Mercer beat Duke. A banner hangs in Hawkins Arena commemorating that 2014 NCAA Tournament appearance.
Students around campus still talk about that victory.
But one fan said that famous Duke win isn’t as big a moment as Mercer women’s 68-53 defeat of ETSU Sunday for its first-ever Southern Conference Championship.
“This was a bigger moment in Mercer sports history than (the Duke win),” said Justin Baxley, a 2017 graduate who was in attendance for the Duke upset. “I guess because I have grown with this team. I’ve watched them grow.”
Baxley and 2016 Mercer graduate Thomas Norton have a special place in their hearts for this Mercer women’s basketball team. Norton was president of the Mercer Maniacs, a student organization that leads the student section at Mercer sporting events.
Baxley and Norton said they remember watching the current senior class as freshmen.
“I got to witness it — as one of the few students who went to the games consistently — watching how good they were then and how good they are now,” Norton said.
And good they are. With the win Sunday, the Bears improved to 30-2 on the season and undefeated in conference play. In the conference tournament alone, Mercer won by an average of nearly 28 points per game.
Mercer sophomore Christian Hartley said it was incredible to watch.
“It’s hard enough to win a conference championship, but to do it in such a dominant fashion is truly incredible,” Hartley said. “It was a lot of fun to watch. It’s hard to put it into words.”
Mercer athletics director Jim Cole congratulated head coach Susie Gardner and the senior class in an email.
“Also, thanks to all the Bear fans that made the trip,” Cole wrote. “The arena [was] packed with orange and black and the (L)ady Bears sent all of us home with a smile and bursting with Mercer pride!”
Baxley remembers when the arena wasn’t always packed for women’s games. He said one game Norton and he attended a couple years ago had about 30 people in the stands. But that has changed.
“This was the first year where it felt like the fans had gotten behind them,” Baxley said. “There was obviously a group of fans that kind of had joined the bandwagon early that pretty much called ‘shotgun.’ Now, it’s standing-room only on that bandwagon.”
One of those early bandwagon members was Norton, who said he was emotional once the buzzer sounded because he understood everything Gardner and the players went through to get to that point.
And while he didn’t say this win was bigger than the Duke victory, Norton did say it made him reminisce.
“It was like when I watched the Duke game,” Norton said. “In the last minute, I was like, ‘This is going to happen. It’s really going to happen.”