Bob Hoffman walked slowly behind his players as they happily sat for another huddle, at the end of regulation.
No upper-level lip-reading class was necessary for what Hoffman said: ”Wow.”
Mercer overcame an 18-point first-half and 15-point halftime deficit to force overtime but couldn’t make the second-half work pay off and fell 94-90 to Belmont in A-Sun men’s basketball Saturday afternoon at the University Center.
Mercer fell to 3-5 overall and 0-2 in A-Sun play after its fourth straight loss.
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Belmont improved to 6-2 and 2-0 with its second overtime on the road trip. The Bruins nipped Kennesaw State 75-70 in overtime on Thursday.
James Florence led Mercer with 25 points, with Danny Emerson and Brian Mills adding 14 each. Brandon Moore chipped in 13 points and E.J. Kusnyer 12. Emerson had 14 rebounds in his latest double-double.
Ian Clark’s 22 points paced Belmont, which got 20 from Mick Hedgepeth. Keaton Belcher scored 14 and Kerron Johnson 13.
The Bruins shot 47 percent for the game, including 50 percent in the first half.
Mills was big late in regulation as well as overtime. In the extra period, he scored on a putback, stripped a Bruins player of the ball and then hit two free throws, giving Mercer an 84-82 lead.
Florence tied it at 87 on a 3-pointer with 1:51 left, but that was countered by Johnson for a 3-point Belmont lead.
Emerson couldn’t get the roll, then was stripped when he went back up after getting the rebound.
“I was going to dunk it, but somewhere in between thinking about dunking it and actually jumping, I realized I had no legs left,” Emerson said. “So it was kind of a mid-air alteration.”
Belmont missed, but Florence’s rough day at the line — 4-for-8 — continued when he made 1-of-2 free throws with 16.8 seconds left.
Johnson was perfect on two tries at the line with 4.6 seconds later, and Emerson’s stuff made it a 92-90 game with 3.3 seconds remaining.
Mercer called timeout, and then Belmont called time after struggling to get the ball in.
Clark was fouled with 2.8 seconds left after a long pass, and he hit both to seal it.
Mercer trailed by 15 at halftime, worked its way back into the game.
The Bears took the lead on Kusnyer’s 3-pointer from the left corner with 2:32 left, but that lasted for all of 22 seconds when Clark scored.
Mills’ bucket low brought Mercer to within 76-75, but House got an offensive rebound behind about four players, and Belmont grabbed a timeout with 33.4 seconds left.
Mercer called timeout, and Hedgepeth hit two from the line with 18.8 seconds left for a 78-75 lead. The game was delayed for about the fifth time because of problems with the clock and scorer’s table.
Florence drew the double team and flipped it to Kusnyer, who drained the 3-pointer from the right side with 9.7 seconds left.
Johnson drove and tried to lob it inside, but Emerson tipped it away and Kusnyer came up with it, leading to overtime.
Belmont led 6-0 and 12-2 before Mercer, with all second-teamers on the floor, showed a spark and pulled within 18-15 with 10:37 left in the half.
“I’ve probably only done that a handful of times in 30 years,” Hoffman said of yanking the starters. “I don’t really like that, but I just reached the point where we had to try something.”
And then the spark was doused.
Belmont got 3-pointers from House and Belcher to start a 12-2 run for a 30-17 lead that grew to 46-28 as Belmont shooters had some room.
“Our defense in the first half was terrible,” Kusnyer said. “I just think we came out without enough energy, which is ridiculous.”
Mercer had some empty possessions late in the half, twice missing close-in shots and going scoreless the final 1:49 and taking no advantage of Belmont’s half-ending drought of 3:10.
Down 46-31 at the half, the Bears emerged with more energy and sharpness, and cut it to 48-40 on Kusnyer’s 3-pointer.
Florence’s drive pulled Mercer within 59-54 with 10:29 left, setting up the good finish and overtime.