Bob Hoffman knows that people will be very deceived by Kennesaw State’s record.
The Owls are 3-14 overall and winless in six A-Sun games. Certainly teams would look at the record with a “please don’t let us be the one to be shocked” outlook, but the Mercer head men’s basketball coach said that would be the wrong philosophy.
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” Hoffman said. “They’re a good team. That’s the thing about our whole league. You can forget about lining up and thinking there’s a game you’re gonna get just because you’re showing up.
“That ain’t happening in this league.”
Mercer will try to remain in no worse than a tie for second place in the A-Sun when it hosts Kennesaw State at 7 p.m. on Friday.
The Bears are 12-7 overall and 4-2 in conference play, tied with Stetson for second and a half-game behind Belmont. The Bruins suffered their first A-Sun loss of the season Friday in the Battle of the Boulevard, falling 85-74 to Lipscomb (8-9, 3-2). Belmont hosts Stetson on Saturday.
In the CollegeRPI.com rankings, Mercer is 114th, ahead of Providence, South Florida, Iowa, Georgia Tech, UCLA, St. John’s and Southern California, among others. Belmont is 94th to top the conference, with North Florida third at No. 154.
Mercer split on its road trip, stumbling 76-61 at East Tennessee State and rebounding for a 73-66 win at USC Upstate two days later.
The Bucs had it going, and the Bears didn’t.
“They just played really good, shot it well,” Hoffman said. “We contributed to some of it, but they just played with a big-time purpose, played together.”
ETSU was the first team to top 50 percent shooting against Mercer and the third to pass 45 percent overall and from 3-pont range.
“We just couldn’t overcome the good possessions they were having time after time,” said Hoffman, whose team is 6-1 at home this season. “We kept given them more transition layups with steals and stuff. You can’t overcome that.”
The Bears had balance, and Justin Cecil’s second career scoring night in a week in the win two nights later.
“We had a lot of different guys, as we have when we’ve had wins on the road, make plays, in different ways,” Hoffman said. “We had guys make huge contributions on the defensive end.”
Kennesaw State is on a five-game losing streak, and the Owls have lost 11 of their past 12. First-year head coach Lewis Preston has faced Wisconsin, Auburn, Chattanooga, Missouri and Missouri State among non-conference opponents.
“It’s a transition with a new coaching staff and guys learning how to play a little different,” Hoffman said. “They’ve played a hard schedule, as most of us have. It’s just trying to overcome that.”
But the Owls pose a challenge that is stronger than their record as they search for consistency and chemistry.
Markeith Cummings is the preseason A-Sun player of the year and ranks second in scoring in the conference with 16.1 points, and he has been one of the conference’s most explosive players since he arrived.
Spencer Dixon is fifth in scoring at 13.8 point and seventh in assists with 3.9.
Aaron Anderson, a 6-foot-7 junior, is first with 8.8 rebounds and fifth in field goal percentage at 54.1 percent.
Dixon, Delbert Love and Cummings are 1-2-3 in the conference in minutes played, with Mercer’s Langston Hall fourth and Bud Thomas sixth.
Mercer and Kennesaw State are travel partners, so they’ve played the same conference opponents so far. Mercer is 4-2 and Kennesaw State is 0-6. The Owls lost 73-69 to ETSU on Monday, their fourth loss by less than 10 points in their past five defeats.
“They’ve played a lot of people close and have been in a lot of games,” Hoffman said. “You’ve just got to go out there and battle like crazy against that talent.”