The Mercer Bears are headed to the Southern Conference Championship game for the third straight year after beating Samford 81-44 behind a dominant first quarter.
SoCon Player of the Year Kahlia Lawrence scored 10 of the Bears’ 22-first quarter points while Samford was held scoreless for the first 7 minutes and shot a meager 2-of-14 from the floor in the opening period.
The Bulldogs bit back in the second quarter, holding their own and losing the quarter by only 2 points —18-16 — as the Mercer defense gave up some easier looks in the paint.
But Samford wouldn’t use that momentum to ever threaten in the second half. The Bulldogs would never get any closer than 16 during quarters three and four as Mercer’s offense continued to score at a high efficiency.
Never miss a local story.
After outscoring Samford 16-10 in the third, Mercer’s offense paced the blowout in the fourth quarter as it scored 25 points to Samford’s 14.
Three who mattered
Lawrence: The senior finished with 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the floor and also chipped in four rebounds and two assists.
KeKe Calloway: She shot only 1-of-4 from the 3-point line but still finished with 11 points, six rebounds and three assists.
Sydni Means: Efficient from the floor, Means was a perfect 4-of-4 for 9 points and added eight assists and three rebounds.
Nearly twice as good: The Bears’ offense led the charge, shooting 59 percent from the field while Samford shot only 33 percent. Mercer’s mark is its best shooting percentage in a game this season.
Team effort: Lawrence led the charge on the offensive end, but six other players scored at least 6 points: Calloway (11), Amanda Thompson (11), Means (nine), Kayla Potts (eight), Rachel Selph (six) and Alex Williams (six). Six players also had at least three rebounds.
History in the SoCon: The Bears also became only the sixth team to win 29 games in a season, tying five Chattanooga squads that have done so.
Dominant from the start: The Bears have never trailed through two games at the SoCon Tournament. Mercer won the first quarter 20-11 in the first round and held a 22-4 advantage against Samford in the second round.
Three in a row: Mercer will play in its third-straight SoCon Championship game. The Bears lost to Chattanooga the last two seasons and will be looking for their first-ever appearance to the NCAA Tournament with a win.
They said it
Head coach Susie Gardner on getting off to good starts: “It shows me we’re kind of having the snowball effect of Senior Night when we played our last home game and the emotion and excitement and realization that the tournament is here. You lose, and you go home. You can’t afford to have lulls.”
Lawrence on what she has learned from losses in the championship game: “It’s not fun to lose. We worked really hard from last year to get to this point … I think my teammates and I have put a lot of focus into these first two games in order to make it to Sunday’s game. The biggest thing we’ve learned is just that we have to keep that focus going into Sunday and not relinquish it. We can’t stop what we’re doing right now.”
Gardner on the shooting percentage: “[Lawrence] was obviously hot. You could tell that she was hot … Shooting is somewhat contagious. When someone is hot, it takes the pressure off of other people sometimes … We work on shooting a lot. Especially lately, because we haven’t been grinding it out in practice, we’ve been spending a whole lot of times to get extra shots up because we know you have to hit shots to win championships.”
Calloway on playing well in Asheville: “What we’re playing for, coming in to win the tournament championship, you have to bring your A game or else we lose and you’re out of it.”
The Bears will play the winner of No. 2 seed East Tennessee and No. 6 UNCG in the championship game Sunday at noon.