By Daniel Shirley
The madness of postseason basketball swept through Mercer’s University Center on Friday night in the Atlantic Sun Conference men’s semifinals.
Host Mercer faced Florida Gulf Coast in the day’s final game, and that brought out a huge crowd at the University Center.
Bobbie Padgett, a sophomore cheerleader for Mercer, said the large crowd and atmosphere at the arena helped her and the rest of the squad do their job, supporting the Bears against the Eagles.
“It really is exciting to have a big crowd like this,” Padgett said. “To have this kind of atmosphere is really fun and makes it a lot easier for us to get everyone excited for the game.”
Padgett is a sophomore from Warner Robins, and she has seen some big crowds at the University Center.
“It’s never been like this,” she said. “I’ve never seen it like this. It’s really fun.”
No one has ever really seen a crowd like that at the University Center. The attendance was announced as 3,497, which matched the arena’s record set last week when Mercer hosted Belmont in the regular-season finale. That number is 109 percent of the arena’s capacity.
And the crowd got everything it could want out of Friday’s game … except for a win for the Bears.
The home crowd left unhappy as the Eagles pulled off the shocker, beating the second-seeded Bears 62-58.
The contest was deadlocked at the half at 30, and it got even more exciting in the second half.
Mercer held the biggest lead of the game at nine points with 11:22 to play, but the Eagles continued to claw back into the game, and it went down to the wire.
Florida Gulf Coast earned the win, the second straight day it has defeated a higher seed. The Eagles were 1-9 in the regular season against the teams ahead of them in the conference standings, but now n consecutive days they have defeated the third-seeded USC Upstate Spartans and second-seeded Bears.
Sherwood Brown and Christophe Varidel were key for the Eagles, scoring 14 and 13 points, respectively. And they hit clutch free throws down the stretch for the win.
“I thought it was a terrific atmosphere and a terrific college basketball game,” Florida Gulf Coast Andy Enfield said. “Even though we were greatly outnumbered, I thought it was terrific. About three or four times, I just took a deep breath and said, ‘Wow, this is a great atmosphere.’ ”
Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon. Follow complete coverage of the Atlantic Sun tournament at www.macon.com/mercer and follow Daniel at @DM_Shirley for live updates throughout the tournament.