There was a checklist of keys, and Mercer didnt fare well in most any of them.
Play below-average team defense? Check.
Miss high-percentage shots? Check.
Rush the offense more than usual? Check.
Get topped on the boards? Check.
Florida Gulf Coast rebounded well and kept Mercer from getting in rhythm for a 75-61 win Friday in a huge game in terms of conference A-Sun tournament seeding. A record crowd of 4,664 watched the Eagles fail to take advantage of the Bears struggles until about seven minutes remained.
We could never get the lead, Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. I kept feeling like if we could get the lead somehow ... Then they went on their spurts in the second half, and we could never recover.
Mercer (21-7, 12-3 A-Sun) will try to regroup when it visits Stetson on Sunday, while Kennesaw State goes for the upset at Florida Gulf Coast (18-10, 12-3) after beating Stetson on Friday. The Bears and Eagles are tied for first, with more tiebreakers favoring Florida Gulf Coast. Still, neither team can slip up.
Theyre smart, Hoffman said of his players. They know whats ahead of them.
But the Bears will no doubt struggle to push Fridays result out of their minds. Mercer won 68-55 in the first meeting Jan. 23 at home.
The rebound turnaround was huge. Mercer was plus two at home but was outrebounded by 19 on Friday. The Eagles didnt turn that into any second-chance advantage. In fact, that statistic was even, but the rebounding edge helped keep Mercer from any rhythm.
Mercer rushed shots early in possessions, and only three times while the outcome was still debatable did the Bears get points on consecutive possessions. Their best run was scoring on four straight trips in the final minute.
Hoffman said the Bears missed 12 points worth of layups and putbacks in the first half, and unofficially Mercer missed 18 layup-type shots, shooting only 16-of-41 on 2-point shots.
We just didnt make shots that weve made, he said. We didnt do as well as we shouldve on execution. They had a lot to do with that.
There were many similarities in the two meetings, mainly in that the visitors never got their normal game going.
The home team took a 20-point lead in the second half, Mercer at 6:47 and Florida Gulf Coast at 2:26. The visitors biggest lead was small and early, Florida Gulf Coast by one at 14:41 and Mercer by 1one at 18:05.
Mercer had the 3-point edge at home, and both teams made five Friday, Florida Gulf Coast making four more than it did in Macon. Of course, Florida Gulf Coasts percentage went up nearly 25 points, while Mercers fell 12.
A major difference was at the line. The teams combined to go 26-of-42 in Macon, while the Eagles alone were 24-of-37 at home. Florida Gulf Coast had 18 fouls in both games, Mercer had seven more Friday.
The visitors struggled with scoring balance both times. Two of Florida Gulf Coasts starters were 2-for-7 with four points in Macon, and Langston Hall was the only Mercer starter to reach double figures Friday, the other four combining for 9-for-27. And the Eagles got a 16-point improvement from the bench, normally an edge to Mercer.
One worry after such a game is having a hangover. The other typical scenario is a team extremely anxious to get back on the court and regain its stride.
Historically, these guys have been really good in those situations, Hoffman said. I think they know whats at stake, and theyll be ready to play at a high level.