Men's Basketball Set for A-Sun Title Run
MACON, Ga.—Fresh off its seventh 20-win season in the 110-year history of the program, the second-seeded Mercer (21-10, 13-5 A-Sun) men's basketball team commences play in the 2012 General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Wednesday night against No. 7 Lipscomb (13-17, 8-10 A-Sun) at the University Center. The game, which tips at 8:30 p.m., marks Mercer's 28th appearance in the A-Sun playoff, having posted a 23-25 all-time record in the tournament.
Mercer has been particularly tough to beat on the UC hardwood this season, having posted a record of 12-2 at home. Entering the final game of the regular season, Mercer had a nine-game winning streak at the UC that spanned a little over two months. The Bears saw that run end in a heartbreaking 62-61 defeat at the hands of the regular-season champion and top overall seed Belmont.
Mercer's matchup with Lipscomb marks the third go-around between the teams this season after the Bears swept two regular season meetings. Mercer's 63-54 decision at the UC last Thursday followed a 79-72 win at Allen Arena on Dec. 1, 2011. The Bears have won four-straight against the Bison, with three of those victories coming inside the friendly confines of the UC. Last year, Bears opened tournament play with a 73-63 win over Lipscomb, with Mercer sporting a No. 5 seed.
Lipscomb holds a 12-8 edge in the all-time series. Wednesday night's battle marks the fourth time the two have met in the tournament, with the Bison holding a 2-1 postseason series edge.
Mercer enters the tournament led by sophomore guard Langston Hall (11.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG) and senior sharp-shooter Justin Cecil (10.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG). Hall garnered All-Conference first team honors last week after leading the Bears in points and assists. Cecil has knocked down a team-high 63 triples this season, while connecting on 37.5% (63-of-168) from downtown.
Jakob Gollon (10.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG) rounds out the trio of Bears averaging in double digit scoring, while Daniel Coursey (8.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.4 BPG) is coming off a milestone-setting performance against Belmont. The Savannah, Ga. native booked six blocked shots against the Bruins, etching himself into the Mercer annals with a new school mark for blocked shots in a single season (74). That total broke the program's previous standard of 72 swats held by Scott Farley (1995-96).
Coursey leads the league in blocked shots, averaging 2.4 blocks-per-game, while also leading the A-Sun in field goal percentage, connecting at a 64.9% clip this season.
Mercer boasts the A-Sun's stoutest defense, limiting foes to just 63.1 PPG and a meager 38.8% field goal percentage. Those figures rank first and second in league standings, respectively.
Lipscomb enters the tournament led offensively by Malcolm Smith (9.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG), who paces the Bison in scoring since the dismissal of Jordan Burgason (16.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG).The Bison closed the regular season with a 74-71 win at Kennesaw State on Saturday and currently rank second among league teams in scoring offense (73.0 PPG). The Nashville-based squad also touts top-five rankings in three-point field goal percentage (37.5%) and three-point field goal percentage defense (33.2%).
Should the Bears win their opening round contest with the Bison on Wednesday night, the team would await the winner of No.3 USC Upstate versus No.6 Florida Gulf Coast. Those teams square off on Thursday night at 8:30 p.m.
If the Bears cut down the nets at the University Center on Saturday afternoon, the victory would be Mercer's 23rd win of the season - tying the program's benchmark for victories in a season – set by the 2002-03 edition of the Bears. Mercer teams have also posted 20 or more wins in the 1923-24, '28-29, '52-53, '78-79 and '84-85 seasons.
Mercer is one of the A-Sun's two charter members, joining Stetson as the only original members remaining in league since its inception in 1978. The Bears have qualified twice for the NCAA Tournament in school history, with the last appearance in the Big Dance coming 26 years ago.
The 1984-85 edition of the Mercer men's basketball team roared to a 19-8 regular-season mark, winning the regular-season Atlantic Sun title. Powered by future Georgia Sports Hall-of-Famer and NBA talent Sam Mitchell underneath, The Bears took down Centenary (74-70, OT) Houston Baptist (69-65), and Arkansas-Little Rock (105-96) to claim the school's second automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Bears fought hard in their opening-round encounter with Peach State foe Georgia Tech before eventually falling, 65-58.