Sluggish offense dooms Mercer women

The faces of Courtney Ford and LaToya Jackson spoke volumes.

Their eyes were red. Their expressions were blank.

With a dream stage, at home for the A-Sun tournament and owner of a second seed, what turned out to be their final game for Mercer was a nightmare.

North Florida’s conference-leading defense held the pair to an 8-for-31 night shooting and the Ospreys found the range on offense for a 55-40 win Wednesday night over Mercer in an A-Sun tournament women’s first-round game.

Mercer’s season ended at 14-15, while the North Florida (10-19) faces the Campbell-Jacksonville winner on Friday.

The whole situation that set up nicely for Mercer proved forgettable.

It was the first time in A-Sun women’s history that the No. 7 seed won a game ... against anybody.

“Hmmm,” North Florida head coach Mary Tappmeyer said with a smile. “I’ll take that. Now let’s see if we can beat a (No.) 3 or a 6 next.”

Jackson had 13 for Mercer and Ford 10.

Brittany Kirkland led North Florida with 25 while JulieMay Syquio and Jakhken Kerr had 11 each.

Only at times did Mercer find its rhythm, but never for any extended period.

“We were doing things out there, people taking shots, not characteristic of us,” Mercer head coach Janell Jones said. “We weren’t in sync offensively all night.”

No stats offered solace for the Bears.

Mercer was held to 25.9 percent shooting, was 2-of-22 on 3-pointers, had twice as many turnovers as assists and lost the rebound battle by 12.

The Bears did have 11 steals but converted North Florida’s 20 turnovers into only eight points.

North Florida sent Mercer reeling with a 10-0 start. And for the rest of the game, the Bears tried desperately to get anything going.

“We knew exactly what they wanted to do,” Syquio said. “LaToya wanted to shoot. We tried to make her put it on the ground. Courtney, she’s a real versatile guard. If she looked to drive, make sure she didn’t penetrate middle and make sure everybody else was on help side or deny.”

The Bears got fair number of good looks at an uncooperative rim.

“It’s always tough when your shot doesn’t drop,” said Ford, the conference’s defensive player of the year. “Like Coach said, we played great defense. It’s just hard to watch the ball not go through the hoop.

The game was one of role reversal. North Florida looked comfortable and confident and experienced, and Mercer couldn’t respond.

“They were playing like the underdog, they weren’t supposed to win,” Jones said. “They were loose and they had everything to gain. We tried too hard. We didn’t play basketball out there, we forced it.

“Then when we’d get good basketball movement, we missed the shot.”

Losing the season series worked for North Florida.

“It was to our advantage that they had beat us twice,” Kirkland said. “Sometimes it’s good to come in as the underdog. People don’t respect you sometimes.

“We talk about swagger a lot. It goes back to defense. When we play defense and when we rebound and we run, we really have fun, and that really brings out our swag.”