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Bears fall short to Memphis in heated double-overtime game

Mercer+at+Tennessee+men%27s+basketball+at+Thompson+Boling+arena+in+Knoxville%2C+TN.+
Mercer at Tennessee men's basketball at Thompson Boling arena in Knoxville, TN.

Mercer at Tennessee men's basketball at Thompson Boling arena in Knoxville, TN.

Randy Sartin

Randy Sartin

Mercer at Tennessee men's basketball at Thompson Boling arena in Knoxville, TN.

Christian Hartley, Staff Writer

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The Mercer Bears(5-4) concluded their Tennessee road trip Saturday afternoon in a tilt against the Memphis Tigers(4-2). The Bears fought hard from start to finish, but came up just short in double-overtime, losing 83 to 81 after two late Tigers’ free throws sealed the deal.

The game could not have started better for the Bears, who were without leading scorer Ria’n Holland. Holland is nursing a high-ankle sprain for the third consecutive game.

The game was back-and-forth in the opening minutes. The Tigers jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead, before the Ethan Stair knocked in a 3-pointer to put the Bears on the board.

The Tigers lead the entire first 10 minutes of the first half, with their largest lead being 6 points two separate times inside the first 4 minutes of the ball game.

At around the 9-minute mark, something sparked in the Bears offense. The score was knotted up at 13 a piece, before the Bears connected on three big time three-pointers to go along with a few jumpers to stretch out their lead to 11 points. This was the Bears’ largest lead of the game.

When the Bears and Tigers went into their locker rooms at halftime, the Bears were in command of a 31 to 22 lead, thanks to a last second three-pointer by junior guard Ryan Johnson.

The first-half was all Bears, outperforming the Tigers in virtually every statistical category, including field-goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage, total rebounds and assists. All in all, the Bears could not have asked for a better start to a big game.

Through the opening minutes of the second half, the Bears and Tigers traded baskets. At the 16-minute media timeout, the Bears led 36 to 31.

Mercer continued shooting the three pointer well in the opening minutes of the second half, connecting all three of their second half makes in the first 6 minutes. The issue for the Bears is that they missed the next 6 attempts to come after.

At the 11-minute mark, Memphis cut the Bears’ lead down to just 2 points. The Bears appeared to be losing control of the game to the home team, until a quick 8-0 run stretched the Bears lead back out to double digits with just 7-minutes to play.

Just when the Bears thought they were in control, the Tigers used a 9-0 run of their own to slice Mercer’s lead down to just a single point with just 4-minutes to play.

Later with just over 2-minutes left, forward Stephon Jelks put together a quick 3-point play to extend Mercer’s lead to 5 points, 62 to 57.

It was the Tigers who got the last run of regulation, outscoring Mercer 6-1 down the stretch to tie the game, topped off by a bomb from way beyond the arc from guard Jamal Johnson to knot the game up at 63 with just 27 seconds left on the clock.

Mercer held the ball for the final shot, but Jordan Strawberry’s three-pointer came up short. The Bears and Tigers were going into overtime.

At the 3-minute mark in the first overtime, Mercer lost its leading scorer Stephon Jelks to fouls. The Bears seemed unfazed, securing a 73 to 68 lead with just 90 seconds to play, thanks in part to a couple three-pointers from guard Jordan Strawberry.

However, it was the Tigers who finished the first overtime strong. Memphis outscored Mercer 7-0 over the next 88 seconds to take a 2-point lead.

Mercer held the ball for the final shot, in the hands of guard Jordan Strawberry for the second time. This time, Strawberry drove hard to the basket, and it paid dividends. Strawberry drew a tough foul, sunk two free throws, and the Bears and Tigers were heading to a second overtime knotted up at 75.

The second overtime was more of the same. The Tigers jumped out early, with the Bears doing the responding this time. Desmond Ringer tied the game at 81 a piece with just 13 seconds left in the second overtime.

This time it was Memphis who had the opportunity to hold for the final shot. Tigers guard Jeremiah Martin drove hard to the basket, drew a foul, and knocked in 2 free throws with under 3 seconds to play to seal the deal.

At the final buzzer, the Tigers were on top 83 to 81, and the Bears upset bid had fallen just short in double-overtime.

After the game, Coach Hoffman credited the effort of his team, and acknowledged his team’s inability to make plays late.

“Our team gave amazing effort. The willingness to want to win and do the things you needed to do to win was exceptional tonight,” Hoffman said. “I love how they are growing together. We just needed to make a couple more plays.”

The Bears get a well-deserved week off to rest before welcoming the Rattlers of Florida A&M for a mid-afternoon 4 p.m. bout in Hawkins Arena this Saturday.

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Bears fall short to Memphis in heated double-overtime game