For the first time in several years, the Mercer Bears men’s basketball team prevailed before a sellout home stadium to win a homecoming game. In-state rival Emory University traveled down Interstate 75 to attempt to upset the Bears. Instead, their upset bid fell short, as the Mercer Bears were victorious 66-57. Sophomore Bud Thomas scored a career-high 18 points as well as collected nine rebounds, helping lead the Bears to their fourth-straight season opening win under Coach Bob Hoffman.
Emory University is a lower division school, but Coach Hoffman had warned for weeks about their team chemistry and how well they played as a unit. As a result, the Eagles were able to tie the game three separate times and grabbed the lead twice in the first half. The stubborn play had 3,182 people on their feet. This is just the second time that the Bears and the Eagles have played each other, with the Bears winning both meetings.
The Eagles had three different players in double figures for the game. They were led by Austin Claunch, who had 13 points. Claunch also added six boards, three assists, and four steals. He was easily the biggest thorn in the Bears’ side. Also scoring for the Eagles was Jake Davis, with 12 points, and Alex Greven, with 11.
After trailing by as many as four points in the first half, Mercer went on an 11–0 run to lead by seven with just over seven minutes remaining. The Bears never surrendered the lead again, and would go in at halftime up by nine. The atmosphere was electric, for the Bears were in their best form to win a homecoming matchup since 2008 against Georgia Tech, where the Bears lost late in overtime.
The second half began to little fanfare, and the energy in the crowd seemed to have dropped. Mercer was unable to stay hot for the entire half, and the Eagles pulled within one with just under three minutes left in the game. However, Bud Thomas hit just the Bears’ second three-pointer of the game, silencing the Eagles bench. Emory never recovered.
The game was closer than it should have been, for Mercer outrebounded the Eagles 44-30. However, Mercer also turned the ball over much more than Emory, with six more giveaways than their opponent. Also, the Bears outshot Emory from the field, hitting 45.6 percent of their shots. Emory hit just 31.2 percent. Mercer also did much better from the charity stripe, but they were much less efficient from beyond the arc.
Coach Hoffman has a lot of things to work on with this year’s set of Bears, but he was pleased with another season opening win: “It was a good win for us; we knew we had to play. Overall, I’m pleased. We are not perfect. We are not there yet. We’ve got a lot more to do. But I like the fact we found a way to win.”
Daniel Coursey also added 13 points, his own career high. Jakob Gollon was close to a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. Chris Smith played very well in relief, and his role as the sixth man will become vital as the Bears progress through this season. His seven points and five boards were a big contribution.