Tough second-half defense secures win for Mercer

Mercer guard Jordan Strawberry (5) puts up a shot in the lane during the game against Jackson State on Tuesday night.
Mercer guard Jordan Strawberry (5) puts up a shot in the lane during the game against Jackson State on Tuesday night.

For a half or so, Jackson State was in striking distance of Mercer on Tuesday night at Hawkins Arena.

A second-half takeover of the game changed all that.

The Bears slammed the door on the Tigers defensively in the second half, going on a 15-2 run in a stretch of more than seven minutes to secure their second win in a row by way of a 86-58 victory.

With Mercer (2-1) slowing down a Jackson (1-1) team that had found success in the first half shooting from the outside, the Bears wore down the Tigers all over the court as the game went on in pulling away for the win.

Five who mattered

Ria’n Holland: He kept up the strong early season play on Tuesday night as the Tigers had no answer for him en route to scoring 19 points and pulling down six rebounds.

Desmond Ringer: Jackson State had matchup problems with Ringer, and it showed as he had a strong night not only scoring, both on the offensive boards as well. He scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds— five of them on offense.

Stephon Jelks: He flexed some muscle for the Bears close to the basket, helping them gain an upper hand in the paint. He finished the night with 11 points and seven rebounds.

Jordan Strawberry: His ability to drive the lane and take advantage of opportunities within transition paid off on Friday to the tune of 13 points.

Maurice Rivers: He had a big night against the Bears, but did most of his damage in the first half, scoring 17 points. He finished with 19.

Turning point

Mercer started to build some distance between itself and Jackson State a few minutes into the second half. Holland got it started with a driving, twisting layup. Mercer then made good on chances from the charity stripe. A single free throw by Marcus Cohen and two by Rivers extended Mercer’s lead to 56-43 with 13:40 left in the game. That burst, combined with the Bears bogging down the Tigers on the offensive end kick-started Mercer’s ability to put the game away on Tuesday night.


Hit from the outside early: Jackson State found some holes in Mercer’s defense on the outside in the first half. The Tigers did a lion’s share of their offensive work from the perimeter, draining multiple shots from near or beyond the 3-point line — making 39 percent of 3-pointers in the first half with Rivers hitting three of them. That obviously changed in the second half as the Bears locked down defensively.

Answer upon answer: The Tigers drew close to Mercer time after time on Tuesday night throughout the first. On each occasion, Mercer came up with a big shot, usually by powering toward the basket and cashing in on shots near the basket.

Visiting push before half: Jackson State manufactured some momentum before halftime. A 7-2 run cut into a double-digit Bears lead, and Mercer’s advantage was 43-38 at the break. Key for Mercer, however, was that the Bears didn’t let the Tigers carry that energy over into the second half.

They said it

Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman on the key to Tuesday’s win: “I thought our depth was the reason we won the game. We were able to get some separation in the second half and guys coming off the bench gave us tremendous energy and gave our starters a little bit of rest and when they went back in the game, they took it to a level that we needed to be at.”

Hoffman on Jackson State’s Rivers: “He’s really good. We told them before that he had some stupid hops and could get up and he could dunk. He’s a highlight reel player and is from Atlanta, so I’m sure he had a lot of folks in the building for him.”

What’s next?

Mercer plays Liberty in the Paradise Jam on Friday. Liberty is the host school of the event. The Bears next home game is Nov. 26 against Hiawassee.