With professional sports all but removed from Macon, the Mercer Bears are starting to fill the void for a city in need of a sports team. Middle Georgia’s hottest ticket has been consistently improving over the past few seasons and this could be the year that the Bears finally make the big dance.
The numbers don’t lie. Seventeen wins last season. Two upset victories over Auburn and Alabama and a close overtime loss to Georgia Tech. A 54 percent increase in attendance last year and nearly 1,000 season ticket packages already sold should indicate that you might be missing something big if you haven’t reserved your seat yet for the next game.
Forget about Florida State homecoming tickets. The general public tickets for that game were gone in less than an hour and with big conference home games against rivals Lipscomb and Belmont in early December, the University Center could be going bonkers come January.
“We’re shooting for the Atlantic Sun Championship and want to compete in the NCAA tournament, not just show up,” said senior guard James Florence. If the team isn’t reason enough to show up at the games, Florence is. The fourth-year starter is the NCAA’s best returning scorer, averaging more than 20 points per contest. Teamed up with big man Daniel Emerson and shifty guards E.J. Kusnyer and Brian Mills, the Bears may see their stock jump through the roof come tournament time.
Building on last year’s success, head coach Bob Hoffman lured a few big-time junior college transfers to Macon, including Jeff Smith, who dropped 22 points in his first game as a Bear in an exhibition win over Georgia College and State. With a high octane offense, the Bears will look to repeat the success against their opponents this year as they match up with the likes of Vanderbilt, Alabama, and Providence on the road this season.
And let’s not forget about the women. Their monumental 17-14 record last year after a dismal 4-26 mark the season before was one of the best turnarounds in the college game in 2008-09. LaToya Jackson and Courtney Ford, the lone two seniors of the squad, will look to guide their young team back to the Atlantic Sun Tournament, where they fell in the Semifinals to East Tennessee State last March.
How could it not be the start of something great when college basketball icon Dick Vitale visited Mercer in October to kick off the season? As Vitale would say, “It’s time for college basketball, baby!”
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