Stetson out-toughs Mercer en route to road victory

USA TODAY Sports

Macon, GA -- Stetson’s balance was the key to Thursday night’s 72-60 victory over Mercer. Five Hatters scored in double figures led by Amber Porter’s 15 points.

"I felt like we were trying to survive the game versus win," said a visibly frustrated Mercer coach Susie Gardner. "I thought we had a chance to win this game. [It was] toughness plays [that lost us the game].

If this were a boxing match, one would say that Mercer (9-7, 2-3 A-Sun) went toe for toe with the favored Hatters (11-5, 3-1 A-Sun) in the first half. Already without star guard Precious Bridges who had appendix surgery, the Bears came out playing hard early on -- and with an edge.

Couple that with their execution of their 2-3 match-up zone and it seemed like the perfect recipe to unseat one of the top teams in the A-Sun conference.

"I thought our zone was good," said Gardner.

Early on Stetson was able to take the lead at 10-6, but the Bears quickly responded and tied the game up on jumpers from Alicia Williams. Most of the game followed this pattern as Stetson would get a decent sized lead only to have Mercer cut the lead down.

Mercer’s zone stymied the flow of Hatters so Stetson coach Lynn Bria turned to freshman guard Stacia Allen; and she immediately rewarded her head coach’s faith in her. In less than a minute, the diminutive Allen connected on two long three-pointers which gave Stetson more breathing room at 25-20.

"She’s been playing better and I (figured) they would go zone," said Bria. "She came in and hit those two threes [for us]."

And while the Hatters had the lead throughout most of the first half, it wasn’t a very comfortable one.

That’s because Mercer’s trio of Kendra Grant, Briana Williams and Alicia Williams were unstoppable. Whether it was Grant hitting her trademark midrange jump shot or Alicia Williams hitting from the short corner, it seemed that they could not miss.

It looked like the Hatters started to get it rolling as they created some separation at 37-30 with less than a minute left. But, Briana Williams nailed a three-pointer from about 25 feet with six seconds left to make it 37-33.

The aforementioned Mercer trio combined for 29 of Bears’ 33 first half points.

But the start of the second half was a complete role reversal for both teams. Stetson came out with the fire they lacked in the first half, and the edge that Mercer seemed to play with was nonexistent.

The Hatters immediately pounced on the Bears once the half began. Stetson opened up with a quick 6-0 run with back to back layups by Sasha Sims and Porter. This caused Gardner to use a quick timeout who was noticeably displeased.

"I have to call a quick timeout to try and fire them up after we had halftime, we just had halftime," said a frustrated Gardner. "I constantly have to call an early timeout before the media (timeout) to start the second half…because we’re not going out there to make a difference.

"I’m visibly frustrated and I’m disappointed."

"For some reason, we’re coming out of every halftime flat," said Boykins. "We’re like not…how we started out like real amped up. We’re coming out flat and that’s the problem."

Coming out of the timeout, Mercer seemingly regrouped but by that time the Hatters had a double digit lead after only two minutes of play – and most notably had seized control.

The main catalyst that spurned the success of Stetson wasn’t just the efficient scoring; it was the many second chance opportunities garnered by offensive rebounds. Stetson had 14 of them in the second half while Mercer had just 5 and it was spearheaded by Myeisha Hall.

"You’re talking about an energy booster – she’s the one that got it going," said Bria. "She got on the glass, she plays so hard, (and) she gives us instant energy."

But much like the first half, the Bears stayed within striking distance and with 8:04 left, they were within five at 60-55. Then Stetson went on a 12-0 run to put the game out of reach.

"I thought in the second half, we got them to miss," said Bria. "And we did a couple of things; we trapped Grant a little bit more. And I thought that was effective and I thought we rebounded great in the second half – that made a big difference."

Stetson didn’t have their best night offensively, but their players responded to their coach’s challenge at halftime. While it looks like Mercer is still searching for their identity as a team.

"She’s (Sharnea Boykin) the one player that represented our program," said Gardner. "She played hard for 40 minutes, she was tough. She went out there and played hard the entire time."

"I want players who will do whatever it takes, whether you are fatigued or not, to be tougher and go out and try to win. We have got to quit playing so nice, we’ve got to play tough!"

Outside of Porter, four other Stetson players had double figures: Cherisse Burris (12 points and 7 rebounds), Jama Sharp (11 points), Brianti Saunders (10 points) and Sasha Sims (10 points and 9 rebounds).

Mercer was led by Alicia Williams’ 18 points. Briana Williams had 14 points while Kendra Grant contributed 12 points. Also, Teanna Robinson ended the game with 7 blocked shots and now leads the nation at 4.31 per game.

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