Mercer Cluster

The Ruling: Cummings is stealing the show

Ross+Cummings+pulls+up+for+the+jump+shot.+
Ross Cummings pulls up for the jump shot.

Ross Cummings pulls up for the jump shot.

Christian Hartley

Christian Hartley

Ross Cummings pulls up for the jump shot.

Hayes Rule, Lead Writer

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I remember getting off the telephone thinking, “Ouch.”

I had just spoken with head coach Bob Hoffman and sources inside the program who relayed the news that leading-scorer Ria’n Holland’s x-rays didn’t look good.

Holland would ultimately be ruled out for 2-3 weeks with a right wrist injury before he would be re-evaluated. That was nearly a month ago. His prospects for returning this season are looking slimmer by the day.

No need to fret. A 6-foot-3 slithering assassin has stepped up his game in a big way since Holland’s absence. His name is Ross Cummings but you may have also heard him referred to as “White Mamba.”

Behind Cummings and Jordan Strawberry’s elevated play over the last five games, the Bears have gained momentum in conference play and now sit above .500 at 15-13 (8-7 SoCon) for the season.

The current five-game streak comes off the heels of a four-game skid, a low-point in the season where many started to doubt the Bears without their leading scorer. As the Bears have become more comfortable without Holland in the lineup, they are starting to play some of their best basketball in conference play.

After wins against Wofford, Chattanooga, Samford and VMI, Mercer had arguably its best win of the season Saturday in a 77-74 win over UNCG. The Spartans were 12-2 in conference play before the lost.

So what can be expected from the Bears with only a few games remaining in regular season?

 

Here’s what you need to know:

(1) Where did Cummings come from?

In the first 19 games of the season, Cummings was averaging 1.7 points per game. Since Holland’s injury Jan. 18 against VMI, the guard has averaged 15.7 points.

He has scored in double digits in each of his last six starts. The “White Mamba” is doing most of his damage from the 3-point line, where he has made at least four in each of the last seven games. He had a season-high six against Wofford.

And they aren’t just wide-open, practice rhythm jump shots. Cummings has been catching-and-shooting in traffic.

His nickname has sparked all sorts of fun on social media. Mercer men’s basketball’s Twitter page has fully taken advantage of the title, as seen by one of its recent tweets:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>According to recent studies, 56% of adults have a fear of snakes…<br><br>100% of the <a href=”https://twitter.com/SoConSports?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@SoConSports</a> is afraid of the Mamba. 🐍<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MambaMondays?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#MambaMondays</a> | <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/RoarTogether?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#RoarTogether</a> <a href=”https://t.co/cKKBRbdjhO”>pic.twitter.com/cKKBRbdjhO</a></p>&mdash; Mercer Basketball (@MercerMBB) <a href=”https://twitter.com/MercerMBB/status/965661790691581952?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>February 19, 2018</a></blockquote>

<script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Cummings’s scoring has been vitally important to the success of the team over the five-game winning streak. Losing its leading scorer and 20 points a game, the team needed someone to help the scoring load.

And the “White Mamba” has done just that and more.

(2) They can’t miss

It sounds simple, but basketball is a little easier when you’re making shots. And the Bears have flat-out down just that over the last five games. Check this: during the streak, the Bears have shot 46 percent, 46, 52, 56 and 65 percent from the field — good for an average of 53 percent.

For the season, Mercer is shooting less than 48 percent from the field. The team’s offensive numbers have been slightly up because of the improved shooting, but the question remains: Can they stay hot going into the SoCon tournament?

(3) Playing well at the right time

After Saturday’s win, Hoffman said Strawberry’s performance — 27 points, five assists, three rebounds — was “the best game of his Mercer career.”

Pretty good timing for a senior like Strawberry. More of the load was thrown onto Strawberry when Holland left with an injury, and he has adjusted nicely with the pressure on his shoulders. He is now the man of the backcourt.

Behind Strawberry and Cummings, the Bears have played some of their best basketball of the season over the last two weeks.

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

Once 3-7 in conference, the Bears are now above .500 and rest at the fifth spot in the conference, two games behind Wofford and one game above Western Carolina. Three games remain during the regular season — Western Carolina, The Citadel and Wofford.

Expect the Bears to hold onto that fifth spot heading into the conference tournament, where ANYTHING can happen. And it bodes well for the Bears to finally be picking up some steam and figuring out their identity without Holland on the floor.

But can the Bears really, ultimately, threaten for another NCAA tournament bid without Holland?

I guess you’ll just have to check back in a few weeks when I release my predictions for the SoCon tournament.

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The Ruling: Cummings is stealing the show