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Bears fall to UGA in first round of NCAA Tournament

Christian Hartley, Staff Writer

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Mercer women’s basketball came into Saturday’s opening round game as a No. 13 seed matched up with No. 4 seed Georgia. The Bulldogs came in as a heavy favorite, but the Bears played with incredible energy and intensity behind a strong Mercer presence in the stands.

The game was a back-and-forth affair the entire way, with both teams exchanging and absorbing each others best shot. Despite fighting hard the entire way through, when the final buzzer rang the Bears had fallen short 68-63.

“They’re a good basketball team,” head coach Susie Gardner said. “Obviously we’re very disappointed, but I’m proud, so proud of this team.”

The opening quarter saw Mercer and Georgia trade the lead several times. UGA asserted themselves in the paint, dominating the glass and getting easy looks inside.

Mercer hung around thanks to strong outside shooting, including two big 3-pointers from Keke Calloway. When the first quarter ended, Mercer found themselves in control of a 19-18 lead, despite UGA shooting 58 percent compared to Mercer’s 42.

The Bears started the second quarter strong, taking an early four point lead, their largest of the game. UGA responded with an 8-2 run to take a 30-28 lead midway through the quarter.

The Dawgs took a five point lead with just under a minute to go until halftime. It was Mercer who went into halftime with the momentum, after a senior guard Sydni Means hit a jump shot at the buzzer to cut UGA’s lead down to 34-31.

UGA dominated the opening minutes of the third period. The Dawgs went on an 11-3 run to start the quarter, extending their lead to 11 with 4:30 to go. Mercer had shot just 34 percent up to that point, and had not hit a 3-pointer since the first quarter.

The Bears and Dawgs exchanged runs down the stretch. Mercer cut the lead down to five with under three minutes to go, but UGA responded with a 6-0 run to go back up by 11.

The Bears were the ones who ended the quarter strong, cutting the UGA lead down to 52-48 after Kahlia Lawrence was fouled on a 3-pointer attempt at the buzzer and made all three free throws.

“We kept fighting,” Gardner said. “We could have just throw in the towel, but we fought back and played hard and gave ourselves a chance

The fourth quarter saw Mercer extend its run from the third quarter to 12-2 midway through the fourth, cutting the lead down to just one point with five minutes to play. However, UGA continued to dominate the interior, responding to each Mercer blow with an inside basket to maintain its lead.

Each time Mercer got within a basket of the Dawgs, the Bears were unable to get stops on the defensive end in order to tie the game. The final minute was highly contested, with upset-minded Mercer fighting hard until the buzzer read all zeros, but when the final buzzer rang the Bears had fallen short.

The Bears finish the season 30-3, concluding what will go down as a “remarkable season and one for the records books”, according to a Mercer Athletics press release.

“We made history this year, and it was very special,” senior guard Sydni Means said.

Saturday’s loss was the first in 113 days for the Mercer Bears. The game saw junior guard KeKe Calloway set a new SoCon single season record for 3-pointers with 99 in the process of setting the Mercer record for 3-pointers in a season. Lawrence finishes the season with 636 points, which places her eighth in single season points in program history.

“What we’ve done this year, a lot of teams haven’t and probably will never do,” Lawrence said. “This doesn’t take away from anything my teammates, my coaching staff and the whole Mercer women’s basketball program has done this year.”

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Bears fall to UGA in first round of NCAA Tournament