Mercer’s basketball teams have made a strong first impression on the Southern Conference.
That continued Tuesday with the women’s team capturing major conference awards and the men’s team earning first-team all-conference honors as the teams prepare for their debuts in the conference tournament.
Senior Precious Bridges was named the conference’s women’s player of the year and earned first-team all-conference honors, while teammate Kahlia Lawrence was named the freshman of the year and was picked for the conference’s all-freshman team. Both players earned the honors through the media and coaches’ votes.
“When I first heard, my teammate (Briana Williams) texted me, and I thought she was playing,” Bridges said. “And then I saw (head coach Susie) Gardner come in to my study hall, and then I started crying because I was excited. I didn’t think I’d get it because it was our first year in the conference, but I guess I made a big enough statement.”
Bridges led the conference in scoring, averaging 20.2 points per game, becoming the first player to average at least 20 points since the 2006-07 season. She also ranked third in the conference in assists (3.8) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7) while leading the conference by playing 38.3 minutes per game.
Lawrence led all conference freshmen by averaging 13.5 points per game, and she also averaged 5.3 rebounds per game.
“A lot of credit goes to those players and all their hard work, but credit also goes to our assistant coaches for working with the and developing their skills and also their teammates,” Gardner said. “I’m really happy for them, but it’s great for our whole Mercer women’s basketball program.
“I felt like they both at some point in the year said, ‘I’m going to really get after this,’ and for them to be successful helps us be successful as a team.”
On the men’s side, Darious Moten and Ike Nwamu were selected for the coaches’ all-conference first team, and they were second-team picks by the media. Also, Stephon Jelks was a first-team all-freshman pick by the coaches.
“My first time being all-conference anything, except for academic all-conference, so it was nice to have that acknowledgement of all my hard work,” Moten said.
Bob Hoffman’s program didn’t have anyone picked in the preseason awards. Both Mercer programs finished third in the regular season.
The women play Wofford at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday in the first round of the conference tournament, while the men face VMI at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday in the second round. The tournament is played in Asheville, North Carolina.
“It’s great for them individually, but it’s tremendous for our team,” Hoffman said, “because when you start the year and nobody recognizes any of your guys as potential all-conference and now for us to have two for what they have done, it’s special. You have to have a good year, and they have done that, and you have to do well as part of the team, and they have made big contributions to our success.”