Mercer men drop season opener to Central Florida, open at home against Toccoa Falls

By Ryan Weaver

Center for Collaborative Journalism

Mercer forward Cory Kilby (1) throws down a dunk during a Bears game against Samford last season.
Mercer forward Cory Kilby (1) throws down a dunk during a Bears game against Samford last season.

Mercer men’s basketball team will have its home opener against Toccoa Falls at 2 p.m. Sunday at Hawkins Arena after losing its season opener against Central Florida 88-79 Friday in Orlando.

Here are some things to know about the Bears as they aim to improve on last season.

Six players returning for their senior seasons

The Bears have all of their starting lineup from last season, including guards Jordan Strawberry who led the team in assists at 4.3 per game, Ria’n Holland, who led the team in scoring with 17.2 points per game, Demetre Rivers and forwards Stephon Jelks and Desmond Ringer, who lead the team in rebounding with 6.7 and 5.8 per game respectively. Holland is also among 52 student-athletes on a preseason watch list for the Lou Henson Award given to the best mid-major player for the season.

Five incoming freshmen

The five freshmen and other underclass players will hope to earn a spot in coach Bob Hoffman’s rotation. Hoffman had 10 players play over 200 minutes last season with nine of them playing in 30 or more games. Among the incoming class is guard Marcus Green, who earned player of the year for his high school division while helping his team win the 2017 8A Florida state championship. Another standout is the team’s only international player in center Victor Baffuto, who is from Brasilia, Brazil.

Mercer makes it into top-25 ranks for mid-majors released its ranking for mid-major programs on Monday, placing Mercer at No. 15. The preseason accolades don’t stop with the ranking; NBC sports ranked Mercer at No. 13 among mid-majors. The Bears were also voted as the preseason SoCon favorite, according to a poll of SoCon coaches. The Bears finished last season 15-17 and 9-9 in the SoCon.

Coach Hoffman will look to add to the 179 wins he has through 10 seasons as Bears head coach. Since Hoffman has been at the helm Mercer has won 14 postseason tournament games, most notably the win in 2014 over Duke in the NCAA Championship Tournament.

Next up

The Bears play at home again Tuesday night, hosting Jackson State.