A little foul trouble here, some so-so defense there and then a sudden slump all combined to help kill Mercer’s chances of knocking off Georgia for the first time since before John Kennedy was president.
The Bears have little time to regroup, all of a day, before looking to break a nine-game losing streak to Georgia Tech dating back to the mid-1970s when the teams battle Thursday night at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Mercer fell to 7-5 by losing 72-58 on Tuesday to Georgia in Athens. Georgia Tech improved to 7-4 with a 65-54 win a day earlier over Alabama A&M.
Mercer did get a preview of Georgia Tech when the Yellow Jackets thumped Georgia 68-56 in Athens 15 days ago.
Georgia Tech was sharp on both sides of the court in that win, outshooting Georgia 52.1-34.7 percent from the floor and being even on assists and turnovers (11 each).
Mercer is a little more focused, especially with such a short turnaround, on itself rather than being able to spend an abundance of time on the Tech scouting report.
The Bears led by eight in the first half Tuesday, settled for a tie at halftime and watched Georgia charge out in the second half and take control as Mercer couldn’t get going on offense and struggled with foul trouble defensively.
“I challenged them at halftime, in a good way,” Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. “Maybe it had the reverse effect.”
Langston Hall had 16 points for Mercer, which didn’t get much else going offensively as the other four starters totaled only 27 points.
“I like Langston Hall,” Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory said. “I like the pace that he plays at. He can play fast, he can play slow. He’s got great size. He can really pressure the ball and cause some havoc defensively. He’s an ACC player.”
Defensively, there were some gaps that the Bulldogs attacked in taking control.
“There were a couple of our guys, I think, they got out of whack when the foul trouble really bothered them and they got to focusing on some stuff,” Hoffman said. “It got them discombobulated.”
Mercer was sharper in losing 80-77 in overtime on Sunday to Seton Hall.
The Yellow Jackets are on a three-game winning streak, starting with Georgia. Georgia Tech offers a quality threat in guard-forward Glen Rice Jr.
The 6-foot-5 junior from Marietta leads the Yellow Jackets with 13.1 points per game and is second with 6.6 rebounds.
“He’s been fairly consistent,” Gregory said. “That was his challenge this year, to be a more consistent player. He showed flashes his first two years. His practice habits are better. The more he does that, the better he’s going to be on game night.”
Former Hancock Central standout Kammeon Holsey is third in scoring with 10.3 points to go with 4.6 rebounds.
Guard Mfon Udofia adds 10.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
Freshman Daniel Miller is off to a good start. The 6-11 center averages 9.3 points and 7.6 rebounds, as well as 2.9 blocks per game. He’s eighth in the ACC in rebounds and second in blocks.
Gregory is as worried about the Bears as Georgia’s Mark Fox was a few days ago.
“It’ll be really important on defense that we do a good job,” said Gregory, whose team at Dayton beat Mercer 71-53 in Hoffman’s first season at Mercer. “They’re a 20-win team before it’s all said and done. They’ve got a bunch of young guys who played last year, so they’ve got some experience.
“I’ve always been impressed with how hard they play and their system.”