Mercer-USC Upstate a talent-filled heavyweight fight

mlough@macon.comMarch 5, 2014 

MercerTourney

Mercer forward Darious Moten (22) lays up a shot in the lane during their Atlantic Sun 1st round game Tuesday night against Jacksonville.

JASON VORHEES — jvorhees@macon.com Buy Photo

With all due respect, it’s no longer Florida Gulf Coast.

Back in January, it was hyped as the most-hyped A-Sun regular-season game in recent memory. And Mercer won.

About a month later, it was hyped as the most-hyped A-Sun regular-season game in a month. And Mercer lost.

For all of the juicy anticipation leading to those two games, whose impact and relevance remain high, we’re now to the biggest basketball game at Hawkins Arena -- USC Upstate and Mercer in an A-Sun semifinal Thursday.

Remarkably, it’s probably bigger than both Mercer-Florida Gulf Coast matchups ... combined.

If Mercer wins, it will get a chance -- most likely -- to break hearts on the home court of the team that broke its hearts here a year ago. If USC Upstate wins, an air of devastation could fill the arena.

This is without question a tournament championship game dressed as a semifinal, with two championship-caliber teams ready to hunker down.

Any and all exclamations are only minimal hyperbole. Such have been the recent meetings between USC Upstate and Mercer that this one goes very much toward the old “Wide World of Sports” intro regarding the thrill and the agony.

Tickets cost less than almost any combo meal at your favorite drive-thru. This is called “a remarkable steal.”

Considering what the potential of the all-star gathering -- there might be a half-dozen future pros on the court at the same time -- is with lifetime dreams on the line, Mercer would be advised to put collection buckets near the exits. Those on hand should feel guilty about seeing this game for five bucks, regardless the outcome.

I could watch USC Upstate and Mercer play on a regular basis. Like, a couple times a month.

The two most recent meetings at Hawkins Arena were about as good as the game gets, between talent, coaching, fundamentals, athleticism and effort.

You talk about leaving it on the court? Mercer’s staffers folks could be wiping up blood, sweat and tears past lunchtime Friday. These two teams are going to put everything on the line.

We’re talking about a few of the best players in A-Sun history in their final matchup. Almost a dozen seniors. Players who can light it up from 23 feet and test the strength of the rim connector to the glass and play pretty good defense.

Once the horn sounds, it will take an almost herculean effort for one group to make it through the handshake line and back to the locker room. And those in the seats will be tuckered out.

Facebook, our 21st century psychiatrist’s couch and technological hug, regularly displays a bit of Dr. Seuss wisdom.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

It’ll take one team a good while to reach that level of acceptance.

Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 or mlough@macon.com

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