TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama’s football team is No.1 in the country and plays a tough brand of football, but the Mercer men’s basketball team came into Coleman Coliseum and used a huge 56-38 rebounding advantage to shock the Crimson Tide, 72-69 in non-conference men’s basketball action Sunday night.
Junior guard James Florence found Calvin Henry underneath the basket for a contested reverse layup that proved to be the winning basket with 13.8 seconds on the clock and Florence hit two free throws to give the Bears a three-point advantage. Alabama’s Ronald Steele missed a potential game-tying trey and Florence collected the rebound at the buzzer.
Florence scored a team-high 23 points, while Daniel Emerson added 18 points. Brian Mills netted 10 points and collected eight boards with Henry just missing a double-double, scoring nine points and recording a game-high 13 rebounds.
Last year Mercer (2-0) upset Southern Cal in November and the Bears are 2-0 to start a season for the first time since the 1997-98 campaign and snapped Alabama’s four-game home win streak.
Unlike last season when Alabama held off a second-half rally to edge the Bears, 90-83, at the University Center, ‘Bama never gained more than a six-point lead.
Both teams struggled in the first couple of possessions, but junior forward Daniel Emerson, who scored the Orange and Black’s first five points, gave the Bears an early 5-3 advantage on his traditional three-point play inside the first two minutes of the contest. Unfortunately the Mercer big man picked up his second foul at the 17:03 mark, with sophomore Brian Mills taking his spot on the court.
Alabama guard Ronald Steele gave the Crimson Tide a brief two-point lead, but basket interference was whistled on Calvin Henry’s shot on MU’s next trip downcourt and the score was knotted for the second time of the night.
After trading turnovers, the Bears went on a 6-0 run ignited by Florence’s acrobatic fastbreak layup. Mills’ putback gave Mercer a four-point advantage and 20 seconds later guard Mark Hall found Michael Ellis open for the Bears’ sixth straight point.
Moments later, the Tide matched Mercer’s run with six consecutive points of their own, only to have the Bears bolt back out by five, as Florence dropped in a basket and Emerson drained a 3-pointer from the top of the circle with just under eight minutes on the clock.
With the Bears offsetting ‘Bama’s size with effort and quickness, the Orange and Black held an impressive 24-11 advantage on the boards with seven minutes remaining in the first half.
The Crimson Tide then went on a 14-5 run over the next five minutes to gain a 31-26 lead, but Mills found the range from downtown, as the Douglasville, Ga., native nailed a trey from deep in the right corner then found the distance from the opposite side of the court on the next possession, pulling the Bears to within two points with less than two minutes on the clock.
The two teams traded baskets, then Florence tied the score for the fourth time of the opening frame while drawing the foul. He misfired on the ensuing free throw attempt but the Bears had an opportunity to go into intermission with the lead after collecting the rebound, but Florence was whistled for a five-second count with just under 11 seconds on the clock. Alabama’s Steele then attempted an off-balance trey at the buzzer that was off the mark and the two teams went into the break tied at 33-33.
A cold front pushed through Tuscaloosa on Saturday while the Bears were practicing at Coleman Coliseum and it apparently carried over to the hardwood, as neither team was able to shoot better than 39 percent in the opening frame.
Junior E.J. Kusnyer opened the second-half scoring with a trey from the left corner – his first of the night – and Emerson muscled up an inside bucket and Mercer again held a five point lead.
Alabama chipped away and tied the contest at 40-apiece on a wild tip-in credited to Demetrius Jemison after the bated ball bounced high off the backboard with 15:40 on the clock.
Alabama’s Mikhail Torrance broke free for a lay-up and hit the ensuing free throw after drawing the foul, giving “Bama a short-lived four-point lead. But Mercer roared back with a 12-0 run from the 12-minute mark to the 7:31 point, forcing Crimson Tide coach Mark Gottfried to call a timeout. Bama’s Steele hit a 3-pointer out of the timeout to snap the MU run and the Bears held a 56-51 advantage at the media timeout.
With the student section staring him in the face, Florence nailed two from the charity stripe at the 7:08 mark. Following a missed free throw by the Crimson Tide, Henry swooped in to collect a Florence miss and slammed it home for a nine-point Mercer lead.
A 7-0 run by Alabama trimmed the Bears’ to a deuce, but Florence stopped the run with a traditional three-point play. JaMychal Green answered with his own three-point play.
Mercer was outscored 16-6, surrendering the lead before Emerson hit a layup, then Alabama’ Alonzo Gee hit just his second basket of the night, a jumper from the left side to regain the lead and could have been a back-breaker, at 69-68, with just 27.5 ticks on the clock. Mercer coach Bob Hoffman called a timeout to set up the final frantic seconds and Florence and Henry combined to make it successful. Florence drove the lane, went airborne and found Henry underneath.
Florence scored a team-high 23 points, while Daniel Emerson added 18 points. Brian Mills netted 10 points and collected eight boards with Henry just missed a double-double, scoring nine points and recording a game-high 13 rebounds.
Steele led all scorers with 25 points, while Green added 17 points for the Crimson Tide.
The Bears have another quick turnaround, visiting Auburn for the second consecutive season on Wednesday, Nov. 19. Tip-off is slated for 8.p.m. (eastern) at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.
• With his five blocked shots on the night, Henry now ranks third all-time at Mercer.