Macon, GA – In their home opener, Mercer was able to stave off a very feisty and gritty Western Carolina team for the 67-64 victory.
“I felt like it was going to be a close game all day,” said Mercer head coach Susie Gardner. “Western Carolina is well-coached by Karen (Middleton), and they came out and gave us all we could handle. They hit some big shots, and we happened to hit some big shots at the end, as well.”
Early on in the game, both teams struggled offensively as neither team seemed to be able to get into any rhythm – mainly because of the new emphasis on fouls. It particularly affected the Lady Bears as they had 8 fouls less than halfway through the first half.
“I thought it hurt us having Teanna (Robinson) obviously in foul trouble – most of the game,” said Gardner.
While Mercer was dealing with foul trouble, Western Carolina was able to keep the game close by slowing the pace down. And even with the loss of starting guard Justin Taylor -- who went down with a knee injury early in the first half --, the Catamounts were able to keep themselves within striking distance. By halftime Western Carolina had cut Mercer’s eight point lead down to two: 26-24
While the new foul rules were a detriment, a nuisance and cause of frustration for Mercer, they made modifications in the second half to take advantage of them.
“Our game plan for the second half was to get to the rim,” said Gardner. “We wanted to get to the rim. They’re [going to] call fouls, and we got fouled. Alicia Williams did an outstanding job getting to the rim. We had to adjust at half, and our players did a great job adjusting. Precious (Bridges) got going by getting to the rim as well.”
“My mindset was getting to the rim basically,” said Bridges who scored her game-high of 17 points all in the second half. [I knew] getting to the rim would open up my (jump shot).”
That adjustment by the Bears proved to be the elixir to their first half headaches as they shot nearly 50% in the second half compared to 22% in the first. And while the game got very close at the end with the Catamounts cutting the lead from nine to two with 1:10 left. But, Kendra Grant stole the ball from Lindsay Simpson as she was going for the game-tying three.
Also providing a much needed spark was guard Briana Williams who scored 16 points. This was her first game back from suffering a season ending ACL injury last year.
“It felt good,” said Williams. “I was a little nervous, of course, being the first game, but I just wanted to prove that I’m feeling good. When I come in, I feel like it’s a good spark when I am on for my team. I feel good either starting, coming off the bench, whatever, as long as I play my best and my hardest."