“I love winning like this,” coach Hoffman said after Thursday’s game.
For this first time since January 13, the Bears put together a truly dominate performance on both ends of the floor en route to an 82-58 blowout victory over the Virginia Military Institute Keydets.
Mercer opened the game up firing on all cylinders. With 15:30 to go, Ross Cummings knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Bears a 10-2 lead. It was his first of four three-pointers for the game, and the first of 12 from beyond the arc for the Bears.
“We got off to a quick start and that helps you from the very beginning”, coach Hoffman said regarding the team’s strong opening to the game.
The Bears weren’t done, by any means.
Mercer up a 23-7 lead after another 3-pointer from the ever improving Cummins. He has been huge for the Bears, a team ailed by injuries to leading scorer Ria’n Holland and role player Ethan Stair.
Over the past six games, Cummings has played upwards of 25 minutes per game and averaged 17.1 points per outing, which leads the team over that stretch. Over that same stretch, the sophomore guard has been a laser from the three-point line shooting it an astounding 47-percent clip.
While Mercer’s offense did shoot the ball very well, it was the defense that stole the show. Mercer’s defense held VMI to just 34.6 percent shooting in the first half, including 18.2 percent from the three-point line. The Bears also outrebounded the Keydets 22-11, while forcing six turnovers. The Bears led the entire first half, by as much as 20 at one point, before taking an 18 point lead into halftime.
The second half was only more of the same for Mercer. Ross Cummings opened the final 20 minutes with back-to-back buckets from beyond the arc, extending Mercer’s lead to 24 with 18:37 to play.
It would be wrong not to mention the “special”, in the words of Coach Hoffman, performance of Demetre Rivers for the Bears tonight. The senior forward was as efficient against the Keydets as he had been all year. Rivers shot 7-of-8 from the field, including 3-of-4 from the three-point line. He accounted for 21 points and grabbed four rebounds in 32 minutes of action.
The Bears grabbed their largest lead of the game with 9:33 to go when the Demetre Rivers knocked down a pair of free-throws to extend the Mercer lead to 31 points. The Keydets cut the lead to 22 with 4:55 to go, but the Bears showed no signs of letting up. Even then, it was too little too late for VMI.
When the final buzzer rang, Mercer had secured a resounding 82-58 victory, having never trailed during all 40 minutes of action. Coach Hoffman talked about the importance of the Mercer’s fast start after the game:
“We got off to a quick start and that helps you from the very beginning,” coach Hoffman explained after the game. “It was good to see how we were able to finish this thing off.”
Overall, it was a well-rounded team effort for the Bears, with 11 players getting at least five minutes of game action. As previously stated, senior Demetre Rivers notched 21 points and grabbed four rebounds in his 32 minutes of action. Ross Cummings also contributed 13 points, including four 3-pointers. Jordan Strawberry had another well-rounded stat sheet with 10 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
Thursday’s game is the fourth consecutive victory for Mercer, and it could not be happening at a better time. The win moves the Bears record into a winning one for the season at 14-13, and evens their SoCon record at 7-7. For VMI, the loss drops them to 7-18 on the season and 2-12 in the SoCon respectively.
The Bears are back in action on Saturday afternoon with a 4 p.m. (ET) tip-off, as they welcome the UNC-Greensboro Spartans to Hawkins Arena. The Spartans sit at 21-6 on the season, and are fresh off back-to-back thrasings of The Citadel and SoCon leading ETSU. Earlier this season, the Bears fell just four points short in Greensboro, as the Spartans outlasted the Bears in the end.