Mercer looks for momentum at home

The last time Mercer played at home was not a pleasant experience.

Of course, it was on Dec. 5, and Mercer has been literally all over the country since then.

“It was crazy,” guard James Florence said of the stretch that covered three different time zones and ranged from the hills of North Carolina to the bright lights of Los Angeles. “It was a good experience, though. I think it’ll bring something extra for us.”

Florence and the Bears are back at home in need of a win when they host Florida Gulf Coast tonight at the University Center in A-Sun action.

Mercer is 8-8 overall and 2-3 in A-Sun play while Florida Gulf Coast is 8-10 and 4-3. East Tennessee State, Belmont and Jacksonville are 5-1, Florida Gulf Coast is tied with Stetson and Campbell is a half-game ahead of Mercer at 3-3.

The school will honor former basketball star Sam Mitchell at halftime. Mitchell is the Bears’ all-time leading scorer, was named all-conference three times and MVP once.

He’ll get a look at somebody chasing him. Florence has 1,331 points, good for 11th on Mercer’s list and 655 points from tying Mitchell.

In the two previous meetings with Florida Gulf Coast, Florence has scored 60 points. He’ll match up with Reggie Chambers, the current A-Sun player of the week.

The freshman averages 7.6 points and 2.7 rebounds but has scored had 27 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in wins over USC Upstate and East Tennessee State.

“Chambers is really fast,” Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. “His game is a little bit like (Florence). He’s fast with the ball and can shoot the 3.”

Daniel Emerson is 17th nationally with 10.1 rebounds per game, to go with 13.6 points.

Florida Gulf Coast certainly grabbed the conference’s attention on Monday when the Eagles held on to beat East Tennessee State 64-61 for the Bucs’ first A-Sun loss.

“I saw the game live and have watched it a few more times on video,” Hoffman said. “They did a lot of really good things to give themselves a chance to win that game, including big plays at the end to finish it.”

Chambers, who held ETSU standout Courtney Pigram to a 3-of-14 night shooting, was clutch at the end. He stole the ball from Pigram, scored, was fouled and hit the free throw with 37 seconds left to put the Eagles ahead 62-61.

The Eagles have played a good schedule, opening with Kansas and facing Richmond, Bradley, Florida Atlantic, Florida, Michigan, Butler and Army along the way.

They beat FAU and Army but were respectable in losses to Richmond (69-58), Bradley (58-54), Michigan (76-59) and Butler (73-53).

Kyle Marks is a 6-foot-7 transfer from Nebraska who Hoffman said “can dunk over anybody” and averages 9.2 points and 5.8 rebounds. Guard Reed Baker leads Florida Gulf Coast with 14.4 points.

Mercer’s last game at home was an 81-61 thumping by ETSU. The Bears then went 2-6 on the road, ending with a 75-62 win Sunday at North Florida.

“That last game got us rolling,” Florence said. “And with what happened Monday night (ETSU’s loss), we can make a huge jump.

“We need every win. We get on a big run, we’re right back in it.”