For a team that played five road games in 13 days, Mercer’s energy tank seems pretty high.
It certainly was Monday night when the Bears dealt an early knockout punch in thumping Florida Gulf Coast by 22 points.
Whether the Bears can keep it up Wednesday night against visiting Stetson is the next question. Senior forward Justin Cecil, who had a career-high 24 points on Monday, believes they can.
“I’ve seen the potential that we have and how everybody clicks together well,” he said. “I think we can play better than we did (Monday) night. We have a bunch of really great guys on the team.
“We’ve played extremely good high major teams, and we’re always right in it, not because our players are just as good, just because of our camaraderie.”
Mercer is eyeing its first 3-1 start in A-Sun play since 2004-2005 and has momentum after the romp over the Eagles.
It was Mercer’s largest conference win since thumping Florida Gulf Coast 88-63 on Jan. 16, 2008.
First-year head coach Casey Alexander, who took over at Stetson after 16 years as the top assistant at Belmont, has the A-Sun’s No. 3 3-point shooting team (37.4 percent) and No. 2 rebounding team (margin of plus 3.2).
Sophomore guard Chris Perez had a career high of 24 points in Monday’s 66-62 win Monday at Kennesaw State. It broke a five-game losing streak for the Hatters, who have some quality losses (79-66 at Florida State, 71-69 in overtime to James Madison) and good A-Sun win (73-65 over East Tennessee State).
Perez, Adam Pegg and Aaron Graham are sixth through eighth in A-Sun scoring.
The Hatters (5-8, 2-1) are three wins from matching last season’s overall total and looking for their first 3-1 conference start since 2008-09. And they’re hoping to avoid anything near the 91-57 pounding they took on their Jan. 30, 2010, visit to the University Center.
Mercer counters with the conference’s top defensive team (64.2 points and 38.8 percent shooting allowed, 5.3 blocks) but was sharp on offense Monday, getting an assist on 76 percent of its baskets. The Bears’ average is 58.8 percent.
“That was awesome,” Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. “If we could do that every night, I don’t know if we’d lose another game.”
Mercer’s women (3-11, 1-2) were close for about 10 minutes Monday before Florida Gulf Coast clicked and rolled to a 98-50 win.
“They’re very good,” Mercer women’s head coach Susie Gardner said of the Eagles. “We had four rules on how to defend them and talked about it (Sunday and Monday), put it up on the board before the game. We drilled them, we asked them questions about it, we showed it on film.”
Stetson (12-3, 3-0) has been efficient, outscoring opponents by 6.9 points per game with the biggest margin of victory coming against Bethune-Cookman, an 82-64 win.
The Hatters have lost to Florida (71-57), South Florida (77-62) and Ball State (78-73 in double overtime) but are on a six-game winning streak.
Winthrop beat Mercer 88-74 and lost to Stetson 74-72.
Victoria McGowan leads the A-Sun in scoring (15.9 points per game), assists (4.5 per game), steals (3.0 per game) and free-throw percentage (84.1) steals while Sasha Sims is first in rebounding (7.9 per game) and tied for second in blocks (1.6 per game).
So the Bears have another tough test ahead of them.
“We’ve been coaching effort and competing since we’ve been back from Christmas,” Gardner said. “Unfortunately, what’s happening right now has little to do with Xs and Os.”