Wednesday, November 19, 2008
AUBURN, Ala. - Behind another huge effort on the boards and clutch free throw shooting, the Mercer men's basketball team won its third straight game with a 78-74 victory over Auburn in the first round of the Chicago Invitational Challenge Wednesday night at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.
Mercer senior Calvin Henry drained two free throws with 2.4 seconds on the clock to give Mercer a 78-74 lead and the Bears improved to 3-0 to open the season for the first time since the 1984-85 campaign that saw the Bears advance to the NCAA Tournament. The last time Mercer defeated two SEC in the same season was 1952-53, when the Bears knocked off Georgia, 68-63, and Mississippi, 78-40.
Auburn was the second straight member of the Southeastern Conference to fall to the Bears – Mercer upset West Division favorite Alabama, 72-69, just two days ago in Tuscaloosa.
With a sizable contingent of Mercer students roaring in the end zone, the Bears hit 7-of-9 free throws inside the final five minutes to hold off the Tigers and avenge last season’s 68-59 loss to Auburn.
Mercer sophomore forward Brian Mills drained two free throws to break a 67-67 tie with 4:50 showing and Florence drained a 3-pointer from deep in the left corner as Mercer went on to build a 73-68 advantage with 2:29 on the clock. Still leading by five, AU’s Quantez Robertson hit an inside basket and following a timeout by Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo, the Bears' James Florence ran the clock down but turned the ball over with less than 27 seconds on the clock - and two seconds on the shot clock.
Tigers' senior Korvotney Barber scored inside, trimming the MU advantage to just 75-74 with 21.6 ticks showing. After a Mercer timeout, Michael Ellis found guard E.J. Kusnyer open on the Bears' end of the court, but Kusnyer elected to pull the ball out instead of laying it up and was fouled before he could dish the ball off. He hit one-of-two from the line with 9.4 seconds remaining and the Tigers hurried the ball downcourt, but Robertson was called for charging as he went inside trying to tie the game for the 11th time. Calvin Henry was fouled and sealed the game with his two from the charity stripe.
Both teams opened up patient on offense, with Mercer using a 10-0 run from the 17:40 mark to the 15-minute mark to gain a 13-4 advantage. Auburn’s Frankie Sullivan hit a 3-pointer to momentarily stop the Bears' surge, but moments later Emerson collected one of the Orange and Black’s seven offensive rebounds in the opening half, was fouled and hit two from the line to spark another 7-2 run, giving the Bears a 22-12 lead with 11:29 remaining in the first half.
Following Emerson's two from the line, sophomore Brian Mills scored five straight for the Bears, dropping in a basket then recording a traditional three-point play for the 10-point advantage.
Auburn (1-1) then got untracked offensively on their home court, answering with an 11-0 run of their own, fueled by junior guard Tay Waller. In the midst of the spurt, Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman was whistled for a technical foul for leaving the coaches’ box to protest an apparent travel by an Auburn player who stole an errant Mercer pass, drove the court and laid the ball off the bottom of the rim and came down with it in his hands.