DeLAND, Fla. – In a defensive battle against the defending Atlantic Sun Tournament champions, the Mercer women’s basketball team came out victorious over Stetson. The Bears made some clutch free throws in the final minute, securing a 53-44 win.
Mercer (5-6, 2-2 A-Sun) jumped out early with a 16-2 run, holding an 18-5 lead midway through the first half. The Bears’ tenacious defense kept the Hatters at bay, as Stetson shot 14.8 percent from the floor and made just four field goals in the first half.
Stetson (2-8, 0-3 A-Sun) battled back in the opening half, cutting the lead down to seven with 2:28 left in the half. A Sarah Russell lay-up with seven seconds left put the Bears up 24-11 heading into halftime.
Down as many as 16 in the second half, the Hatters slowly battled back behind Nefertiti Walker. She had five points in a two-minute span late in the game, bringing Stetson within six with 2:01 remaining.
On three consecutive Mercer possessions, the Bears hit key free throws. Tanya Kessenich hit a pair of free throws with 1:01 remaining, giving Mercer a 49-43 lead. Rhonda Owens hit both of her free throws to give Mercer an eight-point lead with 43.1 remaining. Sally Skeldon sealed the deal with a pair from the charity stripe with 31.1 seconds left.
Walker, who was limited to five points in the first half, led all scorers with 20 points. Janene Maclin had a double-double for Stetson with 10 rebounds and 11 points.
“Everybody contributed,” said Mercer head coach Brenda Welch-Nichols. “Our defensive match-ups were really the key, as we limited Walker’s points in the first half.”
Skeldon and Owens both tied career-highs with 11 and 12 points respectively. Skeldon also had five assists and four steals, as the Bears forced the Hatters into 18 team turnovers.
“Sally's shooting was the offensive key. Stetson wasn’t prepared for her to contribute like that and it helped the rest of the offensive,” said Nichols.
The Bears return to action next Thursday when they A-Sun foe Lipscomb at 7 p.m.