In their two games against Western Carolina this season, the Mercer Bears really have struggled to find their shooting touch.
And it’s no coincidence that the Bears lost both of those contests.
After shooting 29.6 percent in an eight-point loss at Western Carolina last month, the Bears shot 38.3 percent Thursday to drop a 58-54 decision. Mercer falls to 14-12 overall and 9-4 in Southern Conference play with its second home loss of the season.
The Catamounts improve to 13-13 overall and 8-6 in the conference.
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“It was a tough one,” junior Jibri Bryan said. “We just have to do a better job of executing and listening to the coaches. They’re a good team. They played well, and they followed their game plan, and they shot it well. We just didn’t do the things we’re supposed to do to win games.”
Mercer really struggled in the first half, shooting just 31 percent (9-of-29) from the floor, including 1-of-9 on 3-pointers, but it still led 26-24. In the second half, the Bears were better, knocking down 9-of-18 shots, but they were still only 2-of-7 on 3-pointers.
And the shooting woes really were evident on the free-throw-line, where Mercer hit just 15-of-26 (57.7 percent).
Jibri Bryan led the Bears with 12 points, while T.J. Hallice finished with 11.
“We’re a young team, and when we get down, sometimes we feel like one shot is going to get us back,” Bryan said. “But we just have to keep battling.”
Still, the game was tight throughout. Mercer’s largest lead was five, late in the first half, while the Catamounts’ lead reached seven with 2:06 to play. The Bears had led 47-46, but Western Carolina went on a 9-1 run to take control and then held off Mercer’s attempt to get back in it.
Mike Brown keyed that run with two 3-pointers, and James Sinclair hit another in a theme of the night for the Catamounts.
While the Bears made just three 3-pointers, Western Carolina made 11-of-17 -- 5-of-9 in the first half and 6-of-8 in the second half.
Brown led Western Carolina with 14 points, while Sinclair and Rhett Harrelson each had 13. Brown and Harrelson each hit four 3-pointers, while Sinclair made three.
“They’re a physical team, and it was a physical game,” Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. “We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities at the free-throw line, missing 11 free throws, and that ended up being the difference in the game. We knew going in that they could shoot, but it was like we couldn’t find them.
“They’re a good team. They have had a lot of games in conference play where they haven’t had everybody. But both times we’ve played them, they’ve had everybody, and they have beaten us soundly both times.”
Mercer returns to action Saturday at home against UNC Greensboro. The Bears beat the Spartans 76-55 last month.