The Mercer Men’s basketball team (9-9, 2-3) entered its match up with the Chattanooga Mocs (6-13, 0-6) riding a wave of momentum coming off its 31-point difference thrashing of rival Samford just two days prior.
In that game against Samford, the bears had secured a much needed conference win to move them to 1-3 on the season. A win against Chattanooga would only propel the Bears farther up into the standings.
Mercer was the aggressor early on, hitting five of its first seven shots, while holding the Mocs to just 2-out-of-7. After five minutes of fast paced action, the Bears led 10-4.
The Bears dominated every facet of the game through the first 10 minutes, but the three point shot was keeping the Mocs in the game early. Holland led the Bears with six points, while Stephon Jelks pulled down seven of the Bears 11 rebounds.
Offense was not an issue early in the game for Mercer, but the inability to stop the Mocs from beyond the arc. Through the opening 15 minutes, the Bears had not connected on one three-pointer while the Mocs knocked down three. At the 5-minute mark, the Bears lead was just four points, 26-22.
The Bears’ offense went cold at the wrong time to end the half. The Bears did not score a single point for nearly seven minutes. That streak was finally broken by a basket from Jordan Strawberry with just 59 seconds to go in the half. The Mocs ended the half on a 12-2 run, and the score at the half was Chattanooga on top 30-28.
Senior guard Jordan Strawberry led the Bears in scoring with eight points on 4-of-7 shooting. Stephon Jelks owned the boards early on, pulling down seven in the first 10 minutes but secured just one over the final 10 to finish with eight. Jelks also led the Bears in assists with two.
Bears forward Demetre Rivers came out firing in the second half, scoring eight of the Bears first 12 points, including each of first two three-pointers of the game. At the under 16-minutes timeout, the Bears had secured a 42-37 lead.
Over the next 5 minutes, the Bears and Mocs traded baskets, but the Bears strength on the interior aided them in stretching their lead to nine at the 11 minute mark.
With 7:45 to play in the second-half, the Bears lead the Mocs 42-8 in points in the paint. It was Chattanooga’s eight three-pointers compared to just two for Mercer that kept the Mocs within striking distance throughout the entire second half.
With 3:25 to play, a Chattanooga three-pointer cut the Mercer lead to just 3 points forcing Coach Hoffman to call a timeout to regroup. The Bears had led nearly the entire game, while the Mocs were in front for just 1:46. It was the closest Chattanooga had been since the 17:18 mark in the second half.
Another Chattanooga three-pointer with 2:30 to play tied the game up at 64. It was crunch time for the Bears. Every possession counted.
The Bears defense came up with a huge stop with 1:04 to go. The game was tied at 64, and the Bears needed points. They got it. Jordan Strawberry drew the foul, connected on two free throws, and the Bears led by two with under a minute to play.
On the next Mocs possession, the Bears defense came up with another stop, but failed to take advantage on the offensive end after a Demetre Rivers miss from three.
Mocs ball with 8 seconds to play. The Mocs misfired from three, but got the rebound, put up a jumper and banked it in. The game was tied at 66, and was going to overtime.
With 5 minutes of extra play, the Mocs got on the board first, but Jordan Strawberry answered with a basket of his own to tie the game at 68.
Demetre Rivers gave Mercer its first lead of overtime with 4:15 to play on a pull up jumper from the free throw line.
A Chattanooga missed layup with 1:45 left in overtime gave the Bears possession 71-69. Coach Hoffman called a timeout to draw up a play to get the Bears a good look on the offensive end.
After a Mercer miss, Chattanooga dove on the loose ball but traveled. It was a massive break for the Bears offensive, and they got the ball with a fresh shot clock. Ria’n Holland took advantage, knocked down a jumper, and the Bears were up four with 1:20 to play.
The Mocs answered on the offensive end with a layup cutting the Bears lead to just two points with one minute to play. A Bears miss on the offensive end meant the Mocs had a chance to tie it, but couldn’t take advantage. Jordan Strawberry took a charge, and the Bears had the ball with 24.8 seconds remaining.
The Mocs fouled with 17.7 seconds left and sent Strawberry to the line for two free throws. He made both, and the Bears were up 75-71.
The Bears held on in the end for a 75-71 overtime victory, giving them their second consecutive SoCon victory.
Jelks stuffed the stat sheet as he as done all season, securing his second consecutive double-double and fourth on the season. He finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists.
He wasn’t alone in the fun. Desmond Ringer also contributed a double-double with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds.
On the offensive end, the Bears relied heavily on their starters, with each scoring in double figures. The Bears’ bench finished with just four points. Jordan Strawberry led the Bears in scoring with 18, pulling down 6 rebounds and also dishing out 3 assists. Demetre Rivers scored 16 points, and Ria’n Holland scored 13, as well.
The victory moves the Bears to 9-9 on the season, and 2-3 in Southern Conference play.
Next up for the Bears is a road trip to Virginia for a matchup with SoCon foe Virginia Military Institute on January 19th at 7:00 p.m. It will be the first of two matchups between the Bears and Keydets this season. Last season, the Bears beat the Keydets 68-50 at home in the only matchup between the two.
You can follow the game live by tuning into 97.3 The Bull on FM radio, or head over to MercerBears.com for live stats as the action happens.