MACON, Ga. — Mercer’s basketball team might have payback on its mind when East Tennessee State pays a visit to University Center tonight.
The Bears come into the game tied with Belmont for first place in the Atlantic Sun Conference at 10-2. One of those losses was a 76-61 setback at ETSU on Jan. 7, a game the Bucs led by 29 points at one point.
“I would just think the way we beat them at our place, they’re going to be waiting on us,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said.
Mercer, having its best season in nine years, is riding a seven-game winning streak, having beat USC-Upstate 61-47 on Saturday in its last game. It is one of two teams to have clinched a spot in the A-Sun tournament. Belmont is the other.
“It’ll be a tough game,” Bartow said. “Mercer is one of the better teams in our league. They have skilled players, they’re well coached and they’re very smart. They’re playing very well right now.”
The Bucs have won two in a row and come in with at least a little momentum after breaking a three-game A-Sun losing streak Saturday with a 64-59 win over Kennesaw State. They got a bonus performance from freshman Rashawn Rembert, who came off the bench to score 11 points and make all three of his 3-pointers.
Look for Rembert to take some more minutes away from Marcus Dubose, the former starting shooting guard who took one shot in seven minutes at Kennesaw State.
Rembert’s play put the Bucs in position to Beat Kennesaw State, but Adam Sollazzo and Tommy Hubbard finished off the victory. Sollazzo scored 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting and had five assists.
Hubbard was scoreless for more than 37 minutes, but he got five points in the final 2:37 and grabbed three offensive rebounds during that stretch when each possession was crucial.
Hubbard was playing with a painful toe injury that has kept him out of practice all week. Afterward, he joked that he wanted to have his left big toe removed and packed in ice until the next game.
“Tommy is a warrior, the true definition of a warrior,” Sollazzo said. “He’s out there playing on one leg basically and he’s making game-winning plays.”
Isiah Brown also reached double figures, scoring 14 points.
ETSU will need all three seniors — Sollazzo, Hubbard and Brown — to play well against Mercer. And it wouldn’t hurt if someone else kicked in a big game like Rembert did against Kennesaw State.
“Mercer has been playing well,” Hubbard said. “They’re a good team and they have a lot of confidence. They’re playing at their place. We’ve won two in a row and our offense is getting better. It should be a good game.”
Mercer hasn’t lost since the first meeting with ETSU. The Bears are led by Justin Cecil, a 6-foot-8 senior who averages 11.9 points a game. Lagston Hall (6-4 sophomore) is at 10.8 and Jakob Gollon (6-6 sophomore) gets 10.6. The Bears’ top six scorers all average between 8.6 and 11.9.
Bartow said getting used to the atmosphere in University Center, where the A-Sun tournament will be held at the end of the month, will be an added factor in the game. It will be a good chance to get his team a little confidence playing on the court where it won the A-Sun tournament in 2010 by beating Mercer in the championship game.
“That’s big,” Bartow said. “If you’re able to win the game, it gives you good memories when you come back. It’s huge. It’s a very, very pivotal, big game for us to play well.
“We’ll have to play one of our better games of the year to squeak out of there with a win.”