Mercer could not have asked for a better start, but they needed a stronger finish.
In their first home game following a short road trip, The Bears (18-10, 8-7) jumped out to an early lead, but their quick start fizzled. The Catamounts outscored the Bears 39-31 in the second half to defeat Mercer 72-65.
The defeat is the team’s fourth straight.
Early in the first half, back-to-back layups put the Bears up 7-0. But when the Bears led 15-7, the Catamounts halted all momentum and strung together three straight 3-pointers to take a 16-15 lead.
Although Mercer took a 34-33 lead into halftime, it would never regain the early-game momentum.
Western Carolina fed forward Torrion Brummitt — who finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds — to start the second half and extended its lead to 11 points before the Bears tried to claw back to scare the Cats late.
– Three players (Demetre Rivers — 19 — Stephon Jelks — 17 and Phillip Leonard — 13) scored 49 of Mercer’s 65 points in the loss. The trio also shot 16-of-29 from the field while the remainder of the team shot 5-of-21.
– The bench scored only six points after providing 26 points Saturday at Furman; only one player played double-digit minutes off the bench (Lawrence Brown with 18).
– The Bears shot only 30.8 percent (8-of-26) in the second half and 42 percent for the game. The Catamounts shot 52 percent (13-of-25) in the second half.
– Mercer was out-rebounded for only the second time this year, as Western Carolina had a 32-27 advantage. The only other time the Bears lost the rebounding battle was George Mason on Nov. 16.
– The losing streak is the longest for the program since a four-game losing streak from Dec. 23, 2010 to Jan. 3, 2011.
– Suspended starters Jestin Lewis and Desmond Ringer were not sitting on the team’s bench during the game, but they were seen sitting in the stands near the team. Both Lewis and Ringer sat on the bench during the team’s last home game — Feb. 8 against Chattanooga — but did not travel for the recent two-game road trip.
– The Bears now sit fifth in the SoCon, five games back of league-leading Chattanooga with three regular-season games remaining.
The inside scoop:
Rivers on strong start and then poor stretch: “We come out with a lot of energy. We have the crowd pumping us up. But we gave up a couple of easy plays that let them back into the game, and then our energy just died down a little bit.”
Rivers on trying to mesh without Lewis and Ringer: “It’s tough not having those guys. They’re both really good players; it’d be nice if we still had them, but we just have to focus with the players we have now and just try to come in and play; some of us have to step up and play different roles.”
Jelks on loss: “We didn’t get the job done. I feel like we played hard; we just had some possessions where we didn’t finish it. I think that’s what killed us.”
Jelks on rebounding without Ringer: “Desmond used to help me out a bit, because they used to think he was big, so they were like, ‘Box him out more’… They’ve been trying to take me out more because they know I’m leading the team in rebounding and stuff. So, I feel like it’s more of a challenge.”
Jelks on playing without Lewis and Ringer: “I think it’s more, ‘What can we do with the people we have?’ I’m playing the five, which is a different spot for me… We just have to figure out the rotation.”
Jelks on ending losing streak: “We just have to execute, really. Have to execute what Coach gives us, put it in the play and just finish plays.”
Head coach Bob Hoffman on rotation: “Ever since we’ve had the last five games, it’s been pretty much the same lineups. Trying to still figure some of those rotations; not many options, really.”
Hoffman on state of team: “Our guys are working really hard; I’m proud of them. Still believe there’s good things ahead for this team and for these guys. We’re not going to win the regular season conference, but we’re going to keep working hard and get one on Saturday.”
Hoffman on equal distribution of scoring: “We need Ethan (Stair) and Jordan (Strawberry) to get a few more. They had some opportunities; just didn’t happen (Thursday). They’re going to be fine. They’re working really hard… I have to keep finding the little things to put them in positions to be successful.”
Mercer will host East Tennessee State Saturday at 4:30 p.m. The Bears dropped the first outing to the Buccaneers in overtime, 65-63.