Jibri Bryan was not having a good week for the Mercer basketball team.
The junior guard suffered through a 0-for-6 performance from the field Thursday night in a loss against Wofford, including 0-for-4 from behind the 3-point line. And Saturday wasn’t going much better in the Bears’ game against East Tennessee State as Bryan was 0-for-4 from behind the 3-point line in the first 39 minutes and 44 seconds.
But Bryan turned things around with one key shot, hitting a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left to lead the Bears to a 69-64 win on senior day.
“I got a great pass from Darious Moten, and my feet were set, and I just took the shot,” Bryan said. “It was one of those shots that as soon as it left my hands, I knew it was going in, and it was a great feeling. My coaches encourage me to keep shooting the ball, and that’s what I am going to do.
“(Saturday) was really about sending (seniors) T.J Hallice and Darious Moten out of here with a win, and the entire team was focused on doing that.”
Moten and Hallice, the only two seniors on the roster had solid games in their final home game, with Moten scoring 16 points and Hallice 12. But ETSU seemed intent on spoiling the day. The Bucs’ biggest lead was 24-12 midway through the first half, but Mercer cut the ETSU lead that to 38-34 at the half. Lester Wilson scored 17 points for ETSU in the first half with five 3-pointers.
ETSU pushed its lead to 46-39 on a Jalen Riley 3-pointer, but Mercer went on a 13-2 run during a seven-minute stretch to grab a 52-48 lead with 9:33 left in the game. Stephon Jelks scored six of his 14 points during that stretch and also had three rebounds.
Mercer upped its lead to 56-50 on a dunk by Moten off a pass from Jordan Strawberry, but ETSU would not go away, outscoring Mercer 9-1 during the next two minutes to take a 59-57 lead with four minutes left.
The Bears caught ETSU at 64 on two Ike Nwamu free throws with a minute left, and after a missed 3-pointer from ETSU, Moten took an inbounds pass, drove into the paint and passed to Bryan, who hit the game-winner. Nwamu added two more free throws to put the game away with one second left.
As Nwamu walked to the free-throw line, Hallice and Moten shared an emotional embrace.
“That was four years of love and respect for Darious,” Hallice said. “We used to play one-on-one for 30 minutes or so every single day, and we just have that brotherhood. There was just no way that we were going to lose this basketball game.”
The Bears finish the regular season at 17-14 and 12-6 in Southern Conference play. They will be seeded third in this week’s conference tournament.
“Things were looking bleak for a while,” Hoffman said. “Every game is big right now, and hopefully, this game will give us a little juice heading into the SoCon tournament. I could not ask for better seniors and the way T.J. and Darious have embraced being leaders for this basketball team. I was so excited to see them have such great days.”