Saturday, December 12, 2009
J. Andrew Lockwood
Senior Editor / Columnist
Thursday night provided a much needed break from conference play for the Mercer Bears after dropping two tight contests to Belmont and Lipscomb at home. Taking on the Division II Piedmont Lions, guard E.J. Kusnyer scored a career high 26 points to lead Mercer (4-5, 0-2 ASun) past the outmatched Lions (3-3-) 87-62.
Breaking a four game losing streak, Mercer took the court with a vengeance and some hot shooting 53.1% from the floor at the half in route to a 42-21 lead. Kusnyer especially appeared to be in midseason form hitting five shots from the perimeter in the first half to spark a 16-0 run on Piedmont. Although the scoreboard was lopsided at the intermission, Piedmont’s second half effort saw a two-fold increase in offensive production as Mercer only maintained their twenty point lead for the remainder of the game.
Also shooting above 50% for the second half, the Lions were lead by post J.C. Herbia’s 15 points and 8 rebounds while teammates Michael Rubio and Tyler Arnold chipped in 12 and 11 points respectively. On the other side of the court, Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman was able to employ the services of his entire bench as eight players amassed double digit minutes and as thirteen players saw playing time.
While Mercer’s Kusnyer had the hot hand on the night, first team All-Atlantic Sun selection James Florence seemed to have a streaky night shooting, hitting only 4 of his 12 shots to finish with 14 points. Forward Daniel Emerson also scored 14 points with 10 rebounds while junior Brian Mills tallied a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“We played great defense in the first half and were talking to each other and had a lot of activity on that end of the court,” said Hoffman after the game. “I was disappointed in the second half though as Piedmont came out with a renewed energy. We didn’t respond well,” he added on MercerBears.com.
On his twitter account, Florence commented, “Good team win tonight but we still have a lot to figure out. Haven’t won a close game yet this season.” Mercer will have a chance at getting that ‘big’ win as they did a year ago over Alabama and Auburn as they take on Vanderbilt in Nashville on December 21st.
The next five games for the Bears, all on the road, could shape the rest of their season as they travel to Alabama, UNC-Charlotte, Jacksonville, and North Florida after the Vanderbilt contest.
Photo courtesy of Macon.com
Sports Reporter / Columnist
Having romped to victory over Belmont last week with a near-perfect performance, Mercer’s women’s basketball team failed to find the same form against a disciplined Georgia Southern.
The 76-45 loss marked the end of a four-game winning streak for the Bears who now have a 4-3 overall record.
The Eagles took the initiative right from the tip-off in front of a vocal University Center crowd, racing to 7-0 inside three minutes thanks to field goals from Candice Ivy and J’Lisia Ogburn.
LaToya Jackson then burst into action to pull Mercer back into the game. The experienced senior guard made a lay-up and drained a free-throw, before sophomore Neicey Lewis buried a shot from distance to make the score 9-6.
But the away team began to race away thanks to three-point efforts from Carolyn Whitney and Jamie Navarro, extending their lead to 11 at the second media time-out.
Georgia Southern freshman Meredyth Frye also put together a personal 5-0 run with a field goal and three-pointer to pit the score at 26-8 with 8:45 left on the clock until half-time.
Spurred on by head coach Janell Jones to restore parity, the Bears committed numbers forward and steadily clawed their way into contention.
Senior guard Courtney Ford, who was named Atlantic Sun Player of the Week for the third-straight week coming into the game, made a running jump-shot to put Mercer back on the board.
But the Eagles had other ideas, and a combination of their relentless offense and consistent numbers on rebounds pushed them to 36-23 at the interval.
Except for one made free-throw from the hands of the Eagles’ Ogburn, both teams struggled to muster any creativity and remained scoreless from the floor to start the second half.
However, Mercer came off worse, needing nearly 13 minutes to notch just 10 points and facing a 54-33 deficit with only seven minutes left until the buzzer.
In the closing stages, Georgia Southern further consolidated their lead as Samantha Williams drained consecutive treys within 40 seconds of each other to open up a 30 point gap.
To their credit, the Bears kept plugging away and every eligible player made an appearance; for some it was crucial game-time that may prove important later in the season.
Mercer’s shooting turned out to be their undoing throughout the game. The Bears shot a mere 26 percent from the field and 19 percent from 3-point range and had just one player score in double figures – Jackson with 16 points.
Georgia Southern, on the other hand, shot 50 percent from the field and had four players score 10 points apiece. Furthermore, the Eagles outrebounded Mercer by a considerable 47-29 margin.
“We didn’t come out with a lot of energy, and they did,” reflected Coach Jones. “Their shots fell early, and we struggled all night, and we didn’t play good enough defense to get us back in the game. We didn’t play well on either end of the floor.”
The Bears will be looking to rediscover their swagger quickly as they face a tough upcoming series of away games after finals week.
Mercer’s six-game road trip begins on Dec. 19 at Oklahoma State and they return to conference action against Jacksonville in early January.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Sports Reporter / Columnist
Freshman cross country star Jacob Law has certainly made an impression in his first season as a Bear.
The Crestwood, KY native has surged to several strong finishes for Mercer in Atlantic Sun competition, highlighted by a notable 14th place finish at the Conference Championships last month.
The 6’ 1” Law is an integral member of the clutch of talented freshmen brought in by head coach Ryan Bailey for 2009. As a result, Mercer’s team has gone from strength to strength, consistently posting the fastest times in its history.
Following his exploits this season, Law was selected to represent the Bears at an NCAA South Regional hosted by the University of Alabama. Competing against over 150 of the best runners in the country, Law finished with a time of 33:37.34 (104th) in the 10k race. It was the first time Mercer had been represented at this level of event since 2003.
The Cluster caught up with Law to discuss everything from the science of cross country running to team dynamics.
The Cluster: How has the team’s success this year come about?
Law: I think much of the success this year is down to Coach Bailey. We have a lot more recruits in and we just have more talent in general. It’s kind of a fresh start for us to move forward from.
The Cluster: What is your impression of Coach Bailey in terms of his ability to get the best out of everyone?
Law: Coach Bailey is very much into the science of running. He may not be the strictest coach but he does have a specific plan that we work towards. We carefully look at our pacing and progression throughout the season which, in my view, is just as important as our general fitness.
The Cluster: Personally, what do you like to focus on in training?
Law: Usually, in speed workouts, I will be looking at my pace which has a lot to do with the turnover of your feet. Cross country is more technical than people think and there is a science to it. The best runners’ technique is so honed that they can naturally set their own pace for each race and I am looking to emulate that every time I run.
The Cluster: Do you have a set routine before a big race?
Law: Yes, I like to be alone before a race so that I can get in the right frame of mind for the pain I am about to feel from the physical exertion. I don’t like to joke around or be messed with; it is quite a serious time. Every runner has a different routine – some listen to a favorite song, some like to pray, some warm-up extensively.
The Cluster: Do you have any funny superstitions?
Law: I have specific warm-up socks and racing socks. They’re kind of lucky for me!
The Cluster: How do you see the team improving in the next few years?
Law: A lot depends on our recruiting and who the other teams get. Currently, our team is by far the fastest team in Mercer history. But the A-Sun is increasingly becoming more and more difficult with lots of talented runners. We definitely have a lot of room and time for improvement with five out of our seven leading guys being freshmen. With a little bit more experience and a few good recruits I can see us definitely pushing on strongly.
Sports Reporter / Columnist
The Mercer men’s soccer team fell agonizingly short of clinching the silverware in the final of the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship final.
Facing an in-form Stetson at a neutral venue in Buies Creek, N.C., the Bears fought bravely in the second half but could not prevent a narrow 2-1 defeat.
The loss marked the end to a somewhat fairytale run which saw Brad Ruzzo’s side become the first team seeded fifth or higher to reach the A-Sun Championship Game since Florida Atlantic a decade ago.
Mercer were pegged back early on by a lively Hatters front line which included hot-shot striker Griffin Gilstrap.
In fact, it was senior Gilstrap who broke the deadlock after only four minutes, finding the net with an accurate strike from 12 yards following some neat build-up play.
The Bears defence then managed to steady the ship, reducing Stetson to a series of long-range efforts.
However, after 28 minutes, Gilstrap struck again, this time from distance. The powerful forward received the ball from fellow senior Kevin Munz and created space just outside the box.
Mercer’s defenders closed him down but he managed to fire his shot past keeper Brett Petricek to make it 2-0 and put his side firmly in the driving seat.
The Bears avoided any further trouble until the interval, still in with a chance of clawing the game back.
Following a rousing Ruzzo team-talk and the introduction of sophomore Zach Rall on offense, Mercer began to turn the tide at the beginning of the second half with a period of sustained pressure.
As a result, Stetson began to defend deeper and deeper, trying to get men behind the ball and prevent their opponents from scoring.
However, the Hatters’ safety-first tactics were to no avail as Mercer broke their duck in the 70th minute. Star man Ian Cameron weaved past Ryan Corning on the left flank and swung in a hanging cross. Senior Arkenson Neckles rose above a clutch of Stetson defenders to head home past keeper Logan Potter.
With the momentum firmly in their stride, the Bears then threw all they had at Stetson in search of an equalizer. They came mightily close as sophomore Ryan Young hit the crossbar with a header and Edmonson had a shot cleared off the line.
But it wasn’t to be and the Hatters held on to clinch the title.
For the game, Mercer out-shot Stetson 14-13 overall, but Stetson held a 7-4 advantage in shots on goal which proved to be the telling factor.
With the loss, the Bears 2009 campaign ends with an overall record of 7-11-2.
“I am so proud of our guys and the way they played throughout this entire tournament,” commented Ruzzo after the game. “Obviously we didn’t get the result we were looking for today against a solid Stetson squad, but we have to move on and look forward to next season. We certainly have the ability to go one better in 2010.”
The game marked the final appearances for four Mercer seniors. Neckles, Thomas Knerr, Geoffrey Oliveria and Chrispine Ong’Ango all are set to graduate in May and were integral parts of Ruzzo’s unit.
Four Bears also made the A-Sun Championship All-Tournament Team including Neckles, Cameron, Petricek and Edmonson.
Junior Cameron remained philosophical in looking back on the season: “We definitely had our ups and downs but that is the nature of college soccer. We found our form just at the right time going into the Championships and that is all credit to the guys’ hard work and persistence.”
Sports Reporter / Columnist
Mercer’s women’s basketball team produced a lights-out offensive display to dispatch Belmont in their second Atlantic Sun Conference encounter of the season.
Senior guard Courtney Ford recorded her second triple-double of the season in the 98-69 win and had the University Center crowd singing her name.
The mercurial Ford scored 14 points, bagged 12 rebounds and helped out with 10 assists, becoming just one of two players in NCAA Division I basketball to have a pair of triple-doubles this season.
But Ford’s dominance belied a remarkably ruthless performance from the whole Mercer team whose 98 point total set a new home record.
The Bears never trailed in the contest, leading from start to finish, much to the disappointment of the Bruin’s experienced head coach Tony Cross.
Senior guard LaToya Jackson set the ball rolling early on, draining a three-pointer from top of the key. Ford then leapt into action with a combination of lightning lay-ups and tidy rebounds to help the Bears surge to 20-8 after seven minutes.
Mercer’s lead swelled to 49-28 with just three minutes left on the clock until half-time thanks to some fleet-footed offense from Ford, Jackson and junior Lacy Ramon.
However, to their credit, Belmont did find some of the form that saw them picked to finish third in both preseason polls. Senior guard Kristin Bunch notched a three-pointer and sophomore Crystal Kesler scored four to cut the Bears lead to 57-41 at the interval.
The Bruin’s continued their mini revival in the opening stages of the second half with a 6-2 run to slice the margin further to 59-47.
But Jackson checked into the game to silence the away team with a hanging three-pointer and two free throws just seconds later to increase the lead back up to 15.
Spurred on by Jones, Mercer began to utilize exceptional ball movement and found gaps in Belmont’s defense who could find no answers.
In the dying embers of the game it looked like the Bears would smash the 100 barrier but it wasn’t to be as an optimistic three point attempt from freshman Alex Phillips struck the rim on the buzzer.
The win pushed Mercer to 4-2 on the season and 2-0 in A-Sun play. The Bears have now started conference play 2-0 for the second-straight season.
Belmont, on the other hand, drops to 5-2 on the season with the loss and 1-1 in the A-Sun.
The performance was littered with outstanding individual efforts aside from the contributions of Jackson and Ford. Ramon and Phillips both recorded career-high scoring efforts with 14 and seven points respectively. In addition, freshman guard Lindsey Lowrie, who sat out last year as a redshirt, continued her striking start to the season with a career-high 16 points.
Coach Jones was full of praise for her team: “People need to start taking notice of how well the girls play together and see the potential this team has.”
She also commented on Ford’s input: "Courtney is just fun to watch. There is not much coaching involved, you just let her play. She generates energy for the rest of the team and right now its just exciting to be a part of her senior year."
Mercer will be looking to continue their first-class form against rivals Georgia Southern next time out at the UC on Dec. 11.
Sports Columnist / Reporter
Mercer’s women’s basketball team snatched an impressive victory over Lipscomb in their Atlantic Sun Conference opener at the University Center.
Despite a somewhat lackluster start, the Bears fought back thanks to some rousing offensive play from senior guard Courtney Ford to clinch the 65-59 win.
In the first half, the Bison raced to a 16-6 lead in the opening six minutes of play with junior Hannah Phillips finding her range, adding four points.
With their backs against the wall and struggling to find any rhythm, Mercer were in desperate need of some inspiration.
Thankfully, that inspiration came in the shape of Ford, the reigning two-time A-Sun Player of the Week, whose fast footwork sparked a lights-out 24-2 scoring run for the home team.
Behind by seven and with the interval fast approaching, Lipscomb coach Frank Bennett attempted to break the Bears’ momentum by calling a timeout.
But it appeared nothing could stop Mercer’s surge as they continued to drive home their advantage, 31-18 to the good.
A tidy lay-up from the Bison’s Leah McAlister concluded the opening 20 minutes with the score at 31-20.
Lipscomb still looked off the pace in the opening stages of the second half as the Bears began to consolidate their lead with a 16 point advantage just four minutes in.
However, they would not go quietly, mounting one final charge with eight minutes left on the clock.
Mercer were ahead by 10 but began to take their foot off the pedal and committed a series of fundamental errors. The Bison’s Jenna Bartsokas then burst into action with six points in a three-minute salvo to slice the lead to one.
Bears head coach Janell Jones was far from happy, urging her team to find their form once again.
It was senior LaToya Jackson who steadied the ship thanks to her pin-point accuracy on free throws. She went on a seven point run and drained six straight from the charity stripe to squeeze the last life out of Lipscomb’s comeback.
Jackson finished the game with 17 points to lead the Bears on offense whilst Ford, who was forced to limp off with leg cramps four minutes from the end, registered her fourth double-double in five contests and notched 14 points overall.
Monday, December 7, 2009
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The Bear Zone Team
Sunday, December 6, 2009
J. Andrew Lockwood
Senior Editor / Columnist
At one point, the scoreboard was just downright ugly in the last conference game for the Mercer Bears in 2009. Mercer found themselves trailing by 18 points in the first half to one of their biggest rivals in front of a large Saturday afternoon home crowd in the University Center.
For whatever reason, the Bears couldn’t seem to buy a shot in the first few minutes of the game. “We did not play well early on,” said Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman on MercerBears.com, adding, “Belmont did a very good job of coming out and attacking us in the first half.”
After dropping a tough contest to Lipscomb in the Thursday night matchup, Mercer (3-5, 0-2 A-Sun) aimed to take out their frustrations on Belmont (6-2, 2-0 A-Sun), but was instead met with a hot-shooting Belmont team that shot 50% in the first half and 47% from the floor for the game in route to a 94-90 win. Trailing 46-31 at the half, most of the 2,314 fans seemed to be more preoccupied with getting an SEC Football Championship score rather than the product on the floor.
James Florence and company showed up to play in the second half though, going on a 23-13 run to get back into the ballgame. With only 2:34 left, Mercer stole the lead away from the Bruins on a Jeff Smith layup before Belmont went back up on a few key shots. Trailing by three with only seconds remaining, three point master E.J. Kusnyer drained a long shot from the right side of the perimeter to tie the game and force overtime.
Mercer took an initial lead in the five-minute overtime period, but Belmont was ultimately the stronger team, winning by four with a final score of 94-90. James Florence was the game’s leading scorer with 25 points to solidify his standing as the top scorer in the conference. Teammates Daniel Emerson (14 points, 14 rebounds), Brian Mills (14 points, 6 rebounds), Brandon Moore (13 points), and E.J. Kusnyer (12 points) also saw double-digit scoring totals on the afternoon, but it was the balance effort from Belmont’s distance shooter that proved to be too much. Ian Clark led the Bruins with 22 points while Mick Hedgepeth (20 points), Keaton Blecher (14 points), and Kerron Johnson (13 points) also made big contributions.
Now, Mercer takes on Piedmont College at home before five consecutive away games, highlighted by matchups with Vanderbilt, Alabama, UNC Charlotte, and Jacksonville.
Photo courtesy of Macon Telegraph
Friday, December 4, 2009
J. Andrew Lockwood
Senior Editor / Columnist
It appeared that Mercer was hungry to erase the disappointment of losing to Lipscomb in front of a nearly sold out crowd last season when the Bears took a 45-38 lead into halftime. However, the Bison proved why they’re the team to beat in the Atlantic Sun with a come-from-behind 98-89 win in front of 2,000+ fans in the University Center.
After a 40 point game on the road against Georgia Tech, senior guard James Florence got off to another hot start with 21 points in the first half and 32 for the night. Despite being the leader scorer for the night, Florence would be the Bears’ only big scoring threat as Jordan Burgason (31 points), Adnan Hodzic (25 points, 9 rebounds), and Josh Slater (24 points) would help Lipscomb pull away from Mercer in the second half.
“The great thing for us is it’s not the last game of the season,” said head coach Bob Hoffman after the game on MercerBears.com. “We have to get ready to go again.”
While the game was a tale of two halves, it certainly included an ESPN-worthy highlight reel. Early in the contest, Mercer blitzed Lipscomb with a 9-0 run to regain the lead, capped by a James Florence dunk in the middle of the lane through three Bison defenders. It was a thunderous dunk that brought the entire University Center to their feet for applause.
Late in the game, Mercer battled to cut the Lipscomb lead to four points with a Brian Mills sky-high dunk, but eventually Mercer couldn’t stop Lipscomb’s free throw shooting down the stretch as the Bison grabbed their first conference win of the season.
Mercer’s Jeff Smith put up a career high 16 points and 9 rebounds on the night as Daniel Emerson added in 13 points while battling Hodzic in the paint for most of the night. The loss drops Mercer (3-4, 0-1) in the conference standings while the game was a much needed win for Lipscomb (2-4, 1-0).
Photo courtesy of Macon.com