Mercer defends home court, stops North Florida

The sluggishness of the first 20 minutes weren’t unexpected, coming only two days after one of Mercer’s biggest home wins in a few seasons.

The second 20 minutes were more of what the Bears hoped for.

E.J. Kusnyer hit two 3-pointers in the first 90 seconds of the second half to get Mercer going to a 74-55 win Monday night over North Florida at the University Center.

The Bears improved to 14-11 overall and 8-6 in the A-Sun with their third straight win. The Ospreys fell to 5-19 and 3-11.

“I was telling some of the guys, ‘I gotta hit some shots; you guys are giving me wide open looks and I’m killing your assists,” Kusnyer said after scoring 12 points on 4-of-8 3-point shooting, “especially (Daniel) Emerson, who’s my roommate. He said, ‘Kush, you’re killin’ me.’”

James Florence led Mercer with 26 points, going 8-for-13 overall despite missing all four 3-point attempts.

Florence played 37 minutes and shot well despite playing with a thick bandage on his left thumb, which was sliced open midway through the second half of Saturday’s win.

“I didn’t feel it; it’s numb,” said Florence, who was perfect on 10 free-throw tries. “I couldn’t go left, and they started to push me left. I don’t know how I pulled that one off. I hope it’s better by the weekend.”

Emerson turned in another double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds while Brian Mills added 10 points.

Mercer embarks on a two-game road swing in Florida, visiting Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday and Stetson on Monday.

The Bears were still a little ragged after Saturday’s thrilling win over Jacksonville, and the Ospreys haven’t been an easy opponent lately despite their poor record.

They had split their past four games, playing conference leader East Tennessee State within three before losing and knocking off fifth-place Stetson.

North Florida stayed close in the first half and Mercer settled for a 30-22 halftime lead.

Mercer got off to a 13-6 second-half start with nine points coming from Kusnyer on 3-pointers. Mills warmed up and had a pair of 3-pointers as the Bears put the game out of reach with more than 12 minutes left.

Not that those final 12 minutes were all that smooth. The Bears had some sloppy possessions and traded baskets with the Ospreys, with the margin ranging from 18 to 24 for 11 of the final 12 minutes.

“It was one of those games where you have to get up and find a way to keep going and make sure they don’t get back in the game,” Kusnyer said. “We didn’t want to have a hangover. We’ve seen that all year.”

Mercer shot 81.3 percent from the floor in the second half.

“We missed three shots in the second half,” Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. “We either made it or threw it away, it seemed like.

“But those are the kinds of games you can lose. It’s a credit to our guys, staying focused to get the job done.”