Friday, March 4, 2011

Mercer's Surviving Seniors Send Bears to Semis

When Jeff Smith went down with a season-ending knee injury against Jacksonville on January 20, things looked bad for the Mercer Bears. When Brandon Moore went down with a season-ending leg injury of his own in the opening minutes at ETSU on January 31, things looked down right bleak.

But not to the two healthy seniors on the roster. Mark Hall and Brian Mills stared the challenge of losing two of the team’s most valuable pieces square in the face and turned it on its head. The duo lifted Mercer to seven wins in its last nine games and a spot in the 2011 General Shale Brick A-Sun Championship Semifinals with an impressive win against preseason favorite Lipscomb.

“We knew as seniors we would have to rally the troops and bring everyone together,” Mills said.

Both players described the opportunity that existed for the entire roster, a perspective that might have been lost on others.

“I just made sure that we let everyone know we all need to step up with two of our best scorers out,” commented Hall. “Brian and I talk all the time, but especially when B-Moore went down, we knew everyone would have to take advantage of their opportunity and step up. This is the opportunity everyone wants who is sitting on the bench, a chance to come in and make a difference.”

The victory at the expense of the Bisons - in front of a raucous crowd of over 2200 at the University Center - epitomized the impact the pair have had on their team. Hall scored the game’s first two baskets on aggressive drives to the basket, setting up the tone for the entire contest. Mills finished with 27 points and six boards, again shouldering the offensive burden.

“They have done a great job keeping us together. Our young guys have followed in stride,” stated head coach Bob Hoffman.

Mills has averaged over 19 points per game since the Smith injury and has become one of the most dangerous offensive players in the league over the last six weeks.

“He is a special guy. He has gotten into a rhythm and the guys are finding him in the right spots. Brian has put in countless hours to get to this point. When you see a guy put in that time and get a chance to get a return on his deposits, it is a real blessing,” Hoffman said.

Hall continues to turn in solid performances and sparks the team with tough baskets.

“Mark keeps doing things where I look at him and go ‘Mark, what are you doing?’,” reflected Hoffman. “He’s special. He really brought the energy to help get us get going at the start tonight and remained on point the whole game.”

While the team may rely on them, it sounds like they depend on each other.

“Mark is my wingman,” said Mills. “Sometimes I don’t get as vocal as I should, so he brings that. I told him tonight to make sure this wasn’t our last game and we did.”
Hall countered with praise for his teammate.

“He is the silent type, but he gets the job done. Brian will put you on his back and carry you if he has to.”

They will need another stellar outing on Friday when Mercer looks to eliminate A-Sun power Belmont from the conference championship for the second year in a row.

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