Basketball continues record-breaking campaign, reaches CIT finals

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Basketball continues record-breaking campaign, reaches CIT finals

Garret McDowell

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The Mercer Bears are one of the hottest teams in the country at the moment, finding themselves still playing basketball this late in March. Now with a record of 26-11, the Mercer Bears have set school records in games played (38) and games won, with a chance to extend the games won title with the championship game coming up soon. They have also set the record for most games played for an Atlantic Sun team at 38 as well. Despite the heartbreaking loss to FGCU the Bears are playing with efficient defense and excellent tactics.
Tennessee St. 60, Mercer 68
In the first postseason game for the Mercer Bears since 1985, the men’s basketball team showed up well, winning their first game since the heart-wrenching upset against Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun semifinal. Justin Cecil led all scorers with 19 points, but Daniel Coursey had 16 to keep pace. Travis Smith also had 10. They were able to contain Tennessee State’s big man Robert Covington to just 18 points. The Bears were trailing 21-19 at the half, but it was all Bears in the second half. Mercer outscored TSU 49-39, and the Bears grabbed their first postseason win in 110 years. Justin Cecil went on a 7-0 run by himself, taking the Bears back in front before the teams would trade scores for most of the second half.
Georgia State 59, Mercer 64
In their final home game of the season, nitty-gritty play took them to victory. Despite leading 40-27 following the ejection of the Panthers’ head coach Ron Hunter, Mercer would find themselves helpless to stop a 22-9 run from Georgia State that tied the game under five minutes to go in regulation. Justin Cecil would score six of his game-leading 19 in the closing moments, keeping the Bears ahead of a University Center that had a significant percentage of Georgia State fans cheering on the visiting squad. Jakob Gollon had 10 points, and Langston Hall added 12.
Mercer 79, Old Dominion 73
In the most significant comeback by the Bears all season, Mercer trailed by as many as 12 in the second half before a spirited rally and clutch play from Travis Smith, Bud Thomas and Monty Brown stunned the Monarchs on their home floor. The Monarchs claimed that they would easily control the boards against the Bears, but Mercer out-rebounded Old Dominion 35-32, including several key offensive and defensive boards late. Bud Thomas and Monty Brown both would go sprawling out of bounds to save possession for the Bears late. Travis Smith hit a contested three-pointer, along with a key basket late to keep the Bears up after trailing for most of the game. Justin Cecil had 22 points, Langston Hall had 13, and both Travis Smith and Daniel Coursey had 10. Coursey fouled out late but Monty Brown stepped up well, ensuring the Bears would reach the Final Four of the CIT.
Mercer 64, Fairfield 59
After leading the team for three straight games in scoring, Justin Cecil took a step back and let the rest of the Bears show off what they could do. Bud Thomas led the Bears with 13 points, including going 4-for-4 from three-point land. Following a game where three-point shooting proved to be the difference, this was vital that the Bears stayed hot beyond the arc. As a result, Mercer took charge early and never trailed after taking the lead 7-5. In front of a partisan crowd of 1,557, the Bears were able to control the boards again, 35-31. It was the sixth straight game that the Bears led in rebounding, including all four games of the CIT. Monty Brown shot 100 percent from the floor, making all five of his shots for 10 points. Travis Smith had 12. Mercer was outscored slightly in the paint, in transition, on second chance and off turnovers. However, they dominated the Fairfield Stags with a 28-7 advantage from bench scoring.
The Mercer Bears men’s basketball team have booked themselves a place in the CIT Championship game following the first four postseason wins in school history. The 27th win is on the line, which would be the first postseason title for the Bears since winning the conference title in 1985. Hoffman’s bunch will face Utah State.

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