Chattanooga and Mercer collided in a defensive struggle on Monday night. The Mocs defense won the day, while the Bears were left with little hope of catching them for the conference regular season title. The Mocs 72-66 overtime win was thrilling and left little to be desired for the fans.
Chattanooga is now up two and a half games on ETSU while leading Mercer by three games. No team is closer. The Mocs have a game at ETSU later on this week, and leading the conference by two in the loss column certainly puts them in position to put the conference away this weekend.
Yes, the Mocs still need to win two more road games this week at Western Carolina and at ETSU to get there, but there is certainly no better position to be in with just six conference games remaining.
In this one, the story was the two defenses, which are two of the best in the conference. The Mocs shot just 36.5% from the floor, but the Bears were not much better at 37.9%. The Mocs knocked down nine three pointers to Mercer's five and made seventeen free throws to the Bears eleven.
Andrew Fishler was the pleasant surprise in this one for the Bears. He collected eight rebounds and had eight blocks in twenty minutes of action. He clearly bothered Justin Tuoyo, who shot just 5 of 14 from the floor for the game. Fishler was a difference maker that could make a huge impact on the rest of this season as we move forward.
Eric Robertson got hot again for the Mocs. He has not been shooting particularly well lately, but he scored 20 in this one. Of those twenty, 15 of those came very early in the game. Dee Oldham scored 10, including knocking down a huge three late in regulation to give the Mocs the lead.
Greg Pryor struggled, making just 1 of 9 from the floor with four points. He also fouled out.
But that's the beauty of this Mocs team. They have learned how to win when their offense is not playing well. They do not need any one player to score to be successful. They have a team full of players that can make things happen when their teammates are struggling. Earlier this year, if Pryor struggled, the whole team may have struggled. If Tuoyo and Pryor were not great offensively, few players would have been able to pick them up. That's not what happened tonight.
Mercer lost their first home game of the year, but have some positive things to take from it. Demetre Rivers and Phillip Leonard played well today, to go along with Fishler's defense. Stephon Jelks is a very good player. Ethan Stair even knocked down a three in the final minute to tie up the contest and send it to overtime.
For Chattanooga, they have two huge road games coming up, but with this win they find themselves in really good position to win the regular season title. If this road trip continues with two more wins, it's basically over. For Mercer, the race for second place continues as they go to Wofford and Furman this weekend. They appear to be the second best team in the conference, but the race is so tight for that second spot with ETSU, Wofford and Furman, it is hard to know which team will eventually gain the upper edge.