TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A trademark Mercer defensive effort lifted the men's basketball team to a hard-fought 61-56 victory over Florida State on Sunday at the Donald L. Tucker Center. In the win, the Bears limited the Seminoles to their lowest shooting percentage and lowest scoring output of the season.
Mercer's first win over Florida State since January 31, 1954 bumped the team's overall record to 4-4, while the Seminoles slipped to 4-3 on the year. The win also marked Mercer's second win in its last three tries against ACC competition.
"I'm just so thrilled for the guys, it was a fantastic team effort and the staff did a great job," Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. "We've been through some trials already, and we finally got to have a little up. This was an amazing road win against the defending ACC Champion."
Sunday's matchup was a classic bout of an offensive-minded team versus a defensive-minded one. Entering the game, Florida State ranked among the nation's top 40 offensive teams with an average of 78.3 points per game, while Mercer was ninth in the country defensively, allowing just 53.0 points per game.
Mercer's strength won out, as the Bears held Preseason All-American Michael Snaer to only seven points on two-of-six shooting, a far cry from his season average of 15.3 points. As a team, the Bears limited the Seminoles to just 17-of-48 (35.4%) shooting from the field and six-of-17 (35.3%) aim from three-point range.
In a game that featured 10 ties and 10 lead changes, Mercer found itself ahead 57-53 as the clock dwindled under three minutes. FSU junior Okaro White drew a foul and cashed in on two free throw attempts at the 2:41 juncture to trim Mercer's lead to two.
With 33 seconds remaining, Mercer's lead was still 57-55 when FSU redshirt junior Terrance Shannon drove for a layup and forced a foul by a Mercer defender. The Forsyth, Ga. native was only able to convert one of his two ensuing free throws, and junior Daniel Coursey secured the rebound for the Bears.
The Seminoles elected to intentionally foul Mercer senior Travis Smith, who calmly drained both of his free throws to give the Bears a three-point edge with 23 seconds left. FSU's desperation three on the other end was off the mark, and a pair of Langston Hall free throws helped the Bears salt away the final moments.
On the offensive end, a balanced Mercer attack was led by Smith and Hall, who scored 13 and 10 points, respectively. All told, eight Mercer players reached the scoring column. Juniors Jakob Gollon and Monty Brown each scored nine, while junior Bud Thomas tallied seven and Coursey added six.
Mercer's ball movement fueled the team's scoring output, as the Bears collected assists on 14 of their 18 baskets. Hall led the team with five helpers, while Smith and Thomas each booked three assists.
Mercer also snapped a streak of five-straight games in which it had been out-rebounded, edging the Seminoles 33-32 on the glass. Thomas grabbed a team-high seven boards while Gollon grabbed five.
At the outset, Mercer got on the board right away as Thomas found Gollon for an open layup and a 2-0 advantage. The Seminoles responded with five-straight after that bucket and went into the first media break ahead, 5-2.
With 3:24 to play before halftime, the FSU lead was seven when Hall penetrated and found Smith for an open three, sparking an 8-1 Mercer run to close the half. The Bears' 8-1 run was fueled by three FSU turnovers and sent the teams to intermission tied 27-27. In the second half alone, the teams shared a tie score seven times and traded the lead eight times.
"I'm blessed to coach the young men I have and this is was a great win for our university and our program," Hoffman said.
Mercer resumes its road-stretch at Denver on Wednesday. Game time between the Bears and Pioneers is set for 9 p.m. EST.