The Bears have proven that the tough non-conference schedule is not slowing them down. Out of the gate, the ladies are 7-2 and riding a four-game win streak highlighted by a fourth quarter comeback victory against Campbell and a 61-44 beatdown of A-10 opponent George Washington.
Normally a prolific offensive team, it has been the Bears’ clamp-down, smack-floor, stifling defense that has defined this win streak. Mercer held their last four opponents to less than 40 percent shooting from the floor and forced 72 turnovers.
Coach Susie Gardner has placed the emphasis on being more aggressive defensively. The eighth year head coach even brought in Mercer Football Defensive Coordinator Mike Kolakowski to preach effort on the defensive end. Evidently the team has taken the philosophy to heart.
“It’s interesting because we’re such an offensive-minded team so I’ve tried to take players that like to score and shoot and try to incorporate the defense,” Coach Gardner said. “I think because we’ve had success with it, anytime you have success you buy into it a little bit more.”
Mercer holds their opponents to 56.9 points per game, good for 39th in the NCAA. Their +7.89 turnover margin is 10th in the NCAA. As of now, those stats are second and first in the SoCon respectively.
Even when Mercer’s offense isn’t scoring well, evident in the game against Campbell (38% FG), the defensive intensity is enough to make up the difference.
Mercer’s victory against Campbell came in dramatic fashion as the Bears battled back from nine down in the fourth quarter to take the lead with just 8 seconds left to play. They held Campbell to only nine points and ONE FIELD GOAL in the fourth quarter.
Lawrence finished with 28 points, but the late game heroics would belong to Sydni Means. Means scored six of her seven points in the fourth quarter, including the game winner with seven seconds remaining.
A putback by Alex Williams cut the deficit to one with 14 seconds left. Full court pressure by the Bears led to Keke Calloway flying in to steal the inbounds pass like a football safety. Calloway kicked it to Lawrence on the left wing, she swung it to Means on the opposite side for the catch and shoot, nothing-but-net jumper game winner! She called game!
The Bears coasted against their next opponent, Davidson, on Dec. 3. The Bears shot 41% from the floor and forced 20 turnovers on the defensive end en route to a 15 point win. Kahlia Lawrence and Keke Calloway combined for 37 points and Amanda Thompson tallied her second double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Thompson was rewarded for her recent efforts with the General Shale Southern Conference Student Athlete of the Week. In the two wins against Campbell and Davidson she averaged 8.0 points and 9.5 rebounds for game.
Thompson, a junior engineering major, performed in the classroom as well. Athletes must have at least a 3.3 GPA to be eligible. Thompson, ever the humble one, played off the award recognition after a 14 point, 7 rebound performance against George Washington.
“Yeah, I mean it’s good. I found out this morning. It’s fun, but it’s just one of those things that Sydni (Means) talked about. When they guard Kahlia tight, I have to step and score more and I think that draws a little more attention,” Thompson said.
Mercer might have played their most dominating game of the season against George Washington. They won 61-44 and held the Colonials to two five-point quarters and began the game with a 16-0 run in the first 7:20. Thompson’s 14 points was second on the team behind Calloway’s 15 on 5-10 shooting.
Means flirted with a triple-double much of the fourth quarter, ending the contest with 7 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. She said she would love to see one before she rounds her career at Mercer.
“The goal is to see a triple-double, so stay tuned because it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t get one,” Means said.
Means was more pleased with the fourth consecutive win for the Bears, citing excellent team chemistry in the first nine games.
“I love the chemistry on this team. A lot of different people are scoring now,” Means said. “It’s great to have other people scoring the ball when Kahlia’s not, so she doesn’t have a big load.”
1) Share the Sugar
Mercer picked up where it left off last season when it comes to sharing the rock. Their 15.4 assists per game is second in the Southern Conference and they lead the league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.2.
The sharing is led by Means whose 63 total assists through nine games ranks ninth in the NCAA and whose seven assists per game ranks 10th. She attributes the early production to her teammates.
“When I have teammates who run the floor, it’s really easy to get those assists,” Means said.
The Bears have had solid point production from those outside the Chimera of Means, Calloway and Lawrence in the last few games.
Thompson only averages 6.3 points per game, but had 10 against Campbell and 14 against George Washington. Rachel Selph (6.4 ppg) had 14 points against VCU and 10 against Campbell and Kayla Potts (3.3 ppg) scored seven against both Davidson and George Washington.
If the Bears can continue to have point production outside of the Chimera, they’ll be tough to beat moving forward, especially in SoCon play.
2) Kayla Potts: Weapon X
Potts has played very impressively in the last several games, most notably on the defensive end. Potts comes off the bench and provides an instant spark plug for the Bears.
After the Bears were initially down against Davidson, Potts came into the game and gave the Bears some much needed energy that was evident as she forced four steals.
Potts is versatile and is called to guard positions 1-4 on the defensive end. She rebounds well and when she is being aggressive, she can be very dangerous against slower post players.
Coach Gardner is not afraid to move Potts around.
“She battles, she’s not afraid to mix it up and you’ve got to have a little grit about you, a little guts and she’s got that,” Gardner said. “She can guard a post player the same way she guards guards … when you have one player that gets after defensively, it puts peer pressure on the other four.
Potts epitomizes a player that does a little bit of everything.
“I would say that, you know, being a role player and pretty much whatever my coach asks me to do, I’m willing to do.” Potts said. “Whether that’s guarding their best player, I’m willing to deny, pressure the ball, all that good stuff.
Mercer will travel to North Carolina to face UNC-Asheville on Sunday and will have a much needed, week-long break before hosting Winthrop on Dec. 17.