GAME NOTES: The quarterfinal round of the 2013 Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament continues on Wednesday night, as the top-seeded Mercer Bears tangle with the eighth-seeded Lipscomb Bisons at Hawkins Arena in Macon, Georgia.
Lipscomb's season has been anything but impressive, as it sits with a 12-17 overall record and earned the last seed in this event by going 7-11 in the league, but it had no problem qualifying for the tournament as it finished five games ahead of last-place Kennesaw State. The Bisons had been winners of three of four before losing their regular-season finale to North Florida (85-78).
Since making an improbable run to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship last season, and coupled with the departure of perennial A-Sun power Belmont to the Ohio Valley Conference, Mercer was dubbed the preseason favorite in the league and the team did not disappoint, going 21-10 overall and winning the regular-season title with a 14-4 conference mark. The Bears are especially hot coming into this matchup, having won nine of their last 10 games to close out the campaign.
Mercer swept the season series with Lipscomb, most recently winning at home on Feb. 21, 83-58, but the Bisons still hold to a 12-11 lead in the all-time series.
The Bisons have had very little problem putting up points this season, as their scoring offense (70.0 ppg) ranks fourth in the league (although their .427 field goal percentage ranks just sixth). Their issues have come at the defensive end of the court, as opponents are putting up 76.5 ppg, which ranks them last in the conference. Pacing four players in double figures is Deonte Alexander, who scores 13.6 ppg on nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc. Stephan Hurt was named A-Sun Freshman of the Year after tallying 11.8 ppg (on 53.5 percent from the field) and 7.9 rpg. Rounding out the balanced effort are Malcom Smith (11.5 ppg) and Martin Smith (11.3 ppg).
The Bears' offensive numbers (64.4 ppg, .432 FG percentage) don't seem to equate to a first-place team, but they have been able to rise to an elite level in the conference by surrendering just 57.4 ppg on 38.9 percent from the field, both league bests. Mercer's suffocating defensive effort and slow-tempo style of play means it can get away without having a top-notch scorer. Travis Smith is the number one option with 13.4 ppg, doing so with greater percentages from 3-point range (.407) and the foul line (.880). Langston Hall (10.7 ppg) runs the point and has twice as many assists (118) as turnovers (59).
Don't expect Lipscomb's offense to be much of a problem for Mercer's stout defense, as the Bears have a one-track mind as they seek the A-Sun Tournament title.