Men’s basketball gets back on track with win over WCU


Image: Christian Hartley

Bears guard Ethan Stair attempts a 3-pointer in a game against The Citadel on Feb 9.

The Mercer men’s basketball team was in unfamiliar territory for Valentine’s Day this year as the Bears found themselves in Cullowhee, North Carolina for a date with the Western Carolina Catamounts.

After their last game, Mercer Head Coach Bob Hoffman was asked about potential changes to the Bears (8-16, 3-9) starting lineup and rotation.

He said that making those changes was an option, and apparently, it was an option he took up. Well, that option worked. And it worked well.

The Bears and Catamounts (6-20, 3-10) both got out to slow starts early, but a 17-0 run late in the half by Mercer propelled them to a 40-25 halftime lead.

Western Carolina fought valiantly to comeback in the second half, but the Bears lead was just too much in the end.

Despite a couple of late runs by the Catamounts, Mercer was able to pull out a 74-65 victory, their first win since Jan. 24 against VMI.

Quick Takes

(1) A big sleuth of Bears got some action

The Bears made changes across the board on Thursday night, including changes to the rotation and a change in the starting lineup. The most significant adjustment by Coach Hoffman was employing a larger rotation of players in the game, and it worked to perfection. Nine different Mercer players scored in the game, including 13 points from Victor Baffuto, six a piece from freshmen C.J. Williamson and Luke Hamilton. The biggest standout was Daniel Love, who gets his own Quick Take a little later.

(2) Big guys playing bigger roles

Another adjustment made by Coach Hoffman was increasing the playing time of his big guy’s, including Baffuto and Hamilton. Both players had what was likely their best games of the season — Baffuto in particular. The freshman scored a career-high 13 points and swatted two blocks in just 16 minutes of action. Hamilton also scored six points, pulled down a rebound and dished out an assist in 22 minutes. For a team that has played a small lineup all year, it was a nice change to see the big guys on the floor more.

(3) “Loving” some Daniel Love

This guy is making the most of every minute he’s on the floor. Love plays the point guard position, one of the most crowded position groups on the team with Marcus Cohen, Djorde Dimitrijevic and D.J. Peavy all taking up minutes. The freshman came in late in the last game for just four minutes and provided an immediate spark off the bench, and was rewarded on Thursday night with 18 minutes. Love scored six points, secured five rebounds, dished out five assists and poked away a steal. The numbers don’t blow you away, but the assists, in particular, are making a difference for a team that needs a floor leader.

Player of the Game: Ross “The Mamba” Cummings (No. 20)

  • The junior led all scorers with 18 points on 6-of-14 from the floor
  • Despite being one of the smaller guys on the floor, Cummings secured a career-high seven rebounds
  • After scoring just six points in their last game, his lowest in SoCon play, Ross responded tonight with a big game to lead his team to victory

Notable Quotables

(1) Hoffman on deeper rotation and adjustments to lineup:

“We have a lot of new guys; it’s late in the season and we’re trying to find ways to win games. I made the decision that we were going to sub early and sub when necessary.”

(2) Hoffman on play of freshman Daniel Love:

“I thought Daniel Love was really good; he got a big steal there late in the game. I need to get a better job of finding these guys some minutes. I thought tonight we were really gritty.”

(3) Hoffman on finding a way to get a big win:

“Everybody gave us some energy. We had multiple guys make some big plays tonight. They (Western Carolina) were a tough out and we knew they would be.”