Bears Top Chattanooga, 67-56, to Improve to 7-3
MACON, Ga. – Mercer University's men's basketball team overcame an early hot shooting spree by the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, thanks to a second half blitz that propelled the team to a 67-56 non-conference win at the University Center. A crowd of 1,795 saw the Bears improve to 7-3 overall, the program's best start since the 2004-05 team opened the year with an identical record.
The contrast between the beginning of the game and the beginning of the second half could not have been more polar opposite for the Bears. MU scored the first bucket of the game, but over the course of the next five minutes the Mocs would out-score the hosts by a 17-2 margin. Chattanooga accomplished the big lead by nailing 4-of-5 from three-point range to make it 17-4 at the 14:19 juncture of the first half.
To the Bears' credit, the team did not go into panic mode after the Mocs' fast start but, instead, began to whittle away at the UTC cushion. A free throw by Langston Hall – who had a team-leading 15 points in the game – with 2:02 left until half knotted matters at 29-29.
A free throw by the Mocs' Chris Early with 1:41 left would give his team the one-point lead at the intermission, 30-29. Little did Early, or Chattanooga, know that it would be the last points the visitors would see for some time.
"We knew they could shoot threes," MU head coach Bob Hoffman said. "We knew they had the capability.
"But then we held them scoreless for like an eight minute stretch. That's what I like about this team; I challenged them at halftime and they responded.
Mercer came out of the halftime locker room with a renewed vigor on both the offensive and defensive ends, putting a seven-minute freeze on the Mocs by opening the period with a 16-0 run which – combined with the drought late in the first half – kept Chattanooga scoreless for a total span of 8:41 of the game clock as MU pulled away, 45-30.
UTC made a late run at the Bears to get within seven points, 61-54, with 1:51 to play. It proved to be too little, too late as Mercer wrapped up its second-straight victory. The win also improved MU's advantage in the series versus UTC to a 31-29 mark.
While Hall led the squad in scoring for the third-consecutive game, it was the play of redshirt sophomore Jakob Gollon which seemed to ignite Mercer. In his fourth year with the Bears' team, Gollon's experience has paid huge dividends for Hoffman's team all season and did so again versus UTC.
Gollon booked 14 points on an 6-of-8 shooting effort from the floor to go along with five rebounds. He also passed off for a team-leading four assists, had one block and made three important steals.
"That's four years of listening and paying attention," Hoffman said of Gollon's ability to help push the Bears. "That's four years of knowledge taking it to the floor and getting steals. He's so tough mentally. He's taken his knowledge and put it into practice and willed our team to win."
As a team, the Bears had six blocked shots, two by sophomore Daniel Coursey to give him 20 on the season.
Mercer's defense also shored up after the Mocs' hot-shooting three-point barrage early. Chattanooga converted just 3-of-17 from beyond the arc after the opening five-minute salvo.
With the win over the Mocs, Mercer also completed its "season sweep" over teams from the Southern Conference. The Bears had already left Samford and Furman in their wake in 20011-12, before adding Chattanooga to the collection on Saturday.
The Bears will be off next week for finals until resuming action on Sunday, December 18 at Seton Hall (a noon tip-off in New Jersey).