Bob Hoffman wasn’t happy.
His Bears led by 19 points at the break, but eight turnovers and poor defense in the first half weren’t up to the coach’s standards.
Whatever he told his team at halftime worked. Mercer used a 32-8 run over the first 14 minutes of the second half to run past Hiwassee 90-53 Sunday in Hawkins Arena.
Shooting well from the 3-point line, Mercer created early separation with a 24-10 run midway through the first half. But Hiwassee settled in and outscored the Bears by a point for the final four minutes.
The Bears led 51-32 at the break as the Tigers shot 7-of-13 from the 3-point line in the first 20 minutes. And then Mercer pulled away with ease.
Hiwassee struggled from the field during the first 13 minutes of the second half, shooting a meager 3-of-14. Mercer would use that defensive performance to ultimately outscore the Tigers 39-21 in the second half.
Three who mattered
Ethan Stair: The redshirt sophomore started his first game of the season and led the team with a season-high 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting. He also chipped in six assists and five rebounds.
Cory Kilby: The junior was hot from the 3-point line, knocking down four treys en route to a season-high 14 points. His previous high was five points.
Jordan Strawberry: The guard was efficient on only six shots, scoring 11 points and dishing out four assists.
Hot from 3 in the first half: The Bears relied on the 3-ball in the first half, and rightfully so. Mercer connected on eight shots from downtown and would finish 12-of-25 from the arc for the game. Hiwassee also shot well from 3, finishing 11-of-24.
Tale of two halves from the free throw line: Mercer entered the game shooting 76 percent from the line for the season but struggled mightily in the first half. The Bears shot 9-of-20 from the stripe in the first half but bounced back in the second, connecting on all 11 attempts.
Efficient from the field: The Bears shot a season-high 58 percent from the field while Hiwassee shot only 33 percent.
Mercer without its leading scorer: Ria’n Holland missed only the second game of his Mercer career with an ankle injury. Hoffman said Holland is day-to-day.
Five in double digits: Without Holland, the Bears had everyone chip in points. Five players scored at least ten points – Stair, Kilby, Strawberry, Desmond Ringer and Marcus Cohen – while everyone who entered the game scored at least once.
They said it
Stair on jumping into the starting lineup: “I try going into a game with the same mindset no matter what … It was a good feeling to start, but it’s on to the next game now.”
Stair on balanced scoring: “It definitely hurts a team whenever their leading scorer is out, but we all knew we had to step it up. It doesn’t really matter what team we’re playing. You have to respect everybody the same.”
Hoffman on ways to improve: “We have to understand that possession of the ball is the most important thing. If we can get better, as well as we’re shooting the ball, I think we’re going to be a tough out.”
Hoffman on Stair’s performance: “He was determined. You could see it in his face a little bit … He has the mentality that he wants to rebound and push, which I’m good with because he’s fast. He usually makes great decisions, and he gives us another completely different dynamic when he’s in because of his athleticism.”
Hoffman on others scoring: “It was huge … The part about [Holland] being out, [Strawberry] played the two some, and he played more with [Cohen] than we’ve been doing. [Strawberry] hit some big 3s early in the game that really got us the separation that pushed us over.”
Hoffman on moving forward to Tennessee: “We know what they’re about … We’re going to have to get back, talk and holler and be in the right places.”
Mercer is back on the road as it faces Tennessee Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Volunteers are one of two Power 5 opponents the Bears have on the schedule this season.