DULUTH -- Mercer will have to wait to break a 15-game losing streak to Georgia.
But the nine-game slide dating back to 1974 to Georgia Tech is over.
Travis Smith was perfect at the line down the stretch, and Mercer overcame some shooting slumps in the second half to beat Georgia Tech 65-59 on Thursday night at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
A second after Mfon Udofia’s long 3-pointer bounced off the rim at the buzzer, the Bears charged midcourt as the ball went sailing off of the court.
“We were right there against Georgia last year,” sophomore Bud Thomas said. “We lost this year at Seton Hall in overtime.
“It’s about time we knock one of these big teams off.”
The win was particularly sweet for guard Langston Hall, who had a few dozen family and friends on hand.
“Fifteen or 20 minutes from here, not far at all,” Hall said of his home. “It’s a great feeling to do it right at home for me.”
Mercer (8-5) hadn’t beaten Georgia Tech (7-5) since taking a 102-85 win in Atlanta back on Jan. 28, 1974. Thursday’s win helped erase the sour memory of the Bears having an 18-point lead in the second half in Macon only to lose 82-76 to the Yellow Jackets on Nov. 22, 2008.
The Bears lost 72-58 at Georgia on Tuesday and 80-77 in overtime to Seton Hall on Sunday. This time, they were able to finish.
“I said before the game that they’re a very good team,” Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory said. “Anybody that can go into Seton Hall and take them to overtime, who is a very good team, you know they have talented players that play extremely hard. I knew this was going to be a tough game.”
Monty Brown led Mercer with 13 points. Thomas, after a rough night Tuesday, chipped in with 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds while Daniel Coursey and Jake Gollon added 10 points each.
Hall had only five points but had five assists with only two turnovers in 35 minutes. Gollon had five assists and five rebounds.
Glen Rice Jr. had 19 for Georgia Tech and Jason Morris had 10. Former Hancock Central star Kammeon Holsey got off to a good start before foul trouble slowed him down, and he finished with nine points in 16 minutes.
Mercer led 31-30 at halftime, avoiding the foul trouble that hurt the Bears on Tuesday. The Bears were whistled for one until the 6:13 mark of the first half. And they got the Yellow Jackets into some foul trouble, most notably getting Holsey his second with 7:13 left in the half.
Tech went on a 9-1 run in a span of 4:40 to take a pair of seven-point leads, the final one at the 7:02 mark. But Mercer crept back.
Gollon’s lob to Coursey was high, bounced of the rim and backboard and through the rim. Officials checked the replay, and Coursey was given the bucket. That pulled Mercer to within 54-51 with 3:52 remaining.
Hall got a steal, then drove the baseline and kicked the ball to Thomas, who buried a game-tying 3-pointer from the right corner with 2:14 left.
Then Gollon got the ball back by drawing a charge 25 seconds later on Rice. Coursey then scored on a perfect low-post pass from Smith, and Tech called time with 1:29 left, down 58-54.
Rice made two free throws, and Smith answered with two.
Rice then went up, but kicked it out on the far right side to Morris, who swished the bomb with 39 seconds left to pull the Yellow Jackets to 60-59.
Only 3.5 seconds separated the game and shot clocks, and Smith was fouled with 32.6 seconds remaining. The junior transfer calmly drained both for another three-point lead.
“Huge free throws,” Thomas said. “Ice. Ice.”
Smith had extra pressure on himself.
“I’ve been hitting clutch free throws for a long time,” he said. “Mainly, it’s because of my mother. My mother gets mad if I miss free throws. I make sure I hit my free throws.”
Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman got a huge game from post players Coursey and Brown as well as some contributions from T.J. Hallice. All stand between 6-foot-9 and 6-11.
“Awesome,” Hoffman said. “Monty set the tone early. They all just played really good.”
Mercer survived an 0-for-8 drought late in the first half, but still led at the break.
“I knew we had to rebound better and I knew we had to get to the free-throw line more,” Hoffman said. “We hadn’t been there for two games. You’ve got to do those things to win these games on the road.”
Georgia Tech ended up with a 34-30 rebound edge, and outshot Mercer 43.4-41.5 percent. Mercer was 14-of-21 a the line to 9-of-13 for Georgia Tech.
Mercer battled back in the second half after giving up the lead and Gollon getting his third foul. Soon, the deficit was seven, but
But a 3-pointer from Cecil and stuff by Coursey had the Bears back within 51-49 less than three minutes later, setting up the finish.
Rice did what he could for the Yellow Jackets, scoring 32 percent of their points and grabbing 32 percent of their rebounds.
“They came out ready to play,” he said. “They came out and they stuck to their gameplan.
“We knew they would come out here and work hard and play tough, and that’s what they did. They played hard, played tough.”