Column: Emotion makes Mercer fun to watch

rseibel@macon.comJanuary 9, 2014 

Mercer

Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman works the sidelines.

GRANT BLANKENSHIP — gblankenship@macon.com

Bob Hoffman is a basketball coach who provides a sideline show that by itself is worth the price of admission.

The head coach of the Mercer men’s basketball team leaves no doubt as to where he stands. He will beg, plead, cajole, demand ... pick a word, and he will do just about anything to get his point across to a player or an official.

The past few seasons, those emotions have turned to unbridled joy quite often as Hoffman continues to build Mercer into a solid mid-major. Give Hoffman a nail-biting win over a marquee opponent, and his postgame radio interview turns into a string of “Praise God” lines, delivered in the afterglow of an emotional victory punctuated by sideline fist pumps and celebratory leaps.

That’s what makes him -- and the Mercer basketball program -- so fun to watch. College basketball can be a roller coaster ride at times, with highs and lows sometimes separated by something as fickle as the way the ball bounces on a shot in the final second. Hoffman knows the game of basketball is such a ride, and he takes everyone along for that ride.

Hoffman’s emotion has gotten him in trouble a couple of times. He has been ejected twice while at Mercer, the second ejection coming a year ago at Kennesaw State.

To be fair, Hoffman’s ejection at Kennesaw State came under questionable circumstances. Mercer wasn’t catching any breaks against a boisterous crowd at the Owls’ Convocation Center, and his first technical foul came from an official standing on the other side of the court. His second technical -- the one that resulted in an ejection -- came after a Kennesaw State player was allowed to run the baseline on what was supposed to be a spot inbounds pass.

Still, the sight of an animated Hoffman being forced to leave early planted the seeds for a rivalry of sorts. Kennesaw State pulled off an 83-75 win, one of just three victories for the Owls last season. And Mercer, which went on to win the regular-season A-Sun title last season, suffered the first of four losses in conference play.

Mercer did claim a bit of revenge later in the season, recording a 66-42 victory over the Owls in Macon. And Kennesaw State has gone through a bit of coaching turbulence recently, with the Owls’ athletics department announcing last week that head coach Lewis Preston was taking an indefinite leave of absence. But there’s still plenty that can be stirred up when Kennesaw State visits Mercer on Friday for their first meeting of the 2013-14 season.

While the records are similar to where the two teams were a year ago -- Mercer is 12-5 overall, Kennesaw State 4-13 -- the Owls enter fresh off an impressive 68-58 home victory over USC Upstate. With the game serving as the A-Sun’s marquee television game this weekend, Kennesaw State will have plenty of incentive to go after another upset.

But if Hoffman can get those emotions flowing, and if those emotions get the crowd into the game, Mercer will make Kennesaw State’s task next to impossible.

That’s what makes getting on that roller coaster so much fun.

Contact Ron Seibel at 744-4222 or rseibel@macon.com.

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