CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - The Mercer men's basketball team used a first-half blitz and long-range shooting to manufacture a 63-53 victory over Chattanoooga at the McKenzie Arena on Sunday afternoon. Junior guard Langston Hall led all players with 19 points in the win.
Mercer's second-straight win moved the team to 6-5 on the season while Chattanooga slipped to 2-8. The win also helped head coach Bob Hoffman stay perfect against Southern Conference opposition during his Mercer tenure. In five seasons under Hoffman, the Bears are 6-0 against the SoCon, including a 2-0 mark this year.
"I thought we were going to have to be tough to win today," Hoffman said. "We found a way to tough it out and get it done. I'm excited for our guys because we're on the road after having finals all week and limited practice. This win is a credit to the kind of men they are."
Hall's 19 points included five-of-nine shooting from three-point range and combined with five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block. His back-court mate, junior Travis Smith, also reached double figures with 10 points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Mercer led 5-2 initially, but Chattanoooga put together eight unanswered to go on top by five just four minutes into the game. With Mercer's scoreless streak approaching three minutes, sophomore Jibri Bryan provided the spark the Bears needed, coming off the bench to can three treys in just two minutes of game time to put Mercer back out front.
"He was awesome, he hits critical shots when the game is on the line," Hoffman said of Bryan.
Bryan's shots ignited a 19-0 Mercer run that saw the Bears hold the Mocs without a point for nearly nine minutes of game play. At the end of the blitz, Mercer had assumed a 24-10 lead with 9:24 left before half.
By halftime, Mercer's lead was 33-22 and the Bears had smothered the Mocs to the tune of 27.6% (8-of-29) shooting in the opening 20 minutes.
Chattanooga, which came into the game as one of the nation's more adept rebounding teams, was boarded up by a 24-15 margin in the first half. Before Sunday's game, the Mocs had outrebounded opponents by an average of 7.1 caroms per game and were among the nation's top 100 teams in rebounds per outing.
In the second half, Mercer's advantage ballooned to 16 (41-25) before the Mocs retaliated with 10-straight points to close within six at the 12:52 juncture. Long-range shots did the trick once again, as Hall and sophomore T.J. Hallice knocked down trifectas that fueled an 8-2 Mercer response.
Chattanooga stuck around though, using full-court pressure defense to trim the deficit to six (59-53) with less than two minutes to play. In the final minute, Mercer held Chattanooga scoreless and went four-of-four from the free throw line to preserve the win.
In the end, Mercer tallied more made three-pointers (11) than made two-pointers (10) and outshot Chattanooga 37.9%-26.9% from downtown. The Bears also finished with a 38-33 advantage in rebounding, marking the third time in the last four games the Bears have out-boarded the opponent.
"Having the rebounding edge is huge for us going forward, that's something we really haven't done as well as we need to," Hoffman said.
Bryan finished with nine points and three rebounds while junior Bud Thomas stuffed his stat sheet with eight points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.
The Bears aim for three-straight wins in their next outing at Georgia on Tuesday. Game time at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens is slated for 11:30 a.m.