MACON, Ga. – The Mercer women's basketball team opened the scoring on a Tanya Kessenich layup and never looked back. Kessenich and Sarah Russell led the Bear offense to a 76-64 win over the Jacksonville University Dolphins.
Mercer (12-14, 9-10 A-Sun) methodically worked the post early in the game and entered halftime with a 37-32 lead. The Bears got balanced scoring from Zsaquez Flucker, Russell and Kessenich as the trio scored six, seven and eight points, respectively.
The Dolphins (9-17, 6-13 A-Sun) struggled to close the gap in the second half, getting as close as three on three occasions. After JU trimmed the lead, Mercer answered each time.
Jacksonville cut things to three with 3:08 remaining but Sally Skeldon hit a lay-up to extend the Mercer lead back to five. After stealing the ball on JU's next possession, Skeldon found Kessenich for a layup to give Mercer a 67-60 lead with 2:16 left.
Down the stretch, Mercer could have added to its lead but went 3-for-7 in the final minute. However, Jacksonville was unable to capitalize on the offensive end, and the lead was big enough for Mercer head coach Brenda Nichols to insert Karen Hickman into the game with almost 40 seconds remaining.
"Our goal was to get up enough to get Karen [Hickman] into the game," Mercer head coach Brenda Welch-Nichols said about getting her senior, who has missed the entire season because of a knee injury, into the game. Hickman never attempted a shot but it was a triumph to simply see her name in the final box score.
Russell led the Bears with 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting while Kessenich added 18 on 8-of-13 shooting. Skeldon narrowly missed a double-double, finishing with eight points and nine assists. Flucker finished with a career-high eight points on 4-of-4 shooting.
Three players finished in double digits for the Dolphins. Ashley Williams led the squad with 18 while Virginia Gregoire added 15 and Sheena Carpenter contributed 14 points.
"We want to go into the tournament on a good note, and this gets us going in that direction," added Nichols. "We made it through a bad February and, hopefully, March will be much better to us."
The Bears return to action Saturday at home against North Florida in the regular season finale for both teams. Tip-off is slated for 2 p.m. on Senior Day at the University Center.