In the first two games of their five-game road trip, the Mercer Bears were right there.
They were right on the verge of pulling off a big road win against a bigger conference opponent. But they came up short both times.
Against Seton Hall, the Bears put up quite a fight, losing in overtime. Against Georgia, Mercer controlled the first half but stumbled in the second half of a 14-point loss.
They were tough losses, but they were the kind of losses that can help a young team like Mercer. While there is no such thing as a good loss, those were games that can make a team better ... if the team learns its lessons from those losses.
The Bears seemed to have done just that.
Mercer pulled off a big win Thursday night in Duluth as it knocked off Georgia Tech. Sure, the Yellow Jackets are down a bit as Brian Gregory continues the process of installing his systems in his first season with the program. Still, Mercer’s 65-59 victory was important for a few reasons.
It is Mercer’s first win over Georgia Tech since 1974.
Bob Hoffman’s team improved to 8-5, and after hovering around .500 in Hoffman’s first three seasons, Mercer looks ready to take a step forward with its program development.
After not being able to come up with the one big play against Seton Hall and then not being able to hit shots against Georgia, the Bears did both against Georgia Tech. Mercer hit clutch shots down the stretch and made all the plays it needed to get the victory.
With a young roster that includes four sophomore starters, the Bears didn’t need another close loss. They needed to win one of these games for a confidence boost for the rest of the season.
That final one may be the biggest reason Thursday’s win is so important. Mercer was pointing to these three games entering this stretch, and losing all three would have been tough to take. That certainly wouldn’t have ended the season, but three straight losses could have really hurt the team’s confidence.
One win in three games certainly isn’t what Mercer wanted, but winning the final one has to make the team feel good going into a quick Christmas break. Right after that break, the Bears face more pivotal games as they travel to Tulsa and Navy and then get ready to continue conference play.
If they can win both games next week and even just one, the Bears should feel good about what they accomplished and what they have ahead of them the rest of this season. This team is growing and improving, and if it can carry that over into A-Sun play, the Bears could be looking at a special season the rest of the way.
If that happens, they can point to Thursday’s win as a big reason why.
Contact Daniel Shirley at 744-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.