Give the Bears six.
Western Carolina failed to do what any other team has done in recent games against Mercer — cool the Bears off. Hot-shooting Mercer sent its seniors out with a bang on Tuesday night in their home finale at Hawkins Arena, handling Western Carolina 81-64 for the Bears sixth win in a row.
Mercer’s shooting was fiery from the start. The Bears kept it that way for the most part, shooting 56 percent from the field. Mercer was pretty stout from long range as well, making 11 out of 20 3-pointers, good for 55 percent.
The game, which began with Western Carolina leading 5-0, seesawed back and forth through the game’s first 10 minutes, with neither team able to gain much separation. Both team managed to sink their fair share of shots, keeping both defenses on their heels.
The back and forth affair came to an end late in the first half. Mercer had too much offensive firepower for WCU to withstand, going on a 12-5 run to finish the first half as Mercer led 42-33. The Bears didn’t relent in the second half. The sharp shooting and tough defense continued, the big shot being a Rivers 3-pointer that extended the Bears lead to 53-40 with 17:14 to play. There wasn’t much that the Catamounts (12-17, 7-9) could do the rest of the way.
The win keeps the Bears (16-13 overall, 9-7 in conference) solidly fifth in the SoCon standings with two games left in the regular season, both on the road.
Five who mattered
Demetre Rivers: Pouring in 24 points, Rivers could not be stopped, especially around the low post, as his six rebounds also tied for tops among all Bears.
Ross Cummings: Mercer had a big night from the perimeter. Cummings was a major reason for it, draining five out of eight 3-pointers — it helped him to a 19-point game against WCU.
Ringer: He was perfect when it came to shooting on Tuesday, draining all six of his shots from the field as well as both free throws. It all culminated for a 14-point game.
Strawberry: Excelled in keeping the Bears running in a steady offensive rhythm — it showed by way of eight assists.
Marc Gosselin: Led Western Carolina with 14 points.
Too much juice: Both teams had success shooting the ball, especially early on as the game was shaping itself up to be a footrace. The difference for Mercer, however, was that the Bears were able to maintain their sharp shooting touch throughout the whole game. When the Catamounts ran into scoring lapses, that was just what Mercer needed to pull away, leading by 13 points early in the second half.
Energetic building: Weeknights can at times be a tough crowd draw when it comes to holding sporting events. That didn’t show on Tuesday night as a mostly full Hawkins Arena gave the Bears an early edge, allowing them to withstand an early scoring barrage by WCU. And with Mercer able to run and gun up and down the court and run its offense, it was the exact style of play to get the home fans behind them.
Paint wars: Mercer did its best to make sure that Western Carolina’s opportunities for second-chance points were minimized. The Bears claimed an overall rebounding edge of 30-21.
Hitting a grand: With his 24-point night on Tuesday, Demetre Rivers scored his 1,000th career point.
They said it
Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman on the Bears win: “It was just amazing how we fought through. We played really, really good on offense.”
Hoffman on the play of Rivers: “It might have been his best performance, he’s had a lot of good ones for us. It was fun to watch him.”
Mercer closes out the regular season with a pair of road games on Friday at The Citadel and on Sunday at Wofford.