MACON, Ga. — The East Tennessee State basketball team knows what it will take to beat Mercer in an early season Atlantic Sun Conference showdown.
“We have to come out and play our best game we’ve played all season,” Bucs guard Rashawn Rembert says.
ETSU, the Atlantic Sun Conference’s hottest team having won eight of its last 10 games, plays at Mercer tonight in a meeting of two teams with championship aspirations.
“It’s gonna be a good barometer,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. “There’s 18 of these. It’s no bigger than any other one. But, with that being said, whenever you play the better teams in the league, you certainly want to play well. It is bigger from that standpoint.
“It’s an important game. Hopefully we can play well.”
The Bucs (8-6) have been playing well for a while. They weren’t perfect in their latest win, a 71-55 victory at Kennesaw State, but they still cruised home after a tight first half to give Bartow his 300th career victory.
Freshman guard A.J. Merriweather took over in the second half against Kennesaw State, scoring 12 of his 19 points after halftime, mostly on strong drives to the hoop. He also led the Bucs with 10 rebounds.
“We run absolutely nothing for A.J. and he gets you 19 and 10,” Bartow said. “He’s an incredible kid, he’s a great athlete and he’s got a great motor. He’s relentless. He kind of goes and gets everything on his own and he gets a lot done.”
Mercer (11-5, 2-1) is coming off a 62-60 overtime victory against USC Upstate. The Bears, who are 8-0 at home, avoided a two-game losing streak after dropping their previous game to North Florida.
“They are good,” Bartow said. “It starts with coaching. Bob (Hoffman) is a very good coach. He’s got really good players, and he’s got a senior point guard that’s kind of the key to their team. He’s playing a lot of guys, but six of his top eight are seniors.
“It’s a well coached, talented, senior-dominated team with a smart point guard. They’ve got all the pieces covered: point guard, wings, bigs. It’s a well balanced team.”
The Bears, picked second in the preseason A-Sun poll, have beaten Seton Hall and Ole Miss and fell to Texas by three points. They have won 38 of their last 42 games at Hawkins Arena.
“It’s gonna be a tough one,” said Rembert, who also had 19 points against Kennesaw State. “Mercer’s a good team. They have some solid wins. They play well together. I feel like that will be a good measuring stick for us. It will be a good measuring stick for whoever plays well.”
Mercer is led by all-conference point guard Langston Hall, who averages 14.6 points a game. Ike Nwamu and Daniel Coursey each average just under 11.
“Certainly they’re one of the best teams in our league and it’s on their home floor,” Bartow said. “All I would say is we’ve won eight of our last 10 so at least we go into the game feeling good. We’ll have to play a really good game to win.”