Mercer Cluster

Strawberry and Cummings lead Mercer over UNCG for Mercer’s fifth straight victory

Jordan+Strawberry+drives+the+ball+past+the+UNCG+player.+Photo+by+Christian+Hartley.
Jordan Strawberry drives the ball past the UNCG player. Photo by Christian Hartley.

Jordan Strawberry drives the ball past the UNCG player. Photo by Christian Hartley.

Jordan Strawberry drives the ball past the UNCG player. Photo by Christian Hartley.

Christian Hartley, Staff Writer

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“Jordan Strawberry had the best game of his Mercer career tonight,” Coach Hoffman said about the play of his senior guard. “He’s had a lot of great games, but tonight was really special.”

Strawberry scored 27 points, his highest total of the season, and went 11-of-11 from the free throw line, including some absolutely HUGE makes late in the game. In a back-and-forth competition , it was Mercer who found a way to win 77-74.

The game wasn’t always close. The Bears were the aggressor early on, going up 25-9 through the game’s first 12 minutes. However, in what was a first half of runs, it was the Spartans who finished the half strong, outscoring Mercer 20-6 over the final eight minutes to go into the half down just one point, 31-30.

After the game, Hoffman commented on how he handled the rollercoaster that was the first half, and how he kept his team steady through that.

“We just kept talking what we’ve been talking about this whole time, competing,” he said. Compete every possession, no matter if you have a bad one or if you have a good one. Try not to get too high or too low, which was hard tonight, but we had multiple guys make plays for us.”

The second half was a back-and-forth showdown, with both squads taking each other’s best shot. The final 20 minutes started great for University of North Carolina Greensboro, who took their first lead of the ball game a mere 13 seconds into the half.

The game went back and forth through the opening minutes before the Spartans opened up a 49-40 lead with 13:45 to play after a quick 7-0 run. Despite the Spartans silencing the crowd, and Mercer lacking momentum, the Bears didn’t back down. The Bears hung tight, knowing all they needed was a few plays to change the course of the game.

It didn’t take long for that big play to come. With 13 minutes left and the shot clock nearing zero, Ross Cummings launched a DEEP three pointer that looked like nothing more than a prayer. That prayer was answered. The shot connected and Mercer cut the lead down to six, and the crowd at Hawking Arena was back into the game.

“The energy in the building was just amazing,” senior guard Strawberry said. “I think the fans were in it every play in that second half that we made a big play. You could hear the crowd every play. I think we just feed off them and they feed off us. I think it was a great, great crowd today and a great win.”

After several minutes of trading baskets, Strawberry made a play that would change the course of the game. With 7:20 to go, Mercer turned the ball over and UNCG got out on a fastbreak that looked like an easy layup.

Strawberry had other ideas. The senior guard ran the play down, swatted away a Spartan’s dunk, got the rebound, went the length of the court and finished it off a fouled layup that took him to the line. The crowd absolutely ERUPTED, and the Bears had cut the lead down to just one point.

“That block was a big momentum play, and then getting the and-one was even bigger,” Strawberry said after the game.

In what felt like deja vu of earlier in the half, the shot clock was winding down, and the Bears offensive possession looked hopeless. Ross Cummings got the ball, pulled up for a three, and once again, connected. The Bears had taken the lead for the first time in 13 minutes.

Cummings wasn’t done. Just two minutes later, Cummings connected again from three, and the Bears had stretched their lead out to four. The crowd was with them, and Mercer had completely taken the momentum.

“It was one of the better big momentum wins that we’ve had in a while in this building,” Hoffman said about the win. “We had an amazing crowd and our guys fed off that. We got tired, they got tired, and we were able to find a way to finish. That energy helps you make those play, and just kept going the right way. It was truly a blessing to watch, and fun to see our seniors enjoy succes tonight.”

Strawberry led the way for Mercer, scoring 27 points and dishing out five assists. Ross Cummings scored 23 points, 12 of which came from beyond the arc.

The win is the fifth straight for Mercer.

“We’re peeking at the right time,” Strawberry said post game. “This is when everybody wants to be peeking in February and March. I think we’re doing a really good job right now.”

Hoffman said he believes that to see the team continue to succeed they have to continue to be humble but stay hungry.

“We got lots of things still in front of us. This was a great win for us, no doubt about it, but there’s other things we still wanna do as a program and a team for this season. They’re all in front of us.”

The Bears improve to 15-13 on the season, and move to 8-7 in SoCon play. The loss drops the Spartans to 21-7 on the season, and 12-3 in the SoCon.

The action continues at Hawkins Arena on Tuesday when the Bears host the Catamounts of Western Carolina. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. (ET), and will air live on ESPN3. The Catamounts come in on the wrong side of a three game skid, and will be looking to get back on track.

The last time these two squads met, it was the Catamounts who edged out a two point victory over the Bears. Mercer looks to reverse that trend.

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Strawberry and Cummings lead Mercer over UNCG for Mercer’s fifth straight victory