Tennessee State (20-12) at Mercer (22-11)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, March 13, 7:00 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: University Center (3,500) -- Macon, Georgia. Television: None. CIT Record: Tennessee State 0-0, Mercer 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The Tennessee State Tigers will travel to University Center in Macon, to face off with the Mercer Bears in first-round action of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament this evening.
These teams have never met before and neither has made an appearance in this event before this season.
Although overshadowed by overachieving Murray State, Tennessee State turned in a strong year in the Ohio Valley Conference, posting mark of 20-12, with an 11-5 tally against conference foes in the regular season. The Tigers were the two-seed in the OVC Tournament but dropped a heartbreaker to the Racers, falling 54-52 in the title game despite holding a seven-point lead in the second half. The Tigers also lost to the Racers in the last game of the regular season, but were the only squad this year to beat Murray State to this point.
Mercer also finished the season a second-place squad in its conference, as the Bears trailed only NCAA Tournament participant Belmont in the league standings after a 13-5 ledger against conference foes. Mercer didn't make it to its conference tournament title game, as the Bears crumbled down the stretch and eventually dropped a semifinal matchup with Florida Gulf Coast. After a eight-game win streak earlier in the season, the Bears have lost four of their last six games.
After leading well into the second half, Tennessee State ran out of steam and was outscored 11-2 over the last five minutes including a layup with four seconds remaining that secured the win for Murray State and ended Tennessee State fleeting NCAA Tournament hopes. Despite holding the Racers to just 37.5 percent shooting, the Tigers were unable to hold on due to a 14-5 discrepancy from the free-throw line and 18 turnovers.
Tennessee State is paced by All-OVC First Team selection Robert Covington (17.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg). The junior forward finished the season ranked third in scoring and second in rebounding. Covington's play is complemented by the efforts of backcourt mates Patrick Miller and Kellen Thornton. Miller (10.9 ppg, 3.6 apg) is second on the team in scoring and the top player in assists while Thornton (9.3 ppg) provides an offensive spark off the bench. Tennessee State is used to playing close games this year, as the Tigers are scoring 68.4 points per game, which is not much better than the 66.6 ppg they allow.
Tight games won't be anything new for Mercer either, as the Bears are coming off of a 62-58 loss to Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun Tournament. The Bears led for the majority of the second half in the game but were outscored 6-1 in the final two minutes to surrender the lead and the game. Mercer shot at a 41.2 percent clip in the game and did hold a 36-30 edge on the boards in the loss.
Unlike Tennessee State, Mercer is not a team that has one focal point, with the squad having six players averaging at least eight points per game, but none more than 11.5. Langston Hall (11.5 ppg, 4.0 apg) is the top scorer and does a good job of running the balanced attack by getting his teammates involved. Jakob Gollon (10.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg) isn't far behind Hall and is also the squad's leading rebounder. Justin Cecil (10.3 ppg) is the last player averaging in double figures, while Bud Thomas (8.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Daniel Coursey (8.2 ppg) complete the team's starting five, while Travis Smith (8.2 ppg) is the primary contributor off the bench.
Tennessee State came within two points of an NCAA Tournament berth and with Covington leading the way, the Tigers are a dangerous squad. Mercer has stumbled down the stretch and despite the homecourt advantage, the Bears may not have enough to counter Covington.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tennessee State 70, Mercer 65
03/13 10:42:03 ET