Mercer hasn’t forgotten bad trip to Denver

mlough@macon.comDecember 6, 2013 

Oklahoma Mercer Basketball

Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler, right, and Mercer’s Monty Brown, center, battle for a rebound near Langston Hall (21) during Monday’s game in Norman, Okla.

NATE BILLINGS — AP

Thinking about games from a year before isn’t usually a big thing for players in any sport, considering how many other opponents they have to deal with.

But forgetting Denver wasn’t a problem for Mercer.

The Bears haven’t.

“They remember,” Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. “And it was easy to make sure they knew what we were talking about.”

The Pioneers return their top two scorers, Chris Udofia and Brett Olson, from last season’s 22-10 team that shared the Western Athletic Conference regular-season title and went 1-1 in the NIT.

Along the way, the Pioneers gave Mercer its worst loss of the season, 69-40, to break a four-game losing streak.

“They just sliced us up, every which way you possibly can,” Hoffman said. “They executed, hit shots. We were late on a lot of things. They were spectacular in everything they tried.

“We weren’t able to take them out of anything they wanted to try and accomplish.”

Mercer had a few days to get ready for Denver’s Princeton offense. Head coach Joe Scott played and coached at Princeton under Pete Carril and has kept the offense.

Denver is 2-4, having played four games since Nov. 28. The Pioneers have won two straight, 78-71 at Alaska-Anchorage and 75-74 in overtime at home over Southern.

Saturday begins an odd road trip for Denver, which travels about 1,500 miles for this game only to return home to face Colorado State -- 65 miles away -- on Wednesday.

Denver was picked to finish second in the Summit League -- the school changed conferences during the offseason -- by coaches, media and sports information directors.

Udofia is a 6-6 senior forward from Texas, and Olson a 6-5 junior guard from Highlands Ranch, Colo.

That happens to be the same hometown as Mercer senior Bud Thomas. Thomas went to Regis Jesuit and Olson to Highlands Ranch.

Thomas was the state’s Gatorade player of the year in 2008-09 and 2009-10, and Olson followed to take the award in 2010-11.

Thomas managed only three points in last year’s drubbing, while Olson countered with 10.

Now-graduated Royce O’Neale led the Pioneers with 22 points and five rebounds in the win, with Udofia adding 14.

This is Denver’s first trip this far southeast since a visit to Middle Tennessee State during the 2010-11 season, a 59-49 loss.

Mercer had an odd start to last season, including the Denver game, and is sort of repeating it, going from a double-overtime win over Seton Hall to struggles in a loss at Evansville, a quality romp over Yale to inconsistency in losing at Ohio.

Then came the rousing 117-108 triple-overtime win at Valparaiso three days before trailing Oklahoma by 31 in a 14-point loss.

Five days between games and playing at home after three road games in a week is more than welcomed.

“This is a big, big turning point kind of game,” said Hoffman, whose team is 4-0 at Hawkins this season. “The non-conference schedule, you’re hopeful that you can find a way to win some of those games on the road and win a lot at home and get ready for the conference season.

“We want to keep momentum going in the right direction.”

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