GAME NOTES: With a spot in the 2012 CollegeInsider.com Tournament final at stake, the Mercer Bears battle the Fairfield Stags this evening al Alumni Hall in Fairfield, Connecticut. The winner will advance to the title tilt next Wednesday to take on either Oakland or Utah State.
Mercer didn't let a disappointing loss to Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament ruin what has been by all accounts an impressive season, as it recently won its third straight game in the CIT by knocking off Old Dominion on the road, 79-73, on Wednesday. That win came on the heels of a tournament-opening 68-60 triumph over Tennessee State and a 64-59 verdict over Georgia State, both at home. As a result, the Bears are 25-11 on the year, which includes a 9-8 ledger in true road bouts.
Fairfield has won its first three games in this tournament as well, getting past Yale (68-56), fellow Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference member Manhattan (69-57), and Robert Morris (67-61) to reach tonight's semifinals. The Stags are now 22-14 on the year, and they improved to 4-1 all-time in this event after earning a split in 2010. Fairfield has had the home court advantage in every game its played in this tourney, and has won eight straight home games overall.
This bout marks the first-ever meeting between Mercer and Fairfield in men's basketball.
Mercer refused to go away in its recent clash with Old Dominion, battling back from a 12-point halftime deficit to earn the 79-73 victory in Norfolk, Virginia just a few nights ago. Justin Cecil led the team in scoring for the third straight game, netting 22 points, while three other Bears finished in double digits as well. Jakob Gollon came up just short in his bid for his second double-double of the season, as he tallied nine points and 12 rebounds. Both teams were effective in hitting roughly 46 percent of their field goal attempts, and each drained 11 three-pointers and scored 14 points from the foul line. The difference was that second-half surge by the Bears, as they made good on 57.1 percent of their total shots, while scoring twice as many points as the Monarchs from the charity stripe (12-6). A total of six Bears average at least 8.3 ppg, led by Langston Hall (11.4 ppg, 4.1 apg), Gollon (10.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.3 apg) and Cecil (11.1 ppg). Mercer has had the same starting five in 35 of its 36 games this season.
Maurice Barrow scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead Fairfield to a six-point win over Robert Morris earlier this week. Barrow wasn't the only one to put forth maximum effort, as Rakim Sanders logged a double-double consisting of 14 points and 10 boards, and Colin Nickerson pitched in with 14 points as well for the Stags, who shot 51.0 percent from the floor even though they missed nine of their 12 three-point attempts. Robert Morris made good on only 35.5 percent of its field goal tries, and wasn't much better from beyond the arc (5-of-17). Fairfield won the game despite being beaten soundly on the glass (43-33). The Stags boast only two players averaging double figures in the scoring column for the season, as Sanders and Derek Needham combine for 28.4 ppg. Unfortunately, Needham recently suffered a broken foot and will miss the remainder of the season. That means guys like Barrow (9.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Ryan Olander (8.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg), Desmond Wade (6.3 ppg) and Nickerson (4.7 ppg) are going to need to elevate their level of play on a consistent basis.
Both of these teams have played solidly through the first few rounds of this event, but the Stags have the advantage in that this is their fourth straight home game. Expect the Bears to battle to the end, but to come up just short.