MACON, Ga. – Mercer senior point guard Langston Hall scored a game-high 24 points, but North Florida rallied from a late deficit to emerge with a 79-76 overtime win at Hawkins Arena on Thursday evening.
Mercer (22-8, 13-4 A-Sun) lost for the first time at home this season, but benefitted from Florida Gulf Coast's 93-71 loss at Lipscomb and remained tied for the Atlantic Sun conference lead. North Florida pulled even at 15-15 overall on the year and 9-8 in league play.
Hall scored his 24 points on the strength of 8-of-8 shooting from the free throw line to go along with six rebounds, four assists and two steals in 39 minutes of work. Senior Anthony White Jr. booked 12 points, four rebounds and two steals while senior Daniel Coursey collected 10 points, six rebounds, three blocks and a steal.
After battling through nine lead changes and seven tie scores, Mercer led 67-64 with 37 seconds left when UNF senior forward Travis Wallace scored an inside layup to cut the deficit to one. Hall nailed two free throws on the other end to regain a three-point edge, but UNF junior guard Jalen Nesbitt drove to the hoop for an and-one layup with 20 tics left. Nesbitt's ensuing free throw knotted the game at 69-69.
With a chance to win on the final possession, Hall found senior Jakob Gollon on the baseline, but Gollon's shot was blocked as time expired and the teams went to overtime.
With 1:10 to play in the overtime period, UNF had assumed a 74-73 lead when an off-ball foul sent Mercer sophomore Jibri Bryan to the free throw line. Bryan hit 1-of-2 attempts to tie the game, but once again Nesbitt responded with a layup on the other end to put the visitors on top.
Hall misfired on a long three, and UNF sophomore Beau Beech got the rebound and skipped it ahead to Nesbit for a fast break dunk and a four-point lead with 20 seconds to play.
Mercer got back within striking distance as Hall drove for a layup and UNF senior forward Charles McRoy hit 1-of-2 free throws with 14 seconds on the clock. The Bears had a golden chance to tie with six seconds left, as White Jr. got a good look on the wing. White Jr.'s shot was off the mark and the ball went over the backboard for a dead ball defensive rebound.
Just when it seemed Mercer had been beaten, junior forward Darious Moten stole the inbounds pass and called timeout with 2.5 seconds to play. The final play wasn't meant to be, as senior Bud Thomas had the ball slip through his hands on Mercer's inbounds pass.
Mercer's loss was just its second in its last 27 regular season A-Sun games at Hawkins Arena dating back to the 2011-12 season. The Bears will conclude the 2013-14 regular season on Saturday, hosting Jacksonville for a Senior Day tipoff at 1 p.m. Mercer can clinch at least a share of the A-Sun regular season championship by beating the Dolphins.