JOHNSON CITY, Tenn.- Using a balanced attack and a deep bench, the top-seeded Lipscomb Bisons ended the eighth-seeded Mercer Bears' basketball season by a 78-62 score Thursday afternoon in the Atlantic Sun Conference Men's Basketball Tournament at East Tennessee's Memorial Center.
In Mercer's last appearance as the number eight seed, the Bears advanced to the semifinals of the 2000 conference tourney after upsetting top-seeded Troy in the quarterfinals, but no such magic occurred Thursday afternoon as the Bisons avoided an upset. Lipscomb's only other appearance in the A-Sun tournament was last season when the Bisons fell, 68-64, to Jacksonville.
"We knew coming in that our margin of error was slim," said Mercer head coach Mark Slonaker. "We wanted to play more zone but their outside shooting prevented that. Our turnovers in the first half and the first five minutes of the second half were the keys to the game."
Mercer grabbed an early 4-0 lead as senior Will Emerson banked in a shot from the right side less than a minute into the game, followed by freshman guard Montavious Waters grabbing his own miss and sticking it back in with just under two minutes gone. Lipscomb missed three of its first four shots but first team All-Conference selection Eddie Ard knotted the game up at four with a jumper at the 16:19 mark, and the Bisons forged a two-point lead at the first media timeout.
Junior guard Ross Alacqua gave the Bears their second lead, at 7-6, with a long-range 3-pointer from the right side with 14:55 remaining in the opening half. Lipscomb regained a brief one-point lead on two free throws by Lipscomb's Shaun Durant, but sophomore Brian Pfohl and senior Andrew Brown answered with back-to-back jumpers to give the Bears a tenuous three-point lead. Ard again tied the game with a 3-pointer. Mercer held its ground against the top-seeded Bisons with Waters dropping in a reverse layup to again tie the score at 19 apiece.
Lipscomb snapped the tie on a pair of 3-pointers, the first a "look what I found" trey by Fisk after the ball was knocked loose by a Mercer defender, and he found himself open in the left corner. Ard followed up with a three pointer as the Bears committed their 10th turnover of the half and Fisk completed a 9-2 run to give LU its largest lead at 28-21. Alacqua drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key to break the run with 1:23 on the clock, and, following a Williams basket and Poindexter free throw, Waters drove into the lane, had his shot blocked, grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He dropped in two free throws with 6.8 seconds on the clock, setting the 31-26 halftime deficit for the Bears.
Mercer held a 16-13 edge in rebounding through the first half but committed 11 turnovers to just four for the bigger Bisons. The Bears also out-shot Lipscomb in the opening 20 minutes, 45.8 percent to 42.9 percent.
Mercer opened the second frame cold, missing its first three shots, while Lipscomb opened the frame hitting its first three shots from the field and all four free throws, building a 16-point cushion with over 16 minutes remaining. Using a strong inside game and accurate outside shooting (10-of-15) in the first 10 minutes of the half, the Bisons went on to open a 22-point lead with just under nine minutes remaining and the Bears could get no closer than 14 points the rest of the way.
"They are a very good team in all phases of the game," added Slonaker.
Brown finished with a team-high 12 points while Emerson wrapped up his stellar career at Mercer with 1,050 points, ranking 27th on the school's all-time scoring list, behind Steve Moody's 1,063 points (1963-67).
Mercer, which was competing in its fourth consecutive conference tournament and sixth in the last seven years, finished the 2005-06 campaign at 9-19 overall.