History is in the making as the Mercer men’s basketball team takes a break from its non-conference schedule the first week of December for a couple of key conference tilts against Nashville foes Lipscomb and Belmont. The Bears are 3-3 on the season after a successful trip to Providence, R.I., where coach Bob Hoffman’s team came within two points of winning the World Vision Invitational Tournament. During the tournament, senior James Florence began his march toward becoming Mercer’s all-time leading scorer. As the first game of the season tipped off, “Flo” needed 249 points to tie the legendary Sam Mitchell.
With a large contingency of Mercer supporters providing encouragement, Mercer opened play Nov. 13 with an 89-80 win over Bucknell. The next day, the Bears destroyed Bryant University 80-56 and, in the championship game on Sunday, came from 19 points down before losing to host Providence, of the Big East Conference, 79-77.
Mercer All-America candidate James Florence drives to the rim against Georgia Tech. He notched a game-high 40 points in a tight contest.
The Bears returned home Wednesday, Nov. 18, and easily put away an outmanned Fisk University team, 110-45. In that game, Mercer recorded its most points ever scored in the University Center since its opening in 2004.
The competition then intensified as Mercer went into the Atlantic Coast Conference to play powerhouses Florida State and Georgia Tech. In front of a capacity crowd at the UC for Homecoming on Nov. 21, the Bears struggled against what may be the tallest college basketball team in the land, Florida State, and dropped an 89-50 decision to the Seminoles.
The next week, Mercer travelled to Atlanta on Nov. 27 to battle Georgia Tech in Alexander Memorial Coliseum. For the second consecutive year, the Bears battled the Yellow Jackets down to the wire before losing 85-74. However, among Tech’s wealth of talent, including its most heralded recruit ever in freshman Derrick Favors, and with three McDonald’s High School All-Americans, it was Florence who was the best player on the floor, tallying 40 points in the contest. His career-best scoring effort brought him within 113 points of passing Mitchell.
The stage is now set for Mercer’s first conference games of the season, with Lipscomb coming to the UC Thursday night and Belmont on Saturday afternoon. As coach Hoffman has stressed to his squad for many months, winning the conference tournament and securing the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in March, is the ultimate goal. The more successful the team is in regular season conference play, the higher seed it will receive for the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament to be played March 3-6 at the UC.
This week’s games at the UC will be double-headers with the women playing Lipscomb at 5 p.m. on Thursday, followed by the men at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, the women will play Belmont at 1 p.m. and the men will host the Bruins at 3:30 p.m.
Later this month, after the Bears host Piedmont on Dec. 10 at the UC, the team will step outside the A-Sun, into the strong Southeastern Conference, when they play at Vanderbilt on Dec. 21 and Alabama on Dec. 23.