Stephon Jelks had a tough night offensively against The Citadel in the Southern Conference Tournament first round Friday.
But the Mercer sophomore made the two biggest plays of the game in helping the Bears beat the Bulldogs 71-69.
Jelks, who shot 2-of-13 from the floor, scored with 4.9 seconds left to put Mercer up by two, and after a foul was called two seconds left, The Citadel’s Warren Sledge went to the free-throw line. But when Sledge missed the front end of a one-and-one, Jelks secured the rebound and the Bears secured the win.
The victory improves Mercer’s record to 19-13 and snaps a seven-game losing streak. The Citadel ends its season at 10-22.
TWO WHO MATTERED
Demetre Rivers: The sophomore led the Bears with 16 points, including 12 in the second half, and he hit 7-of-17 from the floor, including two 3-pointers.
Phillip Leonard: Mercer’s only senior had 11 points and 11 rebounds to go along with seven assists (and just one turnover).
Dominant inside: Mercer finished with 40 points in the paint to just 26 for the Bulldogs, who made nine of their 23 baskets from outside the 3-point line.
Balanced attack: Nine Bears scored, with Lawrence Brown adding nine, Ethan Stair eight and Andrew Fishler, Jaylen Stowe and Jordan Strawberry seven each.
Finally, a win: Mercer had not won a game since beating The Citadel 88-72 on Feb. 6.
Shorthanded Bulldogs: The Citadel played without starting point guard P.J. Boutte, who reportedly was dismissed from the team about an hour before the game for a violation of team rules.
THEY SAID IT
Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman on the win: “Citadel fought with everything they had. That’s the kind of league we have. Anybody can win in any game, and we’re fortunate to win this one. That’s a serious blessing.”
Hoffman on snapping the seven-game losing streak: “We were winning a lot of those (close games) early (in the season) and hadn’t won in a while, a whole month, I think. It seemed like maybe a year. But our guys have been practicing hard. The coaches have continued to stay positive and pushing them. The credit all goes to (the players).”
Jelks on the game-winning shot and the game-clinching rebound: “I just wasn’t hitting. My teammates stepped up. Coach kept getting on me about it. I know I’m supposed to score, but my teammates stepped up. The last basket came when it mattered. They shot the free throw and missed it. I got the rebound. I feel like those were the two most important plays of the day.”
Leonard on facing his final game: “It’s win or go home right now. We talked about it in the locker room that we weren’t going out like this, that we had to be more aggressive and push the ball. And that’s what we did, and we came out and got it done.”
Rivers on getting hot in the second half: “When I wasn’t shooting the ball well, (his teammates) kept encouraging me and telling me to keep my head up and keep my confidence. And finally in the second half I was able to knock them down.”
Mercer faces East Tennessee State at 6 p.m. on Saturday in the tournament quarterfinals.