MACON, Ga..- The Mercer men's basketball team opens its final two-game homestand facing Gardner-Webb in a Thursday night contest. Tip off is at 7 p.m. at the University Center. Game Notes (pdf)
The Bears finished their road schedule with a flourish, recording the squad's first three-game road winning streak since the 2002-03 conference championship season, and a win would give Mercer its longest winning streak since a four-game span in December 2003.
Mercer (9-16, 7-11 A-Sun) enters the final two games of the regular season fighting for position in the post-season conference tournament, while also battling injuries that have chipped away at both the Bears' starting lineup and shortened the bench. Freshman Montavious Waters is listed as doubtful because of a strained hamstring, but forward Brian Pfohl, who sprained an ankle last Friday, and guard Michael Slonaker, who injured a knee Sunday in the UNF contest, are expected to see action against the Runnin' Bulldogs.
"Gardner-Webb comes in as the hottest team in the conference right," said Mercer head coach Mark Slonaker of the Bulldogs, who have won five straight, including back-to-back home wins over co-league leaders Belmont and Lipscomb, and have won nine of its last 10 games, with the lone loss coming on the road at Florida Atlantic.
Coach Rick Scruggs returns all five starters from last year's 18-12 regular-season championship team and was picked to repeat in 2005-06 by the league's coaches and media. The Runnin' Bulldogs placed three players on the five-man preseason All-Conference Team – with forward Brian Bender, guard Tim Jennings and center Simon Conn earning that honor from the coaches.
Bender averages 10.5 points and 1.7 steals per game while Conn is averaging a team-leading 15.1 points and 8.8 rebounds per game (3rd in the conference). Conn's 57.0 percent accuracy from the field also ranks third in the A-Sun, and he tops the league with 2.44 blocks a game. Gardner-Webb is 10th in the league in scoring, at 69.8 points per game, but surrenders only 71.8 points a contest. GWU is the best free throw shooting team in the A-Sun, shooting 76.1 percent from the charity stripe.
"They have a chance to tie for the conference championship if they win their last two games," added Slonaker. "Plus, they return six seniors, so this is an important game for them. We need to play well and prepare for the conference tournament."
Senior guard Andrew Brown paces the Bears' attack, averaging 14.9 points per game while fellow senior Will Emerson adds 11.7 points a team-leading 7.0 rebounds. Both Emerson and Brown are wrapping up their careers on a strong note with Emerson averaging 15.2 points and 7.6 rebounds over the last five games. Brown poured in a career-high 35 points at Jacksonville, the most points scored by a Mercer player since Reggie Elliott scored 36 points in a 99-95 Mercer win over Jacksonville State, Jan. 25, 1996.