As the No. 1 overall seed in a tournament, you play each game with a target on your back, taking the best shot from each team you face.
When Mercer took the court against No. 8 seed Western Carolina, most expected a Bears victory. But I’m not sure many expected a dominating victory like this one.
The opening quarter saw Mercer get off to a slow start, but a couple of 3-pointers from KeKe Calloway propelled them to a strong finish. However, the second quarter is where the Mercer defense cracked down, holding the Catamounts to just three points to enter halftime up 27-10.
Mercer stayed consistent in the third quarter, outscoring Western Carolina 17-10 to head into the final quarter ahead 44-20. This allowed Head Coach Susie Gardner to get some rest for her starters and get her bench some valuable minutes.
The fourth quarter saw the Mercer bench battle with the Catamounts starters to a near draw, but in the end, it was all Mercer from the opening tip until the final buzzer.
Behind some stifling defense, the Bears got the 55-32 victory to advance to the second round of the 2019 SoCon Tournament.
(1) Bears defense came to play
A rather cold shooting performance from Mercer didn’t seem to faze their defense, who likely played their best defensive game of the 2018-2019 season. They held the Catamounts to just 32 points, the lowest output allowed by the Bears all season, on just 22 percent shooting from the floor. Even moreso, the Bears held the Catamounts to just 2-of-20 from beyond the arc, which likely kept the opposition from getting back into the game.
(2) Turnovers are a problem that must be solved
When you win a game in as dominant a fashion as Mercer did, it’s often hard to find areas to improve upon. However, Mercer committed 18 turnovers, a problem that is likely going to keep Coach Gardner up late trying to solve. This is a Mercer team that has taken care of the ball for most of the season, but came out sloppy against the Catamounts. It’s an issue, and one that must be fixed.
(3) What’s next?
Mercer won’t have much time to rest and make any adjustments as they play against Friday morning. The Bears will have another morning tip-off against the winner of Thursday’s afternoon matchup between No. 4 seed ETSU and No. 5 seed Wofford. Mercer had good luck against both the Bucs and Terriers this season, but if the bears don’t fix their issues with turnovers, they could be in trouble.
Player of the Game: KeKe Calloway (No. 0)
Calloway finished the game with 18 points, a game-high for the senior guard
She went 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, knocking down two in the first quarter to get her team going
The senior guard also contributed three rebounds, three assists and three steals in just 24 minutes of action
(-) Head Coach Susie Gardner gives her thoughts on the game:
“When you play a team three times it gets a little trickier for us to score as well. We knew that we can always bring the intangibles of playing hard defense. One of our goals was to be better on the glass. We out rebounded them 49-33 with Amanda getting 17. Our offense was a little off. We had 18 turnovers which is atypical of us but overall I am very pleased to get that game under our belts.”
(-) Calloway talks about her performances in the SoCon Tournament during her career:
“I wouldn’t say it is so much the building. It is just knowing what’s at stake. It is tournament time so you really want to be playing your best basketball. So I just try to focus and lock in and know what’s at stake and we just have to win and do whatever it takes to win.”
(-) Amanda Thompson on her team’s improved rebounding:
“You know I had 14 defensive rebounds, but those are really team rebounds that comes from everybody on the floor boxing out, the ball dropping in the middle. I am just the one who gets to grab it. So I think that is just a testament to the team and how much of a better job we did boxing out in general which is really good. It was nice to see.”