JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – The Buccaneers’ Ben Rhoda grabbed a Travis Strong miss and scored a bucket with 18.2 seconds remaining and Tim Smith added two free throws with 7.5 seconds on the clock to give East Tennessee State University an 84-81 win as the Mercer men’s basketball team fell just short in its bid to stretch its conference road winning streak to three games.
Following Rhoda’s putback, Montavious Waters went to the charity stripe with an opportunity to tie the game with 9.2 seconds left, but could only hit one. The Bears then fouled Smith, and he hit his free throws.
East Tennessee’s Travis Strong opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, but on the next ETSU possession, sophomore Sam Dolan went up strong, blocking a shot and Strong was whistled for an intentional foul on a runout at the 18:41 mark, sending guard Andrew Brown to the line. Brown calmly sank the two free throws, and following a Jacob Skogen jumper on the next Bears’ possession, Mercer claimed a brief 4-3 lead.
The Buccaneers’ pressure then began to pay dividends for ETSU as they reeled off a 13-2 run to go up by 10, but the Bears would not wilt, answering with a 15-4 run of their own, capped by a traditional three-point play by Will Emerson, giving Mercer a 21-20 lead.
Following a timeout, the Bucs ran off eight straight, but again the Bears countered, tying the score at 36 apiece on the first of back-to-back long-range 3-pointers by Brown, and the second giving Mercer (5-13, 4-8 A-Sun) a 40-38 lead with just over four minutes left in the opening stanza. Skogen picked up his second personal foul at the 1:11 mark with the score knotted at 40, as ETSU’s Ben Rhoda hit a driving layup. Rhoda hit the ensuing free throw and the teams headed to intermission with Mercer trailing 46-42.
Skogen finished the half with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, while Brown added 10 first-half points. Mercer was outrebounded 26-16 in the opening stanza, but out-shot East Tennessee State (12-8, 9-4 A-Sun) 47.2 percent to 45.0 percent.
Mercer came out of the break on a 7-0 run, fueled by a Skogen trey and a layup by Will Emerson, as the Bears took a brief 47-46 lead. After trading baskets, ETSU edged out to a slim three-point lead at 14:12 and momentum seemed to swing ETSU’s way when the Bears committed a shot-clock violation at the 14:12 mark. But coming off two straight A-Sun road wins, the Bears would not quit, cutting the deficit to one as Brown grabbed the ball out of a scramble and scored a traditional three-point play on the layup and free throw. Mercer then proceeded to take its largest lead of the night at 65-58 on a jumper by Brian Pfohl and back-to-back treys by Skogen and Alacqua. ETSU’s Tim Smith, the A-Sun preseason Player of the Year, then scored five straight to cut Mercer’s lead to three just before Skogen picked up a costly fourth foul with just over nine minutes remaining. Montavious Waters drained two from the charity stripe, pushing the lead back to four at the 8:12 mark.
The Buccaneers managed to re-take a three-point lead before Emerson drained a 3-pointer from deep in the right corner, tying the game at 75-75 with 4:45 left in regulation. Strong answered with a trey on the other end and Waters slammed back a Mercer miss, cutting the deficit to just one. Trailing by one with 2:27 left, Rhoda fouled Skogen on a shot from beyond the arc. Skogen hit 2-of-3 free throws to regain the lead, but Smith dropped in a shot, giving ETSU an 80-79 lead with 1:24 to go. Emerson was fouled with exactly 44.0 seconds left and hit one-of-two free throws, setting up the final frantic seconds.
East Tennessee bounced back from a 74-71 overtime setback to Stetson suffered Saturday night that snapped a five-game winning streak. The Buccaneers have won 11 of their last 13 games.
Skogen finished with a game-high 28 points, with Brown adding 16 points. Emerson chipped in 13 points. Mercer was outrebounded 49-42, but outshot the homestanding Bucs, 42.2 percent to 40.5 percent.
Mercer returns home Thursday night, playing host to Belmont as the Bears open a four-game conference homestand, its longest conference stretch since Feb. 7-16, 2002.
Tip off is at 7 p.m. in the University Center.