Women’s basketball finishes 3rd: Team posts best turnaround in the nation

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The Mercer women’s basketball team has a had a more than successful season this year. On the strength of 19 wins, the team posted the nation’s best turnaround when compared to their six wins during the 2011-12 season.
After placing third in the regular season, the Bears now set their sights on the conference tournament to be hosted by Mecer University at Hawkins Arena.
To wrap up the regular season, the Mercer women’s basketball team didn’t have the most ideal finish. The Bears ended their 12-game winning streak in a loss to Northern Kentucky, a blowout win against Lipscomb, and two more losses against Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson.
Despite a double-double by senior Sharmesia Smith, the 69-60 loss at home to Northern Kentucky on Saturday, Feb. 23 was what brought the Mercer’s 12-game winning streak to an end.
The Bears started the second half with a three-point lead, at 28-25, but was unable to keep up with the Norse who took full advantage of a 24-for-30 effort from the free throw line in the final stanza to come away with the road win.
Smith scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and also grabbed 10 rebounds to complete her third career double-double. Sophomore Precious Bridges led the Bears with a team-high 15 points in a losing effort.
The score remained close throughout the opening minutes of the game, before a lay-in by sophomore Alicia Williams gave the Bears a 13-9 lead with 12:39 remaining in the first half.
Some more back-and-forth play continued before Northern Kentucky was able to tie the game up at 23-23 with a three-pointer shot at the 4:16 mark of the first period. The Bears broke away just before half, thanks to a lay-up from Smith to take a 28-25 lead into halftime.
The Bears held the lead for the first three minutes of the period until a lay-up by the Norse gave them the lead for good at 35-34 with 15:35 remaining in the second half.
From there, NKU went on to score five unanswered points to make the score 40-34 and maintained a multiple possession lead for the majority of the remainder of the contest.
Mercer out-rebounded Northern Kentucky 42-29, but the Norse made 27 combined free throws in the contest, the second-most by an A-Sun team in a single-game this season.
In their last regular season home game, the Bears showed their best defensive effort of the season in the 53-31 win over Lipscomb on Monday, Feb. 25 at Hawkins Arena.
Mercer held the Bison to a season-low 31 points and forced Lipscomb into 25 turnovers in the win. Mercer’s 19 wins thus far in the 2012-13 season are the most in a single-season for the program since the 1991-92 edition of the Bears when they went 20-8.
Bridges scored a game-high 18 points while Smith recorded her second-straight double-double with 11 points and career-high tying 17 rebounds.
The Bears wasted no time as they jumped out to a big lead early on in the game.
In the first six minutes of the contest, Mercer put 14 unanswered points on the board to set the tone.
From there, the Black and Orange defense took over. The Bears held Lipscomb to just 16 percent shooting from the field and forced 13 turnovers going into a 25-10 halftime lead. 
Mercer started off the second half with the same aggressive play that they used in the first half. With 16:06 remaining in the contest, the Bears had already gone on an 11-2 run making the score 36-12.
For the remainder of the game, Mercer kept a secure lead, never letting the Bison within 19 points for the rest of the way. 
Junior Sharnea Boykin tallied nine assists and tied her season-high with four steals in the win.
After a successful senior night win, Smith booked her third-straight double-double and junior Kendra Grant notched the 500th point of her career as the Bears suffered an 89-62 defeat at the hands of Florida Gulf Coast on Thursday, Feb. 28 at Alico Arena.
Grant tallied a team-high 15 points in the loss while Smith registered 13 points and a career-high 19 rebounds. Bridges joined them in double-figure scoring with 14 points. Over the last three games, Smith is averaging 11.3 points and 15.3 rebounds.
Grant’s first shot of the series marked the 500th point of her career in just her 70th game played. Moments later, Smith scored a driving layup to keep matters tight at 13-7 with 15:08 before half.
The Eagles tore off a 17-6 run after Smith’s layup. This gave FGCU a 30-11 advantage with 5:21 left in the half.
Going into halftime, the Eagles extended their lead to as many as 26 making the score 51-26. 
To start off the second half, FGCU had a 9-4 scoring edge before sophomore guard Tabitha Bradshaw produced an old-fashioned three-point play that momentarily quieted the crowd. Later in the half, Mercer employed an 11-1 surge in just over two minutes to close within 21, but the stretch proved to be too-little, too-late as the Eagles would go back in front by as many as 29 before the game’s conclusion.
In the last regular season game for the Bears, Williams scored a season-high 19 points, but Mercer couldn’t overcome a slow start and fell to Stetson, 74-60 at the Edmunds Center on Saturday, March 2.
The second straight loss gave Mercer the No. 3 seed for this week’s Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament.
For the first time this season, Williams led the Bears offensively, scoring 19 points. She also collected two assists and a rebound in 20 minutes of work. Grant added 17 points of her own in the loss while also posting two assists and a rebound.
Grant started off the contest, scoring in just a mere 14 seconds, only for Stetson to respond with 12-unanswered to stake a 10-point lead before the first media timeout. Mercer fought back to reduce the Hatters’ lead to six, but Stetson moved out to a 13-point lead with just over two minutes left in the half. Williams brought the Bears back, however, with three-straight scores to cut the deficit to 33-27 going into halftime.
Going into the second half, the Hatters sparked an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 14. For a majority of the remaining time, Stetson would lead by double-digits.  
After finishing the regular season with two losses, the Bears are hungry for a win. Mercer will begin postseason play in the Atlantic Sun Tournament on March 7 at 6 p.m. versus the No. 6 seed, Jacksonville University.  The tournament will be hosted on Mercer’s Macon campus at Hawkins Arena from March 6-9.