Precious Bridges overcame a poor shooting first half, going 0-for-9 from the field, to score 21 points in the second half, leading Mercer to a 70-65 win over Samford in Southern Conference women’s action Saturday at Hawkins Arena.
The win secured the third seed in the conference tournament for the Bears and came on senior day. Bridges, Alicia Williams, Briana Williams and Teanna Robinson played their final regular-season game for the program.
“The first half was so emotional for me and also so bad for me,” said Bridges, who estimated that she was playing in front of at least 20 relatives. “I was struggling and knew I had to pick it up in the second half because we just could not lose this game. I just tried to give my all, and good things started to happen.”
Mercer struggled early, trailing 14-2 after the first six minutes, but it went on a 10-0 run in the next four minutes to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 14-12. Samford answered, however, behind the shooting of Taylor Reece, who had four 3-pointers in the first half, and outscored Mercer 22-11 for a 36-23 lead at the half. The Bulldogs shot 54 percent from the field in the first half.
The second half was more of the same as Samford built its biggest lead of the game at 43-26 with 15 minutes to play. But Bridges, along with Alicia Williams and Kahlia Lawrence were starting to heat up. Williams, who ended the game with a career-high 24 points, hit a 3-pointer to trim the Bulldogs’ lead to 44-31, and a jumper by Lawrence got to the Bears’ deficit to 11 at 46-35. The Bears continued to cut into the Samford lead and finally got it to single digits at 46-38 on a Bridges jumper with 10 minutes left.
Samford still led 65-59 with 2:21 left, but Bridges scored seven straight points to give the Bears a 66-65 lead with 1:22 left. Williams added two clutch free throws with 29 seconds to play to up the lead to three and then grabbed the rebound off a Samford missed 3-point attempt. Bridges put the game out of reach with two more free throws.
“This team has been through so many close games that we have learned to just never stopped fighting,” said Williams, who added six rebounds. “The seniors were talking the entire game about finding a way to get this win, and thankfully we were able to do that. We have a lot of confidence as a team, and this is a great way to go into the SoCon tournament.”
Mercer head coach Susie Gardner’s team finished the regular season at 17-13 and 9-5 in the conference. Lawrence added 17 for the Bears, while Reece and Krista Stricklin both had 19 for Samford, which settles for the tournament’s fourth seed.
“Samford is a very good basketball team coming off a great win over East Tennessee State, so we knew it would be a very difficult game,” Gardner said. “It was a great win for our seeding, obviously, but even more important, we want to go into the tournament playing our best basketball.
“During the game, I found myself thinking that we just had to find a way to win this game for our seniors, and thankfully, we played a great second half of basketball.”