Mercer women’s basketball is accustomed to winning this season. But it isn’t accustomed to winning close outings.
The Bears won their 20th straight game Saturday in a 48-45 defeat of Samford at Hawkins Arena. It was the first time Mercer has won by single digits since Nov. 30, a 58-57 win over Campbell.
Mercer was cold from the field at the start; it opened 1-of-7 from the field. Neither team pulled away until the Bears connected on five straight field goals to close the quarter on a 9-2 run to lead 18-11 after the first.
But that momentum would not transfer over to the second, third or fourth quarters. The Bears didn’t shoot better than 29 percent in any of the final three quarters, as Samford won each quarter by one point each.
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Because of Mercer’s poor shooting, Samford chipped away at the lead — but slowly. Mercer’s lead peaked at 11 but dropped all the way to only one with less than 10 seconds remaining.
Sydni Means knocked down a pair of free throws with 5.6 seconds remaining to give the Bears a 3-point lead. Samford’s Raven Omar missed on a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have sent the game to overtime.
Three who mattered
KeKe Calloway: Mercer’s second-leading scorer notched a team-high 18 points on 7-of-20 shooting. She also grabbed five rebounds.
Rachel Selph: The junior was efficient from the field — 5-of-7 — en route to 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Means: The standout senior connected on only one field goal but made the pair of important free throws at the end of the game. She finished with eight points, six rebounds and two assists.
Shooting woes: For the game, Mercer shot a meager 32.1 percent from the field. That figure is its lowest of the season; their previous worst was 32.5 percent against Howard on Dec. 21.
Quiet from 3-point land: Calloway was the only Bear to attempt a 3-point shot in the outing. She shot 3-of-9 from the arc.
Scoring off turnovers: Mercer scored nearly a third of its points — 15 — off Samford’s 18 turnovers.
This hasn’t happened often this year: The Bears entered the game with a plus 16.9 scoring margin for the season. Outside of the team’s two losses, Mercer has won by single digits only twice: a 73-64 win over UCF on Nov. 10 and the Campbell victory.
Calloway is on her way to history: With three 3-pointers Saturday, Calloway needs only 13 more this season to break the SoCon single-season record. The Bears have four regular-season games remaining.
Best in the nation: Mercer entered the game leading the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio — 1.82 — and turnovers per game — 9.5. The Bears continued success in those categories with 11 assists and eight turnovers against Samford.
They said it
Head coach Susie Gardner on the field goal percentage: “We shot the ball perhaps our worst for the season. … The only thing good about this game is that we found a way to win.”
Gardner on winning a close game: “It’s been a long time, honestly, since we’ve had a close game. Perhaps it was time for us to have a close game.”
Selph on winning despite struggling: “We just have to keep going. Even though we were all off, we just have to focus and keep going strong. Every team has an off game like that, so it was good to come out with a (win).”
Gardner on learning something from a close game: “I don’t learn much about this team because I’ve been coaching the same team for three years. They are resilient. They do know how to tighten it up when it gets down to the end. … They know what to do.”
The Bears travel to play Western Carolina at 5 p.m. Thursday.