For four years, Mercer's James Florence and Jacksonville's Ben Smith have been compared and contrasted to each other. Ever since both emerged from the Georgia high school scene they have stared each other down on the basketball court, often matching up in one-on-one showdowns.
While Florence put up the gaudier numbers (Mercer's all-time leading scorer, second in A-Sun history), Smith's teams enjoyed more team success (two regular-season titles) but in the final minutes of their final showdown, Florence stated his case for top guard as he drilled a 3-point try from the top of the key (his first basket in his last two games against Jacksonville), and made a pair of clutch free throws to extend the Bear lead to three.
If any of the better than 3,000 in attendance could not predict who from Jacksonville was going to have the ball in his hands in the waning seconds, they would have had to have spent the entire game on the their cell phone or munching on snacks. Of course Ben Smith would be taking the shot that could have extended Jacksonville's run in the Championship for at least the five minutes of overtime, and possibly for another day. As he rose up to fire his final bullet, the crowd feared he would deflate an arena primed for an explosion. Alas, his try at the tie did not reach the rim as Florence closed from behind to block the shot - only his 34th block in 118 games in a Bear uniform. Smith could not get another chance as Tevin Galvin misfired of the Dolphins' last try and Mercer secured the rebound, setting off the second wild celebration in as many nights.
Smith will forever hold the series edge, winning seven of the 10 times the two shared the collegiate hardwood. However, Florence has a chance at holding the ultimate trump card, a spot in the NCAA Tournament - something not experienced by Mercer within the lifespan of anyone of the current roster. Sam Mitchell, whose scoring record at Mercer Florence broke during the season, last led the Bears to the NCAAs, back in 1985.