With a handful of minutes to play, the opportunity was within grasp for Mercer. Trailing by as few as three points, the Bears had a chance to snap an eight-game losing streak and do so against a Jacksonville squad tied for third place in the A-Sun women’s basketball standings.
That chance, however, faded during the game’s closing minutes, with the Dolphins coming up with enough defense and Mercer unable to draw closer than three points in a 76-65 Jacksonville victory.
The Bears found themselves with a fighting chance in this one, following four losses of at least 20 points. A competitive loss, however, is little solace for the Bears, who host North Florida at 2 p.m. on Saturday and have a record of 3-15 and 1-6 in conference play.
“We need to win. Moral victories aren’t in my vocabulary,” Mercer head coach Susie Gardner said.
Briana Williams had no problem finding the basket Thursday, scoring 26 points. But she’d gladly trade those points for a victory.
“I’d trade all of them to get a win,” Williams said. “We played hard, but if I didn’t score 26 and we got more defensive rebounds and got the win, I’d be happy.”
Trailing 56-43 with a little more than 11 minutes to play, Mercer climbed back in it, and it was Williams leading the way.
Williams scored 10 points in a row, one being a 3-pointer, reducing the Jacksonville lead to 58-52 with 8:50 to play.
Suddenly, Mercer, which had been victimized most of the night inside the paint on the defensive end, was coming up with enough stops to give itself a chance.
“We were finally getting stops. They were kind of having their way with us, and then we started getting defensive rebounds,” Gardner said. “During that stretch, we were hitting shots and making stops.”
A pair of Tabitha Bradshaw free throws cut the Jacksonville lead to 58-54 before the Dolphins’ Jade Cargill did likewise, and Jacksonville led 60-54.
With both teams exchanging baskets, Mercer was in a prime position to draw even closer to the lead, but a shot by Precious Bridges bounced off the back iron of the basket, and Cargill converted an offensive board into a lay-up on the opposite end of the floor for a 66-58 Dolphins lead.
The Bears still had another chance.
Williams scored with 1:45 to play to trim the Jacksonville lead to 68-65. Jacksonville answered, however, extending its lead to 70-65 and not allowing Mercer to pull within a possession again to come away with the win.
“They had three offensive rebounds that they scored easily on. It came down to plays at the end, and they trapped us and we turned it over,” Gardner said. “We had a chance and didn’t capitalize on it.”
Jacksonville led early, but Mercer leaned on its outside shooting to stay close. Down 15-8, Mercer responded to the early deficit with 3-pointers by Williams and Bradshaw to tied it at 15. Mercer then surged into the lead, with Sharmesia Smith coming up with an offensive rebounding and converting it into a basket and 17-15 lead for the Bears.
Jacksonville, however, bounced back, leading by as many as seven points before stretching its lead a bit further before halftime.
A long jumper by Ronisha Mitchell and lay-up by Crystal Bell extended the Dolphins lead to 40-29 with less than a minute left in the half. Jacksonville led 42-31 at the half, holding a double-digit lead, which it retained prior to Mercer’s late stab at going out front.
“We come out and dig ourselves a hole and have to fight out,” Williams said. “It’s happening too much.”