Halfcourt shot fails to fall as Mercer loses another close game

Langston Hall thought it was going in.

In fact, he almost beat his halfcourt shot to its destination.

“It felt on line,” Mercer’s freshman guard said. “It hit the front of the rim, then it hit the backboard. I was standing right there. By then, I thought it was good.”

The ball fell straight down to the back of the rim, and then the shot that was a fraction of an inch from being a game-winner bounced off to the left and to the floor, giving East Tennessee State a thrilling 62-61 win Monday night in A-Sun men’s basketball at the University Center.

The Bears, playing in their third game since Thursday, fell to 3-10 overall and 0-3 in the A-Sun. The Bucs improved to 7-7 and 2-1.

Mercer hosts USC Upstate on Wednesday, while ETSU goes to Kennesaw State.

“I was running,” Hall said. “I thought it was in.”

Instead, Mercer lost its fourth straight game by single digits and its sixth overall.

“We had opportunities,” Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. “Plays went the other way. Our guys did the right thing. Going to the basket, one play’s going, is it ‘and one’ (and) game’s over? Ends up being a charge, so it goes the other way. Down at the other end, it goes the other way.

“Bang-bang plays, and we were on the wrong end of both those.”

Mercer led 61-58 on Brian Mills’ putback, but Micah Williams buried a 3-pointer with 42.4 seconds left. Brandon Moore was called for a charge on Mercer’s next trip, with 11.3 seconds left.

Then ETSU’s Adam Sollazzo took a handoff and drove hard along the right baseline, scoring on an off-balance shot with contact for a 62-61 lead with 3.7 seconds left.

Bud Thomas inbounded to Hall, who dribbled to halfcourt and launched a tantalizingly accurate shot between two defenders, but the home rims weren’t very friendly.

Mills paced Mercer with 18 points, while Hall added 13 and Moore 12.

Mike Smith’s 19 topped ETSU. Williams added 16 and Sollazzo 15.

Mercer led 27-25 at halftime, but Hoffman told his team it was down five because ETSU had that much of an edge in offensive rebounds, and that if the Bears improved in that area, they’d win.

They out-did the Bucs 10-5 on the offensive glass in the second half, but it wasn’t quite enough.

“I think we made a concerted effort in the second half to get offensive boards,” Hoffman said. “It gave us a chance.”

Langston Hall and Mark Hall hit a stretch of 3-pointers, and Mercer led by seven with 13:49 left in the game.

Smith hit a 3-pointer, and the Bucs soon tied it on his 15-footer with 10:42 remaining. ETSU surged out to a 46-41 lead on Justin Tubbs’ 3-pointer against a slow-adjusting zone.

Mills’ pop-out jumper pulled Mercer within 51-50, and then Jake Gollon drew a charge on ETSU’s next trip. Smith got his fourth foul on the possession, and Mills tied it with a free throw. He got his own miss, but picked up his fourth foul on a charge.

Langston Hall swished a 3-pointer from the deep right wing, and Mills followed with a turnaround on the left baseline, and suddenly the Bears were back on top by five at the 3:07 mark.

Smith fouled out with 2:54 left and his team down 56-53, but his teammates were able to survive his absence and Hall’s only miss on a 3-point try of the night.

“The hard thing is, it was a dysfunctional game,” Hoffman said. “There was no rhythm, the guys don’t know what to do, (players) don’t know what’s going to be a foul what’s not. It was just a hard game to coach, to play and I’m sure it was a hard game to referee.

“It was a strange game.”