The Greg Gary era at Mercer got underway at home with a win over Columbia International by a score of 84-76. The win comes on the heels of a blowout loss to St. Johns on Wednesday. The win marks the first for Gary as the head coach of the Bears, not including the exhibition win over St. Andrews.
The Bears got off to a slow start against the NAIA foe as it trailed by four late in the first half before going on a 13-4 run to propel them to a lead heading into the half up 37-32. Mercer struggled from behind the 3 point line in the first half shooting 23% on 13 shots.
The Bears came out in the second half looking to pound the ball inside more. The Bears finished with 42 points in the paint. The team shot 60% from the field in the second half. It was a big improvement from the first where they shot below 40%.
“In the first half we were just standing there just watching,” Gary said. “All of a sudden now you’re shooting some bombs, some nights they are going to go in and when they are not you got to learn how to get to the rim.”
Mercer and CIU battled for much of the second half as each time it looked as though the Bears would pull away, the Rams would put together a run behind their excellent shooting. They hit seven three pointers in the second half and 13 for the game.
Guard Djordje Dimitrijevic hit multiple free throws late for the Bears to help seal the game. Dimitrijevic finished with a game-high 24 points. The win puts Mercer at 1-1 on the season with its next game at home Monday against in-state foe Kennesaw State.
Here are three takeaways from the Bears’ close win over CIU.
1. Pair of seniors leading the way in scoring
Forward Ethan Stair and Dimitrijevic put together a solid game overall as they finished with a combined 41 points. Stair also got a double-double as he grabbed 12 rebounds. The two were clearly the focal points of the offense as a whole. That is something that can be expected throughout the season as the team leans on them as the younger guys get minutes.
“We have a lot of younger guys and we have to kind of pick it up,” Dimitrijevic said. “That is the biggest thing that we have to do this year.”
2. This team wants to run and is better when they do
Mercer looked best when they were able to get out on the run and get to the basket early in the shot clock. The problem was they weren’t able to get on the run as much as they probably would’ve liked.
“That is kind of coach’s mindset,” Stair said. “We just want to play fast.”
As they get more familiar with one another, that should help them know where to be on the floor in transition. The spacing was lacking at times to create the open shots for guys to score.
3. Still a lot of kinks to work out
The Bears struggled with CIU for much of the game as it was a 10 point game with under four minutes left. This is a team that the Bears should be blowing out but allowed them to hang around for much of the game. Mercer struggled with assists with just 13 for the game. The lack of ball movement is a bit of a concern. They settled for a lot of tough, contested shots instead of looking for the open man.
The Bears need to find someone who can consistently find guys for open shots as the season wears on. It is still a fairly new team with a new coach who runs a more uptempo system than Mercer teams have in the past, so growing pains are expected. Some of these things will fix themselves as the team will hopefully get Ross Cummings back soon. Cummings is their leading scorer from a year ago and will help with the scoring load. Gary said that it will take some time to get Cummings back and in game shape as he comes back from an undisclosed injury.