After losing their previous two home Southern Conference games, the Mercer Bears kicked off an important home stretch against The Citadel on Saturday.
And they did so in style.
Mercer pulled away for an 82-66 win to improve to 10-12 overall and 4-5 in the conference, while The Citadel drops to 9-14 and 2-8.
The Bears’ offense was terrific in a second-half surge, shooting 15-of-26 (57.7 percent) after halftime to pull away.
Four who mattered
Demetre Rivers: The junior forward finished with 23 points, hitting 7-of-10 from the floor and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line.
Ria’n Holland: The junior guard 10 of his 17 points in the first half, and he hit three 3-pointers.
Jordan Strawberry: The junior point guard also hit three 3-pointers — all three in the second half — and he finished with 15 points.
Stephon Jelks: The junior forward only had five points, but he was strong on the glass with a season-high 14 rebounds, and he had eight assists.
Tied at 41, Mercer went on a 7-0 run to regain control. The Bears finished the game outscoring the Bulldogs 41-25 the rest of the way.
Strong on D: Mercer held The Citadel, which leads the country in scoring, to its lowest scoring output in conference play and second lowest of the season. The Bulldogs made only 11 of their 37 3-point attempts.
Controlling the boards: Led by Jelks, the Bears finished with 44 rebounds to just 32 for the Bulldogs.
Sharing the ball nicely: Also led by Jelks, Mercer had 20 assists on 27 baskets. Jaylen Stowe and Rashad Lewis each had four.
Taking advantage: Mercer hit 21-of-27 from the free-throw line, while The Citadel was just 9-of-13.
Big-time crowd: A crowd of 4,328 was in attendance for the game with temporary bleachers placed at the top of the Hawkins Arena bowl.
Key stretch: Mercer has home games this week with Western Carolina on Monday, Furman on Thursday and Wofford on Saturday.
They said it
Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman on the win: “I’m just excited about how our guys fought together, stayed together and made a big run at the end to get the W.”
Hoffman on that late key stretch: “I think we just executed a little better. We had 20 assists on (27) baskets, and when you do that, you’ve got a chance to be successful most games. And against this team, we had 44 rebounds. … You can’t let teams like this have second and third shots because they’re going to make them.”
Rivers on scoring 19 points in the second half: “My teammates were finding me. The shots were falling. Just regardless of what happens in a game, I just have to keep confidence and just control what I can control. If the shot doesn’t fall, the shot doesn’t fall.”
Strawberry on controlling the pace against the up-tempo Bulldogs: “It’s very important. We don’t want to get up and down with them because that’s their style of pace. Of course, we can play that way, but they’re more used to playing that way. So we kind of want to control the tempo and take our time and go when we can get it or slow it down.”
Mercer hosts Western Carolina at 7 p.m. on Monday.