Mercer entered Saturday’s game fresh off their first SoCon victory of the year, knocking off Western Carolina (4-14, 1-4) at home on Thursday evening.
However, the challenge that walked into Hawkins Arena on Saturday was a different animal. ETSU (15-4, 5-1) entered the game having won six straight games, beating Mercer in each of the last eight meetings.
The Bears (6-11, 1-4) rolled out a four-guard lineup against the Bucs *literally* huge starting five to open the game, and had some success with it. Mercer was able to build a nine-point lead midway through the half thanks to a couple of 3-pointers, but a late surge by ETSU cut Mercer’s lead to 32-28 as the halftime buzzer rang.
Mercer opened the second half strong, taking a 10 point lead in the early minutes. But a six-minute drought where Mercer didn’t make a single shot saw their lead dissipate and the Bears fell behind.
(1) Bears must start fast and stay fast
Mercer was able to jump out to a nine-point first-half lead, enabling it to withstand a cold spell to end the half and still enter halftime with a lead. The second half was a similar story, as Mercer opened with a 8-2 run to take a 10 point lead before another cold spell saw that lead wiped away.
(2) Smaller Bears lineup playing big
Mercer was the much smaller team on Saturday afternoon at nearly every position on the floor. The Bucs entered the game as one of the nation’s top rebounding teams, including a No. 1 ranking in rebounding margin. That didn’t stop the Bears from holding their own across the stat sheet, even outscoring the Bucs in the painted area in the first half.
(3) Despite that, lack of size is the Bears’ Achilles heel
Mercer rolls out a four-guard lineup each game, with 6’6 Cory Kilby at the center position each game. Against some teams, the Bears smaller lineup will work effectively by causing matchup problems for other teams big guys. The issue will come when teams are larger at the guard positions, as the SoCon’s best teams are. If Mercer wants to contend in the SoCon, they must get more consistent play from their big guys.
Player of the Game: Ross Cummings, No. 20
Cummings scorched a team high 22 points, the third game in a row where he has led the team in scoring
The Mamba is now averaging 22.2 points per game in SoCon action
The sophomore guard played not only a game-high in 42 minutes, but set a new career-mark in minutes played
(1) Head Coach Bob Hoffman on the lopsided rebounding battle….
“We can’t let that kind of team have as many opportunities as they did. They have been the No. 1 rebounding team in the country and they showed it tonight with 27 offensive rebounds.”
(2) Hoffman on his team’s character….
“I love these guys. I love the way they want to win. I love how hard they’re trying to play, but we’ve gotta find a way to finish. That’s the thing I’ve got to figure out, and do a better job of coaching.”
(3) Hoffman on his team’s fast start to the game
“We played really good, other than the rebounding. We were executing well, getting some shots, working together but we just needed that one or two plays, or that one rebound, to get ahead and we weren’t able to get it done.”