Once their games were over Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., and Fort Myers, Fla., respectively, theres little doubt head coaches Bob Hoffman and Joe Dooley had to remind their troops about any 24-hour rule.
Odds are Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast had convincing wins over Lipscomb and East Tennessee State in their rearview mirror before turning on the showers in the postgame locker room.
It was time for the Bears to think about the Eagles and vice versa and the game between the two best teams in the A-Sun, last season and this season.
For all of the next game on the schedule, so its important talk, Mercer senior Jake Gollon put the game in perspective.
If anyone in, near, within 100 miles of Macon knows anything about college basketball, theyll be in the gym, he said of blackout night. Its going to be one of the most exciting games around.
That takes place Thursday at Hawkins Arena when the A-Suns co-leaders go at it in more than just a showdown for sole possession of first place. Seeding for the A-Sun tournament this season is of huge importance, since the higher seeds host each game.
Mercer is 10-0 at home this season and 40-4 since 2011-12, while Florida Gulf Coast is 32-7 in that same span, 23-2 since the start of last season.
When your next game is against the No. 1 team youre tied with, to put them a game behind would be big, Florida Gulf Coast senior forward Chase Fieler said. Especially on their home court when they have to come back and play you on your home court. We expect to win at home. But to win on the road there would be big for us.
With Mercers impending departure to the Southern Conference, this will be Florida Gulf Coasts final regular-season visit to Hawkins Arena for the foreseeable future. The Eagles have good memories there, going 5-3 at Hawkins Arena the past two seasons, all five wins coming in the A-Sun tournament and two coming over tournament host Mercer, including in last years title game.
I would guess they dont like that we went (to the NCAA tournament), Florida Gulf Coast point guard Brett Comer said. I would imagine if it was the other way around, I think wed have them circled, too.
Florida Gulf Coast followed its 88-75 win over Mercer in the A-Sun tournament with a magical run in the NCAA tournament, being the first 15th-seeded team to win two games. The Eagles were television darlings, and Mercer had to witness that while going 1-1 in the NIT as the A-Suns regular-season champ.
It was definitely difficult to watch, but it kinda leaves that pit in your stomach, that chip on your shoulder, that we know we gotta come back with, Gollon said. Like I said, we owe them, man. Theyve had our number the last two years in tournament time.
Florida Gulf Coast is still riding the Dunk City wave, although it will be the No. 2 collection of dunkers on the court Thursday. Mercer has four more dunks this season than Florida Gulf Coast through the same number of games.
Its a big game on the road, said Dooley, Florida Gulf Coasts first-year head coach. Theyve got a familiarity with us; we have a familiarity with them. Now it comes down to who makes the fewest mistakes.
Mercer is 15-5 overall and 6-1 in conference play, while Florida Gulf Coast is 12-8 and 6-1. The Bears have won five straight, the Eagles six of their past seven. Bud Thomas made nine 3-pointers in Mercers 87-66 win over Lipscomb while Florida Gulf Coast rolled over East Tennessee State 90-62.
Theyre really on roll, Dooley said. They make very few mistakes. When you look at them offensively, theyre very poised, very solid. They make (eight) 3s a game. Youre going to give up something to get something. Youve got to figure out whats the less of the evils.
Mercer is ranked a program-best No. 12 in the latest CollegeInsider.com mid-major poll, one spot below where the Eagles began the season. Florida Gulf Coast graduated leading scorer Sherwood Brown but returns all-conference players Comer, Fieler and Bernard Thompson along with starter Eric McKnight.
Comer, in particular, was devastating in the A-Sun championship game with a season-high 21 points, and Fieler is an inside-outside matchup problem.
They were fundamental in making their passes, Hoffman said of the Eagles last year. They looked for the glamour shots, but with the kind of team they had, that was smart because it got the crowd going.
Those momentum plays make a huge difference. When youre able to do that on a consistent basis like they were able to do, thats big.
This years rotation includes Georgia Tech transfer Nate Hicks (4.8 rebounds) and Marquette transfer Jamail Jones (7.6 points, 5.4 rebounds).
Theyre ready for us, Mercer senior Langston Hall said. Theyve played us three times last year, have most of the same team back, just like we do.
Were both pretty ready for each other.