Bears Look to Bounce Back
MACON, Ga. – The Mercer University men's basketball team probably has a good idea what lead character Rocky Balboa felt like in the popular movie series. Every time the boxer got hit with a punch, he seemingly always found a way to get back up and keep fighting.
Head coach Bob Hoffman's Bears have taken a couple shots to the solar plexus lately and – despite the magnitude of the blows – have kept battling at a high level. Saturday (Feb. 5), Mercer's team will look to show it can get up off the proverbial canvas one more time after losing forward Brandon Moore last Monday.
Within the past two weeks alone, MU also lost senior Jeff Smith - as well as Moore - to knee injuries. The tandem – when intact – accounted for roughly 40 percent team's offensive output. Smith led the team in scoring and Moore was third. Smith topped the Bears in assists, while Moore was MU's to rebounder, showing the size of the void left to fill.
But like they have done all season, expect one of the rest of the cast to step up. In recent games, at least one bench players has come up big and last Monday was no exception as junior transfer Justin Cecil had an MU career-best 23 points. Cecil's big game kept the Bears in the hunt at East Tennessee the entire game.
Brian Mills, a forward, and guard Mark Hall are the only Mercer seniors left standing. Mills is averaging 14.4 points per game and is shooting 48.3 percent (127-263) from the field. He also averages 5.8 rebounds per contest.
Hall has upped his scoring average to 6.1 points per game and made 15-consecutive starts after beginning the year as the team's sixth man.
Freshman Bud Thomas has made three-consecutive starts in place of Smith and has begun to show some glimpses of what made him the two-time Colorado "Player of the Year" as a prep. Six-foot-11, 250-pound freshman Monty Brown is slated to get his first start Saturday in place of Moore.
Campbell has been led by the tandem of Eric Griffin (12.6 p.p.g.) and Lorne Merthie (11.4 p.p.g.) on offense. Griffin is also Campbell's top rebounder at 6.9 boards per game, but Marvelle Harris and Preston Dodson grab 5.8 and 5.2 caroms per contest, respectively.
CU's leads the A-Sun in field goal percentage with a healthy 47.6 percent success rate as a team. The Camels are second in the conference from beyond the arc, hitting 35.2 percent.
In its last game, Campbell took it on the chin at Jacksonville, 71-58, last Monday (Jan. 31) on the road. Griffin had 21 points and 11 rebounds in the losing effort. Rico Ferguson added 10 points for CU, which committed 18 turnovers in the contest.
The last time these two teams met earlier this season (Jan. 10) in Buies Creek, N.C., Mercer lost an overtime decision to CU, 80-74. The Bears overcame a 15-point deficit with a little over five minutes left to play and forced the OT when Mills canned a pair of free throws with one-tenth of a second left to play to knot the game at 65-65. The Camels got over the hump in the extra segment by out-scoring Mercer, 15-9.
Merthie led Campbell with a game-high 27 points and Griffin had a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Moore paced the Bears with 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Smith added 19 points. Mills added 14 to round out the MU double-digit scorers.
* This will be the 28th meeting between the schools. Mercer holds a slim 14-13 advantage in the series with the Camels.
*Mercer's back-to-back single digit turnover totals at Kennesaw State (8) and USC Upstate (6) last week are its lowest in successive games in since the 2008-09 season in back-to-back games at Oklahoma State (7 turnovers) and at UCLA (6 turnovers).
* Senior Brian Mills has scored in double figures in 18 of the Bears' 23 games this season, including the last five games in a row. Mills is averaging 14.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game on the year. He has 40 double-figure scoring games in his career.