MACON, Ga. – Playing in the featured “A-Sun Game of the Week” the Mercer men’s basketball team will be looking to start the New Year off on the right foot as the Bears welcome VMI and the Keydets’ potent offense to the University Center for the first time, marking Mercer’s final non-conference contest of the 2007-08 campaign. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the University Center.
“I am enjoying our series with VMI,” said Mercer head coach Mark Slonaker. “[VMI] is a quality basketball program at a great school that promotes high academic standards.”
The two teams will be hard pressed to match the intensity of last season’s first-ever meeting between the two schools that saw Mercer outlast the Keydets, 105-103, in Lexington, Va., on Dec. 9.
“It was a great game – a fun game - last year,” Slonaker stated. “They are a very good team and Reggie Williams is as good as they come. He is the real deal.”
Five Bears reached double figures, as Shaddean Aaron and James Florence each posted 21 points, while Calvin Henry and Brian Pfohl each notched double-doubles, with 18 points and 22 rebounds and 18 points and 12 boards, respectively. #Sam Dolan added 10 points#. The Bears out-scored VMI 15-6 over the final four minutes to claim their first road win of the 2006-07 season.
The Bears split two games in the Jim ‘N Nick’s Cougar Classic last weekend, falling to host College of Charleston, 84-74, on Saturday then downing South Carolina State, 76-73, in Sunday afternoon’s consolation game. Aaron led all scorers with 20 points on Sunday behind 8-of-11 shooting from the field, while four Bears reached double figures in the setback to CofC. Florence was named to the “All-Classic” team after averaging 13.5 points, three assists and three rebounds on the weekend.
VMI (6-6) had a three-game win streak snapped at Richmond on Sunday, falling 71-69, to the Spiders. The Keydets return seven letterwinners, including four starters, from last season’s squad that posted a 14-19 overall record and went 5-9 in the Big South Conference. VMI won the most games by a Keydet squad in nine seasons last year and the team led the NCAA in four categories, including scoring offense by averaging an impressive 100.9 points per game. The Keydets nearly upset NCAA Tournament-bound Winthrop in the finals of the 2007 Big South Conference Tournament before falling, 84-81.
This season, VMI was picked to finish third In the Big South preseason poll, behind High Point and Winthrop and just ahead of Coastal Carolina. The Keydets are 5-1 at home and 1-5 away from Cameron Hall and continue to post impressive offensive numbers, ranking first in the nation in scoring offense, 3-point field goals per game and steals per game. VMI also ranks fourth nationally in assists per contest and 51st in the NCAA in scoring margin, outscoring opponents by an average of 11.1 points per game.
VMI also boasts five players that rank in the top 100 in NCAA statistical categories and has four players averaging double-figure scoring, led by senior forward Reggie Williams’ 25.1 points per game. Williams also leads the squad in rebounding, pulling down 8.3 boards a contest and hands out 3.6 assists. Williams was also named to the league’s preseason all-conference team. He led the nation in scoring last season with a 28.1 points per game average, and ranked in the top four in the league in points (1st), rebounding (4th), FG% (3rd), and assists (3rd). Williams was named Big South Player of the Week, Dec. 17, after scoring a season-high 43 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in VMI’s 112-96 win over Newport News Apprentice. He hit 17-of-22 field goals and was 9-of-10 from the free throw line in recording his fifth career 40-point game. It was also his 20th career double-double.
Junior guard Chavis Holmes averages 17.1 points per game, while twin brother Travis is close behind, averaging 13.7 points off the bench and freshman Austin Kenon notches 12.3 points a contest. Kenon leads VMI in 3-point field goal accuracy, shooting 42.9 percent from long range, and hit seven treys in the win past William and Mary.
“VMI plays a unique style of basketball that will present a real challenge to us,” added Slonaker. “We have not had a lot of time to prepare, but their style is exciting, both as a coach and will be exciting to our players as well.”
Mercer and VMI have faced one common opponent in the 2007-08 campaign - The Bears topped South Carolina State, 76-73, in the consolation game of the Jim ‘N Nick’s Cougar Classic last Sunday, while VMI fell, 89-88, to the Bulldogs in Orangeburg, S.C.
Going back to the Auburn setback, Florence has averaged 17.3 points, 4.3 boards and 2.7 assists, while Pfohl has averaged 10.3 points and six rebounds over the last three games. Dolan shot a team-high 52.2% (12-of-23) from the field over the last three contests, including 6-of-7 from the line and Aaron snapped a two-game mini-slump with a game-high 20 points against South Carolina State. He has averaged 9.7 points a game and pulled down 3.0 rebounds, while shooting 50.0% (11-of-22) from the field over the last three contests. Calvin Henry averaged a team-high7.5 rebounds over the two games in Charleston.