Hopefully for the case of players including Sydni Means, Mercer can corral some left-handed scissors in the very near future.
The Bears completed their magical regular season on Saturday afternoon at Hawkins Arena, taking care of East Tennessee State 63-48 to cap an unbeaten 14-0 run through SoCon play.
And Mercer reveled in the victory in style. In addition to celebrating its senior class that has spurred the program’s rise to a conference powerhouse, the team, from the players, coaches and even support staff, celebrated by cutting down the net from the basket, strand by strand with a pair of scissors.
That included the left-handed Means, who had plenty of fun celebrating despite cutting a piece of the net down with right-handed scissors.
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A regular season title in hand and also ranked among the nation’s top 25 teams, a bigger goal now awaits the Bears (27-2, 14-0) — winning a conference tournament title and the automatic berth in the NCAA tournament that comes along with it.
Mercer found itself in control most of the way on Saturday, going on to wear down the Buccaneers (18-11, 11-3) in the second half with a 36-27 lead with less than six minutes to go in the third quarter.
In short, the Bears showed on Saturday what has gotten them to this point. An aggressive defense limited ETSU to 33 percent shooting from the field and forced 17 turnovers. On the offensive end of the court, Mercer was equally as effective, getting 15 points from KeKe Calloway and Kahlia Lawrence as well as 13 from Means. Shooting 83 percent from the free-throw stripe didn’t hurt the Bears, either.
Five who mattered
Lawrence: It seemed fitting that Mercer’s seniors were among those leading the way on Saturday. Lawrence, who had 15 points, was a major factor in Mercer’s starting the game early, scoring four points and getting three steals in the first quarter alone.
Calloway: Even though the Mary Persons product battled some foul trouble, picking up her third foul in the third quarter, her athleticism paid off in the form of six rebounds to go with her 15 points.
Means: Another senior with a big day, she found ways to drive the lane and establish Mercer’s strength close to the basket. She scored 13 points and tied for the team lead with a trio of steals.
Alex Williams: The senior forward from College Park fought hard around the boards, and that tenacity was rewarded with a game-high eight rebounds. As a result, the Bears were only out-rebounded by three after being nearly ten at a disadvantage in the first half.
Tianna Tarter: Led ETSU with 14 points.
Buzzing arena: It was almost as if the fans at Hawkins Arena on Saturday sensed how special this season has been for the Bears, seeking to soak all of it in for themselves one last time at home. That desire was shown as the crowd was energized from the opening tip, and senior Shon Kitchens scoring off of the opening tip only set things off on the right foot even more.
No letting up: Mercer had already clinched the conference title, so regardless of the result, the Bears would go to the SoCon tournament as the top seed. But Mercer didn’t play like nothing was on the line Saturday. Rather than going through the motions, the Bears put together a strong outing in all phases, an absolute welcome sight going into the conference tournament.
Senior Five: The Bears started the game with all five seniors in the starting positions. Means, Lawrence, Kitchens were joined in the starting lineup by Alex Williams and Kayla Potts.
Foul happy: The whistle of the game’s officials was busy on Saturday. Both teams were whistled for a combined 45 fouls.
They said it
Mercer head coach Susie Gardner on the win: “This day, I don’t know if it could have gone any better. We start five seniors, and Shon Kitchens gets the first layup of the game. The emotion was so dynamic with the players and in the gym. It had that feeling that we don’t feel all the time. It was just an amazing day from the opening tip to cutting down the nets. I’m just really proud of what these guys have accomplished their whole career, not just tonight. It was a really special way to end it.”
Means on the senior class winning its final home game: “It was everything I could ask for and more. Being able to start with our seniors at the beginning. Shon just shooting that first layup set the tempo for the whole game. We started with momentum and the whole team played well.”
Means on the atmosphere at Hawkins Arena on Saturday: “The energy was great, we were feeding off the crowd. To be able to play with heart and emotion around the people that you love, it’s incredible.”
Means on having to use right-handed scissors to cut the net down: “I don’t know what’s up with that. We need to get this figured out, because left handers need love, too.”
Lawrence on the journey of Mercer’s senior class: “To be out there with the four people that came into this journey with me and they are going to end it with me, it’s something really amazing.”
Mercer opens the SoCon tournament against Western Carolina at 11 a.m. Thursday. The tournament takes place in Asheville, N.C.