MACON, Ga. – The two hottest teams in the Atlantic Sun Conference collide Friday night when the Mercer men’s basketball team plays host to Lipscomb in the regionally televised A-Sun Game of the Week, with tip-off slated for 7 p.m. at the University Center.
Mercer (16-11, 10-6 A-Sun) is riding a five-game win streak, while Lipscomb has won four straight contests and the only sure thing is that one team will leave the hardwood with its streak broken. The Bears have battled their way into sole possession of fourth place in the league standings behind their longest win streak of the season and their most successful stretch of victories since 2002-03 championship squad won 12 consecutive games to close out the regular season.
The Bisons (12-13, 8-8 A-Sun) invade the University Center having claimed six wins in their last eight contests. The Bears enter the contest just one game behind third-place ETSU, and two behind league co-leaders Belmont and Jacksonville with four games remaining in the regular season. Mercer is a game up in the win column and two in the loss column on fifth-place Stetson and holds a two-game lead over sixth-place Lipscomb.
The Bisons snapped a five-game losing streak with last month’s win past the Bears in Nashville and are 5-2 since the first meeting with Mercer and picked up an impressive 73-68 win past Belmont in the latest “Battle of the Boulevard” between the two Nashville schools. The loss to the Bisons snapped Mercer’s three-game win streak, but the Bears have bounced back to post an impressive 6-2 ledger since suffering the setback, with three of those wins coming on the road. The Bears are also 6-2 at home in A-Sun action, while Lipscomb sports a 2-6 league record away from Allen Arena.
Lipscomb, a consensus preseason pick to finish fourth in the A-Sun, closed out 2008 with an impressive, 74-69, road win at Indiana and jumped back into league action with an 82-76 home win past Florida Gulf Coast, but dropped five straight decisions - by a total of 18 points (an average of 3.6 ppg.) - including two by a single digit and one by three points in overtime. Mercer will be facing a young Bisons’ squad that returned eight letterwinners, including three starters, from last year’s team that posted a 15-16 overall record, including a 9-7 mark in A-Sun play and finished in a two-way tie for fifth place with Gardner-Webb. The Bisons had to replace forward Eddie Ard, their leading scorer and a second-team all-conference selection from a year ago and list just two seniors on this season’s roster. One of those seniors, 6-foot-3 guard Michael Lusk has started 23 games this season and averages 8.2 points a contest and along with teammate Josh Slater, hands out a team-high
3.5 assists per contest. The remaining returning starters, Adnan Hodzic and Slater, each earned spots on last season’s Atlantic Sun Conference all-freshmen team and both are averaging double figures in the scoring column this season. The 6-foot-9 Hodzic, a two-time A-Sun Player of the Week honoree, leads the team in both scoring (16.9 ppg.) and rebounding (7.4 rpg.), ranking sixth in the the A-Sun in both categories, while Slater adds 11 points per contest. Hodzic and sophomore forward Brandon Brown rank second and fourth in field goal percentage in the league and guard Jimmy Oden is shooting 78.8 percent from the charity stripe in the season (4th in the league).
Mercer is averaging 74.1 points a game, while the Bisons possess the third-most potent offense in the league, averaging 75.4 points per contest and the second-highest accuracy from the field in the league (46.7%). They are just behind the Bears in rebounding, pulling down 39.4 boards per game - with Mercer averaging 40.8 rebounds.
Over the Bears’ win streak, James Florence has averaged a team-high 22.4 points, four assists and 3.4 rebounds, while fellow junior Daniel Emerson continued to average a double-double, with 16.6 points and 11.4 boards. Guard E.J. Kusnyer has posted 11.6 points and Michael Ellis, who led the Bears’ rally past Stetson last Monday with a career-high 28 points, has notched 11.4 points during the five contests.
At halftime of Friday night’s contest, two students will be selected to be wrapped and roll on the floor to try and “stick” up to $500 on their wrap. The lucky students will get to keep what they stick and as part of the weekend’s festivities, students will be tailgating outside the UC with a DJ prior to the game.
Listen to Rick Cameron call all the action live on 105.5-FM ESPN The Fan, or via the internet at www.mercerbears.com. In addition, every conference game is video streamed via ASun.TV.
In addition to being televised on Comcast Sports Southeast (CSS), the game will be available live online at ESPN360.com. ESPN360.com is a 24/7 broadband sports network, delivering more than 3,000 live global sports events annually. ESPN360.com is available at no charge to fans who receive their high-speed Internet connection from an affiliated service provider. It is available free to approximately 18 million students and military personnel via any computer on a U.S. campus or military base computer network.