MACON, Ga. – Before a record standing-room-only crowd, Alabama escaped with a 90-83 win past the Bears in men’s basketball action Tuesday night at the University Center.
Using a strong inside game and paced by junior forward Richard Hendrix’ 28 points and 14 rebounds, the Crimson Tide (2-0) avoided Mercer’s bid for a second consecutive upset to open the 2007-08 season.
Trailing since the 16-minute mark of the first half and facing a 12-point deficit early in the second stanza, sophomore guard James Florence got untracked offensively, pouring in 12 points over a four-minute span to help pull Mercer (1-1) to within two, at 57-55, with 12:38 showing on the clock, but Alabama’s Justin Tubbs and Hendrix answered for the Tide, combining for eight points as the Bears went cold, missing two 3-point attempts.
Mercer climbed back to within 77-70 at the 4:42 mark, but would get no closer as Alabama’s balanced offense enabled the Crimson Tide to ease back to a 13-point advantage with 2:34 remaining.
Senior guard Shaddean Aaron opened the game on a mission, nailing Mercer’s first three buckets – a running jumper and a 3-pointer sandwiched around a jumper by Hendrix in the paint – followed by another basket to give the Bears a 7-4 lead at the 17:11 mark of the opening half. Less than a minute later, a trey by Senario Hillman knotted the score for the second and final time of the night as the 3-pointer ignited an 11-2 run, putting ‘Bama up 15-7 with 13:25 showing on the clock.
It was Aaron answering again, dropping in a put-back off a Florence miss, and a Brian Pfohl lay-up that trimmed the deficit to just four but the Bears offense again went cold as Mercer misfired on three of its next four attempts. Back-to-back slams by junior Calvin Henry got Mercer as close as 26-20, but again the Crimson Tide went to the inside power game and grabbed a 14-point lead, their largest advantage of the contest with a little more than five minutes remaining before the break.
Alabama held a 50-32 advantage on the boards but was unable to put the Bears away as Mercer’s defense forced 10 Tide turnovers and block six shots, including three by Henry.
Aaron shared team-high scoring honors with Florence as each notched 22 points on the night. Pfohl added 15 points while collecting a team-high six rebounds. Henry and freshman Mark Hall each chipped in 10 points.
“We were as close as three possessions,” said Mercer head coach Mark Slonaker. “I am very proud of the team. They never stopped playing and showed a lot of grit and determination. Alabama is a great team and will probably be ranked in the polls soon. We will grow from this and get better.”
Next up for the Bears is a two-game road trip, beginning with Harvard on Friday night, followed by Boston College on Sunday.