Mercer looks for rare win over Georgia

mlough@macon.comDecember 17, 2012 

ATHENS -- The last time Mercer beat Georgia, only two people currently on either team’s bench were alive: Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman and Georgia director of men’s basketball operations Kent Davison.

The struggling Bulldogs will try to keep that streak alive when they host the Bears (6-5) in a brunch matchup Tuesday at Stegeman Coliseum in non-conference action.

The game will tip off at 11:30 a.m., and Georgia will host about 4,000 Clarke County school children.

Georgia leads the series 53-23 and hasn’t lost to the Bears since Mercer won 66-62 win on Jan. 10, 1959.

When the teams met last December, Mercer was coming off a tough 80-77 loss at Seton Hall and Georgia just returned from a cross-country trip to Southern California, where the Bulldogs picked up a 63-59 win over the Trojans.

The teams were tied at halftime, but Georgia started easing away five minutes into the second half en route to a 72-58 win.

“We played good for about 28, 30 minutes,” Hoffman said. “We got out of character, and I made some tactical errors last year, I thought, late in the game, and we just couldn’t make shots, beyond that.

‘They grinded it out and played really good defense on us.”

It’s a fairly important game for Georgia head coach Mark Fox, who is in his fourth year but again has a young team, with three seniors, two juniors, five sophomores and four freshmen.

“We played a very awkward lineup (Saturday) and a very young lineup,” Fox said regarding Saturday’s 81-78 overtime home loss to Iona. “Our three freshmen (were) in the game together most of the game.”

Nevertheless, the Bulldogs are 2-7 -- they haven’t been 2-8 or worse since a 1-10 start in 1970-71 -- and Fox has dropped below .500 at Georgia (52-53).

Two losses came to No. 1 Indiana 66-53 and No. 11 UCLA 60-56. Four of the other five losses -- to Southern Miss, South Florida, Georgia Tech and Iona -- are marketable. Three of those teams were in the top 50 in RPI last year and won at last 22 games, and Georgia Tech is improved under second-year head coach Brian Gregory.

Southern Miss, South Florida, Georgia Tech and Youngstown State all have winning records and are a combined 24-12. Iona reached .500 (4-4) with the win.

“Our team has not learned how to win yet,” said Fox, whose team has lost three straight and is 2-3 at home. “We have put ourselves in position, but that is something that you learn as a unit. We obviously haven’t learned that yet.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the only Georgia player getting more than eight points per game, with a 17.4 average to go with a team-high 7.2 rebounds.

“They’ve got one of the best scorers in the SEC in Pope, who can catch and shoot and take over a game by himself,” Hoffman said. “He’s averaging almost (30) percent of their scoring at this point.”

Mercer beat Chattanooga 63-53 on Sunday.

“I thought we just showed some toughness and resiliency that we need to get better at in those kinds of games against a really athletic team,” Hoffman said. “They kind of made a couple runs at us late, but we withstood it.

“We threw the ball away more than we’d have liked, but I thought we were strong with the ball more often than not. I thought we rebounded with great intensity. It gave us extra opportunities.”

Mercer will need those against a team hungry to start winning and avoid a loss to a team for the first time in more than 50 years.

“They have three top-50 players in the country that are freshmen trying to figure it out, finding their way a little it,” Hoffman said. “ They’re talented as all get-out.

“I think they’ve had some misfortune at the end of games that would have helped their confidence, especially with a young team. That’s hurt their growth, especially early in the season. They still have time to get it fixed. I just hope they get it fixed after we play them.”

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