Mercer put together a complete and dominant effort at McAlister Field House on Thursday night, steamrolling The Citadel, 76-53, in handing the Bulldogs their fifth straight loss.
The Bears’ (13-11, 8-3 SoCon) starting frontcourt of Darious Moten (15 points, 7-7 FG) and T.J. Hallice (16 points, 7-10 FG) combined to shoot 14-of-17 from the field, as Mercer boasted a 58 percent clip for the game and pummeled The Citadel (8-14, 3-8 SoCon) on the glass to the tune of a 34-15 advantage.
“We had to play together and stay together to get this win,” said Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman. “They’ve beaten some good teams in that building, but fortunately we rebounded and executed really well on the offensive end.”
SoCon assist leader Phillip Leonard finished with seven assists, as the Bears registered 18 as a team while committing just seven turnovers. In two games against The Citadel this season, Leonard posted 15 assists with zero turnovers.
Ashton Moore finished with 19 points to pace the Bulldog attack, making four 3’s in the process to move into sixth place in Citadel history with 192 triples. Jake Wright added 11 points on a trio of 3’s in his first collegiate start.
A 33-21 halftime lead was briefly trimmed by Wright’s 3-pointer with 19:16 to play, cutting the deficit to 33-24, but Mercer made its next 11 field goal attempts from eight different players in expanding the margin to 62-37 with 11:27 left.
Leonard knifed through the Bulldog defense in transition and crushed The Citadel’s faint hopes with a powerful right-handed slam as part of a supplementary 10-2 run, giving the Bears their largest lead at 76-46 with 4:21 to play.
The Citadel shot 60 percent in the second half — and 47 percent overall — but could not keep pace with the Bears, who permitted just 16 points in the paint and allowed the Bulldogs only two offensive rebounds on 23 missed shots and no second-chance points.
“I think we were certainly prepared for them because they do a lot with their different packages,” said Bulldog head coach Chuck Driesell. “But Mercer played extremely well tonight and beat us in every statistical category.”
Mercer started 8-of-11 from the field and established a lasting multi-possession lead by virtue of an 11-0 run over a 4:04 stretch early on, making for a 21-9 cushion with 11:21 left in the first half. Moten provided the bass during the run with a thunderous tomahawk slam at the 13:52 mark.
Offensively, The Citadel protected the basketball well against Mercer’s collapsing defense, committing just three first-half turnovers, but could not find enough openings inside and could not rebound missed attempts from the perimeter.
“There’s not a lot of room for error against a good team like this,” Driesell said. “We got crushed on the boards tonight. We have to play better.”
Moore started 0-for-5 from the field but knocked down his first 3 with 7:24 left in the first half, but it was one of only two field goals for the Bulldogs over the final 8:18.
The Citadel goes for a season sweep of UNCG, hosting the Spartans at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Bulldogs squeaked past UNCG, 85-83 in overtime, at the Greensboro Coliseum on Jan. 5 to snap a 22-game road losing streak.
This was the first of two straight games in which Bulldog fans were encouraged to donate non-perishable items as part of the SoCon Hoops Against Hunger initiative. In partnership with the Brad Daugherty Foundation, the organization brings together the basketball community along with public, private and sports organizations to help provide meals for students who may not have enough to eat at home during the extended holiday breaks from school. The promotion continues for Saturday’s game vs. UNCG.
The Beech Hill Jugglers provided the halftime entertainment.