Men’s Basketball One Step Away from CIT Final
FAIRFIELD, Conn.—After keeping its season alive with a comeback victory in enemy territory, the Mercer men's basketball continues its quest for the CollegeInsider.com Championship on Saturday at Fairfield. The Bears' semifinal matchup with the Stags is slated for a 7 p.m. tip at the Alumni Center.
Despite trailing by as many as 12 at Old Dominion Wednesday night, Mercer (25-11) came all the way back to earn 79-73 victory and advanced to the CIT's final four. The winner of Saturday evening's game is set to take on the winner of Oakland and Utah State, who face off on Sunday at 6 p.m.
Saturday's game will be broadcast on The Peach 96.5 FM with play-by-play provided by the "Voice of the Bears", Rick Cameron. The radio broadcast can also be accessed on-the-go with use of a smartphone and the mobile app Iheartradio. A web-based videostream of the game can also be accessed on the tournament's official webpage, www.collegeinsider.com/tournament.
SCOUTING THE STAGS:
Fairfield sports a 22-14 record after topping Robert Morris 67-61 in the CIT quarterfinals. Before that game, the Stags were winners against Manhattan (69-57) and Yale (68-56) in their first two CIT games. Saturday's game marks the fourth straight CIT game Fairfield has hosted.
Fairfield's offense is powered by the upperclassman combo of Rakim Sanders and Derek Needham. Sanders holds team-leading averages of 16.6 points per game and 8.9 rebounds per game and recently picked up All-MAAC first team honors. Needham boasts an 11.8 points per game clip and leads the team with 100 assists. He also picked up All-MAAC honors, landing a spot on the league's second team.
The Stags are making their third straight postseason appearance after playing in the 2010 CIT and the 2011 National Invitational Tournament. In each of the last two seasons, Fairfield earned a first round postseason victory before falling in the second round.
The Stags are under direction of first year head coach Sydney Johnson, who assumed control of the Fairfield program after spending four seasons as head coach of Princeton University. Johnson piled up a 66-53 record at Princeton while leading the Tigers to a pair of postseason berths in the NCAA Tournament (2011) and College Basketball Invitational (2010).
Fairfield has won eight straight home games and holds a 13-3 record in home contests this season. The Stags typically play their home games in Bridgeport, Connecticut at the Webster Bank Arena, but Saturday's matchup marks the team's second straight home game at their on-campus facility.
Senior Justin Cecil has led all scorers in each of Mercer's CIT games. In the CIT, Cecil is averaging 20 points per game, on 20-of-46 (43.5%) shooting from the field and 14-of-34 (41.2%) from three-point range.
Mercer and Fairfield have two common opponents this season in Old Dominion and Niagara. Mercer beat Niagara 74-55 in Macon on November 22, 2011. Fairfield topped Niagara twice, on the road on December 2, 2011 (79-75), and at home on February 3, 2012 (64-56). Mercer downed Old Dominion in its last outing 79-73, while Fairfield also bested the Monarchs by a count of 59-51 on December 9, 2011.
At tip time on Saturday, Mercer will be one of 17 Division I men's basketball teams still playing.
Mercer has won more CIT games than any Atlantic Sun team. In the CIT's four years of existence, four A-Sun teams (Belmont, East Tennessee State, Jacksonville, Mercer) have participated in the event. Belmont and Jacksonville each earned one victory in their CIT appearances while ETSU earned two victories last season.
In the last two CIT tournaments, A-Sun teams have combined for a 7-3 record. The league's seven wins is tied for second-most victories amongst the 22 conferences that have participated in the event.
Mercer's four postseason games this season ranks second most all-time in A-Sun history. The only team to play more postseason games was the 1987 Arkansas Little Rock squad that advanced to the NIT semifinal and ultimately earned fourth place in the NIT consolation game.
Mercer's 37th game of the season ties a conference record for games played, equaling UALR's 1987 team.
Mercer's 25 wins this season is a program record. The previous standard was set by the 2002-03 edition of the squad that finished 23-6. The Bears' first round CIT victory over Tennessee State was the team's first postseason win in 110 years of existence.
Mercer's 36 games this season is a program record for contests in a season. The Bears played 33 games in each of the last two seasons.
Mercer is Georgia's last Division I men's basketball team still playing. Savannah State lost in the NIT first round at Tennessee (65-51). Georgia State was eliminated by Mercer in the CIT second round (64-59).