The celebrations were two nights earlier, but Mercer brought in the new year very much in style.
The Bears turned in a sizzling first half, and that was more than enough for an impressive 76-54 win Monday night over Florida Gulf Coast in A-Sun men’s basketball at the University Center.
Mercer had some second-half struggles on offense, but the defense was pretty much there throughout the night.
“That’s the focal point for us,” Mercer forward Justin Cecil said. “We’re a defensive-minded squad.”
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Mercer’s defense was all over the No. 2 team in the A-Sun in field goal shooting. FGCU entered the game at 46.1 percent, just behind Belmont’s 46.5 mark.
Something had to give in that area: Mercer is first in field goal defense, allowing 38.6 percent.
In the first half, Mercer held FGCU to 34.6 percent (9-of-26) shooting. Thanks to a better offensive second half, FGCU finished at 41.7 percent, still below its average.
“I thought we were really good,” Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. “Offensively was good, but defensively was feeding our offense. We were excited about guarding. When this team does that, and plays like they did collectively, team defense, we’ll be a hard out.”
Mercer (10-6, 2-1) hosts Stetson -- 5-8 and 2-1 after Monday’s 66-62 win at Kennesaw State -- at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
It was FGCU’s worst loss of the season, easily surpassing Miami’s 10-point win at home in November.
The 22 points tied Mercer’s largest victory margin of the season, a 60-38 win over Sam Houston State.
The Bears racked up some impressive numbers across the board.
Mercer post players Monty Brown and Daniel Coursey teamed for six of Mercer’s season-high eight blocks, and they altered countless shots.
Langston Hall was blanked in the scoring column, but he turned in a career-high nine assists as the Bears had a season-high 22 assists on 29 baskets.
Jake Gollon was halfway to a triple-double in the first half, but he finished with a quality night of nine points, seven rebounds and six assists in 29 minutes.
Cecil had a career high of 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting, 3-of-7 on 3-pointers. Bud Thomas added 13 and Travis Smith 11.
Mercer’s shooting percentage finally dropped below 50 percent after about 32 minutes, finishing at 46 percent.
Mercer got off to a quality start and took its initial double-digit lead on Gollon’s three-point play with 10:53 left in the first half. The margin went from 15 to 10 until Cecil hit consecutive 3-pointers within 50 seconds for a 37-21 lead with 2:37 remaining.
Gollon drove the baseline and was in traffic, but he found Cecil, who hit a 12-footer and was fouled with 1.6 seconds left. He made the free throw, and the Bears had a 43-23 halftime lead.
“I think it was one of our better halves this year,” Cecil said. “We were able to keep it going through the entire half and didn’t really have any letdowns.”
The margin dropped below 20 four times in the second half, for all of 92 seconds, even with the Bears losing their edge and committing six straight turnovers.
Mercer had been on the road since Dec. 18 and played five games, stretching from New Jersey to Georgia to Oklahoma to Maryland. The Bears went 2-3 on that run but could have gone 4-1, so Hoffman wanted his team to think it was still somewhere else.
“What I told the guys before the game is true,” Hoffman said. “ ‘We’ve got to act like we’re on the road and bring the same kind of energy and determination and desire that you guys had on the road. If you go that way, not expecting to get wins just because you walk on the floor because you’re at home and relaxed, then good things are going to happen.’
“I thought we fed off that.”