The scene was perfect.
The star from Marietta was ready to beat the school from Marietta with a game-winning 3-pointer from 24 feet out.
But that was the last thing on James Florence’s mind.
“I just really wanted to win that game,” Florence said. “I wasn’t thinking about any of that.”
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Instead, Florence’s shot over a double team went off the left side of the rim, caromed long to the right and hit the floor.
With it, Mercer’s hearts crashed to the hardwood, as well. The Bears couldn’t come up with the plays down the stretch when they needed them and suffered from inconsistency on both ends in losing 71-69 on Wednesday night to Kennesaw State before more than 2,300 at the University Center.
Florence, perhaps more than any other Bears player, was just short of devastated.
“We just didn’t play defense, and I didn’t make plays,” Florence said, his voice barely above a whisper. “When you’re counted on, you’ve gotta produce, and I didn’t produce.”
Mercer fell to 9-11 overall and 5-5 in the A-Sun with its third straight loss, while Kennesaw State improved to 9-12 and 4-6.
Danny Emerson turned in a major night with 18 points and 16 rebounds while playing the entire game and had almost half of Mercer’s 33 rebounds.
E.J. Kusnyer, who had been struggling from the floor, chipped in 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-10 from 3-point range.
Florence added 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting with six assists and two steals.
The loss was deflating for the Bears, who lost the first of a three-game homestand and blew a chance to move up in the A-Sun standings.
“We got beat by a good team,” Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. “We played hard. We didn’t make enough plays.”
Mercer welcomes Stetson for a women’s/men’s doubleheader Saturday with the women at 1 p.m. and the men at 3:30 p.m.
Florence will be honored before Saturday’s game for breaking Sam Mitchell’s all-time school scoring record earlier this month. Florence now has 2,145 points.
The time between the end of Wednesday’s game and the chance to wipe that taste out of their mouths will be a long one for Florence and the Bears.
There’s a three-way tie for first in the A-Sun with Campbell, Jacksonville and East Tennessee State all at 7-3. Lipscomb is next at 7-4 and Belmont at 6-5.
“The last three games, it’s been inconsistency,” Emerson said after his 26th career double-double. “We just, I don’t know. The biggest thing right now is at the end of games. If two plays happen differently, we’re 7-3 and everybody’s happier.”
The game was tied 15 times and had 13 lead changes.
Kennesaw State led 66-59 on Markeith Cummings’ layup with 4:53 left. Mercer took a 67-66 lead on Emerson’s layup off of Jeff Smith’s feed with 1:42 left. A 3 from Kurtis Woods was countered by Brian Mills putback for a tie at 69 with 1:03 remaining.
Cummings led Kennesaw State with 25 points while Spencer Dixon added 13 and LaDaris Green 12.
Dixon cruised into the lane and dropped a soft runner for the lead with 37 seconds left. Florence’s drive didn’t fall, and Dixon missed a free throw with 26.5 seconds left, keeping Mercer alive.
The ball was kicked out of bounds with 4.7 seconds left, and the Bears had a play set up.
“I was supposed to come off a flair, and (Kusnyer) was supposed to go to the corner,” Florence said. “All of it broke down.”
Florence tried to maneuver around but didn’t really get a good look at the basket with two Owls rushing at him, not that it mattered.
“When the ball’s in your hands and you’re entrusted by everybody in the gym and you let everybody down, it hurts,” Florence said,