Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman frequently heaps praise upon the Bears' ability to have players up and down their lineup rise to the occasion.
That was on full display Thursday night in the semifinals of the A-Sun tournament. Mercer edged USC Upstate in a thrilling 78-75 victory at Hawkins Arena.
With the two teams locked in a toe-to-toe fight after regulation, the Bears needed some help in the paint with senior forward Daniel Coursey having fouled out.
Enter junior T.J. Hallice, a forward who had averaged three points and 2.6 rebounds per game prior to Thursday. He stepped up in a large way in extra time. With the game tied at 72 with 1:47 to play in the second overtime period, Hallice came up with an offensive rebound and converted it into what turned out to be the go-ahead score, a 74-72 Mercer lead. Hallice kept momentum in Mercer’s favor on the defensive end. On USC Upstate’s next trip down the floor, Hallice deflected a Spartans pass, which paved the way for him to score on a reverse layup with 46 seconds to go in the second overtime.
“T.J. Hallice made four winning plays for us to get the ‘W,’ and multiple guys did that throughout the game,” Hoffman said. “He has worked diligently on those shots over and over again. The coaches have worked with him and it paid off. It was fun to watch him excited and watch his teammates excited for his success.”
Hallice’s score ended up being critical for the Bears, who held on to win 78-75 when USC Upstate’s Torrey Craig missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Hallice wasn’t the only Mercer player carrying the Bears in critical stages of Thursday’s game. Langston Hall, held scoreless in the first half, scored 21 points after halftime, including a trio of 3-pointers, his first converted shots from 3-point range in more than two games.
Bud Thomas was also scoreless in the first half.
Both Hall and Thomas came to life early in the second half with the Bears trailing by eight points, their largest deficit of the game.
Mercer put together a 9-2 run with all of the scoring coming from Hall and Thomas, with a pair of Hall free throws retaking the lead for Mercer, 42-40 with 12:30 to play.
“It’s happened all year that way,” Hoffman said. “That’s the characteristic of this team. They find ways and keep going after it. They were ready and willing when their chances came.”