Susie Gardner called it a second chance for the Mercer women’s basketball team’s season.
And the Bears are taking advantage of it.
Mercer fell short of its goal in the Southern Conference tournament, losing in the semifinals to East Tennessee State, but the Bears have responded in the Women’s Basketball Invitational. They beat Troy and Marshall to advance to the semifinals, where they will face Siena at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in Albany, New York.
“It would have been nice to play like this against East Tennessee State,” Gardner said with a smile. “But we got a second life, a second opportunity to keep this thing going, and our players are playing well, and they’re playing together. They’re focused, and they’re having fun. They’re having all the emotions you want them to feel, so it’s pretty special right now.”
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The Bears have improved to 20-14 -- their second 20-win season in three years -- with the two wins in the WBI. They stormed past Troy 83-68 before rallying to beat Marshall 73-71, rallying from a seven-point deficit with 3:11 left to win that game.
“We got off to a rough start in that game against Marshall,” Gardner said. “It was interesting. Every timeout, the huddle was calm. I was talking to them, and they’d say, ‘We’re good. We’re OK.’ I think we only led for 30 seconds, but it was the right 30 seconds.”
Siena, which plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, is 21-12 and beat Stony Brook and Xavier in the first two rounds. The Saints have four players who have started every game, and leading scorer Tehresa Coles has started 32 while averaging 13.3 points per game.
Margo Hetzke and Meghan Donohue both are averaging in double figures, as well, at 13.2 and 10.2 points, respectively. Siena has three starters 5-foot-10 or taller, while the Bears have two -- 5-10 Alicia Williams and 6-5 Teanna Robinson.
“They are tall at every position,” Gardner said. “Except for Teanna, they’re taller than us at every position. They all rebound. We’ll have some tough matchups size-wise. They have a good skill set, and they have played a lot of good teams; they play in a really tough conference.
“It should be a really good game, and we’re looking forward to it. But we’re right there, and it’s just fun right now.”
Mercer has had plenty of fun on the road this season, going 9-7 in true road games and 1-1 in neutral site games. Siena is 9-8 at home.
“We have been good on the road,” Gardner said. “You get in the hotel together and watch film together and practice, and there are no distractions. Our maturity level has been good; we’ve gotten better at that, and this team prepares really well for games."