Mercer went on a big run late in the second half and maintained control for a 77-65 win over Stetson on Saturday to give the Bears their first outright A-Sun regular-season championship and their second top seed in the A-Sun tournament.
The Bears led only 57-52 with just less than seven minutes remaining in the game when Bud Thomas drained a 3-pointer. And the Bears were off and rolling.
Travis Smith scored twice, and Thomas buried another from long distance, and the defense picked up. The Hatters managed only scattered free throws from the 8:31 mark to 1:32, not getting a bucket from the floor in that span.
The margin grew to 17 points with less than three minutes left, and there was no Stetson comeback.
It was a tremendous team victory, Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. Weve got great guys who play their hearts out. Theyre a blessing, and Im thankful that we were able to find a way to get the No. 1 seed.
This is Mercers first regular-season title since the 2002-03 season, when the Bears shared first place with Troy. The Bears were the top seed that year, thanks to the tiebreaker. That was the biggest turnaround in the NCAA that season, coming after the Bears went 6-23 a year earlier.
This years Bears ended the regular season 21-10 overall and 14-4 in conference play while Stetson is 14-15 and 11-7.
The Bears next play in prime time against the No. 8 seed at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the first round of the A-Sun tournament. The Hatters, who had clinched third seed after Thursdays action, will play the No. 6 seed.
Smith topped a balanced Mercer entourage with 15 points. Thomas and Daniel Coursey had 14 each, Langston Hall 12 and Jake Gollon 11.
Hall had nine assists and one turnover in 33 minutes while Kevin Canevari added four steals in 12 minutes off of the bench.
Joel Naburgs led Stetson with 14 points, while Aaron Graham and Adam Pegg chipped in 12 each.
The teams exchanged runs in the first half, and Mercer led 30-28 at halftime.
Stetson led three times in the early minutes of the second half, at 40-39 with 14:04 remaining for the final time. The Hatters then cut a 10-point deficit in half, and it remained mostly a two-possession Mercer lead until Thomas jumper with 6:04 left.
Mercer now goes for the final part of the season-long equation, going from consensus preseason favorite to regular-season champ to tournament champ and NCAA tournament team.
The Bears reached the A-Sun tournament championship game in 2010, their first trip to the game since 1996.