The Mercer Bears showed some splashes of life against Tennessee in Knoxville on Monday night, but could not find enough offense to finish the job, falling 64-54.
Ike Nwamu really was incredible in this one. He scored 30 of the Bears 54 points. He quite literally was the only Bear to knock down a field goal in the first half. He had thirteen of their fifteen first half points. For the game, Nwamu made six threes and nine field goals. The Bears as a team only knocked down one other three and six other field goals. Nwamu also came up with five rebounds and four assists.
T.J. Hallice had a decent game, scoring seven points with seven rebounds for the Bears. However, he made just one field goal. But he managed to get to the free throw line six times, making five. Darious Moten scored seven points with five rebounds as well.
The Bears are going to get credit for their defense in this one, but the Vols shot 53.5% from the floor. The Bears forced fifteen turnovers, but the Vols got a lot of easy shots off when they were not turning the ball over. Devon Baulkman led the Vols with 22 points. He had only scored 34 points on the season prior to this one.
The Bears did manage to stay with the Vols on the glass, outrebounding the Vols 30-29, including thirteen offensive rebounds. The Bears came up with 38.2 percent of the offensive rebounds and held the Vols to 32 percent on the offensive glass. While the Bears were obviously smaller than their orange clad foes, they scrapped around and did some damage on the glass.
The Bears replaced all five starters from last year's squad that made it to the Round of 32. There were questions about where this team would be heading into conference play in the preseason. Where they are is 6-6, with some quality performances to go with some head scratchers. The team is still a bit of a mystery.
Nwamu is obviously one of the better players in the Southern Conference, and the Bears have two more SEC tests (against Georgia and Texas A&M) prior to SoCon play in January. Their first three January games are on the road, against UNCG, VMI and ETSU. The Bears are now 0-3 in true away games and 1-5 in all games away from home. The Bears are clearly behind Wofford at this point, but are right in the thick of things behind the Terriers in the conference race.