For the second game in a row, Mercer led from start to finish, won by more than 30 points, and again, Mercer’s Kahlia Lawrence scored 23 points.
Most importantly, Mercer women’s basketball is heading to the SoCon Championship game, after blowing out No. 5 seeded Samford, 81-44.
Mercer’s defense put the clamps down on the Samford offense early, holding them to 0-of-9 from the field through the first five minutes. The Bears led 11-0 with 5:15 to play.
The Bears stretched their lead out to 18-0 before the Bulldogs finally scored with 2:50 left in the opening quarter to make it 18-2.
At the end of the first, Mercer led 22-4 riding 10 early points from Kahlia Lawrence. The Bears didn’t let up in the second quarter, outscoring the Bulldogs again to go into halftime up 40-20.
“Once we got the first quarter lead, and then the halftime lead, we talked about winning every quarter, “ head coach Gardner said, who is now 11-0 versus Samford since taking the helm for the Bears. “I was really proud that we won every quarter, and continued our focus.”
The third quarter was more of the same, with Mercer besting Samford 16-10, and rolling into the fourth quarter up 56-30. The final quarter saw Mercer rest their starters, and give the reserve players some well-earned time in the game’s final moments.
Lawrence said the starters “get really excited” when the younger players get a chance to get into the game.
“[We are] probably more excited than they are when we’re in the game,” Lawrence said.
The Bears’ reserves stepped right in and played well, outscoring the Bulldogs 25-14 over the game’s final 10 minutes. When the buzzer rang, it was the Bears on top 81-44.
Mercer finished the game shooting 59 percent, the team’s highest shooting percentage of the season, while holding Samford to just 33 percent from the floor. Mercer led in nearly every statistical category.
Mercer has earned one day of rest and practice time before the action starts back again.
The SoCon Championship game is set for Sunday at noon. The Bears will face the winner of No. 2 seed East Tennessee and No. 6 seed UNCG. The Bears got the best of both squads earlier this season, beating ETSU 85-65 at home and 63-48 on the road, while topping UNCG 80-57 in Hawkins Arena and most recently 57-54 in Greensboro.
This is familiar territory for the Bears as Sunday will mark their third consecutive year playing for the SoCon’s most coveted prize. They’ve yet to take home the crown.
“It’s not fun to lose”, Lawrence said. “We worked really hard from last year to get back to this point…we have to keep our focus going into Sunday, we can’t relinquish it.”