Georgia tops cold-shooting Mercer

mlough@macon.comDecember 18, 2012 

ATHENS -- There was a rare level of energy in Stegeman Coliseum on a Tuesday morning.

It took awhile for any of it to reach the court.

With a few thousand local schoolchildren taking up about a third of the seats for an 11:30 a.m. start, there was a constant din and a few hours of explosive roars that eventually seemed to favor the home team, and Georgia found the zip and enough accuracy for a 58-49 win Tuesday over Mercer in a non-conference men’s basketball contest.

The Bulldogs broke a three-game losing streak to improve to 3-7 and have won 17 in a row over Mercer, which dropped to 6-6.

“We beat a really good basketball team (Tuesday),” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said, thanking Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman for agreeing to play the early game. “It meant a lot to the kids of this community, and he was terrific about it from when I first approached him. Not many coaches would agree to that.”

Based on Mercer’s shooting day, pre-noon starts might be shelved for awhile.

The Bears were below 20 percent shooting for a chunk of the first half and scraped up to 23.1 percent after 20 minutes and 31.4 percent for the game for their worst shooting effort of the season. Center Daniel Coursey started off 1-for-5 and wing Jake Gollon went 0-for-7 from the floor in the first half, with the pair finishing 5-for-21.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen us struggle that much on offense,” said Mercer guard Langston Hall, who played only six first-half minutes because of foul trouble. “We were getting a lot of good shots, we were just missing them. Couldn’t buy anything, really. We were getting a lot of good inside looks, outside looks, getting open shots.

“We just couldn’t hit anything.”

Georgia lost to Iona on Saturday because of poor free-throw shooting (20-of-37), but regained the touch and went 11-for-12 from the line.

“We had to be sound for 40 minutes to win this game, because those guys aren’t making very many mistakes,” Fox said. “(Tuesday) was important, and we needed to win.”

Georgia didn’t begin much better, and it took nearly 12 minutes for either team to crack double figures in scoring.

It was tied at 15 when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had an absolute flurry: five points in less than 30 seconds on a 3-pointer and a steal and jam to put Georgia up 20-15.

That proved to be pretty much a game-long cushion, although Mercer took a brief second-half lead.

“Caldwell-Pope was amazing in getting momentum plays,” Hoffman said. “We only had 11 turnovers, but several of them were highlight reels for him that gave energy to the house and the kids got fired up, which gave (Georgia) juice, I think, kind of got some separation for them.”

Then came halftime.

“The first half, we played great defense, but we struggled on offense,” Hall said. “So we just wanted to take our time, execute better on offense.”

Coursey hit two free throws and a hook inside the first 50 seconds of the second half, and Hall added a 3 to give Mercer a 27-26 lead with 17:44 remaining. The Bulldogs retook the lead two minutes later, and Pope’s 3-pointer from the right side returned the margin to six.

The teams matched droughts of about four minutes, but Mercer could only cut the margin in half three times, finally at 8:52. Georgia remained patient and Mercer remained cold, with the lead maxing out at 10 with 3:24 left.

Pope finished with 17 points, just off his average of 17.4, while Charles Mann added 10. Former Dublin standout Sherrard Brantley added six, making both 3-point tries.

Mercer couldn’t manage a double-figure scorer, with Anthony White Jr. leading with nine points in 10 minutes.

“We beat a good basketball team,” Fox said. “They will be a team that has a chance to win their league and play in the NCAA tournament. Our kids have had a tough start to the year, so (Tuesday) is a sign of growth.”

Mercer’s first-half troubles resulted in part from Hall being on the bench for 14 minutes after getting two fouls within 72 seconds before seven minutes had elapsed. But the Bears were missing just about everything in sight, getting open looks in the process.

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