Dec 22, 2013, 7:17 PM EDT
The interesting thing about conferences that traditionally send just one team to the NCAA tournament is that the winner of the automatic bid is the team that many people remember. And for teams that win their regular season title only to lose in the conference tournament, that can be a bitter pill to swallow.
That was the case for Bob Hoffman’s Mercer Bears in 2012-13, as they won the Atlantic Sun regular season title but lost to FGCU in the tournament title game. As a result the Eagles earned that trip to the NCAA tournament, and after a magical weekend in Philadelphia they became the darlings of the event. That may have led to outsiders simply assuming that FGCU would roll to the A-Sun’s regular season crown this season, but Mercer once again has enough talent to not only contend but win the title.
On Sunday the Bears led at Ole Miss by as many as 18 points in the second half, only to see the Rebels storm back and lead 67-60 with 6:44 remaining. Mercer refused to go away however, and a Langston Hall three-pointer with two seconds remaining gave the Bears a 79-76 victory. The win is the second win over an SEC team within the last week for the Atlantic Sun, with USC Upstate knocking off South Carolina on Thursday. Jarvis Summers led Ole Miss with 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting.
Ike Nwamu scored 24 points and Hall added 17 for the Bears, who lost at Texas by three and beat Seton Hall in November. As a team five players entered Sunday’s game averaging 8.9 points per game or more, and on the season Mercer leads the A-Sun with an average of 81.2 points per game. That depth makes the Bears a difficult team for opponents to defend, and they’re one of the league’s best defensive teams as well.
Mercer’s win over Ole Miss is their third straight over an SEC opponent. Sunday’s result is notice that the Bears have every intention of defending their A-Sun regular season title while also looking to enjoy greater success in the conference tournament.
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