Team fails to advance out of first round of Women’s Basketball Invitational
The Mercer women’s basketball team’s record-breaking season came to an end on Thursday, March 21 in Hawkins Arena. McNeese State upset the Bears 82-70 in the first round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational.
Before falling to McNeese State, Mercer competed in the Atlantic Sun tournament for the first time in three years, making it to the semifinals where they lost to Stetson.
In the first round of the A-Sun Championship, the Orange and Black faced Jacksonville, beating them 63-53.
Sophomore Precious Bridges led the way with a game-high 17 points while classmate Alicia Williams netted 16 points.
To start up the game, Williams put up the first nine points for the Bears to give them a 9-6 lead with 13:52 left in the first half.
Junior Kendra Grant began to heat up as well when she scored her second three-pointer of the game to give Mercer a 17-10 lead with 9:33 remaining in the half.
Jacksonville kept the game close and just before halftime was able to drain a three, bringing the dolphins within four, 32-28.
Coming into the second half, the Bears started it off with an 8-1 run. With 14:24 remaining in the contest, sophomore Teanna Robinson contributed with a put back lay-in, making the score 40-29.
The Dolphins were able to come back within seven, 45-38, with 7:28 left in the half, but Mercer’s offense was too aggressive and extended their lead back to 14 following an old-fashion three-point play by Bridges.
From that point forward, the Bears never let Jacksonville come within eight points of their lead the rest of the way to secure the win.
Junior Sharnea Boykin handed out 10 assists in the win; her fifth double-digit assist performance of the season while senior Sharmesia Smith grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds to go along with two blocks.
After a solid win against Jacksonville, the Bears were unable to pull out a second win the next day against Stetson in the semifinals.
Bridges led the team again with a game-high 24 points, but the Hatters took the win to advance to the A-Sun Championship final round.
The first few minutes of the game consisted of some back and forth play. A jumper by Bridges knotted things up at 10-10 with 7:52 left in the first half.
Later in the half, a jumper by Grant cut Stetson’s six point lead down to one, but the Hatters nailed a three-pointer just before the intermission to send Stetson into the locker room with a 25-21 lead.
The Bears started off the second half with a spark. A jumper by senior Ry’van Buchanan capped an 8-2 run to take a 29-27 lead with 15:52 to go on the game.
From there, the Hatters took over. Stetson put up a 23-9 run over the next seven-plus minutes of game action to put some distance between themselves and the Bears.
With 8:17 left in the contest, a Stetson lay-in made the score 50-38.
Mercer would get no closer than 10 points the rest of the way, coming up one win short of reaching the A-Sun Championship final round for the first time since 1993.
Buchanan was the only other Bear in double-figures, chipping in 11 points, while Boykin notched 10 assists for the second-straight game in the loss.
The Bears were given one more chance to continue their season in the WBI, but they were not able to outscore McNeese State with their impeccable 31-for-38 performance from the free throw line.
The Bears set a record of 94 field goals attempted and 55 total rebounds on the night.
Grant ended her season with a career-best 27 points on a career-high 31 field goals attempted. Robinson chipped in offensively as well with six points, 13 rebounds and a block in the game.
Both teams started off the game strong offensively before an old-fashioned three-point play gave McNeese State an early 18-15 lead with 12:52 left in the first half.
The Cowgirls extended their lead to as large as six points before Mercer responded with a 6-0 run of its own. Robinson brought the Bears back even at 21-21 by scoring back-to-back put-back lay-ins with 8:06 remaining in the first stanza.
Both teams fought to keep it a one-possession game until the final minutes of the first half when the visitors made a late push. McNeese state went into the locker room with a 39-35 lead.
The Bears started the second half strong, however, riding the hot shooting of Grant. She scored seven-straight points to pull the home team within two, at 44-42, with 17:22 left in the second half.
Mercer continued to chip away at the Cowgirls’ lead until a spark off the bench by junior Kate Alemann pushed the Bears in front. Alemann scored four-straight points to give the home team a 50-49 lead with 11:16 remaining in the second half.
Grant connected on a pair of jumpers on back-to-back possession to keep Mercer within striking distance, trailing just 60-58, with 4:23 minutes left in the game.
Over the final four minutes of the contest, McNeese State connected on 16-straight attempts from the free throw line. This put the game out of reach for the Bears and secured the road win for the Cowgirls.
The loss was the final game in the Orange and Black for Smith, Buchanan and senior Alex Phillips. The trio helped Mercer to its first 20-win season since 1991-92 and its first appearance in a nationally sponsored postseason tournament since 1985.