Bob Hoffman called it a good season but not a great one.
And that could apply to both of the Mercer basketball teams.
Both teams finished third in their first season in the Southern Conference, and then both lost in the conference tournament semifinals. Last week, both teams lost in postseason tournaments: the men in the quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational and the women in the semifinals of the Women’s Basketball Invitational.
“It was a good year, not a great year. We were close to having a great year,” Hoffman said after his men’s team’s loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Monday. “I’m thankful for how hard they worked, and I’m excited to see how things will go for us in the coming days.”
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After reaching the NCAA tournament and earning the program’s first NCAA win by beating Duke led by a seven-player senior class the year before, Hoffman’s team faced a transition year this season. The Bears still won 19 games, just missing out on their fourth straight 20-win season.
Ike Nwamu stepped into a leading role as a junior, averaging 15.1 points per game, while seniors Darious Moten and T.J. Hallice averaged 11.4 and 9.1 respectively. Juniors Phillip Leonard and Jibri Bryan rounded out the starting lineup, while freshmen Stephon Jelks and Jordan Strawberry and junior college transfer Jestin Lewis played key roles.
Banged up in the postseason with Moten out and Jelks slowed by a foot injury, the Bears got quality minutes from sophomore Lawrence Brown, true freshman Niklas Ney and redshirt freshman Matt Panaggio.
Next season, the Bears will add 6-foot-9 forward Desmond Ringer, who sat out this season after transferring from South Carolina, and junior college transfer Andrew Fishler, who is 7-1. And they have signed Jaylen Stowe, a 6-4 point guard from North Carolina; Ethan Stair, a 6-5 shooting guard from Alabama; and Cory Kilby, a 6-7 small forward from Oklahoma.
Susie Gardner’s women’s team won 20 games for the second time in three seasons behind a strong senior class (Precious Bridges, Briana Williams, Alicia Williams and Teanna Robinson) but lost to Siena on Wednesday in the WBI. Bridges averaged 20.4 points per game, while Alicia Williams averaged 11.0.
Kahlia Lawrence, the conference’s freshman of the year, and Alex Williams both played important roles, leading an eight-player freshman class.
Next year’s team also will have a large freshman class after the program signed seven players in the fall: KeKe Calloway, a 5-9 guard from Mary Persons; Rachel Selph, a 6-3 center from Dodge County; Kyesha Lewis, a 5-11 guard/forward from Springfield; Ally Welch, a 5-11 forward/center from Cumming; Callie Hackett, a 5-5 guard from Texas; Amanda Thompson a 5-10 forward from North Carolina; and Linnea Rosendal, a 6-1 guard/forward from Sweden.
“We’ve been able to turn around this program the last couple of years, and we want to continue to build on that,” Gardner said recently.