Entering Saturday’s game against Wofford, Mercer was averaging 12 turnovers per game.
The Bears had 13 in the first half against the Terriers. That and a season-low 21 points in the opening half led to Mercer’s (18-14, 11-7) 73-53 loss to Wofford in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference Tournament.
Stephon Jelks was the lone bright spot in the first 20 minutes, scoring 14 of Mercer’s 21 points as the team shot 33 percent from the field. Wofford took advantage of Mercer’s sloppy hand, scoring 16 points off turnovers en route to a 37-21 lead at the half.
But the Bears clawed back midway through the second half. Jordan Strawberry scored 14 of his team-high 18 points after the break. His 3-pointer with about 12 minutes remaining cut Wofford’s lead to 48-39.
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But Mercer would claw no closer. Wofford had an answer for every Mercer momentum swing, led by the duo of Nathan Hoover — 22 points — and Cameron Jackson — 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Three who mattered
Stephon Jelks: The senior paced the way in the first half but scored only two points after the break, finishing with 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting. He also added a team-high 10 rebounds.
Jordan Strawberry: The guard scored a team-high 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting and added five assists.
Desmond Ringer: Jelks’s partner down low, Ringer finished one rebound shy of a double-double as he scored 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting.
Sloppy at the start: The Bears fell behind early because of poor offense. Mercer opened the game 2-of-11 from the field and gave the ball away six times in the first nine minutes. Halfway through the period, the Bears already trailed by 12. Mercer lost five turnovers in the second half, totaling 18 for the game.
Struggles from Ross Cummings: The standout guard from the last 11 games was ice cold from the floor, scoring zero points on 0-of-6 shooting. Over the last 11 games — with leading scorer Ria’n Holland out — Cummings averaged 14.9 points per game.
Terrific trio: Jelks, Strawberry and Ringer combined for 45 of the team’s 53 points. Only two other players — Demetre Rivers (five) and Cory Kilby (three) — scored a point.
Streak snapped: The Bears entered the tournament on an eight-game winning streak, their longest ever in SoCon play.
Struggles in Asheville: For the second straight year, the Bears lost in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. Mercer has not won the SoCon since joining it in the 2014-15 season.
Farewell to the seniors: The Bears will lose five starters to graduation: Holland, Strawberry, Jelks, Ringer and Rivers.
They said it
Head coach Bob Hoffman on the loss: “We just got our tails whipped. We weren’t ready like I hoped we would be … It was a really physical game, as it seems to be here a lot. We didn’t respond liked I’d hoped, and the game got away from us with the turnovers.”
Hoffman on the turnovers: “They played really good defense. They got into us pretty good, and we didn’t respond like you have to in those situations.
Hoffman on Cummings: “He just couldn’t get it going early … It was a little different game than the last few games we’ve played in conference play, and he didn’t respond as well as I’d like … It wasn’t his day, but it wasn’t our day either.”
Strawberry on fighting back from a double-digit deficit: “When you put yourself in a hole like that, it’s really hard. You fight so hard to come back, and then you come down and they hit a big 3 … It’s really hard, but we tried to fight our best.”
Strawberry on approaching the second half: “(I) just try to keep attacking, getting downhill (and) getting fouls … I just try to stay in attack mode.”
The Bears will wait to see if they receive an invitation to a postseason tournament.