It took more than 30 minutes for someone other than Ria’n Holland to make a 3-pointer, but when it did, it came like a flood. Mercer (10-12, 4-5) pulled past The Citadel (9-15, 2-8) 82-66 Saturday behind Jordan Strawberry’s 13-point second-half performance.
Strawberry made the Bears’ first 3-pointer from a player not named Holland with nine minutes remaining in the game. And then the onslaught ensued.
Demetre Rivers drained one from deep moments later, then Strawberry connected on two more within a three-minute stretch to put the Bulldogs away for good.
Neither team led by more than six points in the first half as both the The Citadel and Mercer struggled from the field — 32 and 44 percent, respectively. Holland was the only player in double figures scoring — 10 — as the Bears led 33-30.
Mercer failed to pull away early in the second half; the Bulldogs trailed by only four points with more than 10 minutes remaining, but then the 3-point barrage began. The four total 3-pointers over a three-minute stretch gave Mercer a double-digit lead it would never relinquish.
STARS OF THE GAME:
Stephon Jelks: The junior forward was a force all over the court, flirting with a triple-double by grabbing a 14 rebounds, dishing out eight assists and scoring five points. The 14 rebounds were a season high for Jelks and three less than his career high of 17 against The Citadel last season.
Rivers: The dam was broken in the second half as Rivers scored 19 of his 23 total points, a team high in the game. He shot 8-of-9 from the free-throw line and 7-of-10 from the field.
Holland: The junior shot 3-of-7 from the 3-point line en route to 17 points. He also cashed in from the free-throw line, shooting 6-of-8.
Strawberry: The guard scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, fueled by his three 3-pointers that helped Mercer pull away.
STATS THAT POP:
Terrific triumvirate: Rivers, Holland and Strawberry combined for 55 of the Bears’ 82 points. Desmond Ringer and Ryan Johnson each chipped in six points.
Making shots fall: The Bears were efficient from the field, shooting less than 51 percent. Led by Jelks, Mercer assisted on 20 of its 27 made baskets. The Citadel took 14 more shots than the Bears but finished only 34 percent from the field.
Hanging around from downtown: The Citadel shoots more than 37 3-point shots a game and makes more than 12 a game on the season. The Bears made only four less 3-point shots than the Bulldogs and matched The Citadel’s 3-point total of five in the second half.
Slowing down the pace: The Citadel scored only 66 points, the least it has scored in 10 SoCon games and the second-least it has scored all season. Before the outing, the Bulldogs led the nation in scoring at 94.5 points per game.
Rivers on playing The Citadel’s style of play: “We had all week to prepare for it, and the coaches, they gave us good details to apply to the game.
Rivers on defensive performance: “The most important thing the [coaches] were telling us was to just close out hard to the shooters and take out their shot and then being the gap for each other… We want to take pride in our defense. We work on it 24/7.”
Strawberry on controlling the pace: “We don’t want to get up and down with them because that is their style of pace. We can play that way, but they’re more used to playing that way.”
Strawberry on Jelks’s performance: “He was just getting back to himself — being confident, going to the boards, finding guys [and] hitting shots when he needed to hit shots. He’s a big boost for us. We need him to play like that all the time.”
Head coach Bob Hoffman on pulling away: “We just executed a little better… That stretch right there, [Strawberry] got back-to-back 3s, we got some layups and some easy shots and [Rivers] played like we need him to play. He was really special tonight.”
Hoffman on next few games in home stretch: “Every game is important to us because we have nine more opportunities to get better for [the] conference tournament, and you have to win three or four to go to the NCAA Tournament. Somebody’s going to get on a run, and it might as well be us.”