ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Mercer had an 18-point run in the first half, and its lone senior played an inspired game.
But that wasn't enough to take down East Tennessee State on Saturday in the Southern Conference Tournament quarterfinals.
Despite a strong game from senior point guard Phillip Leonard, the Bears dropped an 81-65 decision to the Buccaneers to end their tournament run in the quarterfinals. Mercer lost in the semifinals last year.
Mercer drops to 19-14, while East Tennessee State improves to 22-10, including a three-game sweep of Mercer.
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THREE WHO MATTERED
Leonard: He finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists and hit 6-of-13 shots from the floor. He also hit 7-of-11 from the free-throw line.
T.J. Cromer: The Buccaneers' junior finished with 17 points, including four 3-pointers, including a couple to beat the shot clock.
Ge'Lawn Guyn: The East Tennessee State senior had 23 points. He shot just 5-of-14 from the floor but hit all nine of his free throws.
After a tight first half that saw Mercer use an 18-0 run to get back in the game and trail by only two at the break, the Bears trailed by one with 16:46 left in the game. But East Tennessee State responded with a 10-2 run to take control and kept a comfortable margin the rest of the way.
Leonard needed some help: Demetre Rivers was the only other Mercer player to get into double figures, scoring 11. Junior Stephon Jelks struggled for the second straight game, scoring just five points on 2-of-9 shooting.
Strong at the free-throw line: The Bucs made 24-of-27 from the line to hold off any Mercer run.
Beating the clock: East Tennessee State didn't panic with the shot clock running out. The Buccaneers hit five of their 11 3-pointers with the shot clock running out or right before the buzzer.
Season sweep: East Tennessee State beat Mercer twice during the regular season, winning 65-63 at home and 77-74 at Mercer.
Tough second half: Mercer shot 44.8 percent from the floor in the first half but made only 29.2 percent (7-of-24) of its shots after the break.
THEY SAID IT
Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman on the loss: "We fought really hard. Our guys gave amazing effort. (East Tennessee State head coach Steve Forbes) had his guys ready, and they made play after play. They're really athletic. They got to the rim multiple times. We had a couple of bang-bang plays that could have gone a different way; we could have finished a few more early when we were in the game and could have gotten some separation. But we had to try to scramble out, and they're so athletic and talented."
Hoffman on Leonard: "I'm proud of this young man right here. He's been an amazing player and person to get to coach. You don't get to coach many guys like him, and I got to do it for three years, and it's been an outstanding time that we've had together."
Leonard on the Bears' 18-0 run in the first half: "I don't know what it is, but we came out ... not scared, but we weren't really aggressive. I think once we got a few buckets, we just kind of got settled in, and it was like, 'We can play with them.' It was like a normal game. Once we got that going, we got into a groove. But we turned the ball over too much, and like Coach said they got into transition, and they're tough in transition."