Mercer ran cold-shooting East Tennessee State out of the gym for a surprising 71-55 victory Wednesday night in a Southern Conference basketball game as Djordje Dimitrijevic scored 18 points.
It ended ETSU’s 12-game home winning streak. It was also Mercer’s first win against the Bucs in the last 11 meetings.
“You have to come in here and match their toughness and their physicality, and that was something we’ve been getting better at doing,” first-year Mercer coach Greg Gary said. “I was happy that our guys stepped up to the challenge.”
The Bucs, who had moved up to 31st in The Associated Press national rankings, fell to 18-4 overall, 7-2 in the SoCon. Mercer won its fifth game in a row and improved to 11-11, 5-4.
“You have to give Mercer a ton of credit,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “They came in here and dominated the game pretty much from start to finish. I thought their team was the tougher team. I thought they out-executed us, and they defended better than we did.”
The Bucs’ shooting would have had to warm up considerably just to be considered cold. They were 3 of 22 on 3-pointers, and they didn’t come close on many of the misses.
The starting five combined to go 0 for 9 from long range, including an 0-for-4 performance from Patrick Good, who hasn’t made a shot in the last three games. Super-sub Tray Boyd missed all six of his 3-point shots.
ETSU also missed 10 of its 18 free throws.
The stat sheet wasn’t pretty for the Bucs, who were out-rebounded 37-25 and out-shot 63% to 47%.
“You can talk about our offense all you want, but we can’t give up these kind of numbers,” Forbes said. “When you do that, you’re starting to teeter. When you don’t shoot the ball well, you can get in a lot of trouble.”
Mercer’s 30-19 lead midway through the first half represented ETSU’s biggest home deficit of the season, and it was earned. The Bears were shooting 67% from the field at that point and were threatening to pull away.
The Bucs scored the final six points of the half, holding Mercer scoreless over the final 3:35, and the Bears led 36-34 at halftime.
Mercer never relinquished the lead, although’s ETSU press gave the Bears some trouble. But even when the Bucs forced turnovers, they couldn’t make the shots to come back. Mercer’s biggest advantage in the second half was 18 points.
“They came out and punched us in the mouth,” ETSU’s Daivien Williamson said. “They played harder than us for 40 minutes. That was the story of tonight. It’s definitely disappointing to come out and play like that. It was a surprise.”
Bo Hodges led the Bucs with 12 points. Lucas N’Guessan had 11 and Williamson had 10.
Mercer’s Maciej Bender had 12 points, while Ethan Stair finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds for the Bears.
The teams observed 24 seconds of silence before the game in honor of Kobe Bryant, the former Los Angeles Lakers star killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday. Forbes wore his Kobe Bryant Nike shoes, saying he’s only worn them once before.
The Bucs play host to UNC Greensboro on Saturday in a game that could go a long way toward deciding the SoCon regular-season champion. Mercer hosts The Citadel.