MACON, Ga. — East Tennessee State couldn’t find the basket and Mercer got its revenge.
The cold-shooting Bears got past the colder-shooting Bucs on Monday night, winning 54-46 at University Center to stay on top of the Atlantic Sun Conference basketball standings. It was Mercer’s eighth consecutive victory.
The Bucs had earlier beaten Mercer 76-61 in a game in which they led by 29 points.
“We came out more aggressive tonight,” said Langston Hall, one of three Mercer players with 11 points. “They basically punked us last time and we didn’t hit back. Tonight was a different story. We played physical. They’re a great team but tonight we got them.”
The Bears (19-7, 11-2 A-Sun) had won their previous six A-Sun home games by an average of 17 points a game. ETSU fell to 12-11, 6-6.
“If people around the country were watching that game, they might say it was ugly,” Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said. “But I called it beautiful because the end result is what you’re looking at.”
As has been the case in many of the Bucs’ losses, they did enough defensively to win. Mercer shot 37 percent from the field, made 1 of 16 shots from 3-point range and was held to its lowest point total of the season.
It was ETSU’s offense, which disappears for long stretches, that decided this game. The Bucs shot 27 percent, with their three seniors combining to go 7 for 28, and the 46 points was a season low.
“To be quite honest, I’m shocked it was a four-point game,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. “It could have been a 25-point game. We’re competing, but we’re not making shots. When the ball is not going in, it’s frustrating and it doesn’t look good.”
The Bucs were within five points with three minutes left but couldn’t do enough to catch the Bears.
Hall connected on a 3-pointer for a 42-34 Mercer advantage with 6:00 left. It was the Bears’ first 3-point basket after they missed their first 13 tries.
Moments later, it was 45-34 on Travis Smith’s traditional 3-point play. The Bucs then scored six in a row to make it 45-40, but the last-gasp effort wasn’t enough and they weren’t able to get closer than four the rest of the way.
ETSU, leading the nation in steals at 10.8 per game, managed only six, and two of those came in the first minute.
Adam Sollazzo led the Bucs with 13 points, going 4 for 15 from the field. Jarvis Jones added 11, including three of ETSU’s four 3-pointers.
Isiah Brown was 2 for 9 from the field and got his only rebound with 10 seconds left. Freshman Rashawn Rembert, the hero in the Bucs’ win over Kennesaw State on Saturday, missed all three of his 3-point shots in six minutes of action.
ETSU was 4 for 17 on 3-pointers and was out-rebounded 42-31.
Smith and Bud Thomas joined Hall as Mercer’s scoring leaders with 11 points each. Jakob Gollon, who had scored in double figures in each game during the Bears’ winning streak, was held to six points on 2-of-9 shooting but grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.
Mercer led 24-17 at halftime thanks in part to a 21-13 rebounding advantage. The Bucs shot 26 percent in the first 20 minutes, going 2 for 10 from 3-point range, where they rank last in the league.
Marcus Dubose, who was 2 for 6 from the field, was the only ETSU player with more than one basket by halftime.
“I felt great at halftime,” Bartow said. “I said if we could just start scoring the ball, we’ll win.”
It didn’t happen. ETSU managed to shoot 29 percent in the second half.
The Bucs return to action Saturday with a 4 p.m. home game against North Florida.