Mercer rallied from eleven points down nearly midway through the second half to defeat George Mason at home on Monday night. The nine point win does not indicate how close this game was.
The Bears relied on solid defense down the stretch, a hallmark of Bob Hoffman's team. The defense was leading to quicker, more efficient offense. Throughout much of last year, the Bears played a methodical, very efficient offensive game with solid defense to boot. Tonight, the Bears offense was slow and looked inept for much of the night. In the closing minutes, the offense came to life. The difference was not only that they were taking better shots, but also that they were getting into their offense more quickly and getting out on the fast break when they had the chance.
With the game tied at 58 with 1:37 remaining, Desmond Ringer claimed a huge offensive rebound for the Bears, kicked it out to Jestin Lewis, who drained a huge three, giving the Bears an advantage they would not relinquish.
Demetre Rivers stepped in for the injured Jibri Bryan and scored ten points and five rebounds. It was Rivers first career start, and he stepped up his game. He scored the first five points of the game for the Bears.
Stephon Jelks led the Bears with 16 points. Jordan Strawberry continues to impress off the bench, as he had six assists to go with six points and three rebounds. Freshman Ethan Stair had eight points and three rebounds. The Bears also did a great job protecting the ball, turning it over just six times.
George Mason was picked to finish 13th in the Atlantic Ten in the preseason, but looked a little better than that for much of the night tonight. Marko Gujanicic scored 14 points and collected nine rebounds. He made 6 of 11 from the floor and 2 of 4 from three. Otis Livingston II scored 17 points on 7 of 15 shooting and 3 of 9 from behind the arc.
The Patriots collected 12 offensive rebounds for the game. Outside of Gujanicic and Livingston, they did not make a three pointer, though, with the rest of the team going 0 for 12 from long range.
Mercer had some turnover during the offseason, but should get better as the year goes along and contend in the Southern Conference. They will be dangerous at the conference tournament in Asheville, and even by the time conference play starts, they will be a much improved team. They showed during the final ten minutes tonight just how good they can be. They have a home game on Thursday against Alabama State, a team that beat Virginia Tech and lost by just two to UAB already this year. That should be a very interesting game for these Bears. Next Monday, the Bears go to Davidson to take on one of the preseason favorites in the Atlantic 10.
George Mason looks like a team that should continue to improve under first year coach Dave Paulsen. They have size and should rebound the ball well throughout the season. They are probably better than they were last year when they won just nine games. However, in the Atlantic 10, it is tough to move up. They may struggle to get up too high in the conference. They play Ole Miss on Thursday night in the Charleston Classic, a very difficult match-up to be sure. With Oklahoma State, Seton Hall and Virginia also in the field, not to mention Long Beach State, Bradley and Towson, this is a solid field that will present plenty of opportunities for the Patriots. It would be nice to get two wins there after the Ole Miss game and that is not impossible for this club.