The road has not been the friendliest place for the Bears so far this season and as of late it has proven to be even tougher.
On Sat. Jan. 24, the Bears took to the road to face to the Atlantic Sun’s newest conference member, Northern Kentucky. Despite a season-high scoring contest from junior Bud Thomas, the Bears were unable to prevail losing the contest 63-46.
Mercer struggled offensively from the get-go, connecting on just one of its first seven field goals in the opening seven minutes of play. A 12-12 tie was converted into a 26-18 NKU halftime lead as the Bears went the final 6:12 of the period without registering a field goal.
The second half of play was just as devastating for Mercer. The Bears closed the deficit to six points, but the Norse of Northern Kentucky would drop 14 unanswered points and ended up winning the contest 63-46.
After struggling away from home so much this season, Bob Hoffman and the Bears knew they needed to turn things around. Just two days later, Mercer took to the court on the road once again playing the Lipscomb Bison.
This time, Mercer came out on top with a 71-65 win. The win also marked a monumental one for head coach Bob Hoffman. With the win against the Bison, Hoffman reached his 400th win as a collegiate head coach.
“It was an amazing effort,” Hoffman said. “Our guys showed amazing toughness and I’m really proud of them today. They stood up to the test and made play after play.”
Early into the game, Mercer trailed 11-5 before mounting an 11-1 run, ended by a fast-break layup by senior Chris Smith.
After Smith’s score, the Bears would go ahead by as many as five before the Bison closed the half on a 7-2 run to earn the halftime tie.
Out of the break, Bud Thomas found Jakob Gollon for a layup that gave the visitors back the lead.
wThe swift score foreshadowed future events, as the Bears would blitz the Bison for 48 second-half points period.
The red-hot offense helped the Bears go ahead by as many as 15 in the period, but Lipscomb hung around and closed the deficit to seven as the clock dropped below the one minute mark.
With 41 seconds remaining, Lipscomb senior guard Deonte Alexander hit a fade-away three pointer in the corner while being fouled. His ensuing free throw cut the margin to three (68-65).
Following Alexander’s shot, Hoffman elected to put the ball in the hands of the A-Sun’s two best free throw shooters. Langston Hall and Travis Smith, who entered the game ranked first and second among A-Sun players in free-throw shooting percentage, finished the game with three charity tosses down the stretch.
“We didn’t shoot free throws quite as well as we’ve been doing, but it was good enough to get the win,” Hoffman said. “Langston and Travis on the line will win you a lot of games.”
After the monumental win, Mercer took their winning ways back to their home court avenging a previous loss to in-state rival Kennesaw State, this time coming out on top 66-42.
Earlier in the year, the Bears took on the Owls at Kennesaw State and in a game that saw many fouls as well as a head coach Bob Hoffman getting ejected, ended up with a loss. The Bears were not going to let the last result keep them down though.
The Bears extended their home winning streak to 11 and have yet to drop a home contest this season.
Midway through the first half, the Bears were clinging to a slim 11-10 lead when junior Monty Brown scored lay-ups on back-to-back possessions to spark a 12-3 Mercer charge. The surge was capped by an old-fashioned three-point play for Smith that placed the Bears in front 23-13 with 6:35 left in the half.
Late in the half, two blocks on the defensive end led to run-outs for Smith and Gollon, the last of which saw Gollon cram a dunk in front of the student section. His slam brought the crowd to its feet and pushed Mercer’s lead to 12. Another Kennesaw State turnover saw Mercer go up by 14, but the Owls scored the final basket of the period to go into half trailing 29-17.
The Bears opened the second half on an 8-1 charge and never looked back en route to the win. Mercer’s lead would grow to as many as 26 as the team shot 11-of-20 (55%) from the floor in the final 20 minutes.
The men’s basketball returns to action Thurs., Feb. 7 at home against Jacksonville. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
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