Strawberry’s 22 points not enough to end Bears’ losing streak

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Image: Justin Baxley

Jordan Strawberry poses with Toby the Bear.

Hayes Rule, Staff Writer

Three was the number of points Mercer needed and the number of opportunities it had to tie the game in the final seconds. But when the clock struck zero, the Bears (18-11, 8-8) had come up short, 77-74.

The loss was Mercer’s fifth in a row — the worst such streak during head coach Bob Hoffman’s tenure and the first time the program has lost that many games in a row since 2007-08.

After the Bucs connected on three 3-pointers in the first five minutes, Mercer controlled the next ten minutes and stretched its lead to 33-22. But then ETSU knocked down two more 3-pointers to fuel a 15-4 run in the final 4:39 of the half to knot the score at 37.

Mercer halted the Bucs’ momentum with a 7-0 run to open the second half. But ETSU slowly crept back into the game and even regained the lead at 54-53 after trailing for over 17 minutes.

The Bucs used a 13-3 run over a three-minute span to hold a 75-71 lead with over a minute remaining before Jordan Strawberry knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the lead. But a pair of Ge’Lawn Guyn free throws with 16.7 remaining would be the final points as the Bears couldn’t find the hoop in the final seconds.

 

What mattered:

– Sophomore Jordan Strawberry led the team with 22 points, five rebounds and five assists off the bench after Andrew Fishler made his first start of the year. With Fishler starting, Stephon Jelks moved back to the four spot, which he said is his more natural position.

– Redshirt junior Lawrence Brown scored a career-high 14 points, besting the 10 points he scored Nov. 13 in the opener against Allen this season.

– Suspended senior Jestin Lewis was not honored on Senior Day but instead helped escort Phillip Leonard onto the court. Leonard chipped in 14 points and 5 rebounds in his last game at Hawkins Arena.

– According to Hoffman, Jelks suffered a concussion with over seven minutes remaining after a collision with Ethan Stair. Jelks did not return to the game, but Hoffman said the sophomore was “fine” in the locker room and will go through concussion protocol.

– The Bucs shot 14-of-28 from the 3-point line, led by Guyn, who scored 32 points on 7-of-11 from behind the arc.

– After being out-rebounded for only the second time this season Thursday, Mercer registered a 38-28 advantage on the boards Saturday.

– Fueled by Strawberry and Brown, Mercer had 37 points off the bench — the third most in a single game this season.  The Bears had zero fast break points.

– Eight of the nine players who registered playing time scored for Mercer.

 

The inside scoop:

Strawberry on fighting in close game: “We’re very proud. We made some adjustments. We fought together like a team [Saturday], and we felt like more like a team [Saturday].”

Strawberry on coming off bench: “It doesn’t really matter to me. I just want to win. I think that me coming off the bench gives us a spark; that’s something we needed.”

Strawberry on improved play: “I think I just got back in the gym. My shot wasn’t falling last game, so I just got back in the gym, shot some more shots. [I] shot some more shots that I’m going to shoot in the game, so making sure I’m not shooting shots that I’m not going to shoot in a game; that’s what I needed to do.”

Leonard on rotation: “This is like our first full week of playing with a different group, figuring out who we want to play and how we want to play. So, I feel like we’re getting better.”

Leonard on getting another win before the conference tournament: “[It’s] really important. The main thing is just coming to practice ready. Execute the game plan and just keep playing hard. We’re going to get one of them.”

Hoffman on loss: “It’s a physical game. Our guys deserved to win [Saturday]. They played really, really good. They’re amazing young men how they continue to be resilient and fight with all they have.”

Hoffman on Strawberry coming off bench: “I thought when we got to the end of the game in some other second halves that Jordan [Strawberry] and [Phillip Leonard] were getting tired at the same time — and it was hurting us, so that’s why we went back to what we were doing. I think we found something [that] worked. Plus, we put [Jelks] at the four, which he got back to rebounding and not having to play out of position himself.”

Hoffman on bouncing back: “These guys are going to give everything they have, because that’s what they’re made of. That’s the kind of resiliency they have, and in some ways, this is a new season for us. We’re just a little bit into it, and we weren’t able to finish some of them. We have to find a way to get a couple on the road.”

 

Next up:

Mercer travels to play VMI Thursday at 7 p.m. The Bears defeated the Keydets 73-58 in the first outing.