LOS ANGELES, Calif. - In one of the biggest upsets in school history, the Mercer men’s basketball team went toe-to-to-toe with 18th-ranked Southern Cal, coming out on top of the Trojans, 96-81, Saturday afternoon at the Galen Center.
Following a stunning first half that saw the Bears lead USC, 47-30, at intermission the Trojans came out on fire, led by freshman O.J Mayo’s 11 points in the second-half’s first eight minutes. But the Bears withstood the run, pushing the lead back to 68-58 at the 8:02 mark, building on the lead and closing out with the win.
“We felt like we had a chance,” said Mercer head coach Mark Slonaker. “It is a great team win. The victory is so special for this team because they are always so positive.”
Mercer (1-0) grabbed the lead at the 17:13 mark of the first half on two free throws by freshman James Florence and never relinquished the advantage. In the frantic opening minutes of the season opener for both teams, Southern Cal (0-1) grabbed the tip, but following a steal by the Bears, junior forward Calvin Henry slammed home an alley-oop pass from guard James Florence that set the tone for much of the opening frame. Two runs by the visiting Bears propelled Mercer to the first-half explosion against the Trojans.
With the score knotted at six, Mercer ripped off a 13-1 run over the next six minutes, fueled by Henry on the offensive end and a strong defensive effort, giving the Bears a 19-7 lead. The slender forward scored 10 points on a perfect 4-of-4 from the field and grabbed four rebounds before picking u a crucial second personal foul in the first half. Defensively, the Bears were up to the task, hounding the Trojans into five turnovers and 31.3 percent shooting in the opening eight minutes.
Southern Cal answered with a 6-0 run of its own before Florence book-ended scoring by the Bears, drained a trey at the 11:45 mark to stop the Trojans’ run and grabbing a defensive rebound and going coast-to-coast with a lay-up with two minutes left in the first half.
Florence’s 3-pointer ignited Mercer’s second run of the opening frame as the Bears outscored USC 18-9 from the 11:45 mark to just more than five minutes remaining before the half. Mercer’s lead grew to 19 on Shaddean Aaron’s trey with just under three minutes left in the half.
Mercer finished the half shooting 58.8 percent from the field while holding USC to 28.6 percent shooting and grabbing seven steals en route to holding Mayo to seven points in the half.
Southern Cal came out on fire in the sccond half, hitting four of its first four shots and trimmed the Bears’ lead to nine, at 51-42 with 17 minutes left. Mayo keyed the USC rally, scoring five points in the first two minutes.
Freshman Brian Mills answered Mayo’s layup with a slam at on the other end with 13:10 remaining, giving MU a 55-50 lead and Florence’s 3-pointer pushed Mercer’s lead back to 59-52 at 11:26. Mayo’s jumper cut the lead to 61-56 midway through the half, but the homestanding Trojans would get no closer over the final 10 minutes.
The Bears places five players in double figures, with Florence pouring in 30 points and going a perfect 6-of-6 from the line. Henry added 14 points with Aaron chipping 13 points. Senior Brian Pfohl nearly recorded his second career double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Freshman Brian Mills dropped in 10 points with Michael Ellis added nine points and collected 10 boards, all on the defensive glass.
The much-heralded Mayo led all scorers with 32 points.
“Everyone contributed,” added Slonaker. “And coach Williams did a great job of scouting USC. I am just really proud of everyone on the team.”
Mercer returns to action Tuesday night when the Bears play host to the Alabama Crimson Tide at the University Center. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m.