The good news for Mercer was the return of Ry’van Buchanan after four games.
The bad news was she could play only limited minutes, and Mercer needed to be at full strength against a deep East Tennessee State team.
The Lady Bucs used that deep bench and an advantage inside for a 75-59 win Thursday night over Mercer in A-Sun women’s basketball at the University Center.
Mercer had no answer for wing Destiny Mitchell, a 5-foot-11 sophomore from Randolph Clay. She had 30 points, almost three times her average of 10.7 points.
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“We tried several people on her,” Mercer head coach Susie Gardner said. “We asked people during timeouts, who could, who would guard her. And no one stepped up.”
The Bears fell to 3-20 overall and 1-11 in A-Sun play with their 13th straight loss. The Lady Bucs improved to 6-16 and 5-6.
ETSU now leads the series 12-9 and beat Mercer for the sixth straight time.
Mercer hosts USC Upstate at 2 p.m. on Saturday. USC Upstate fell to 6-16 and 5-6 after losing 54-45 on Thursday to Kennesaw State.
It was ETSU’s first road win of the season, and was a big one in the race for the A-Sun tournament.
Florida Gulf Coast clinched its first spot to the A-Sun tournament back Saturday, more than a month before the even starts. Stetson is the only other team in the conference likely to finish the regular season with a winning overall record.
Six conference games remain for eight teams, and Mercer is battling Lipscomb, Kennesaw State and ETSU for the final tourney berth, although USC Upstate, North Florida and Jacksonville are no cinches.
The Bears are still mathematically alive but follow Saturday’s game with three straight on the road against Kennesaw State, North Florida and Jacksonville.
Only two games separate fourth place and ninth place.
Ten Lady Bucs average at least 14.5 minutes per game, and the scoring averages for that group ranges from 3.2 points to 10.7, so ETSU throws a lot of bodies at opponents. That was basically the case Thursday with seven Lady Bucs playing at least 15 minutes, although the scoring wasn’t as balanced.
Cara Bowling added 12 points for ETSU.
Former Northeast standout Maria Bond had a contingent in the stands that cheered everything she did, which included the Lady Bucs’ final basket of the first half for a 40-29 lead. She finished with four points, two rebounds and two blocks in 13 minutes.
She was tied for fourth on the team in scoring with 6.7 points per game and is second on the team with 12 blocks.
Briana Williams topped Mercer with 16 while Precious Bridges added 11 and Alicia Williams 10.
The first half marked the return of Buchanan for Mercer. The junior had missed several games with a concussion and was limited in her minutes. The Bears are still without point guard Sharnea Boykin, who suffered the same injury back on Dec. 18. Buchanan finished with five points in seven minutes.
A 10-0 run pulled Mercer back into the game late in the first half, thanks to a pair of 3s by Alicia Williams. A 14-point lead almost erased, ETSU responded with a 9-2 run in the final 2:40 to re-establish some control and take the 11-point halftime advantage.
Mercer shot better in the second half, but ETSU stayed warm after hitting 51.6 percent in the first half and was able to maintain the lead despite some improved play by Mercer, which was outscored by only five in the second half.
“When we tied it up in the first half, we tied it up by getting deflections and steals and transition layups,” Gardner said. “At halftime, that was our emphasis.
“We did not get any deflections or steals in the second half. We were trying to find five players that would work hard to pressure the ball and get some deflections.”