Undermanned Bears fall to SoCon-leading Chattanooga in overtime


Image: Geovic Jadol

Andrew Fishler going for a dunk.

Hayes Rule, Staff Writer

Down starters Jestin Lewis and Desmond Ringer for the second straight game, the Mercer Bears took SoCon-leading Chattanooga to overtime Monday. The Bears ran out of gas in the extra period as the Mocs handed Mercer its first loss at home this year, 72-66.

Chattanooga (22-3, 11-1) extended its winning streak to nine games and increased its lead in the conference after outscoring Mercer (18-7, 8-4) 13-7 in the overtime period. Lewis and Ringer donned warm-ups and sat on the bench throughout the game as they continue to serve a suspension for unknown reasons.

After the Mocs fed 6-foot-10 Justin Tuoyo early and took a quick 4-0 lead, the Bears electrified the crowd with a 12-1 run over a five-minute span to take a 12-5 lead. But it would be the biggest lead for Mercer.

Once Chattanooga strung together three straight 3-pointers — all by Eric Robertson — after Mercer’s run, the teams battled for the remainder of the half. The Mocs took a 33-31 lead into the locker room behind a 22-14 rebounding advantage.

After falling behind by four in the second half, Mercer tied the game at 53 before Stephon Jelks nailed a crowd-erupting 3-pointer to give the Bears the lead with 4:38 remaining. But the Mocs responded. Dee Oldham connected on a wide open corner 3-pointer to give Chattanooga a 59-56 lead with 1:04 remaining.

And then the Bears responded. Freshman Ethan Stair drained his lone 3-pointer on the night to tie the game with 41.0 left. Neither team connected on chances late in regulation, forcing the Bears to go to overtime for the fifth time this year.

But Mercer could not snap its two-game overtime losing streak. After Demetre Rivers scored the first points of extra time, Chattanooga scored nine of the next 10 points to put the Bears into too big of a hole to dig themselves out of in the end.

What mattered:
– Sophomore Demetre Rivers scored a career-high 20 points (8-of-14 shooting) after scoring 14 in the first half on 6-of-8 shooting. His previous career high, 17, was set Jan. 9 at The Citadel, and the career performance Monday comes one game after scoring 16 on Saturday. He also chipped in eight rebounds.

– Redshirt junior Andrew Fishler recorded a career-high eight blocks, one shy of the program’s record for blocks in a single game set by Calvin Henry against Florida Gulf Coast Feb. 14, 2009. Fishler also became the first Mercer player to record five-plus blocks in a game since Daniel Coursey on Feb. 2, 2014.

– Senior Phillip Leonard scored 18 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists but injured himself late in regulation on a drive to the basket. Coach Bob Hoffman said the injury is not serious, and Leonard was seen walking after the game without any noticeable limp.

– Sophomore Jordan Strawberry shot poorly from the field — 2-of-14 — but filled the stat books in just about every other category: seven points, eight assists and six rebounds.

– Mercer was 11-0 at home going into game while UTC was riding an 8-game winning streak and had won 16 of its last 17.

– Robertson started 5-of-5 from the 3-point line and had 15 points by the 8:41 mark — he had outscored Mercer to that point — but didn’t score again until less than a minute into overtime. He finished with 20 points, six assists and four rebounds.

– The Bears finished with only a 42-40 advantage on the boards with Ringer absent. Mercer has only been out-rebounded once this year — George Mason on Nov. 16.

– Neither team shot well from the field, as Mercer finished 25-of-66 — 37.9 percent — and Chattanooga finished 23-of-63  —36.5 percent.

– Both teams finished with the same amount of second chance points (12) and point in the paint (26), but Mercer held an 8-0 advantage in fast break points.

– Chattanooga put the game away from the free-throw line, but it wasn’t the only time it shot well; the Mocs finished 17-of-20 from the charity stripe.

What’s the inside scoop:
Rivers on loss: “It’s pretty disappointing. It was a tough game. They’re a really good team; they’re leading our conference. This would have been a big win for us.”

Rivers on aggressiveness without Lewis and Ringer: “It’s hard not having (Lewis) and (Ringer) playing with us. I’m just trying to be more aggressive looking for my shot (and) taking what I can get.”

Rivers on playing undermanned: “It’s definitely more wear and tear on you, but a couple days in the cold tub back there will get you right. We just have to fight through. Fight through fatigue. Fight through the soreness and just go out and play hard no matter what.”

Hoffman on loss: “It was amazing effort by our young men, and we were right there with five seconds left driving the lane and (Leonard) goes down. I’m not sure what that was, but we had an opportunity to go to the free throw line; we didn’t get it. Our guys battled every second of the way.”

Hoffman on being shorthanded: “I think it says a lot about the character of those guys and how bad they want to do their best and give their best. I think about our assistant coaches, how hard they go and how they continue to push guys to be better. It was a special day for us. We didn’t get the win, but in our heart of hearts, I believe our guys got a victory by what they were able to give tonight.”

Hoffman on moving forward: “We’ll have a really tough day (Tuesday). It was a tough night (Monday); it will be more tough stuff (Tuesday). But more important stuff (Tuesday) than this game. Wofford, it will be important, but nothing like the importance of (Tuesday).”

Hoffman on Fishler: “He’s so long; he can affect a lot of things. So I’m happy for him. He stayed the course, he’s continued to do the right thing over and over again, working on his game. You can see him gaining a little confidence little-by-little. He’s a special young man. Sometimes he’s a little too meek for me, but I’m getting a little more out of him, and our assistants continue to believe in him and continue to work on him. I’m so thrilled for him, because he’s a genuinely great guy. Great guy.”

Up next:
The Bears will head to Savannah Tuesday to attend fallen teammate Jibri Bryan’s funeral. The next game will be at Wofford on Thursday. Mercer defeated the Terriers in a 70-69 OT thriller in the first meeting Jan. 16.

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