer offense. After a slow first two minutes, the Bears offense caught fire with 17:30 to play, igniting a two minute 10-0 run to gain their largest lead of the game, 46-37. The run forced a Bulldogs timeout, as the Bears looked to be in full control.
For the remaining 15 minutes of action, Mercer was challenged with what is likely one of the tougher tasks in college basketball, maintain a lead on the road. The Bears were up to the task.
With 12:40 to play, Demetre Rivers, playing in his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina., knocked down a 3-pointer to put Mercer back ahead by double digits. This was followed up by a Jaylen Stowe layup that put Mercer ahead by 12, their largest lead of the game.
The Citadel wasn’t going to go away easy. As he had done all night, Bulldogs guard Matt Frierson knocked down a 3-pointer, one of his five of the night, and got fouled on the shot, cutting the Mercer lead to just eight with 9:30 left to play.
The action would go back-and-forth over the next three minutes, before Mercer guard Ross Cummings knocked down a deep 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock to put the Bears in front by 12 with five minutes to go.
Mercer iced the game late with some clutch free throws, and when all was said and done, the Bears had come out on top 83-70.
Mercer shot the ball at a 60 percent in the second half, nearly 20 percent better than their first half numbers. The Bears were led in scoring by Demetre Rivers with 22 points, who also contributed five rebounds. Jordan Strawberry had another strong performance for the Bears, with 17 points and nine assists.
“Demetre [Rivers] came up big tonight, and Jordan (Strawberry) was such a key,” Coach Hoffman said after the Bears’ win. “We kept competing every possession and that’s what you have continue to do when you are on a run like we are on now.”
The win gives the Bears their seventh consecutive victory, and improves their record to 17-13 on the season and 10-7 in the SoCon. For the Bulldogs, they drop to 10-19 on the season and 5-12 in the SoCon.
Mercer will conclude its regular season this Sunday, traveling to Spartanburg, South Carolina for a match up with the Wofford Terriers. The Bears and Terriers are currently sitting in fourth and fifth place in the SoCon, and are likely heading for a second-round matchup in the SoCon tournament. The Bears got the best of the Terriers Feb. 3 in Macon. The win would be the beginning of Mercer’s current seven game winning streak.
The game is set for tip-off at 2 p.m. (ET), and will air live on ESPN3. You can also catch the game on the Mercer Sports Radio Network, or follow along with live stats at MercerBears.com.