The Mercer basketball teams had solid showings in their first season in the Southern Conference. After both teams finished third, they are looking to top their regular-season performance this week in their debuts in the conference tournament in Asheville, North Carolina.
The women get that started at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday against Wofford. Mercer is 17-13 overall and finished 9-5 in the conference.
The Bears beat Wofford twice during the regular season -- 80-51 and 63-51. Mercer wrapped up the third seed with a 70-65 win over Samford on Saturday.
“This conference is tough, so it really doesn’t matter who you play,” Mercer head coach Susie Gardner said after her team’s win Saturday. “The seeding was not as important as entering the tournament on a high note, and that’s what we were able to do in the second half.
“I was sitting there in the second half thinking that we had to turn things around because it was very important that we were heading to Asheville with some momentum.”
Bob Hoffman’s men’s team has momentum, as well, after beating East Tennessee State 69-64 in its regular-season finale.
The Bears will face VMI in the first round at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday. Mercer (17-14, 12-6) beat VMI twice during the regular season -- 90-81 and 85-75.
“The SoCon tournament basically means three games in three days, and to do that, we have to have our bench players playing well, and we were able to get that,” Hoffman said of Saturday’s game. “Things were looking bleak. We were playing a very good basketball team and playing against a coach who is one of the best in the league, and we were fighting to find some momentum.
“Thankfully, we were able to fight back and get some momentum heading into the tournament.”
Hoffman’s program has plenty of tournament success to fall back on this week, including last year’s A-Sun title and trip to the NCAA tournament, which resulted in the program’s first NCAA win over Duke.
“I always feel good going into a tournament,” Hoffman said. “At this time of year, it’s like, ‘Let’s go see what we can do.’ The guys are all excited, and once you get into a tournament, you never really know what can happen. It’s just an exciting time for our players coaches and fans.”
U.S. Cellular Center
Game 1: UNC Greensboro vs. Samford, 6 p.m.
Game 2: The Citadel vs. Furman, 8:30 p.m.
Wofford vs. Game 1 winner, Noon
Western Carolina vs. East Tennessee State, 2:30 p.m.
Chattanooga vs. Game 2 winner, 6 p.m.
Mercer vs. VMI, 8:30 p.m.
Semifinal 1, 6:00 p.m.
Semifinal 2, 8:30 p.m.
Monday, March 9
Championship, 7 p.m.
Game 1: Chattanooga vs. UNC Greensboro, Noon
Game 2: Samford vs. Furman, 2:15 p.m.
Game 3: East Tennesee State vs. Western Carolina, 4:30 p.m.
Game 4: Mercer vs. Wofford, 6:30 p.m.
Friday-U.S. Cellular Center
Game 5: Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner, 11 a.m.
Game 6: Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner, 1:30 p.m.
Sunday-U.S. Cellular Center
Championship, 1 p.m.