PROVO, Utah – The Mercer men's basketball team fought tooth and nail to erase an early deficit on Monday night in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament, but multiple comeback efforts fell short in a 90-71 loss to BYU at the Marriott Center.
Senior Travis Smith led the Bears with 19 points in the loss while juniors Langston Hall and Daniel Coursey added 15 and 12, respectively. The Cougars placed four players in double figures, led by senior forward Brandon Davies' 26 points.
Mercer was eliminated from the NIT and saw its season come to a close with a 24-12 record. The loss also concluded the nation's longest postseason winning streak, which Mercer touted with six-straight wins entering Monday's play. BYU advanced to the quarterfinals, where it will face the winner of Monday night's game between Louisiana Tech and Southern Mississippi.
"It was a shootout, and we didn't make enough shots," Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. "BYU was unbelievable tonight. It is hard to come back when BYU was hitting 35, 40 footers. We didn't play as well as we would have liked to, but BYU was every part of that."
Each team traded first-possession scores with Smith and BYU sophomore Matt Carlino exchanging three pointers. Carolino added two more the next two times down to stake the hosts to an early 9-3 advantage.
With the crowd engaged, Mercer clamped down defensively and forced five consecutive missed shots to get within five. The Cougars' answer came as Davies faked out two defenders and scored an open layup, opening the flood gates to a 17-5 surge that put BYU up 28-11.
With 7:49 on the clock, Mercer junior Bud Thomas got the ball on the wing, backed his defender down, and twisted to score a layup while being fouled. He missed the ensuing free throw, but made up for it with triple on the next possession to bring Mercer within 12 (28-16).
Thomas' buckets sparked a 15-4 Mercer run that infused life into the Bears' bench and brought the visitors back within four (32-28) with 4:35 to play in the half. Another BYU blitz pushed the lead to 14 before a Travis Smith three pointer and a Chris Smith layup sent Mercer to the dressing room behind 44-35.
Travis Smith scored the second half's first five points in 58 seconds to bring Mercer within four once again, but BYU senior Brock Zylstra hit a three pointer just nine seconds later to place the buffer back at seven. The series was indicative of the game, as Mercer made several charges at the BYU lead, only to see it answered with a bucket at the other end. All told, Mercer cut the margin to four or five six times after the initial 17-point deficit, only to see BYU answer with scores on the next possession all six times.
"Carlino did a great job from beyond the arc," Hoffman said. "I thought our guys fought back with all those runs — we brought it back within four a few times. Our bigs tried hard, but we couldn't stop Davies."
The Cougars staved off the Bears' rallies by shooting 41.7% (10-of-24) from three point range and 75.9 (22-of-29) from the free throw line. Davies added 10 rebounds to his 26 points to help the Cougars claim a 43-31 advantage in rebounding.
Junior Jakob Gollon narrowly missed his second double-double of the year with nine points, nine assists and six rebounds. His classmate Thomas netted seven points to go along with six points, two blocks, an assist and a steal.
Smith's 19 points pushed his season total to 502 and came in conjunction with four rebounds and two assists. His Division I career came to a close just 16 points shy of 1,000, as he scored 219 points as a freshman at Presbyterian and 263 points last season with Mercer.
Smith's season was a model of efficiency, as he shot 43.3% (74-of-171) from three point range and 89.8% (114-127) from the free throw line. His free throw percentage was the best single-season mark in school history while his three-point shooting percentage ranks sixth on the school's single-season chart. His 74 three pointers positioned him sixth in the school's single-season record book.
Hall also totaled five assists in the loss, ending his season with 155 helpers. The total ranks seventh on the program's single-season charts and pushed his career total to 432. He'll begin his senior campaign just 39 shy of breaking the school's career assist record.
Coursey registered three rebounds, an assist and a block on Monday night. He'll start next year with 133 career blocks, just 41 short of the program career record.
Chris Smith will graduate as the program's winningest player, as he's been a part of 82 wins in four seasons. The Bears' 51 wins in the last two years are also a program record and marked the school's first back-to-back 20-win seasons.
Gollon's appearance on Monday was the 117th game played of his career and leaves him just 28 games shy of breaking into the top-27 of NCAA Division I career leaders.
As a team, Mercer set a program single-season record with 75.3% (492-653) free throw shooting percentage and tied the school's record for consecutive home court wins (15).