Mercer stages fourth quarter comeback to secure second straight NCAA Tournament bid

The Mercer Bears clinched their second straight SoCon title to punch their ticket back to the NCAA tournament.
The Mercer Bears clinched their second straight SoCon title to punch their ticket back to the NCAA tournament.

The Mercer Bears have punched their ticket back to the NCAA Tournament with a 66-63 win over the Furman Paladins in the Southern Conference title game.

This one had more drama than the first two games in the tournament, as the Paladins pushed the Bears to their limit and even had the lead heading into the fourth quarter.

In the last five seconds, Furman had a pair of chances to tie the game. Senior guard Amanda Thompson blocked the first attempt but Furman came up with the rebound.

Furman’s junior guard Le’Jzae Davidson fired up a shot at the buzzer that just barely rimmed out, sealing the game for the Bears.

“Obviously a back and forth game. Either team could’ve won that game,” Mercer head coach Susie Gardner said. “We just got lucky that the last shot bounced off the rim.”

The Bears got off to a better start in this game than the previous two but still found themselves trailing after the first quarter. Then Keke Calloway happened. The senior guard took over the game scoring 15 points of her game-high 30 in the second quarter.

“I just want to give credit to my teammates for finding me and also my coaches and my teammates for believing in me to take those long crazy deep shots,” Calloway said. “I just tried to come in focused to just lead my team and just be the best that I can be.”

Calloway’s performance in the championship game helped earn her the award for the most valuable player in the SoCon tournament. She also earned first team all-tournament honors alongside Thompson and sophomore guard Shannon Titus while Rachel Selph earned second team all-tournament honors.

Gardner says that there were times in the fourth quarter where she wasn’t sure if they were going to be able to pull out the victory but she tried to stay positive and lean on her seniors.

“This was hard but let’s think about what these seniors have done the last two years. Gone undefeated in the regular season and won two championships so that’s a lot of winning,” Gardner said. “ I am not saying we are the best team that’s ever come through the SoCon by any stretch but these guys know how to win and we got it done tonight somehow.”

Justin Baxley is the fan life reporter at The Telegraph and writes stories centered around entertainment, food and sports in the Macon community. Justin joined the Telegraph staff after graduating from Mercer University in May 2017 with a degree in criminal justice and journalism. During his time at Mercer he served as the sports editor for The Cluster.