Bears Win Fourth-Straight Game; Top Kennesaw State, 57-55
“Virtually” because Mercer entered the night with a magic number of any combination of MU wins and/or losses by either Campbell and Stetson equaling two. With Mercer getting the win tonight, and since Campbell and Stetson play each other this coming Thursday evening, the Bears will then “officially” be able to claim their berth with mathematic certainty.
Mercer and Kennesaw put on another exciting show, which has become the hallmark of these I-75 neighbors.
The Bears trailed by six early in the first period before overtaking the Owls and building an eight-point cushion by the intermission, 31-23, behind senior Brian Mills. Mills scored eight of his team-high 18 points in the opening segment, including surpassing the 1,000th career point plateau with his second field goal just 2:01 minutes into the game.
MU’s opening salvo included hitting 13-of-27 from the field (48 percent) and 3-of-9 from beyond the arc. KSU managed just 9-of-26 from the floor (35 percent) in the first half.
But the second stanza was a case of role-reversal when KSU got the hot hand – shooting 55 percent – and the Bears cooled off to 32 percent (9-of-28) in the second period. Early in the second, MU did build its largest lead, a 10 point bulge, only to see the Owls peck away, getting within one point (42-41) with 9:09 left and eventually tying matters at 53-53 with 2:50 to play.
With 54 tics left on the game clock, Langston Hall canned a jumper from just inside the top of the key to put Mercer back on top, 55-53. KSU came back to knot maters at 55-55 with 15 seconds left on a tip-in by LaDaris Green (13 points) after two missed shot attempts by the KSU, following a loose ball that the Owls managed to save.
Mercer called a timeout with 9.5 seconds left to set up its final shot. Kennesaw elevated the pressure by calling successive timeouts before the Bears could inbound.
When play finally resumed, freshman Bud Thomas inbounded the ball, throwing it to Langston Hall in the backcourt. After delivering the ball to Hall, Thomas broke toward the right corner and Hall faked a penetration dribble on the right, and instead passed to Thomas. As the Owl defenders raced toward Thomas, the Highlands Ranch, Colo., native delivered a perfect bounce pass to an open Mills who laid the ball in with 3.3 seconds left, 57-55.
KSU’s desperation heave to leading scorer Markeith Cummings (30 points) on the offensive half was batted away by Langston Hall and knocked up-court by Thomas as the clock expired.
“Coach kept telling us to ‘believe, believe in each other’,” said Mills. “We’ve made it this far with each other. We called the play and Bud (Thomas) made an unbelievable pass and it worked.”
The Bears ability to take care of the ball was again in evidence. The team committed just six turnovers, the fourth time this season the Bears have registered single-digit turnover totals, tying its season low for miscues (MU also had six turnovers at USC Upstate).
“I knew both teams were tired having played three games in six days,” said MU head coach Bob Hoffman. “That’s a hard deal. But we believed in each other and sure enough we were able to get that last shot.
“We’ve been in so many games with chances to win. Even though we didn’t fulfill it all the time, we put ourselves in position to win. If we keep doing that as a program and as a team, good things are going to happen.”