Men’s basketball claims conference title

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Team begins quest towards conference tournament championship, NCAAs

The Mercer men’s basketball team was riding high going into their final four contests of the season. With the stresses of winning the regular season conference championship as well as taking the No. 1 seed going into the 2013 General Shale Atlantic Sun Men’s Basketball Championship fresh on their minds, the poised Bears went 3-1 in their final four games to finish the season as the regular season conference champions.
In the first of their final four games, the Bears took on the Bison of Lipscomb University and defeated them in an 83-58 rout. Four Mercer players were in double figure scoring on the night led by junior guard Anthony White Jr. with 15.
The start of the game saw a lot of back-and-forth play before the Bears finally capitalized in the late minutes of the first half to go on a 15-0 run to finish at the break with a 38-17 lead.
In the second stanza, the Bears went on a dominant 17-4 surge which would see Mercer go up by as much as 36 before the final whistle.
Senior Travis Smith scored 13 points in the victory while juniors Jakob Gollon and Bud Thomas chipped in 10 each.
After destroying the Bison, the men were back at home one more time during the regular season to take on the newest member of the Atlantic Sun Conference, Northern Kentucky.
After a slow start to the first half, the Bears ended up winning the contest 63-46.
The Norse of Northern Kentucky came out blazing as they built a 12-4 lead in the opening four minutes of the play. The Bears would not let this deter them however, as they battled their way back to a 16-16 tie with 8:42 left to play in the first half of play. From then on, it was all Mercer. The Orange and Black went on a 15-4 run to enter halftime with a 31-20 lead.
In the second half, Northern Kentucky came as close to being within eight points, but could not muster the strength to beat the Bears.
Travis Smith led Mercer with 13 points, while junior teammates Jakob Gollon and Langston Hall scored 13 and 12 respectively.
The game against Northern Kentucky served as Senior Night for the Bears. Both Travis Smith and Chris Smith were honored for their contributions to the men’s basketball team. The game against the Norse also marked a milestone for senior Chris Smith. Smith played his 121st consecutive game against a sold-out crowd at Hawkins Arena.
After two crucial wins at home, the Bears took to the road for their final road trip of 2012-13 regular season play.
Unfortunately, the first road game was not kind to Mercer as they lost a devastating 60-57 decision at Florida Gulf Coast.
Mercer was riding an eight game winning streak before the loss to Florida Gulf Coast. After trailing by as many as eight in the first half, the Bears battled back to be within two going into the second half.
From then on the game would go back-and-forth with both teams briefly exchanging the lead. With eighteen seconds left in the game and the Bears in the lead, a controversial foul was called that put the FGCU Eagles on top.
Mercer junior center Daniel Coursey booked his first career double-double in the loss with 14 points and 10 rebounds.  His 14 points tied senior Travis Smith for the team lead.
“We were right there,” Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said.  “Our second half execution was really good.  It was a good college basketball team and we could have won it, but didn’t.”
The Bears quickly regrouped when they took on the Stetson Hatters for their final contest of the regular season. On the line was the No. 1 seed in the conference championship and Mercer needed a win to secure that top spot. Mercer did what they needed to do to secure the top spot and defeated the Hatters 77-65.
All five Mercer men’s basketball starters reached double-figure scoring in the winning effort.
“It was a tremendous team victory,” Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said.  “We’ve got great guys who play their hearts out.  They’re a blessing and I’m thankful that we were able to find a way to get the No. 1 seed.”
The triumph came a decade and a day after the last time the team finished atop the regular season standings, ironically also in a win over Stetson on March 1, 2003.  That year, the team finished as Co-Champions with Troy and won the No. 1 seed by virtue of a tie-breaker.
Mercer senior Travis Smith netted a game-high 15 points while finishing just shy of a double-double with eight rebounds.  Juniors Bud Thomas and Daniel Coursey each tallied 14 points, while junior Langston Hall contributed 12.  Stetson fell to 14-14 (11-7 A-Sun) with the loss.
The Mercer men’s basketball team plays in the quarterfinal round of the 2013 General Shale Atlantic Sun Men’s Basketball Championship on Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m.