Mercer must prove itself

rseibel@macon.comFebruary 27, 2014 

The Mercer men’s basketball team looked the gift horse in the mouth Thursday night.

How’s that for a cliche? But that’s about the only family friendly way to state what happened in A-Sun basketball action.

The Bears had a golden opportunity to all but clinch the No. 1 seed for next week’s conference tournament, thanks to Florida Gulf Coast’s loss to Lipscomb. But Mercer failed to defend its home court for the first time this season, losing to North Florida in overtime.

At a time of the season when bold statements need to be made, Mercer has been anything but bold in a pair of losses within the past week.

It’s time to wake up, Mercer. And quick.

It’s hard enough for teams from small conferences to enter the conversation for at-large berths into the NCAA tournament. Last year, only one team from a non-BCS, non-traditional basketball conference (Middle Tennessee State) reached the tournament as an at-large team. And the Blue Raiders had to play in a First Four contest in Dayton, Ohio.

That’s just one true outsider out of 37, and those are not very good odds. And even that chance went by the wayside for Mercer with losses to Florida Gulf Coast and North Florida.

What that means for Mercer is that the Bears, who currently sit on 22 wins, have no choice but to win the A-Sun tournament in order to make the field of 68. And that’s something that Mercer hasn’t done yet under head coach Bob Hoffman. Twice Mercer has reached the A-Sun title game, and twice Mercer has lost.

Last week’s game at Florida Gulf Coast could have provided Mercer a path -- not a lock, just a path -- toward an at-large berth. A victory over the Eagles, last year’s NCAA tournament darlings, likely would have given Mercer some bubble consideration. But the Bears looked a bit intimidated in the second half, something that is easy to do when a team doesn’t catch any breaks -- officiating or otherwise -- against a team that’s playing at an arena full of its own fans and lost 75-61.

And then there was Thursday night’s train wreck finish against North Florida, in which the Ospreys seemingly wanted it more at the end of regulation and into overtime. It was almost as if Mercer was playing a bit tentatively, tightening up in big moments. And hesitation in basketball is not a good thing.

Even the best college basketball teams have stormy days. But Mercer has endured too many stormy days to be attractive to the selection committee. Such is the life of a team in one of the NCAA’s smallest conferences.

Now Mercer needs to break through and win the conference tournament. It’s as simple as that. It’s the one thing this senior class, a class that sparked a complete turnaround in a program that was mediocre at best just a few years ago, can do to cement its legacy.

Or, to use another cliche, it’s time for Mercer to finish the drill.

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

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