GAME NOTES: The semifinals of the 34th annual Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament tips off on Friday, as the top-seeded Mercer Bears clash with the Spartans of USC Upstate at Hawkins Arena in Macon, Georgia.
As the fifth seed for the event this season, USC Upstate was in action on Thursday night and took down Jacksonville in the quarterfinals, 76-62. The victory evened the team's record in the tourney all-time at 1-1.
Mercer, one of two current programs in the Atlantic Sun with any conference tourney titles to their credit with a pair, is the top seed in this year's event and showed that it deserved that high praise by crushing Lipscomb on Wednesday in an 82-48 final.
The Bears, who have a record of 25-26 in the tournament over the years but haven't claimed the trophy since 1985, have dominated over the last month or so, losing only to Florida Gulf Coast (60-57) through the most recent 11 outings. The other positive for Mercer is that the team has won all 14 games played here in their home building.
As far as the all-time series between the teams is concerned, the Bears own a 9-2 advantage. Mercer won both regular-season meetings this year.
The winner of the matchup this time around will be competing in the championship round of the tourney on Saturday afternoon versus the survivor of the Stetson/FGCU battle.
USC Upstate led by 10 points at the break against Jacksonville last night, shooting 55.6 percent from the floor through the first 20 minutes of action and 52.6 percent for the entire game. Every starter scored in double figures for the Spartans, beginning with Torrey Craig who tallied 17 points and added six rebounds and three blocked shots in order to offset his five turnovers. Ty Greene tacked on 14 points, Ricardo Glenn 12, followed by Babatunde Olumuyiwa and Adrian Rodgers with 11 points apiece.
Craig, the leading scorer for the Spartans in four of their last six outings, paces the team overall this season with 17.2 ppg and is also one of the top men on the glass with seven boards per outing as well. Greene checks in with 12.6 ppg and has combined with Craig to make good on 147 3-pointers over the course of 32 games, but the rest of the unit has combined to make good on just 56 triples.
The Bears made it look easy on Wednesday night in their own building, crushing Lipscomb by 34 points as they shot 52.1 percent from the field and also outscored the visitors, 24-8, at the free-throw line. Langston Hall recorded a double-double with 12 points and a game-high 10 assists, three more than Lipscomb had as a unit. Monty Brown added 11 points off the bench, followed by Travis Smith and Chris Smith with 10 points apiece.
Travis Smith and Hall lead the team in scoring with averages of 13.3 and 10.7 ppg, respectively, but really it is the defense that makes this Mercer team operate at peak performance. Opponents have shot just 38.7 percent from the floor, including 31.9 percent behind the 3-point line, leading to just 57.1 ppg.
The Spartans certainly have some scoring punch in Craig, but there is something to be said about having had some added time to rest in between games and that is where Mercer gains the advantage.