Friday, March 5, 2010

Mercer Rides Home Support into Semifinals

An event 32 years in the making, Mercer’s men’s basketball team played an Atlantic Sun Championship game on its home floor finally arrived on Thursday. And after years of anticipation (and waiting through seven men’s and women’s quarterfinals), they took the floor against the conference’s gold standard, Belmont and the Bruins looked to the silence the partisan crowd early.

Like many classic Belmont teams, they struck early from deep, hitting their first five 3-point field goals and opened up a 26-12 margin on the home team. But the Bears, led by its two wounded seniors, James Florence (sprained ankle) and Daniel Emerson (eye injury – suffered against Belmont a week earlier) refused to end their careers without a fight.

The Bears responded with a 3-point barrage of their own, making eight in the first half and pulled to within six at the break. Belmont again tried its best to take the crowd of 2,287 out of the game as the again worked the margin up to 13 barely three minutes into the second half. It remained 12, 60-48, before Mercer scored 20 of the next 28 to forge the first tie since 4-4. Jeff Smith’s 3-point shot gave Mercer its first lead of the night and despite Belmont’s best efforts, could not derail Mercer’s momentum train and the Bears had their first win in an A-Sun Championship since 2003.

As a side effect of Thursday’s game being a tournament game and Mercer being tabbed as the visiting team, the student section and the band moved from its traditional spot of the closed end to the open end, right in front of Bears’ bench meaning the team played in front of its loudest fans as they made their run.”

“I think they should do that more often, I really enjoyed it,” head coach Bob Hoffman said. “Often times you think that you place the students near the other team to try and heckle them, but I thought that our team really fed off of our student section tonight.”

Emerson, who set a school record for rebounds in a single season with 357, echoed his coach’s sentiments.

“I really enjoyed having the [student section] near us tonight. It might not have been the largest crowd we have ever had here, but it was definitely the loudest. We just want to thank all of our fans for coming out tonight we really fed off of them.”

While the crowd played its role sixth man to perfection, it was Mercer’s starting five (responsible for 71 of the Bears 87 points – led by Florence’s 24) that will allow the Bear faithful to experience at least one more performance from Emerson and Florence.

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