One of the hardest things to do in all of sports is to beat the same team three times in one season. The Bears found that out the hard way on Saturday afternoon.
Mercer’s SoCon championship hopes came to a halt in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, falling to the fifth seed Wofford Terriers 73-53.
“We got our tails whipped,” head coach Bob Hoffman said. “We weren’t ready like I had hoped we’d be.”
The Bears fell behind early, trailing 19-7 midway through the opening half.
“When you put yourself in a hole like that, it’s really hard,” senior guard Jordan Strawberry said. “We tried to fight our best, but it’s pretty tough when you put yourself in that position.”
At the 5:42 mark, Mercer had shot the ball just 4-of-15 from the floor and trailed 27-12 as the first half came to a close. The Terriers, on the other hand, could not seem to miss and forced Mercer into a first half season-high 13 turnovers.
“They played really good defense, and they got into us pretty good,” Hoffman said. “We didn’t respond like you have to in those kinda situations.”
The Terriers were the aggressors in the first half, besting Mercer in categories such as points in the paint, forced turnovers and points off turnovers.
When the first half buzzer finally rang, the Bears trailed 37-21. Mercer would need a near perfect second half to advance into Sunday’s semi-final game with top-seeded UNCG.
The Bears played better in the second half, but it just wasn’t enough. Mercer fell behind by 20 in the early moments of the second half but kept fighting to stay in the game.
Each time Mercer found a way to cut the game to single digits in the second half, it was Wofford who would snatch the momentum right back from the Bears.
“You’re playing so hard to come back, then they come down and hit a big three,” Strawberry said. “It’s tough.”
Mercer cut the Terriers lead down to 53-43 with 11:34 to play, as the crowd was hungry for a miracle. Over the next four minutes, Mercer would go 0-of-5 from the floor, allowing the Terriers to stretch their lead back out to 17.
Mercer continued to fight, cutting the lead down to 12 several times before the game’s final buzzer rang. But in the end, the early gap was just too much for the Bears to overcome.
Mercer finished the game shooting just 38 percent, their worst outing since Jan. 18 against VMI, while allowing Wofford to shoot 49 percent, the highest number an offense has posted against Mercer since Furman, Feb. 1.
Three of Mercer’s four seniors combined for 45 of the Bears 53 total points. Senior guard Strawberry posted 18 points to lead the team, with Stephon Jelks posting 16 and Desmond Ringer contributing 11.
After averaging nearly 17 points over the last 10 games, guard Ross Cummings finished with zero points. The sophomore went 0-of-6 from the floor in 35 minutes of action, posting his lowest scoring output since Jan. 18 against VMI when he played just three minutes.
Cummings wasn’t the only Bears player who struggled, with senior Demetre Rivers and junior Cory Kilby combining to go 2-of-7 for just eight total points.
Mercer currently sits at 18-14 with the possibility of playing in a postseason tournament in the coming weeks. The Bears have competed in postseason action in five of the last six seasons after posting similar records to end the year.