One might think that a 34-point win to break a three-game losing streak means a team is back on track.
Then again, that same team lost three in a row after winning five straight. The losses? To teams lower in the conference. The wins? To teams higher in the conference.
Welcome to Mercer men’s basketball and the A-Sun, 2009-10 edition.
Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said earlier in the season that the Bears had enough talent to win every conference game the team played. And then A-Sun play started, and it was clear that literally every team can beat every other team. Strange things, Hoffman has said more than once, await all in the A-Sun.
Mercer has beaten first-place Jacksonville and tied-for-third Campbell. Mercer also lost to second-place Lipscomb and fifth-place Belmont. The Bears are 2-2 against the bottom three teams in the conference, Florida Gulf Coast, Stetson and USC Upstate.
The Bears hope that Saturday’s 91-57 win over Stetson has them back to playing the kind of basketball they showed during an impressive five-game winning streak and restores some confidence.
“That’s one thing that Coach Hoffman and the whole coaching staff do a really good job of, keeping things consistent and level-headed,” senior forward Danny Emerson said. “When we’re winning five straight, he doesn’t let us get too big a head. And when we’re losing three straight and not playing well, he doesn’t let us get too down.”
Despite that three-game losing streak, by a total of 10 points, Mercer came out looking and playing confident on Saturday against Stetson, the team that started the losing streak Jan. 22.
“No clue,” Hoffman said of his pre-Stetson expectations or if he foresaw such a rout. “This doesn’t make the season, but it was a big win for our team.”
James Florence, honored before Saturday’s game for becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer, is battling something of a slump.
The senior guard averaged 16.3 points during the losing streak and is scoring at an 11.7-point pace the past three games, a chunk below his average of about 20.
“Flo’s still not getting in his offensive rhythm,” Hoffman said. “But he’s been doing everything else.”
Florence is shooting at a 42.8-percent clip and averages 5.2 assists to 4.1 turnovers, averaging 33.7 minutes of playing time.
Emerson remains remarkably consistent, averaging 14.9 points and 11.8 rebounds, and he enters the week fifth nationally in the latter stat. He has 13 double-doubles this season — tied for sixth nationally — and in eight of his past 10 games.
Emerson and junior Brian Mills got together recently and agreed to do whatever they could to get 20 rebounds a game between the two of them.
“Then Danny goes out and gets like 16 and I get two,” Mills said with a laugh. “I have to step it up and help him out.”
Mills averages 6.3 rebounds and had 14 rebounds in the Stetson win, missing a double-double by a point.
“When we combine and get 20 rebounds,” Emerson said, “we have a good chance of winning.”
Guard Jeff Smith has become more of an offensive force and hits 41.2 percent of his 3-pointers. Shooter E.J. Kusnyer has battled inconsistency from long range, but he is 13-of-25 in 3s the past three games.
Mercer has improved noticeably in one area, even during the slump: assists to baskets.
In the past nine games, the Bears have averaged 16.7 assists on 25.2 baskets, an indication of improved chemistry and teamwork.
But the parity of the A-Sun puts a greater emphasis on execution in every area, and the Bears are a little lacking defensively.
They’re 10th in scoring defense and eighth in field goal defense. But they’ve held opponents under Mercer’s defensive scoring average for four straight games.
“We’re getting better,” Emerson said. “But we still have work to do. We have to be more consistent.”
Mercer is 6-5 in the conference and 10-11 overall. A year ago after 11 and 21 games, the Bears were 11-10 and 5-6.
Tonight’s televised matchup against visiting Florida Gulf Coast ends a three-game homestand.
FGCU (7-14, 4-8) has wins over DePaul and Belmont and ended its own six-game losing streak with a 71-70 win Jan. 24 over Mercer.
So in the wild and wooly A-Sun, do the Eagles come up with the road upset, or do the Bears come close to repeating Saturday’s performance and get some momentum going?
“(Sunday) we go back and work,” Hoffman said. “That’s the way the league is. Enjoy it for an hour. Eat something, get some iced tea and watch some tape.”
And expect the unexpected after the next tipoff.