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Tennessee Vols too much for Bears in 84 to 60 loss

Cory+Kilby+drives+in+for+a+dunk+at+the+basket+against+Tennessee.
Cory Kilby drives in for a dunk at the basket against Tennessee.

Cory Kilby drives in for a dunk at the basket against Tennessee.

Christian Hartley

Christian Hartley

Cory Kilby drives in for a dunk at the basket against Tennessee.

Christian Hartley, Staff Writer

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The Mercer Bears (5-2) hit the road on Wednesday to face their toughest opponent of the 2017 season to date, the Tennessee Volunteers(4-1). The Bears went into this game as big time underdogs and being without leading scorer Ria’n Holland surely did not help things. When all was said and done, the Bears came up short, losing 84 to 60.

Through the opening minutes, the Bears did a great job of hanging around. At the 16-minute timeout, the Bears trailed 6 to 2. You could tell that this Bears team was struggling on offense without their leading scorer.

It’s important to note that the Vols were the ninth-ranked offensive rebounding team in the country going into today’s matchup. This posed  a problem for the Bears, a team that struggles on the glass against bigger teams. They were going to have to hang tough with Tennessee on the boards to stay competitive in the ballgame.

As the first half went on, the Bears offense just could not find the bottom of the net, starting the game just 1-of-8 from the field. At the 10-minute mark, the Bears found themselves down 14 points, 18 to 4.

Over the next 3 minutes, the Vols went on a 10-to-3 run to extend their lead 8 to 21 points, 28 to 7. Coach Hoffman quickly called a timeout to regroup his squad, as the Vols were beginning to take over the ball game.

Out of the timeout, Mercer answered with a quick bucket, only to be answered by a 3-pointer from the Vols. Each time the Bears found a hint of momentum, the Vols answered.

At the under 4-minute timeout, the Bears had scratched and clawed their way to within 16 points.

After cutting the Vols lead to just 13 points with about 3-minutes to play in the first half, the Vols quickly extended that lead back out to 20, piggybacking off of several 3-pointers.

At the half, the Bears trailed the Vols by 19. The Bears shot just 31-percent from the field, while allowing the red-hot Vols to shoot 65-percent from the floor. Perhaps even more astonishing, the Vols shot 8-of-12 from beyond the arc, good for 67 percent, compared to Mercer shooting just 3-of-8 for just 38 percent.

In the opening minutes of the second-half, Mercer and Tennessee traded buckets back and forth. However, foul trouble plagued some of the Bears most reliable players, including Ethan Stair and Demetre Rivers. They had to each exit the game early in the second half with three fouls.

With 15-minutes to play, Tennessee had extended its lead to 23 behind a lockdown defensive effort that was suffocating the Bears on the offensive end. Add that with 21 assists on the other end and the Vols were starting to hit on all cylinders.

The Bears never stopped fighting to get into the game. Junior guard Jordan Strawberry had his strongest performance of the season in the absence of fellow guard Ria’n Holland. Each time the Vols put a couple baskets together, Strawberry would answer with a score of his own.

As the second half continued, the Vols began to exert their dominance on the Bears. Tennessee continued to shoot the three pointer extremely well, and the Vols defense did not let up the pressure.

With 9-minutes left to play, the Bears had fallen into their largest deficit of the game, 73 to 43. Even with the Vols up by such a large margin, they continued to pressure the Bears on the defensive end and pushed the ball on fast breaks as if the game were close.

As the second-half began to wind down, the Bears continued to play tough, physical basketball. At one point, forward Stephon Jelks went airborne into the baseline seats for a rebound–and apologized to the fan he landed on with a polite hug goodbye.

Over the final few minutes, the Bears and Vols traded baskets, with both team’s reserves in the game. The Bears offense shot the ball better down the stretch, allowing them to close the 30 point lead the Vols once had.

When the buzzer sounded, the Bears were on the losing end of a 24 point loss, 84 to 60. The Vols led the entire game, and were in control on both ends of the floor throughout. However, it was a valiant effort from a short-handed Bears team, and a game the team can certainly learn from.

Jordan Strawberry led Mercer with 20 points, as well as adding 4 rebounds and an assist to his statsheet. Fellow guard Ethan Stair chipped in 11 points  and a number of other Bears got into the scoring column as well, with 11 different Mercer players getting game action and 9 scoring baskets.

From here, the schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Bears. Next up, Mercer hits the road again to travel to Memphis, Tennessee to take on the Memphis Tigers this Saturday at 5 p.m. It will be another tough test for a promising Bears basketball team preparing for SoCon action.

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Tennessee Vols too much for Bears in 84 to 60 loss