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Shoot Your Shot: Sweep Complete, Mercer claims third straight SoCon Regular Season Title

The+Women%27s+basketball+team+holds+their+regular+season+title+trophy+high+for+Hawkins+Arena.
The Women's basketball team holds their regular season title trophy high for Hawkins Arena.

The Women's basketball team holds their regular season title trophy high for Hawkins Arena.

Christian Hartley

Christian Hartley

The Women's basketball team holds their regular season title trophy high for Hawkins Arena.

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No. 25 Mercer Women’s Basketball completed its sweep of the Southern Conference regular season last week with wins over rivals, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and East Tennessee State University. The Bears (27-2,14-0) finished conference play undefeated, pushed their win streak to 24 games and earned the top spot in next week’s Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville, North Carolina.

Avery Braxton

Chattanooga and ETSU were the last two teams to try their luck against the Bears and they had to do so in Hawkins Arena, where the Bears were 11-1 prior to last week. The matchup with Chattanooga was a back and forth contest with neither team able to build a lead greater than six points until the very end. Chattanooga led the entire first quarter, but Mercer was able to stay within striking range, cutting the lead to 1 with 20 seconds to play. Chattanooga freshman Brooke Burns hit a jumper at the buzzer to give the Mocs a 15-12, advantage.

Mercer took its first lead of the game in the second quarter. The Bears would end the quarter on runs of 5-0 and, after trading a few more buckets with the Mocs, 6-0 to end the first half with a 34-29 advantage at halftime. The third quarter was a low scoring affair with the Mocs outscoring Mercer 13-11.

The Mocs claimed a 46-45 lead in the fourth, but Mercer took it back and not relinquish it. The lead grew as large as five points, but Chattanooga cut their deficit to 1 with a 3-pointer with just 1:23 remaining. Mercer sprinted to the finish line with a 7-0 explosion to put the game away. Kahlia Lawrence hit a jump shot, then a steal and layup by Alex Williams put the Bears up by six. KeKe Calloway put the final nail in the coffin with a 3-point dagger to claim the nine point win, 65-56.

To be able to play with emotion, with heart, with people that you love and enjoy being around is incredible.”

— Sydni Means

Lawrence ended the game with 25 points, 6 rebounds, a steal and a block. Calloway had 20 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals. Sydni Means finished with 12 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and only 1 turnover. Alex Williams ended with 6 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals off the bench.

The win over Chattanooga officially gave Mercer its first outright Southern Conference Championship, officially putting second place ETSU out of contention for a share of the title.

“The senior class helped start this for us by coming to Mercer when we weren’t winning championships and believing in the dream and the vision,” said Head Coach Susie Gardner. “The juniors helped continue this vision. We have won three regular season conference titles in a row and it is very difficult to win a regular season conference championship.”

The ETSU contest became mostly fanfare after the Bears eventually built a 19 point lead in the fourth quarter before ending with a 15 point, 63-48 win. Afterwards, the Bears celebrated Senior Day where the five seniors – Alex Williams, Kahlia Lawrence, Sydni Means, Shon Kitchens and Kayla Potts received standing ovations for their contributions to the program.

The senior class is responsible for 96 of Coach Gardner’s record 141 wins as Mercer’s head coach, three regular season SoCon titles, and Women’s Basketball Invitational and Women’s National Invitation Tournament births.

Seniors Means and Lawrence own three All-SoCon first team selections, one second team selection, a Georgia Women’s College Player of the Year, two SoCon Player of the Years, a Freshman of the Year selection, 3,103 points, 1,027 rebounds, and 917 assists. Means is also the nation’s leader in assist/turnover ratio at 4.72.

“This group decided to come here when we weren’t cutting down nets and thanks to them, the junior class came and bought into our vision,” Coach Gardner said. “I think what makes this class special is the success of the team over the last four seasons.”

Means and Lawrence commented on the day and their four years at Mercer.

Avery Braxton

“It was something that you don’t really want to swallow, because you’ve spent four years of your life here playing on that court,” Lawrence said. “To say that that was the last time I’m able to put on this uniform here in Hawkins Arena and play in front of all those fans and people who have come to love us is crazy. It’s surreal.”

Means said her head was focused only on the game until the final seconds of the shot clock ran down.

“To be able to play with emotion, with heart, with people that you love and enjoy being around is incredible,” Means said. “It hit me right at the (final) buzzer. When I saw my family that’s when it hit me.”

The Bears held their Southern Conference Championship trophy high in front of the crowd at Hawkins Arena and cut down the nets for the third consecutive year in a row. There were plenty of happy tears and hugs between coaches, teammates and family members.

The Bears can now look forward to March 1, where they will face eighth seeded Western Carolina in the conference tournament. For Coach Gardner, there is no rest for the weary.

“I will watch film tonight and the players can enjoy the moment and then we will be back to practice tomorrow, preparing for Western Carolina. We will keep this business as normal and this team is mature in preparing for the next game,” Gardner said.

The Bears still have plenty of basketball left to play.

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Shoot Your Shot: Sweep Complete, Mercer claims third straight SoCon Regular Season Title