The Mercer basketball team has been searching for a spark and some balance to its attack coming off the bench.
Freshman Jordan Strawberry has provided that recently, and his improved play has come at the perfect time for the Bears.
Strawberry played well in road games against Georgia and Texas A&M as the team prepares to return to Southern Conference play Saturday.
“He has played well, and we need him to continue to play well,” Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. “He has found some shots and has given us a boost.”
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Strawberry has played in every game of the Bears’ 6-8 start, and he has averaged 15.1 minutes and 6.0 points per game.
But he really picked up his play against Georgia and Texas A&M the past two games. Against the Bulldogs, he played 40 minutes and scored 21 points, hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. The Bears also got plenty of help off the bench from junior Jestin Lewis and freshman Stephon Jelks.
Strawberry backed that up against the Aggies with 12 points in 24 minutes.
“My confidence level is high; coming off that Georgia game and going into that Texas A&M game, I had a lot of confidence,” Strawberry said. “So I’m just shooting the ball with a lot of confidence. (Against Georgia) I hit my first couple of shots, and then I just felt good.
“I hit my first couple of shots, and I just got into a groove. Then I hit the one big shot and felt good in overtime.”
Mercer plays Saturday at UNC Greensboro and Monday at VMI. The Bears are 1-0 in their first year in the conference, beating VMI last month.
Mercer hasn’t played at home since beating Bethune-Cookman on Dec. 19 and won’t be at home again until facing The Citadel on Jan. 10.
“Our mindset is that we haven’t lost in 2015, and we’re 1-0 in conference,” Hoffman said. “We knew it was going to be a really hard stretch, and we’re halfway through it. The mindset is that any game we can win on the road (in conference play) puts us in position to win a championship, and we have three opportunities to go get some against some really good teams.
“If we can do that, we can put ourselves in a really good position.”
Despite the three-game losing streak on the road to SEC programs, Strawberry likes the position the Bears are in as they get back into conference action.
“I think we’re going in (conference play) in a good way,” he said. “We tested ourselves in the non-conference, and we played some tough non-conference games on the road, and those really tested us. It helps us a lot because we’re a young team, and we’ve played against some high major teams, and we’ve been in those games. And those games will prepare us, and I think we’re ready.”