Mercer welcomes North Florida in must-win A-Sun game

mlough@macon.comFebruary 26, 2014 

MercerSteston

Mercer guard Langston Hall (21) drives the ball up court during the first half of their game against Stetson Saturday.

JASON VORHEES — jvorhees@macon.com Buy Photo

So much has happened since Mercer played North Florida early in the A-Sun season.

The Bears are 12-2 and the Ospreys 6-8 since North Florida’s 89-83 win Jan. 1.

Stakes are high for both teams when Mercer welcomes North Florida on Thursday in the penultimate game of the regular season.

Mercer is 22-7 and 13-3 in A-Sun play, while North Florida is 14-15 and 8-8. Both have clinched spots in the A-Sun tournament, but nobody has cemented a seed yet. Mercer is set at one of the top two seeds, and North Florida is in a logjam after that.

North Florida came out sizzling in the first meeting with the Bears, who had just broken a slump at Jacksonville and watched senior Bud Thomas suffer a broken nose.

The Ospreys had a double-digit margin less than six minutes into the game, were up 14 at halftime and doubled that lead at the 6:10 mark of the second half.

“We didn’t make many shots,” Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. “They played with a lot of energy, and they hit all kinds of 3s, just blew us out, essentially.”

But from then on, Mercer’s backups stormed back, remarkably outscoring North Florida 37-15 in a half-dozen minutes.

“We were playing differently,” Hoffman said of the strategy executed by Ike Nwamu, Kevin Canevari, Phillip Leonard, T.J. Hallice, Jibri Bryan and Darious Moten. “We fullcourt pressed them, attacking the rim. The guys we had on the floor for what we were trying to do were best suited for that style.”

The Ospreys were unable to turn that big win into sustained momentum. North Florida has had one two-game winning streak since the win and is on its third two-game losing streak in that span.

North Florida (14-15 overall) is tied with Lipscomb at 8-8, two games behind East Tennessee State and USC Upstate, who play their final regular-season game Friday.

Travis Wallace is averaging 12.3 points and 7.3 rebounds (second in A-Sun) per game. Freshman Dallas Moore had 21 points on 5-of-8 3-point shooting in the first meeting, and Wallace had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

“I really like their freshman point guard,” Hoffman said of Moore. “You throw on top of that Travis Wallace, one of the best post players in the league. And they’ve got one of the top threats with Beau Beech ... from the perimeter.”

It’s another must-win for Mercer to stay alive for the top seed and tournament home-court advantage.

The Bears responded from Friday’s 75-61 loss to Florida Gulf Coast with a strong second half in routing Stetson 73-52 on Sunday.

Thursday marks the next-to-last regular-season home game for seniors Thomas, Canevari, Langston Hall, Jake Gollon, Anthony White Jr., Monty Brown and Daniel Coursey.

“It’s a hard week, a tough week,” Hoffman said. “But with a lot at stake, I think our guys will be ready to play.”

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